I thought that so many aspects of the novel would be super-relatable to my middle school students, and there was one quote in particular that I really loved:
"...the thing about families, Arlo thought, was that there was always some question nobody wanted to answer, and it was like a stray thread pulling loose in a sweater. You could tug at it all you wanted, but in the end, all you'd have was a pile of twisted yarn."
The image of twisted yarn is something that came to mind early in the writing of this book and, while many things changed -- characters were created, characters were deleted --- this particular sentence remained more or less intact throughout numerous (dare we say hundreds) of revisions. Arlo comes from one of those families in which certain secrets are never divulged. He has lived with his grandfather on his mother's side of the family since his parents died in a car accident when he was 2. Now his grandfather, Poppo, as Arlo calls him, is having serious memory problems. He gets confused about things and can't always find his way home. Terrified by the threat of foster care, Arlo sets off to find his grandmother on the other side of the family, Ida Jones, a woman he has never known. He knows Poppo doesn't care for her much, but he has no idea why. At the end of his 300-mile journey, Arlo finds a prickly relative who proves to be more of a challenge than he'd expected. And there are other surprises as well, including a dog named Steamboat who jumps out of car windows, a girl named Maywood who's a natural at picking locks and a community of small-town characters anxious to claim Arlo as one of their own. Before he knows it, Arlo is caught up in a mystery involving a couple of con artists and his grandmother's house.
I started writing this story a long time ago. I always knew what would happen in the first half of the book, but figuring out what happened once Arlo reached his grandmother's house took some time. (Did I mention characters were created, characters were deleted?) Looking back on the process now, I can smile and say the figuring-out part was fun. And, it was . . . sometimes. . . on those days when a new idea clicked. Then there were the long dry afternoons when nothing clicked at all. Those were NOT FUN. I once heard J.K. Rowling make a statement in an interview to the effect that starting a book is easy, but finishing a book is hard work. Well-said, Ms. Rowling. I couldn't agree with you more. But, I'm glad I did it. And now, I'm working on another book. And yes, I'm afraid it's hard work. But I'll keep on doing it anyway, because when the writing is going well, there is no better feeling in the world.