A story for June
This whole collection by Julie Orringer is wonderful. Nine stories of people learning to navigate life, loss and relationships, learning how to breathe underwater. All the stories explore the moments of transition between childhood and adulthood, family and independence.
In Note to Sixth-Grade Self, the weather is warm and the sky is bright. It opens with: “On Wednesdays wear a skirt. A skirt is better for dancing.” The tone is hopeful but we soon realise the narrator writes to a younger version of herself, guiding her through her very painful pre-teen years. Cruel girls tease her in their ballroom dancing class, they bully her in and out of school. But there’s a final, redemptive scene in which her understanding of people, her hopefulness, is rewarded. The story is mesmerising, and tender. Very wise, very beautiful.
Published in the Paris Review, Winter, 2000, and available to subscribers to read here. Collected in How to Breathe Underwater, Knopf, 2003, which is now available as a Vintage Contemporary, 2005