The Adults

Espach_TheAdultsGotham Teacher Alison Espach's novel, The Adults, was recently published by Scribner.

The novel follows Emily from adolescence to adulthood, from the suburb of secrets where she grows up and on to college and on to Prague, where her father has fled after leaving her mother. As the novel progresses we live inside Emily’s changing awareness of the world around her and what it means to be…an adult.

The New York Times says the book is, “as idiosyncratic as it is stirring,” and the Wall Street Journal reviewer calls it, “one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time.”

Here is a peek at the book’s opening:

They arrived in bulk, in Black Tie Preferred, in one large clump behind our wooden fence, peering over each other’s shoulders and into our backyard like people at the zoo who wanted a better view of the animals.

My father’s fiftieth birthday party had just begun.

It’s true that I was expecting something. I was fourteen, my hair still sticky with lemon from the beach, my lips maroon and pulpy and full like a woman’s, red and smothered like “a giant wound,” my mother said earlier that day. She disapproved of the getup, of my yellow fit-and-flare dress that cradled my hips and pointed my breasts due north, but I didn’t care; I disapproved of this party, this whole at-home affair that would mark the last of its kind.

The women walked through the gate in black and blue and gray and brown pumps, the party already proving unsuccessful at the grass level. The men wore sharp dark ties like swords and said predictable things like, “Hello.”

“Welcome to our lawn,” I said back, with a goofy grin, and none of them looked me in the eye because it was rude or something. I was too yellow, too embarrassing for everyone involved, and I inched closer to Mark Resnick, my neighbor, my maybe-one-day-boyfriend.

I stood up straighter and overemphasized my consonants. There were certain ways you had to position and prepare your body for high school, and I was slowly catching on, but not fast enough. Every day, it seemed, I had to say good-bye to some part of myself; like last week at the beach, my best friend, Janice, in her new shoestring bikini, had looked down at my Adidas one-piece and said, “Emily, you don’t need a one-piece anymore. This isn’t a sporting event.” But it sort of was. You could win or lose at anything when you were fourteen, and Janice was keeping track of this. First person to say “cunt” in two different languages

(Richard Trenton, girls’ bathroom, cunnus, kunta), an achievement that Ernest Bingley decried as invalid since “Old Norse doesn’t count as a language!” (Ernest Bingley, first person ever to cry while reading a poem aloud in English class, “Dulce et Decorum Est”). There were other competitions as well, competitions that had only losers, like who’s got the fattest ass (Annie Lars), the most cartoonish face (Kenneth Bentley), the most pubes (Janice Nicks).

“As a child, I shaved the hair off my Barbies to feel prettier,” Janice had confessed earlier that morning at the beach.

She sighed and wiped her brow as though it was the August heat that made her too honest, but Connecticut heat was disappointingly civil. So were our confessions.

“That’s nothing,” I said. “As a child, I thought my breasts were tumors.” I whispered, afraid the adults could hear us.

Janice wasn’t impressed.

“Okay, as a child, I sat out in the sun and waited for my blood to evaporate,” I said. I admitted that, sometimes, I still believed blood could vanish like boiling water or a puddle in the middle of summer. But Janice was already halfway into her next confession, admitting that last night, she touched herself and thought of our middle school teacher Mr. Heller despite everything, even his mustache. “Which we can’t blame him for,” Janice said. “I thought of Mr. Heller’s hands and then waited, and then nothing. No orgasm.”

“What’d you expect?” I said, shoving a peanut in my mouth. “He’s so old.”

At the beach, the adults always sat ten feet behind our towels. We carefully measured the distance in footsteps. My mother and her friends wore floppy straw hats and reclined in chairs patterned with Rod Stewart’s face and neon ice cream cones and shouted, “Don’t stick your head under!” as Janice and I ran to the water’s edge to cool our feet. My mother said sticking your head in the Long Island Sound was like dipping your head in a bowl of cancer, to which I said, “You shouldn’t say ‘cancer’ so casually like that.” A woman who volunteered with my mother at Stamford Hospital, the only woman there who had not gotten a nose job from my neighbor Dr. Trenton, held her nose whenever she said “Long Island Sound” or “sewage,” as if there was no difference between the two things. But the more everybody talked about the contamination, the less I could see it; the farther I buried my body in the water, the more the adults seemed to be wrong about everything. It was water, more and more like water every time I tested it with my tongue.

Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. For information about Alison and her book, visit: Buy it online at