In Tune It Out, music-loving 12-year-old Lou Montgomery has a beautiful voice. Her mom wants her to be the next big star, but Lou can only hear the fear in her voice. She doesn’t like crowds or loud noises. She just wants a house to live in and a school to attend like other kids. Tune It Out is a courageous story of finding your voice and being your own person with the help of new friends. It’s also the first selection for Spark Book Club — our new monthly book subscription box for middle-grade readers!
The excerpt below comes from Chapter 1, as Lou and her mom prepare for a performance in front of some very important guests. Read, then pre-order your copy and make plans to join author Jamie Sumner for a virtual event on Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 6pm!
Bagels and Joe can’t be more than the size of your average motel room, but it is wall-to-wall jars of roasted coffee beans. The whole place smells nutty and warm on this cold September morning. No one looks for a truant in a place like this. Ordinarily I love it here, curled up with a book and headphones in a corner where I can be any age at all in the low light. But today I can’t hide. Because today I am the entertainment.
It’s been a month since our last show and my most recent episode. I can still feel the terrible panic, hear the confused voices of the crowd, and see Mom trying to gather our money and run. I suppose I should be grateful for the four-week break with no shows along the lake. She has a job now too, at the diner down the road, so we’ve usually got enough leftover hash browns and day-old donuts to keep us fed. But that doesn’t mean she still hasn’t been trying, like always, to land me the “next big gig.” And today we’ve got a show.
I can’t tell if the time off has made the fear better or worse. Do I want to throw up more or less than I normally do before a performance? It’s too close to call.
It doesn’t help that Bagels and Joe is also “the place” to come in Lake Tahoe to find undiscovered talent. I can’t believe Mom finally talked Joe, the owner, into it. Maybe he heard about what had happened in front of the restaurant and felt sorry for me. Everybody always feels sorry for me after they see me melt down.
That can’t happen today. Mom’s already given me the “stand tall, be brave, keep it together” speech. She also tacked on the “you have a gift to share with the world” speech for good measure. But there are so many people clinking cups and scraping forks on plates. They’ve crammed themselves around wobbly tables that Joe himself moved out through the open doors and onto the deck. I am standing with my back to it all, tuning Mom’s guitar and swallowing buckets of air. No matter how many breaths I take, it’s not enough. I feel light-headed and fluttery, like a paper caught on a fence.
The tuning is good. It gives my hands something to do. I won’t be playing the guitar, though. That’s Mom’s job. Whenever it comes time to sing in front of people, I can’t do anything but squeeze my hands tight behind my back. I used to close my eyes, too, but once I turned eleven, Mom said I had to keep them open or I’d creep out the customers. Good. Let them be as creeped out by me as I am by them. It’s like the moment right before you’re supposed to blow out the candles on your birthday cake, when all the pressure’s on you. Except none of them can step in and help if I can’t do it.
I look out over the railing. The lake and the sky are the same blue—so light they’re almost white, and it makes me think of heaven. And rest and quiet. I tug at Mom’s sleeve so she’ll pull back from the audience she’s currently “meeting and greeting.”
“I want to start with the Patty Griffin song,” I whisper. She nods without looking away from the couple at the front table in black spandex active wear.
She jerks a glittery pink thumbnail toward them so only I can see. “Ray Bans and Rolexes,” she says. “Today’s the day, baby. I can feel it. Somebody in this pack is a scout from LA.”
She stares at the couple, lazily stirring their coffees with tanned hands, like she’s hungry for something that has nothing to do with food. My insides turn to soup, and I feel sloshy and heavy all at once. My suede jacket feels too tight. Like saran wrap that’s shrinking. Joe gives me a thumbs-up over by the open doors. He’s been nice, nice enough to let me sing on his property and to allow Mom in all her glory to put up flyers all over the place and basically boss his servers around all morning long. There’s always some promising musician up here trying to get a Saturday spot on the deck. He must do pretty well. I bet he doesn’t have to sleep in a truck like Mom and me. I shoot him a tiny smile.
Maybe this time will be different. At least out here on the deck, the customers are a good four feet away. No unexpected touches. I take a breath like I’m about to dive underwater as Mom starts to speak in the voice she saves especially for shows. She sounds like the ringmaster in a circus. Or a car salesman.
“Now this show is about to get underway, and we so appreciate your attendance. If you would, please hold your applause until the end. And boy will you want to applaud.” She pauses and chuckles like she always does. “And now, the lovely Louise Montgomery!”
Jamie Sumner, author of Tune It Out
Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 6pm