For an avid reader, discovering new authors is an ongoing, thrilling adventure. Yet another first-time novelist, Jennifer Gooch Hummer, is my special guest today!
Jennifer’s debut work is Girl Unmoored, set in 1985. Apron Bramhall — yes, protagonist’s name is Apron — has lost her mother, as well as her best friend, and her evil stepmother is pregnantl. But she’s about to be saved — by an actor named Mike who portrays the Savior in Jesus Christ Superstar. Unable to avoid Mike because no one should look that much like Jesus unless they can perform a miracle or two, Apron finds herself stuck with him — in church, no less. Against her own will, Apron cannot help responding to Mike and his boyfriend, Chad. When Apron begins working in their flower store over the summer, her life finally seems to be on the upswing — until she discovers Chad is keeping a secret. Apron is forced to see things the adults around her fail to -— like what love really means and who is paying too much for it.
Girl Unmoored: What it Means to Me
I started writing Girl Unmoored when I was ten years old. I know because I still have the original notebook on which I sketched her face and wrote: A Girl Named Apron. I don’t know where the name, Apron, came from but my mother maintains that her name started out as “April.” It didn’t. But I don’t make a big deal about it; I have the notebook.
I never finished the book. Probably because there was no plot. All Apron did was pack up to go live with her grandmother, with no particular reason as to why. That’s the problem with not having a plot; the characters don’t do much.
It wasn’t until after I met my friend Mike that Apron showed up again. My Mike isn’t the same as the Mike in the book, but he too was a dead ringer for Jesus. My Mike was an actor, although the closest he got to playing Jesus Christ was Rocky Horror, who also had long blond hair that he whipped around a lot. These hair-whipping days were in the early 80’s. Just when AIDS showed up. I didn’t know Mike then, and I barely knew about AIDS.
Girl Unmoored is the story of a girl lost in a sea of grief after losing her mother. When she meets Mike, she’s met her mooring. Although Mike and his cantankerous boyfriend, Chad, don’t know what to do with her at first — Apron just seems to keep showing up, usually with a fat lip — they eventually offer her a summer job in their flower store. And then it’s smooth sailing for Apron — until she uncovers Chad’s secret. He’s sick and there’s nothing anyone can do to save him. It’s also 1985, when no one really knows how AIDS is transmitted, or who might be at risk.
Suddenly Apron is forced to leave behind the safe harbor of childhood and navigate the stormy seas of a young adult. She knows what her real job is now, and it has nothing to do with flowers. Mike needs her to show him how to let Chad go.
There’s a whole lot of other stuff that happens with a whole lot of other people — there’s Grandma Bramhall, too busy shopping for the perfect bikini to help Apron; and M, the deluded future stepmother; and Rennie and Mr. Perry, both of whom are about to be exposed for their betrayals — but mostly Girl Unmoored is about friendship. Deep, loyal friendship. The kind that supersedes family. The kind that keeps you anchored when everything else is falling apart. The kind that can save you.
Watching Mike and Chad endure in a world that despises them, Apron begins to understand that sometimes you don’t have to do anything for some people to hate you. Mean is just the way they came out.
This is what Apron learns.
This is what saves her.
I wish my friend Mike was here to read the book. He would have liked it, I think. Especially the part about how well he sang.
Jennifer Gooch Hummer has worked as a script analyst for various talent agencies and major film studios.
Jennifer has continued graduate studies in the Writer’s Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was nominated for the Kirkwood Prize in fiction. Her short stories have been published in Miranda Magazine, Our Stories, and Glimmertain. Girl Unmoored is her first novel.
Jennifer lives in Southern California and Maine with her husband and their three daughters.