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We Are Okay by Nina LaCour Book Cover

Get an Exclusive First Look at the Cover of We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Young adult writer Nina LaCour, author of award-winning novel Hold Still, returns with We Are Okay (out Feb. 14, 2017). We have an exclusive first look at the book's cover as well as inside the story that follows a college student with an untold past she's forced to face. Here's a closer glimpse of what you can expect:

Marin hasn't spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left California with only her cell phone, wallet, and a plane ticket. No one knows the truth of those final weeks of summer, when everything changed. Not even her best friend Mabel, whom Marin has completely shut out. But even from thousands of miles away, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she's tried to outrun.

Now that winter break is upon her, and the campus has emptied, Mabel is coming to visit. Marin will be forced to face everything that's been left unsaid for months and finally confront the loneliness that made a home in her heart years ago.

The cover below was a total surprise to Nina. Although she had no idea how it looked until it arrived, she said the artwork perfectly captured the story and its two settings of San Francisco's Ocean Beach and New York.

"I love that it's unclear to me whether she's shielding her eyes so she can see, or covering them so that she doesn't have to — something else that's perfectly suited to the book," Nina said. "I love that the snow is falling inside, and how there are no clear distinctions between outside and inside, the beach and the dorm room, because grief and loss can feel just like that."

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Read an excerpt that details the loneliness Marin faces as she's left with her thoughts in her empty college quarters.

Before Hannah left, she asked if I was sure I'd be okay. She had already waited an hour past when the doors were closed for winter break, until everyone but the custodians were gone. She had folded a load of laundry, written an email, searched her massive psychology textbook for answers to the final exam questions to see if she had gotten them right. She had run out of ways to fill time, so when I said, "Yes, I'll be fine," she had nothing left to do except try to believe me.

I helped her carry a bag downstairs. She gave me a hug, tight and official, and said, "We'll be back from my aunt's on the 28th. Take the train down and we'll go to shows."

I said okay, not knowing if I meant it. When I returned to our room, I found she'd snuck a sealed envelope onto my pillow.

And now I'm alone in the building, staring at my name written in Hannah's pretty cursive, trying to not let this tiny object undo me.

I have a thing about envelopes, I guess. I don't want to open it. I don't really even want to touch it, but I keep telling myself that it will only be something nice. A Christmas card. Maybe with a special message inside, maybe with nothing but a signature. Whatever it is, it will be harmless.

Things I need: The California sunshine. A more convincing smile.

The dorms are closed for the month-long semester break, but my advisor helped me arrange to stay here. The administration wasn't happy about it. Don't you have any family? they kept asking. What about friends you can stay with? This is where I live now, I told them. Where I will live until I graduate. Eventually, they surrendered. A note from the Residential Services Manager appeared under my door a couple days ago, saying the groundskeeper would be here throughout the holiday, giving me his contact information. Anything at all, she wrote. Contact him if you need anything at all.

Things I need: The California sunshine. A more convincing smile.

Without everyone's voices, the TVs in their rooms, the faucets running and toilets flushing, the hums and dings of the microwaves, the footsteps and the doors slamming — without all of the sounds of living — this building is a new and strange place. I've been here for three months, but I hadn't noticed the sound of the heater until now.

It clicks on: a gust of warmth.

I'm alone tonight. Tomorrow, Mabel will arrive and stay for three days, and then I'll be alone again until the middle of January. "If I were spending a month alone," Hannah said yesterday, "I would start a meditation practice. It's clinically proven to lower blood pressure and boost brain activity. It even helps your immune system." A few minutes later she pulled a book out of her backpack. "I saw this in the bookstore the other day. You can read it first if you want."

She tossed it on my bed. An essay collection on solitude.

I know why she's afraid for me. I first appeared in this doorway two weeks after Gramps died. I stepped in, a stunned and feral stranger, and now I'm someone she knows, and I need to stay that way. For her and for me.

#

Only an hour in, and already the first temptation: the warmth of my blankets and bed, my pillows and the fake fur throw Hannah's mom left here after a weekend visit. They're all saying, Climb in. No one will know if you stay in bed all day. No one will know if you wear the same sweatpants for the entire month, if you eat every meal in front of television shows and use t-shirts as napkins. Go ahead and listen to that same song on repeat until its sound turns to nothing and you sleep the winter away.

I only have Mabel's visit to get through, and then all this could be mine. I could scroll through Twitter until my vision blurs, and then collapse on my bed like an Oscar Wilde character. I could score myself a bottle of whiskey (though I promised Gramps I wouldn't) and let it make me glow, let all the room's edges go soft, let the memories out of their cages.

Maybe I would hear him sing again, if all else went quiet.

But this is what Hannah's trying to save me from.

The collection of essays is indigo. Paperback. I open to the epigraph, a quote by Wendell Berry: "In the circle of the human we are weary with striving, and we are without rest." My particular circle of the human has fled the biting cold for the houses of their parents, for crackling fireplaces or tropical destinations where they will pose in bikinis and Santa hats to wish their friends a Merry Christmas. I will do my best to trust Mr. Berry and see their absence as an opportunity.

The first essay is on nature, by a writer I've never heard of who spends pages describing a lake. For the first time in a long time, I relax into a description of setting. He describes ripples, the glint of light against water, tiny pebbles on the shore. He moves on to buoyancy and weightlessness; these are things I understand. I would brave the cold outside if I had a key to the indoor pool. If I could begin and end each day of this solitary month by swimming laps, I would feel so much better. But I can't. So I read on. He's suggesting that we think about nature as a way to be alone. He says lakes and forests reside in our minds. Close your eyes, he says, and go there.

I close my eyes. The heater clicks off. I wait to see what will fill me.

Slowly it comes: sand, beach grass and beach glass, gulls and sanderlings, the sound and then — faster — the sight of waves crashing in, pulling back, disappearing into ocean and sky. I open my eyes. It's too much.

#

The moon is a bright sliver out my window. My desk lamp, shining on a piece of scratch paper, is the only light on in all one hundred rooms of this building. I'm making a list, for after Mabel leaves.

read the NYT online each morning
buy groceries
make soup
ride the bus to the shopping district/library/café
read about solitude
meditate
watch documentaries
listen to podcasts
find new music . . .

I fill the electric kettle in the bathroom sink and then make myself Top Ramen. While eating, I download an audiobook on meditation for beginners. I press play. My mind wanders.

Later, I try to sleep, but the thoughts keep coming. Everything's swirling together: Hannah, talking about meditation and Broadway shows. The groundskeeper, and if I will need something from him. Mabel, somehow arriving here, where I live now, somehow making herself a part of my life again. I don't even know how I will form the word hello. I don't know what I will do with my face: if I will be able to smile, or even if I should. And through all of this is the heater, clicking on and off, louder and louder the more tired I become.

I turn on my bedside lamp and pick up the book of essays.

I could try the exercise again and stay on solid ground this time. I remember redwood trees so monumental it took five of us, fully grown with arms outstretched, to encircle just one of them. Beneath the trees were ferns and flowers and damp, black dirt. But I don't trust my mind to stay in that redwood grove, and right now, outside and covered in snow, are trees I've never wrapped my arms around. In this place, my history only goes three months back. I'll start here.

I climb out of bed and pull a pair of sweats over my leggings, a bulky sweater over my turtleneck. I drag my desk chair to my door, and then down the hall to the elevator, where I push the button for the top floor. Once the elevator doors open, I carry the chair to the huge, arched window of the tower, where it's always quiet, even when the dorm is full. There I sit with my palms on my knees, my feet flat on the carpet.

There are many ways of being alone, and the last time wasn't like this.

Outside is the moon, the contours of trees, the buildings of the campus, the lights that dot the path. All of this is my home now, and it will still be my home after Mabel leaves. I'm taking in the stillness of that, the sharp truth of it. My eyes are burning, my throat is tight. If only I had something to take the edge off the loneliness. If only lonely were a more accurate word. It should sound much less pretty. Better to face this now, though, so that it doesn't take me by surprise later, so that I don't find myself paralyzed and unable to feel my way back to myself.

I breathe in. I breathe out. I keep my eyes open to these new trees.

I know where I am, and what it means to be here. I know Mabel is coming tomorrow, whether I want her to or not. I know that I am always alone, even when surrounded by people, so I let the emptiness in.

The sky is the darkest blue, each star clear and bright. My palms are warm on my legs. There are many ways of being alone. That's something I know to be true. I breathe in (stars and sky). I breathe out (snow and trees).

There are many ways of being alone, and the last time wasn't like this.

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