A Night Twice as Long
by Andrew Simonet
Published by: Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication date: June 1st 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
What do you call the difference between what you should feel and what you do feel? Life?
The blackout has been going on for three weeks. But Alex feels like she’s been living in the dark for a year, ever since her brother, who has autism, was removed from the house, something Alex blames herself for. So when her best friend, Anthony, asks her to trek to another town to figure out the truth about the blackout, Alex says yes.
On a journey that ultimately takes all day and night, Alex’s relationships with Anthony, her brother, and herself will transform in ways that change them all forever.
In this honest and gripping young adult novel, Andrew Simonet spins a propulsive tale about what it means to turn on the lights and look at what’s real.
No one’s ever gotten Georgie right except Anthony.
We were Sunday school exiles together at Saint Benedict’s, a converted Grange hall with an unconvincing cross on top. Church was my mom’s idea—Dad went occasionally—and, as it turned out, a real lifesaver. After my parents split when I was in eighth grade, people at Saint Benedict’s hooked my mom up with food, rides, furniture, and a job. They were crazy generous. That came later. One hot Sunday in the summer before sixth grade, my job was taking squirmy Georgie to Sunday school. He never stayed, so, as usual, I hung with him in the parking lot, and in the play area with its patchy grass and broken swings. Georgie was nine and rambunctious. I was eleven, and so was Anthony, who sat on the curb behind a massive pickup in his ironed button-down shirt, clip-on bow tie, and creased black pants.
Three Sundays in a row, Anthony lingered in the parking
lot, out of sight of the church, while Georgie and I roamed, finding twigs, struggling on the heavy seesaw, and singing non- sense songs. One time, Anthony had a book; another time he scratched curving lines into the gravel with his shiny loafers.
On the third Sunday, Georgie sat down near him, so I had to start a conversation. I asked what he was doing in the park- ing lot.
“It’s a religious war,” he said. “You’re fighting?” “I’m in the middle. My mom thinks church is superstition.
My grandma says if I grow up without God, I’ll end up on the wrong path.”
“What do you think?”
“Doesn’t matter what I think. I let Gram bring me here when my mom’s away. But I skip Sunday school.”
“Cause why?” “To stand up for my mom.” Later, he told me about the disputes between his black mom
and white grandma, how church was an easy symbol to fight over. Later still, when he trusted me, he mentioned the nasty Sunday school boys—white boys, I assumed, cause it’s a pretty white congregation—who teased him about his clothes till he walked out.
“Your mom’s away a lot, huh?” I said. “She’s in the navy. Duty calls.” And that’s when he met my brother—stood near my brother,
really, cause you don’t meet Georgie like you meet other people. And Anthony said: “Wow. I’ve never seen a person like that.”
Georgie pumped his elbows back and forth, wiggly air punches. “Right?” I said. I didn’t say: thank you. Thank you for not talking about how special he is. He’s so sweet. No, he isn’t, not always. He’s brilliant and hilarious, and he’s like anybody: He has lovely sides and crappy sides. He broke a plate on a three-year-old girl’s hand. He bent a windshield wiper back cause he didn’t recognize the car my mom borrowed. I think that’s why anyway. You don’t always know. We comfort ourselves with explanations. Little kids make him anxious. Or: Rooms without doors scare him.
“God, what’s it like?” Anthony said. “Being his sister?” “Being him. Must be so different. Can you imagine?” Man, I try. Always. I put myself in Georgie’s body, in his eyes
and fingers and brain. I imagine being him so I can calm him, soothe him, and avoid the meltdowns, the fits and fists.
But mostly: Wow, Anthony. Nobody’s ever real when they first encounter Georgie. Some people are repulsed. That’s easy to handle. Screw them. Screw Normies thinking everybody’s neu- rotypical. No one’s neurotypical. I know a girl who counts stairs, needs them to end at eleven. She’ll jump three steps at a time to make the math work. No special ed for her, though.
The pitiers are harder, frowning and nodding:
Must be so hard for your family. Is there a cure? Gosh, you’re an angel to be such a loving sister. No, I’m not an angel. And I’m not loving all the time. But no one wants to know that. You can’t be pissed at your
disabled brother. You’re not allowed to wish he was easier, not allowed to scream at him when he ruins family dinner for the fourth night in a row. He doesn’t mean it. He has no idea. Every- one in the world does cruel things, mean things, but disabled kids are always doing their best.
Bull. If I’m gonna treat him like a real person, I’m gonna call out when he’s an ass. That’s what siblings do.
Andrew Simonet is a choreographer and writer in Philadelphia. His first novel, Wilder, published in 2018. He co-directed Headlong Dance Theater for twenty years and founded Artists U, an incubator for helping artists make sustainable lives. He lives in West Philadelphia with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two sons, Jesse Tiger and Nico Wolf.
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