If you're anything like us, you've been following the 2019 release schedule closely, waiting for your next read to come out. It can sometimes be the longest wait for a release date, so this month we're offering a bit of a break: a 2018 contemporary gem, TIFFANY SLY LIVES HERE NOW by Dana L. Davis.
It was love at first chapter for guest curator Louisa Onomé because:
Tiffany's character? Realer than real. She deals with the anxiety of having to adapt fast to a new and wildly different family, and the reader feels for her as she does.
It's a different kind of YA contemporary. Unlike other popular stories, there isn't much romance in this one. Whether you enjoy romance or not, it's a nice switch to see the characters explored with more platonic undertones.
The emotions! It's hard to talk about this book without talking about the high-highs and the low-lows throughout the narrative.
Will it be love at first chapter for you?
“I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth…”
For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.
Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.
But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she has only seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.
“You did good, miss. You can open your eyes. We’re landing.” I nod, eyes sealed shut. We’ve landed. That’s what I’m waiting to hear. I tighten my grip on the armrests, as if somehow this plane landing safely is contingent upon the act. The man beside me gives my shoulder a gentle, reassuring squeeze. “It’s so loud,” I whisper. “Is that normal?”
“Perfectly.” His voice is calm and composed despite the fact that we’re defying gravity, soaring through the air in a fancy-shaped tin can with wings. “I never did catch your name.”
“It’s Tiffany,” I mumble, lowering my head, bracing myself for impact. “Tiffany Sly.” What if the plane skids off the runway and catches fire? That happens. I saw it once on CNN. A commuter plane skidded off the runway, rammed into a chain-link fence and struck a tree. The tree ripped off the propeller. The propeller...exploded. I should’ve listened to the captain’s speech. Now I don’t know what to do in case our propeller explodes.
“How old are you, Tiffany?”
“I’m—” I pause. The plane’s vibrating and shaking now. “Did you feel that? Is that normal?”
The gentleman’s heavy hand rests on my shoulder just long enough to give it another comforting squeeze. “Completely. We’re landing. Only a minute more.”
“But I think something’s wrong.” I contemplate opening my eyes. I need to see the looks of terror on the other people’s faces. Then it would all make sense—this intense foreboding bubbling inside my chest, in rhythm with the beat of my heart.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: We’re not landing. Thump-thump, thump-thump: We’re crashing!
“How old are you?”
“I’m...fifteen. I mean, sixteen. Today’s my birthday.”
“How wonderful. Happy birthday, Tiffany. First time flying?”
“Yes... I mean, no. I flew once...when I was a kid. But... I don’t remember. I was with my mom then.”
“And where’s your mom today?”
“Omigosh! Shouldn’t we be slowing down? It feels like we’re going faster. Is that normal, too?”
“It only feels that way.” His voice is so serene. Like he’s totally unaware that if I let go of these two armrests, this plane would essentially veer off course and explode. “In a few seconds, the wheels of the plane are going to make contact with the ground. Have you ever been on a roller coaster, Tiffany?”
“I hate roller coasters.” I lurch forward. “What just happened?” I plant my feet in front of me and push back so that I’m pressed firmly against the seat.
“Tiffany, we’re on the ground. Seconds more and you can breathe easy.”
The whooshing sound of the airplane as it speeds across the runway pavement both comforts and terrifies me. Only a moment more and I can stop desperately clutching these armrests and all these people will owe me a big fat thank-you.
Thank you, Tiffany, they’ll all exclaim. If you hadn’t kept your eyes shut this entire flight and squeezed those armrests the way you did, we would never have made it into Los Angeles.
“Open your eyes,” the man says softly. I hear the captain’s voice through the airplane speakers over the rustle of passengers shifting about. “We’re here.”
I open my eyes and sigh inwardly. The plane is still moving but slowly. We’re on the ground—alive. None of us will be on tomorrow’s news as the unlucky bunch aboard the doomed 747 from Chicago to Los Angeles. There won’t be an article with photos of smiling people and short descriptions of lives tragically cut too short trending on Facebook.
I turn to the man who was gracious enough to relinquish his armrest for our four hours together, truly seeing his face for the first time. His bright blue eyes are an alarming contrast to the tiny portion of night sky I can see through the small plane window. And his face matches the tone of his voice, warm and wise.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “Hope I didn’t ruin your flight.”
He smiles. “You did very good, Tiffany. Now, better call your mom and let her know you arrived safely.”
I nod graciously as the plane comes to a halt, standing to gather my carry-on luggage from the overhead space, feeling so damned lucky to be alive.
“Grams, I’m here. I’m in LA.” I clutch my cell in one hand as I weave through the hundreds of travelers moving through LAX, my well-worn guitar case decorated with old ’80s rock band stickers slung over my shoulder, dragging my small carry-on behind me.
“See? God is good. I was praying for you the whole time, Tiff.”
I’m glad Grams can’t see me roll my eyes.
“How was the flight?”
“I bet it was. How did you like first class?”
Not sure. My eyes were closed the whole time. “Classy.”
“Don’t be intimidated by all that class. Just be yourself.”
“Grams, who else would I be?”
“The Tiffany I know is funny and brave and...”
While Grams drones on and on about how awesome she thinks I am, I imagine my new dad standing at the base of the elevator. He’ll be waiting with a bouquet of roses to whisk me away so we can do father-daughter things like, um, whatever it is that fathers and daughters do, I guess.
My phone vibrates and I see My New Dad scroll across the caller ID. I nearly jump out of my Converse sneakers. “Shoot. It’s him. Grams, I’ll call you when I get to the house.” I tap the button to switch calls before Grams has a chance to respond.
“Hey!” I hop onto the escalator, my stomach an epicenter of nervous energy, butterflies dancing wildly. “Are you here?”
“Tiffany. I—I’m so sorry. I have to make an emergency run.” His voice is deep and husky just like I remember from our last phone conversation. Such a dad voice.
“That’s okay. I don’t mind waiting.”
At the base of the stairs, I notice men in black suits holding up strips of cardboard or iPads with names on them. One of the men holds a strip of paper with my name. We make eye contact and he smiles.
“It would be too long. I had to send a driver,” he explains. “I feel terrible.”
“No, no. It’s okay. Not a big deal.” I try to focus on happy thoughts like my therapist told me to do when disappointment arises.
Skittles. Rainbows. Care Bears. Popsicles dipped in sugar.
“This shouldn’t take long, Tiffany. I can’t wait to see you.”
“Me, too...” I pause. Why can’t I say it yet? Dad. The word sounds so foreign rolling off my tongue, like an exotic language I’ve learned but haven’t earned the right to speak yet. “I can’t wait.”
“It’s a long drive to Simi Valley from LAX. I’ll definitely make it home before you get there.”
“It’s long?” I swallow. “How long?”
“I’d say about an hour at least. Depending on traffic, maybe two.”
“Tiffany, is that okay? Because if it’s not I can—”
“No, it’s fine,” I lie. “Not a problem at all.”
“Great. See you soon.”
I stuff my cell into the back pocket of my jeans and take a frustrated step off the escalator, moving toward the man who holds my name on a strip of paper. He’s short and round with jet-black hair and dark eyes.
I nod and exhale. He looks safe-ish.
“Wow,” he declares, looking up at me since I’m kinda towering over him. “How tall are you, anyway?”
“That’s pretty tall. Or maybe I’m just pretty short.” He cracks up at his own joke. “Name’s Juan. You got more luggage?”
“Nope. This is it.”
“Cool. You hungry? Wanna stop and get a burger or somethin’?”
“How ’bout some In-N-Out?”
His face lights up like a cherub. “What’s In-N-Out?” He lifts my carry-on like it weighs half a pound. “C’mon, kid. Your life will never be the same after today. Want me to take the guitar, too? I don’t mind.”
I run my fingertips over one of the Rolling Stones stickers displayed on the plastic case and pull protectively at the strap. “Nah. I got it.”
He nods. “Follow me.”
I stuff the last handful of greasy, salt-sprinkled fries into my mouth, then slowly sip from a straw, letting the icy-cold vanilla shake linger on my tongue for a bit, afraid to swallow for fear of officially ending my first In-N-Out experience.
“How you doing back there?” Juan asks as he weaves through heavy Los Angeles traffic.
“Hmm?” I say sleepily, deep in an In-N-Out-induced state of euphoria.
Juan laughs. “See? Told ya. Life changed forever.”
My phone chimes. A text from my best friend, Akeelah, says: You is kind. You is smart. And you is important.
I text back: And you is a dork.
“You from Chicago, kid?” Juan asks.
Juan whistles. “Chi-Town, eh? How long you stayin’?”
I shrug. “Forever, I hope.”
I text back: I’m not black. I’m brown, you moron.
“I lived in LA my whole life and ain’t no place better,” Juan testifies, swerving onto an overpass. Within a moment we’re on the freeway, speeding across pavement so fast the foreboding returns.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: This guy is not a good driver.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: You’d be better off in a tin can with wings.
I grip the side of the car door as another text from Keelah comes through: Brown’s boring. You’re a mocha Frappuccino.
Me: More like a shot of espresso. Akeelah: LOL. Then I’m a double shot!
“You ever been to Simi Valley before?”
“No.” I look up and notice Juan’s hands are not at ten and two like universally suggested. More like one hand at six o’clock, while the other hand sort of hovers in midair, fiddling with buttons on the dash. He’s also not a safe distance away from the car in front of him. I check out the speedometer. Seventy-five miles per hour and tailgating. Dread crawls up my spine. What if the car in front of him slams on the brakes?
Thump-thump, thump-thump: We’re going to crash for sure.
Thump-thump, thump-thump: You might make tomorrow’s news, after all.
I picture a beautiful newscaster. Hair freshly straightened and superpolished under studio lights. Makeup so perfectly applied she looks like a sculpture from a wax museum: “A sedan crashed in Los Angeles last night, killing a sixteen-year-old girl. Thankfully, the driver survived uninjured.” Then she’ll smile. “And in other news, the Powerball is up to a billion!”
“You excited?” Juan snaps me out of my morbid fantasy.
“A little.” He switches lanes again, rapidly accelerating to tailgate a new car. “I think I’m more nervous than anything.”
“Why you moving all the way to Simi Valley? It’s freakin’ hot out there, man.”
“I’m moving in with my...dad.”
“He a nice guy?”
I glance out the window, palm trees whizzing by in a dark blur as we speed along. I check the speedometer again. Eighty mph! “I dunno. I never met him. Hey, could we slow down?”
I see Juan’s big brown eyes expand in shock through the rearview mirror. “Never met your dad? You shittin’ me?”
“It seems like we’re going really fast.” I close my eyes and grip the handle on the car door. Not like I’m gonna open it and jump out or anything. I mostly do it in hopes that it will slow the insane rhythm of my heart so I won’t have a heart attack and die.
But with my eyes closed and my hand clenched tightly around the door handle, the car feels like it’s moving faster than ever. “Omigosh, please slow down, sir. Please!” I’m screaming. I’m aware. The cat’s out of the bag. I am officially no longer a supercool black girl from Chicago who can play the shit out of the guitar slung over her shoulder. I am now, officially, a freak.
He slows down enough to make me exhale appreciatively. “There. I’m doing fifty-five. Better?”
I grab my head to dull the ache. Deep breath in. Hold it. Exhale.
Puppies. Fairies. Samwise Gamgee.
“You okay, kid?”
I pop open an eye to see Juan’s concerned face through the rearview mirror. Actually, less concerned, more... WTF is wrong with this kid. “Sorry. I get scared in cars.”
“Man, that’s an understatement! But check it. Never had an accident if that makes you feel better.”
“Where’s your mom?”
Back home, everyone’s been supercourteous, avoiding the M-word like the plague. I contemplate making up a story. She’s an astronaut in cryo on a two-year mission to Saturn? A sniper on a covert operation for the US government?
Juan leans on the horn, then throws both hands in the air in frustration, leaving the steering wheel completely unmanned, causing the car to veer ever so slightly to the right. I grip the door handle once again.
“Get off your damn phone!” Juan screams through a closed window. “Freakin’ smartphones gonna be the death of everybody.” He settles on a station and rap music blares through the speakers. “What’s your favorite kind of music?”
“I dunno.” Of course I know my favorite kind of music. But how can I think straight and form clear sentences when Los Angeles’s all-time-worst driver is at the wheel. I only wanna make it to Simi Valley. Alive. That’s my favorite kind of music—the kind you listen to when you’re not dead.
Juan places one hand back at six o’clock and I breathe a sigh of relief. “You like Rihanna? Or Katy Perry or somethin’ like that?”
Not really. “Sure, that’s fine.”
He settles on a new station. Sia’s sultry belt blares through the speakers and Juan bobs his head and sings along to the hit song “Chandelier.”
I ponder swinging from a chandelier. Has Sia tried it? Probably not. I’m pretty sure any attempt at swinging from an actual chandelier would result in a broken neck. A text comes in from Akeelah: All jokes aside. You’re my best friend and I know you’re gonna be okay.
I want to tell Keelah the truth. To explain to my best friend in the world the secret that’s ready to burst out of me and erupt like a spray of confetti from a confetti cannon. She’s my best friend. She wouldn’t judge me, or my mom. She’d understand. She’d comfort me. Know all the right things to say. The words to soothe my soul. I desperately want to confide in her, but I text a bunch of smiling poop emoticons instead.
He said the court order would be delivered on October 14. That’s seven days from now. I’ve got seven days to come clean to my new dad. Seven days to tell the truth. I think back to Xavior—to the moment he showed up at our door and shook up my already very shaken-up world. I was pulling a sweatshirt over my head and getting ready to head over to Keelah’s house when there was a knock on our apartment door.
“Who is it?” I asked, skirting around the mounds of stacked moving boxes in our unit. Searching for my metro pass among the mess.
“Xavior Xavion,” the deep voice said from the other side of the door.
“Who’s that?” I peeked through the peephole and saw a kind-looking black man on the other side, clutching a bouquet of sunflowers. He looked sane enough, so I opened the door.
“Yeah?” He was tall. Basketball-player tall. The kind of tall where you have to lower your head so you don’t bump it on entryways when you move from room to room.
He beamed. Like he was gazing upon a bright, shiny new BMW. “Hi, Tiffany. Do you remember me?”
“We met at your mom’s funeral?”
“Oh! That’s right. Nice to see you again.” I didn’t remember him. There were so many people I met on the worst day of my life. I glanced at the clock on the wall. I needed to hurry up if I wanted to catch the 12:20 bus.
“Would it be okay if I came in?” He handed me the flowers.
“Thank you.” I set them carefully on a counter by the door. “But my grams is at church and—”
“Say no more. I should come back when she’s here. In fact, that would be better. That way I can speak with both of you.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Speak with us about what?”
Xavior paused for a moment and rubbed his bald head. “Tiffany, I think I might be your father.”
My jaw dropped. Like literally. And I stood there for a few seconds with my mouth hanging open, staring at him, probably almost drooling on myself. “Are you crazy?” I finally managed to ask.
He laughed and said, “Probably,” in a way that was so similar to me it made my entire body tense. His skin was dark brown. Just like mine. In fact, he sort of reminded me of...me.
“Your mother and I. Well, we dated. I mean, we dated about sixteen years ago.”
“So? That doesn’t prove anything.”
“We dated.” He sighed. “It might not prove anything but it certainly begs the question. Wouldn’t you agree?”
I did agree. A fact that made me wanna slam the door in Xavior’s face and run around the apartment wailing at the top of my lungs like Harry Potter’s spoiled cousin, Dudley Dursley. I didn’t want to be a victim of some sort of cliché, baby-daddy, Maury Povich–esque DNA testing. My mom was better than this. I was better than this.
“Look, I can come back when Juanita’s home.”
“No! Don’t come back here. You can’t say these things to my grandma. She’d have a heart attack and die.”
“I thought you’d be happy.”
“Why did you think that?”
“Don’t you want to know who your father is?”
“Pretty sure you’re confused. I already know who my father is. Anthony Stone is my father. That’s what my mom told me, so that’s the story I’m sticking to. And I’m moving in with him. Tomorrow.”
He rubbed his head again, then held up an envelope. “Tiffany. There are letters, pictures—it proves your mother and I were a couple. The dates match up. Look, I’ll come back. I want to speak with Juanita about you and me taking a DNA test. I already spoke with a lawyer and—”
“Omigosh! You seriously can’t just show up here like this, with an envelope of photos, and expect me to go take a DNA test with you.”
“Tiffany, please understand.”
“Dude, stop calling me Tiffany. Stop acting like you know me or something.”
“If you don’t do it, my lawyer will make you. On October 14, Juanita will be served court documents. You’ll be required to submit to DNA testing. Look, I’d really like to speak with her. I’ll come back later.”
“No!” I grabbed my head for fear it would spontaneously combust and Grams would find my exploded head guts in the hallway when she came home from Bible study. “This would... I mean... Mom just... Grams is a wreck, okay? Please. This would destroy her. Do you really want to destroy an old lady who’s mourning the loss of her only child? Can’t you just go away? Like forever?”
“I want to know if you’re mine, Tiffany. I deserve to know. Deserve the opportunity to be a father. I think I’d be a good one.”
I snatched the envelope from his hands and ripped it open. Pictures of Xavior and my mom. Holding hands. Kissing. Wrapped in a loving embrace. Laughing together.
I leaned against the doorway for support, fearing my knees would buckle and I’d fall backward. “My mom’s not here to defend herself. Do you understand how unfair this is?” I asked so softly I wondered if he could even hear me.
Apparently, he did hear me because he replied, “I know it’s unfair. But what should I do, Tiffany? Tell me what to do.”
I looked up at him standing so tall and statuesque and adult, asking teenage me what he should do. How the hell should I know?
“I’ll take your stupid test.” I handed him back the envelope and photos. “My grandma doesn’t need to know about this.”
“You’re a minor. You’ll need to be accompanied by your legal guardian. We should let my lawyer facilitate.”
“Anthony is my legal guardian. What if I gave you his info?” I pulled nervously at my braids and wondered how this would play out if I gave Xavior fake info. Like the number and address to the Walmart on North Avenue. “You can serve him instead. Save my grandma all this drama.”
Xavior nodded. “That’s fair. I can do that, Tiffany. On October 14. That’s seven days from tomorrow.”
I nodded and repeated to myself, “Seven days.”
“You seem awfully quiet back there. You okay, kiddo?” Juan asks, snapping me back to my current reality. Sia has been replaced by a new singer. I don’t know who it is, but the lyrics, about a bash and some cash and...a hash? It’s making my head spin.
“I’m okay,” I reply. “But is there any way you could change the station?”
“I asked what kind of music you like. You never answered.”
“I like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix—”
“Sweet.” Juan nods. “Rock and roll it is.”
Traffic is getting much heavier now, so the SUV is slowing to a crawl, saving both our lives for sure. Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” blasts through the car speakers. Nice. I lean my head back against the seat and close my eyes.
Was it Love at First Chapter?
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Find out more about the author at: http://www.danaldavis.com/