Today we’re thrilled to reveal an exclusive excerpt for We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, out November 29, 2022 from Roaring Brook Press! Read on for this special sneak peek:
Family secrets, a swoon-worthy romance, and a slow-burn mystery collide in We Deserve Monuments, a YA debut from Jas Hammonds that explores how racial violence can ripple down through generations.
What’s more important? Knowing the truth or keeping the peace?
Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she’s uprooted from her life in DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.
While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family—whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.
As the three girls grow closer—Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance—the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty’s health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she’s built in Bardell—or if some things are better left buried.
“Zora? I’ll be damned!”
A Black woman with long braids made her way across the lawn. Dad and I glanced at each other, then at Mom, expecting some kind of introduction, but her mouth stayed clamped shut as the stranger joined us on the porch.
“Can’t say hi?” the woman asked.“Your family don’t speak?”
Dad glanced at Mom, but she was frozen. He stuck his hand out.“Nice to meet you. I’m Sam Anderson, Zora’s husband.”
Finally, something flickered in Mom’s eyes. “Carole . . . hi. I almost didn’t recognize you with the braids.”
“Gave up them perms a long time ago.” The woman’s gaze trailed Mom’s chiffon sundress. “Nice to see you got my letter. How many years since you been home? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
“Not that long,” Mom said swiftly. She clapped her hand over my shoulder and thrust me forward like a carnival prize. “Carole, you remember my daughter, Avery?”
“Hi,” I said.
“She was a little thing the last time y’all were here.” Carole’s gaze lingered on my lip piercing, and my cheeks burned. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision I gifted myself in June, after Kelsi and Hikari vetoed me shaving my head. Think about how it’ll look, they urged, although I had and it was exactly why I wanted to do it.The tiny metal hoop was supposed to be a compromise, but Hikari and Kelsi had regarded it with as much disdain as Carole was serving now. It looks trashy, Kelsi had said with a disappointed frown. Now, I ran my tongue over the metal and stared at the dirt peeking between the porch slats.
Carole moved on from her examination, asking Mom again if she was sure it hadn’t been fifteen years since her last visit, surely it had to have been. Mom grinned and grunted, smiling in relief when Carole turned her attention to wondering why her daughter hadn’t come out to say hi.
“Teenagers. Always on that damn phone.” Carole sighed. “Simone Josephine Cole!”
The screen door of the blue house flew open and a short, curvy girl with shoulder-length locs and a bright tie-dyed shirt emerged. “I’m coming!” she yelled, yanking out a pair of earphones.
“I don’t know who you talking to in that tone,” Carole chided as Simone joined us on the porch.“Have you lost your mind?”
Simone sighed.“No, ma’am.”
“You probably don’t remember Ms. Zora since she ain’t been home in about fifteen years. She Letty’s girl. Y’all, this my youngest, Simone.”
Simone shook Mom’s hand. “Nice to meet you slash see you again.” Her warm voice sounded like honey dripping off the comb. She shook Dad’s hand before sliding her palm in mine. Like her mother, her gaze lingered on my lip piercing, and I heard Kelsi’s voice again, calling it trashy.
“Lord, you know I wouldn’t have written,” Carole said, “if Letty’s cancer wasn’t eating her away. It’s worse as I ever seen it.”
Mom swallowed.“Well, that’s why we’re here. But she’s not answering the door.”
Carole waved her hand. “Poor thing probably taking a nap. She usually lay down around three.” She pulled keys from the pocket of her frayed shorts and opened the screen door. Mom fiddled with her earring again.
The stench of old socks and stale grease greeted us in the living room. Simone left to wake Mama Letty, and I took in the piles of notebooks and faded newspapers crowding the ottoman and side tables. Flashes of my first and only visit to Bardell came to me slowly as I made a quiet lap around the room, surveying a stack of wrinkled catalogues on the floor and foggy glasses of water on the coffee table. There was an oversized floral armchair in the corner, and I had vague memories of my small fingers tracing one of the roses and wondering why the furniture was covered in plastic. I remembered a stack of gold-foil-wrapped presents in a pile near the rabbit-eared television. When I looked up and saw Mom’s tear-rimmed eyes, I heard echoes of screams. But it was fleeting and faint, vanishing like a dream dissipating with sunrise.
“I should’ve come sooner,” Mom said. “This is . . .” She bit her lip. Dad and I stepped forward to rub her back, and she shot us grateful smiles.
“Bless your heart, Zora.” Carole clucked her tongue. “You ain’t know how bad it was? After everything?”
Mom stayed quiet. A fierce protectiveness burned red-hot in my stomach.
“Shame that job of yours keeps you too busy to come home,” Carole went on.“What is it you do again?”
“I teach,” Mom said, swatting away her three degrees, her Georgetown tenure, her bestselling nonfiction book, and her superstar status as a nationally renowned astrophysicist as if they were yesterday’s weather report. Dr. Zora Anderson enraptured auditoriums full of pensive students and eager journalists full of questions. She was able to make science sound interesting to even the most reluctant learner. She could describe the process of how a stellar black hole was formed and you’d swear you were floating among the stars, watching it happen for yourself. She was not the type of woman to wilt under anyone’s words. Which is why Dad and I gaped when she turned away from Carole’s taunting gaze and started flipping through a creased book of crossword puzzles.
“Well, good for you,” Carole said. “Nice of you to make time to come home.”
Those felt like fighting words, so I stepped forward. I’d had enough. But before I could say anything, Simone reappeared.
“Look who I woke up,” she sang. The warped hardwood floor creaked behind her, followed by a series of low grumbles.
Mama Letty had arrived.
She wore a rumpled pink nightgown and a pair of ratty house slippers that might’ve been white ten years ago. She and Mom shared the same rich mahogany skin and high cheekbones, but Mama Letty’s were more pronounced because of how thin she was. She blinked away crust as her eyes traveled over everyone in the living room. Pissed was the only word to describe her expression.
“Hey, Mama.” Mom set the crossword book down. She met Mama Letty and wrapped her in the most awkward hug of all time. Mama Letty’s arms hung limply at her sides before she patted Mom on the back twice. Mom peeled away, her face a mixture of hurt and confusion.
“Sorry we woke you,” Mom said, tenderly giving Mama Letty’s short gray curls a fluff.
Mama Letty waved her hand away. “No matter. I’m up now.” We locked eyes, and her chilly gaze sent another memory ricocheting back.
I was six. Or five? Was it Christmas when Mom and I visited? Or New Year’s? I only remembered the presents. I had a vision of Mama Letty throwing one of those shiny gold-wrapped boxes against the wall, fast as a shooting star. I heard the echoes of screams again. I saw a vast field of clouds outside of an airplane window.
“I know this ain’t Avery,” Mama Letty said now. She followed Carole and Simone’s lead and zeroed in on my lip ring. “Out here looking like a fish caught on a hook. She a lesbian now, too?”
It was a thousand degrees in the living room, but a cold sweat gathered on the nape of my neck. I found the floor again, defenses hardening in my stomach. Any minuscule hope I had of this move being a good thing vanished. Mama Letty was nothing but a rude, grumpy woman. She was nothing like Dad’s late mom, Grandma Jean, who would’ve baked me a cake if I’d come out when she’d been alive.
“Mama Letty,” Dad started, “maybe a discussion about Avery’s sexuality isn’t appro—”
“No one asked your white hippie ass,” Mama Letty snapped, not even looking at him.
Always the good sport, Dad ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. We had to be thinking the same thing: No wonder Mom left Bardell as soon as she could.
Mom’s smile wavered.“Mama, what has gotten into you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Zora, would you prefer a little dance number to welcome you back?” Mama Letty shuffled over to the couch, dust pluming when she sat.
Carole chuckled in the corner, and I glared at her. No one ganged up on my mom. Not so-called family, and especially not people she hadn’t seen in years.
“Mom, Dad, did you want to go grab the rest of the bags?” I asked. Maybe outside of the scrutinizing gaze of Mama Letty and Carole, I could convince them that maybe this was all a mistake. Clearly, we weren’t wanted.
“Make Simone go with you,” Mama Letty said. “She need to work off all that cornbread.”
Simone scoffed and pulled my arm before I could respond. Humidity slapped us in the face when we stepped outside.
“Come on, DC,” Simone called as she sauntered down the sidewalk. My anger faded slightly when my gaze landed on her thick thighs; they filled every inch of her jean shorts. Of course I followed her.
“Um, sorry about that,” I said to her back. “Sorry about what?”
“My grandma. She’s . . .” I searched for the right word, but I couldn’t think of anything that could explain Mama Letty’s rude comments. How do you apologize for someone you don’t even know? In the Anderson family, shit was talked behind backs and closed doors. Mama Letty’s snipes were as wide and outside as the sun. Then again, she wasn’t an Anderson.
“She’s what?” Simone prodded. “Stunningly beautiful? A grumpy old kook? A wolf in a pink nightgown? Take your pick.”
I smiled, shook my head. “You don’t need to work off any cornbread.”
She laughed and it was all dimples. “Aw, she was basically telling me she loved me. Don’t mind Mama Letty.” My grandmother’s name rolled off her tongue in one languid swoop.
I popped the trunk and hauled a duffel bag out. Simone leaned to grab a suitcase, and our arms accidentally brushed. She jerked away; I tried not to take it personally.
“Do you know what school you’ll be at?” she asked.
“Whichever one requires a uniform.” Mom ordered the atrocious red plaid skirt and sad white polo before we left DC.
“Nice. You’ll be at Beckwith. The more, the merrier!”
“More of . . . what?”
She tapped the brown skin of her fist. “Black people. African Americans. People of color. Y’all got a better term up in DC?”
Shame pinched my chest at the easy way she included me in the tally for Black people. It brought back the horrible, ugly fight that ultimately led to my breakup with Kelsi. I could still see her puckered pink mouth forming the words, You’re barely Black. How I’d carried them for almost two months now, like a set of keys in my back pocket. Trying to brush the memory away, I joked, “What is this, 1955?”
“It’s Beckwith.” She said it as if it needed no further explanation and rolled the suitcase down the cracked walkway. I followed, actively ignoring her thighs this time. Instead, I focused on her locs. They were shoulder-length, black with electric-blue tips, and adorned with gold charms and shells. I was staring so hard, I nearly ran into her when she stopped and turned around.
“What’s your sun?”
“Your astrological sun sign,” she said impatiently.
“Uhhh . . . Capricorn?”
She hummed.“Good to know. Did that hurt?”
“Did what hurt?”
She ran her index finger over her plump bottom lip. “The piercing. Did it hurt?”
My tongue slid over it self-consciously. “Oh. Yeah. I guess.” I braced myself for another reaction like Hikari’s and Kelsi’s, but then Simone smiled and told me she liked it. I momentarily forgot I’d been forced to this crappy town to reside with my cranky grandmother who hated everything that moved.
As we set the bags on the porch, Carole stepped outside and told Simone to go finish the dishes.
Simone cast me a sideways glance.“See you later?”
She started for her house, leaving soft footprints in the wet summer grass.
“So,” Carole said as we watched Simone head inside, “Avery. What you think of Bardell so far? You like it?”
“It’s okay,” I said stiffly. Saying as little as possible around her seemed like the safest option.
“It’s been a long time since your mama been home.”
My annoyance flared again. “Well, we’re just here to help.”
“Here to help.” She rested her hands on her hips. Her fingers were empty of jewelry and full of scars, nails cut to the quick. She walked off with a laugh, mumbling to herself, “Here to help. Well, it’s about time.”
Jas Hammonds was raised in many cities and in-between the pages of many books. They have received support for their writing from Lambda Literary, Sundress Academy of the Arts, and the Highlights Foundation. They are also a grateful recipient of a MacDowell James Baldwin Fellowship. We Deserve Monuments is their debut novel.