Read This! Excerpt of medina’s The One Who Loves You the Most
Author: Edit Team
May 31, 2022
The following is excerpted from The One Who Loves You the Most, a new middle grade novel by Lambda Literary Fellow medina. The hopeful and sweet journey is one of finding your place when you feel you’re of two worlds.
About the Book:
“Gabriela is trying to find their place in the world. In their body, which feels less and less right with each passing day. As an adoptee, in their all-white family. With their mom, whom they love fiercely and do anything they can to help with her depression. A new year will bring a school project, trans and queer friends, and a YouTube channel that help Gabriela find purpose in their journey.”
I have never felt like I belonged to my body. Never in the way rhythm belongs to a song or waves belong to an ocean.
It seems like most people figure out where they belong by knowing where they came from. When they look in the mirror, they see their family in their eyes, in their sharp jawlines, in the texture of their hair. When they look at family photos, they see faces of people who look like them. They see faces of people who they’ll look like in the future.
For me, I only have my imagination.
When I look in the mirror I imagine my birth mother looking right back at me. I study the shape of my face, the shape of my eyes, the color of my skin, and the texture of my hair. I gently push my finger along my low bridge in my nose that can never seem to keep glasses on. In me is her, and in her, I hope, is still me.
But sometimes when I look in the mirror, I feel I see more of her than me. Because the me I see doesn’t feel like me. I don’t feel I belong to this face or to this body.
And then there’s Mom. My mom.
The woman I call my mom and love deeply and dearly.
If only I could one day show her how much she means to me. I think sometimes I take her for granted. Sometimes I’m not as sensitive or compassionate as I could be.
But I’m always trying.
As I mindlessly pulled out grass in the park, the sounds of loud cheers startled me from my thoughts, and I saw my mom calling me over, a twinkle of joy in her eyes. A few seconds later she was standing over me, blocking the sun with her silhouette.
“This drummer is great!” she said excitedly, pointing to a street drummer using plastic bins as drums.
In New York City, everyone’s got a talent, so you must be heart-stopping great to get a New Yorker to pause and watch.
We scurried over and watched in awe. I peered around long, lanky legs to try to get a better view. We stayed and listened to the boy play drums for a while, and I wasn’t ready to leave just yet, but after a few minutes I could see the light in my mom’s eyes fading. Her back starting to slouch, her energy shift- ing—I knew it was time to go. I quickly gave the drummer a dollar, gave my mom a loving look, gave her a side squeeze, and our bodies walked together to the train.
When the train arrived, we slipped in between book bags and briefcases and slid into a space big enough for the both of us. I cracked open my book, carefully pressing down the pages, proud of the pro- gress I had made on my extra credit homework. I popped in my earbuds and pressed play on YEBBA’s cover of “Weak,” by SWV. My mom quietly played sudoku on her phone. I peered over at her every now and then and watched her face for any changes in expression.
My mom is an interpreter for the Deaf. I grew up learning American Sign Language before I learned English. And I was fluent in her body language and facial expressions.
“You know, you don’t always have to worry about me. I’m quite all right!” my mom said after a stop or two, breaking our silence.
I put my music on pause and slid my bookmark into my book. “I’m loving you.”
“You’re checking in on me,” she said, nudging me gently as a smile opened up like the sky after a rainstorm.
“Checking in on you is loving you,” I replied softly.
When we got home, our two cats, Eliza and Cagney, greeted us as if we had gone on a long cruise around the world and they hadn’t seen us in months. So dra-matic, and yet that’s the kind of unconditional cat love I’m always here for.
“Finish all your homework for tomorrow?” my mom asked as she clambered through the cabinets, getting ready to make dinner.
Before I could reply she answered her own ques-tion. “Of course you did! Are you sure you’re not a teacher in disguise?”
I smiled and stretched out my sweatshirt to my knees to stop it clinging to my body.
Was growing in places I was increasingly becom-ing more and more uncomfortable about.
After dinner, we turned on Wheel of Fortune, but before it got to the bonus round my mom abruptly got up and said she was tired. Tired was usually another word for depressed. I know they aren’t the same words, but sometimes it was easier for my mom to say a word that didn’t have the same gut-punch reaction.
. . . But in all honesty, it still felt the same.
The next morning, I felt the vibration of upbeat music bouncing off the walls. I was happy for that. I wasn’t sure how long it would last, but I knew I had at least one song.
Each morning was pretty routine, aside from how my mom was feeling. I got ready, walked to the bus stop, and got to school early. Some mornings, my mom drove me, but I let her take the lead on that. I never wanted to push her or make her feel she needed to do one extra thing when one thing could feel like the biggest.
Today I felt the beating of my heart telling me that Mom needed her own space. Plus, she had made a sign and put it on her door: “My soul and universe is telling me I need space right now. I’m all right. Loving you, my butterfly.”
When I got to homeroom, Mrs. Andersen was writing out the class lesson on the board.
READING + DISCUSSION
“Good morning, Gabriela. There’s something different about you. Let me see. Is that a new sweatshirt?” she asked with a smile.
I set my books down and perked up, trying to get my mom off my mind. “Good eye! It’s a darker shade of black: Vantablack.”
“I knew it!”
“So, what’s this essay business about? I mean, what kind of essay?” I said inquisitively.
“You’ll have to wait until English. I think you’ll like it!” She sounded impressed. I always knew when she was impressed, which almost made me feel pressure to always be impressive.
Mrs. Andersen was right about most things. She had a special superpower of knowing her students— maybe even more than they knew or understood themselves. Probably because she read our words.
Words were music to me. I loved them. Gobbled them up like Swedish Fish.
The bell rang, and my classmates trickled in slowly one by one, some in pairs, like rain droplets.
Class had already begun, but my mind was still daydreaming. Thinking of my birth mother, my mom, and her depression, and feeling extremely self- conscious about the way I looked. The way I felt.
The way I awkwardly slow danced in my body that was changing. I no longer knew the dance steps to this song.
I looked up from my vegan leather-bound jour-nal my mom had given me as an early birthday pre-sent and watched Mrs. Andersen’s mouth move and her arms sway, like she was conducting a symphony. She was a thin white woman. She wore a black turtle- neck, a small, gold necklace, impossibly small, match-ing stud earrings, black pants, and black clogs. I always admired her simplicity.
“Did you get all that, class?” She raised her eye-brows, trying not to smile. The middle of her fore-head would crinkle in a different way when she was actually annoyed.
I stopped slouching from my desk, pulling my hand out of my oversized, black Champion hoodie.
I’d been wearing hoodies since I’d noticed my chest starting to grow. Loose T-shirts weren’t cutting it any-more. The fabric was too thin, and no matter how much I pulled at it, it would always go back to clinging.
I blurted out: “Yeah, write an essay about a time we were our most authentic self and a time when we weren’t. Seven hundred words. Draft due next Monday.”
“Yes, and to—”
“But what do you mean by authentic self? I mean, isn’t it impossible to not be your authentic self if you are always yourself? You don’t walk around living someone else’s life . . .”
I heard snickering behind me as I jumped back in. I didn’t have to look to know it was Jonathan Kazalonis and his friends. Before she could finish, I’d interrupted, which I didn’t do to be rude or anything. I just couldn’t stop my mouth. Or was it my brain?
The snickering behind me continued.
“That’s a philosophical point of view, Gabriela, but what I mean by being our authentic self is accept- ing each part of what makes us, us!”
She’d really emphasized us. She meant business. The last part of the assignment would be to share it with a partner. I had already figured out what I was going to write, but sharing it? She had to stop playing with my emotions like that.
Everyone was eyeing the clock. Four minutes until the bell.
I looked around the room to see who I could pos-sibly share my essay with. There was Maya McKenzie. But we really didn’t talk anymore—and being around her made me nervous. Not like nervous for an exam nervous, but nervous in the way that I couldn’t feel my feet and lost all ability to speak.
Mrs. Andersen added: “Now what’s different about this assignment is that you’ll not only write an essay, but you’ll accompany it with a piece from another medium, to enhance it.”
Eyes were starting to glaze over. Without flinch-ing, Mrs. Andersen continued. “For example, write your essay and then record a podcast that enhances it. I know you’ve never had to do anything but writing in this class, but it’s getting more and more important to use different various types of mediums to present our work—”
“BECAUSE PRINT IS DYING!! BECAUSE CAPITALISM!” some classmates moaned from the back of the class.
Mrs. Andersen carefully reached for her neck-lace and started rubbing it for good luck. Or maybe she was making a wish. “I’m simply saying that digital media is having a moment!”
Lucy turned around and squealed with Jessica as they did their infamous handshake that probably took weeks to practice—or maybe just a few dozen times watching the remake of The Parent Trap and changing up one thing. They weren’t really known for being original. Another example: their podcast, Facts of Life. A show in the ’80s. Anyway, almost everyone in class had been a guest on the show.
Two minutes until the bell now. Mrs. Andersen stretched her neck up as she spoke above crinkling paper, books being stacked, backpacks being zipped, the screeching of chairs being pushed out.
“Or write your personal essay with photography. I want drafts of your essay soon. Once your draft is approved by me, you’ll get the go ahead to complete the second half of your project. Your final projects will be due right before winter break. I’m giving you the semester to finish. This is an opportunity to show off your creativity! Be bold, be different, be Y-O-U.”
Mrs. Andersen . . . she sounded like a really ethical shampoo commercial, but she was pretty convincing. I had gone to guitar camp last summer, but I wouldn’t say I was good enough to write a song or even perform. As for any other skills, my photography skills were above average, at least for Instagram standards. I didn’t think that was saying much. Everyone’s a photographer on Instagram.
Now I was starting to second-guess the assignment completely. It was going to be impossible to find a different way to express myself other than writing, to sum up who I was in a project.
When you’re adopted, you kind of exist in between two worlds. I wasn’t sure if there was a world where I was my most authentic self. What if what people saw when they looked at me, wasn’t how I felt inside or what I wanted to see when I looked at me?
The One Who Loves You the Most By medina Levine Querido, 9781646140909, 256pp. May 2022