Title: Just Claire
Author: Jean Ann Williams
Genre: Middle Grade
One mother damaged. One family tested. One daughter determined to find her place.
ClaireLee’s life changes when she must take charge of her siblings after her mother becomes depressed from a difficult childbirth. Frightened by the way Mama sleeps too much and her crying spells during waking hours, ClaireLee just knows she’ll catch her illness like a cold or flu that hangs on through winter. ClaireLee finds comfort in the lies she tells herself and others in order to hide the truth about her erratic mother. Deciding she needs to re-invent herself, she sets out to impress a group of popular girls.
With her deception, ClaireLee weaves her way into the Lavender Girls Club, the most sophisticated girls in school. Though her best friend Belinda will not be caught with the likes of such shallow puddles, ClaireLee ignores Belinda’s warnings the Lavenders cannot be trusted. ClaireLee drifts farther from honesty, her friend, and a broken mother’s love, until one very public night at the yearly school awards ceremony. The spotlight is on her, and she finds her courage and faces the truth and then ClaireLee saves her mother’s life.
A Remote Area of Northern California in 1960
ClaireLee shivered in the snowy night, regretting she had only a cotton gown and thin robe between her and the cold. She leaned against the porch rail near the cabin’s open front door. Daddy had forbidden her to stay any longer at Mama’s side. ”Not enough room,” he’d said.
She didn’t believe his excuse.
But, then again, ClaireLee was somewhat relieved to not watch Mama’s agony.
Yelling louder, Mama had twisted about in more pain than with sister Lolly’s birth. Why is the baby taking so long?
ClaireLee stuck the frail edge of a fingernail in her mouth. She bit and pulled. It ripped with her skin and stung. I should be holding Mama’s hand. Outside, in the back-drop of the wilderness, the Rushing River rumbled and at first muffled Mama’s groans. Her cries intensified again, and ClaireLee’s neck prickled. Mama’s not doing good. At three-year-old Lolly’s birth, ClaireLee had witnessed Mama’s short labor and delivery. ClaireLee now peeked inside the cabin to see if Lolly was okay under all the excitement. She and their two brothers huddled together in a corner of the bed in the small living room.
Sucking on her tender finger, she no longer cared whether or not the baby would be a sister rather than a brother. She clasped her hands under her chin. Please, God, help my mother. Keep her safe. Keep the baby safe.
At the end of her prayer, the wind blew softly.
Fiddling with her bathrobe, ClaireLee rewrapped it snug to her body and tightened the ties. Socks and boots would have been nice, but she couldn’t bear to get any closer to Mama and her cries.
It seemed like days since ClaireLee, her siblings, and Mama left their home in Oregon so they could finally be with Daddy. A few months earlier, his job had relocated him to the wilderness of Gallagher Springs, Northern California. A place with a few rustic buildings built many decades ago along the Rushing River. If only Daddy would have asked her opinion about the move. She would have told him, “Not during the winter, and not when Mama was about to give birth.”
A baby wailed, breaking into ClaireLee’s rememberings. Shaking, ClaireLee’s hands lingered on her bathrobe tie which she made into a bow. With an intake of air, she whooped with excitement. “Thank you, God.” Soon, she’d hold the brand-new baby. Who would it favor? Mama? Daddy? Mama promised to teach ClaireLee how to bathe it. She giggled. What a delicate job it was, baby washing.
Long, forever moments passed before the bedroom door finally swung open. Daddy’s trusted friend and neighbor, Big Red, had come over hours earlier to offer help and was now called into action. Daddy stayed behind with Mama after telling Big Red to get the car warmed up. Stopping at the entry of the front door, Big Red’s firm squeeze to ClaireLee’s arm said more than words. Her throat tightened; she gulped down her initial fear as it rose in her throat.
She stepped into the snow and followed him. “But why?” Hesitating for a moment, her bare feet sank deeper and burned, and she hurried onto the porch.
The car engine started.
ClaireLee cupped a hand around her mouth and hollered, “Big Red, what’s going on?” He didn’t answer. Is Mama going to the hospital? She nibbled on another nail but stopped, not wanting a repeat of pain. “I’ve got to see my mama.”
Before she lifted her foot on the threshold, Daddy staggered through the opened bedroom door. He was carrying Mama—her neck and arms were limp.
Mama groaned and ClaireLee stiffened, pressing herself to the porch railing. Gulping, she blinked to clear her tears. “What’s wrong?” She pressed her trembling fingers to her mouth. “Is something happening to Mama?”
Daddy continued down the porch steps, wobbling from the extra weight. Strands of Mama’s hair touched ClaireLee’s cheek, feather soft. Daddy mumbled. “Slippery.” His boots sloshed on the snow-covered planks.
ClaireLee moved to the top step. “Do you need help, Daddy?”
Another groan, much deeper, came from poor Mama.
Finally, his boots touched solid ground as Daddy swayed his burden.
Several inches of what ClaireLee believed was a fleshy rope slipped from Mama’s body. ClaireLee gasped. Shutting her eyes, she squished them tight. No, no. This isn’t right.
Over the Rushing River’s fury, she hollered, “Daddy, what can I do?”
With a gust of wind, the tree branches rattled like snakes. Goose bumps slithered over ClaireLee’s skin. She curled inward and whimpered, Oh, Mama, Mama, don’t die.
Big Red opened the side-swing tailgate of ClaireLee’s family station wagon and waited. Mama and Daddy descended into the shadows, where their combined images formed what resembled a cross. A bit of peace washed over ClaireLee.
Finally, Daddy reached the back of the car, tucked Mama inside, and climbed in beside her. Big Red slammed the tailgate shut and hurried back toward the cabin.
“You’re taking my mama to the hospital, aren’t you?” Still on the porch, ClaireLee blocked his path.
He stared at her from where he stood on the ground. “Yes.”
All three of ClaireLee’s siblings called to her, concern etched in their voices. She leaned near the door. “I’m finding out about Mama, so you kids hush.”
Big Red reached her, and she clung to his shirt sleeve. “Is Mama going to die?”
Lashes shimmering with moisture, he patted her head on his way inside. “I’ll get your mother there as fast as I can.” Big Red disappeared into her parents’ bedroom, where the baby still cried.
More out of fear than from the cold, ClaireLee’s teeth chattered. She watched Daddy hovering over Mama inside the station wagon. Did he cover Mama with a blanket?
Appearing before ClaireLee, Big Red brought a kicking and screaming newborn. Her heart leaped.
Buy Links (including Goodreads):
Goodreads Just Claire: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28482298-just-claire
What’s the first binge-worthy book you read and why was it a must-read?
The Nancy Drew series, because of the action-packed adventure of a likable and brave heroine.
What makes your featured book a binge-worthy read?
Just Claire is the first of a three-book series and readers may follow along as ClaireLee grows and matures as the eldest sibling in a large family.
One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon (US) gift card.
Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US account to win.
Runs August 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on September 1.
Jean Ann Williams lives on the Coast of Oregon with her husband Jim. She began her writing career in 1994 by reading a stack of books on the craft of writing. Since then, Jean Ann has published over 300 articles and short stories on the topics of Christianity, health, travel, friendship, relationships, family life, Sunday school take-home papers, and the loss of a child by suicide.To date, Jean Ann has published six books. In her free time, she enjoys Tunisian crochet, inspirational historical books, and vegetable gardening in her greenhouse. Her granddaughters excel in the game of Scrabble. Sometimes they let Nana win. J
Social Media Links:
Just Claire Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/s8x5lJKZFHU
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Ann-Williams/e/B01AB4P95A/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0