The Apology Box
Author, Naomi Ulsted
by Julie Carpenter
If you’ve ever worked with troubled teens, you will recognize Tessa, the protagonist of this story. A decision made in a flash has repercussions that disrupt and destroy the lives of many in her community, a small mountain town in the American Northwest. The young woman at the center of the maelstrom, already the victim of a struggling mother and remote father, must decide whether she has any chance at redemption. Her fragile trajectory as she stumbles towards atonement and maturity feels very real.
Tessa starts a fire that consumes much of the mountain surrounding her town, wrecking the livelihoods and homes of many of her neighbors. Not only does her community shun her, she finds herself on the receiving end of a seemingly endless stream of hatred from online. But Tessa’s problems have been smoldering since long before the fire was started. Tessa is tasked by the court with writing apology letters to those most affected by her actions and as she writes these letters and performs court-ordered community service, she begins to deal with the enormity of what she’s done. As in real life, it’s an uneven process that she can’t complete until she both acknowledges what she’s done and learns to let others into her life.
Teenagers will recognize and understand Tessa’s social difficulties and the family problems that led her to the moment of her crime while still understanding the consequences of her action. The story finds the balance between sympathy for those affected by the desolation of the fire and empathy and understanding for Tessa. The story also excels in its treatment of the adults in Tessa's life.
In addition to her deep understanding of troubled family dynamics and the uneven process of maturation, Ulsted is a gifted writer. Everything from the pacing of the story to the dialogue to the beautifully described, and obviously loved setting makes for an engaging read. There is a subtle beauty in the way the fire-ravaged landscape provides a metaphor for Tessa’s life and it adds further depth. This book is highly recommended for middle school and up and available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, a collection of short stories . She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and has appeared in The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel called The Last Train Out of Hell.