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July 11, 2016

Book Notes - Tara Altebrando "The Leaving"

The Leaving

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Tara Altebrando's latest YA novel The Leaving is an engrossing meditation on identity and memory.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"It's engrossing, both as a thriller and a meditation on memory—its limits, its loss, and the ways it deceives and constructs identity."


In her own words, here is Tara Altebrando's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Leaving:


The Leaving is a young adult novel about six kids who disappear when they are in kindergarten. Eleven years later, five of them come back as teenagers with no memory of where they've been.

The book is narrated by Scarlett, a returned girl; Lucas, a returned boy; and Avery, the sister of the boy who hasn't come back. It's a creepy thriller about the quest to discover what happened—and also a story about the impact the event had on the beach community left behind. More than one person has described it as "a meditation on memory and identity" so I guess it's that, too.

These are some of the songs that inspired/influenced me as I was writing:



"People Change" and "Darkness" by Wildlife Control

Very early on in the writing process a handful of years ago, a friend's band played the Mercury Lounge, opening for a band called Wildlife Control. I'd never heard of Wildlife Control but holy cow. This show was amazing.

I am a woman of a certain age but this show made me feel like I was sixteen again. The whole crowd was just so crazy into it, and the band's parents were there, which was adorable, and everybody got glow bracelets, and my husband and friends and I just danced and bobbed along like lunatics. It was by far the best show I'd been to in years—and again I hadn't heard a single song of theirs before that night. How often does that happen?

Their self-titled album immediately went into heavy rotation at home and for some reason I decided that "People Change" would be a perfect ending credits song if The Leaving were ever made into a movie (which I know it won't be because I am a realistic type but it's always fun to think about anyway). There are weird parallels between the plot and the lyrics that aren't of course parallels at all, except in my head, but writers are nutty like that. Latching on to whatever helps the work along.

Ultimately, I honed in on a different track on the album, "Darkness," which is more on point in terms of the themes of The Leaving. The song starts out with the line "Enjoy your happiness cause in the end the darkness will find you…" and goes on to say "Everyone was happy once, then comes a time in all our lives, when everything goes wrong. Even the sunshine's going to burn out one day." So that's pretty ominous and depressing, right? But then BAM! the music turns on a dime from creepy maudlin into this upbeat life-affirming piano driven bit and it's a stunning and unexpected shift. The mood of the song is complex in a way that I hoped the tone of the book would be.

When we were working on a book trailer, I reached out to Wildlife Control and they kindly let us use "Darkness."



"Sugar Man" by Rodriguez

I remember seeing the trailer for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man when it was first released and wanting to jump for joy. I was so excited for the film makers, that they had this idea that they'd do a film about the legendary musician Rodriguez and then when they're in the thick of it, they discover that even though everyone thought Rodriguez was dead, he's actually alive. What the what? I get really excited for people when their art delivers for them in unexpected ways and for a long time, I had no idea how The Leaving was going to end so I needed a sort of special delivery of my own. "Sugar Man" is haunting to begin with, but becomes almost chilling somehow because of the backstory.

"Revelate" by The Frames

The characters in The Leaving are in desperate need of revelations: Who stole their youth? Why? How? And why didn't Avery's brother come back? In the case of the returned kids, even their own minds are not cooperating with them on their quest for answers. I think of this song as Lucas's soundtrack. He's more angry and desperate for answers because he's out for revenge; Scarlett only wants answer that will help her move on.

"Seasons in the Sun" by Terry Jacks

This is a song that has the power to make me feel physical ill. It brings me back to a part of my childhood that feels so very long ago that it might as well have been lived by someone else entirely. Part of what I was thinking a lot about while writing was the disconnect between adult life and childhood, wondering, What's the point of childhood, anyway? This song for me emphasized that disconnect. Also the lyric, Think of me and I'll be there is so interesting when you think about it in terms of the power of memory—the need for it—with regard to remembering people we've lost; I'm not sure I ever really paid attention to that line before.

"Hurricane" by Ms Mr

I have no idea what this song is about and have made a point of not thinking about it too much, if only because I had a visceral response to it when I first heard it on the radio on a long drive and don't want to spoil that by overthinking it. It became "Avery's song" for me—somehow capturing her mourning and desire. As a member of the community who was left behind—someone who experienced "The Leaving" from a different perspective—she has a completely different voice than the other two narrators. She's not always likeable, actually, but I think she ends up being the driving—and grounding—force of the novel, just because she wants to find her brother, even if not for all the noblest of reasons.

"Don't Change" by INXS

This is another one of those almost-makes-me-ill songs. (Does anyone else have this problem or just me?) I've always loved it and still do even though it makes me feel old and sad, especially considering Michael Hutchence's tragic death. Tonally I feel like this has always been a weird song to peg—it's so upbeat lyrically somehow, but there's this guitar part that's so…desperate? Anyway, I listened to this song about a hundred times while writing one particular scene in the book, the only one involving a guitar. No spoilers.


Tara Altebrando and The Leaving links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

Tara Altebrando's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life
Tara Altebrando's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for her novel Dreamland Social Club
Tara Altebrando's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for her novel Love Will Tear Us Apart
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Roomies
Tara Altebrando's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for her novel Wouldn't Miss It for the World
Tara Altebrando's Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay for her novel What Happens Here


also at Largehearted Boy:

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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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