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  • Surface Tension
  • Written by Brent Runyon
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375891687
  • Our Price: $7.99
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Surface Tension

Written by Brent RunyonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Brent Runyon


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: March 10, 2009
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89168-7
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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The cottage on the lake is always the same, but Luke is changing. At thirteen he’s excited. At fourteen he’s cool. At fifteen he’s pissed off. At sixteen he’s in love.

Through four summers’ worth of trips to the emergency room, campfires and house fires, parties and feuds with neighbors, Luke is doing his best to navigate life. He makes discoveries, makes mistakes, freaks out, and comes to see things in a new light.

Brent Runyon has crafted a remarkable portrait of a boy at four distinct points in his life and literally shows us his coming of age. It’s a story that explores what is ever-changing and what is timeless, and how we are shaped by both the people and places we love.

From the Hardcover edition.


My eyes are closed, but I know exactly where we are. We just left Purity Ice Cream, the only place we can get peppermint stick in the summer. Mom didn't want to stop, but Dad wouldn't listen to her. He's addicted to the stuff.

Mom whispers, "Did we really have to stop for ice cream?" She thinks I'm still asleep.
Dad says, "Give me a break. I've been looking forward to this for the last three hundred miles."

We turn right and head north up Route 89. It's only about a half hour now, but this part always seems like the longest part of the trip. The sounds of other cars and trucks are gone. Now it's just us and the old bumpy roads.

We swerve past Cass Park and the public pool. The yacht club. The Hangar Theater.
Now we're going up the hill, and the car has to work harder. Every turn I can picture it, even with my eyes closed. I feel like I can see every single mailbox and driveway and glimpse of the lake through the trees.

Only another mile until we pass the Glenwood Pines, where they have the best cheeseburgers and also that old bowling arcade game. I almost want to ask if we can stop, but I don't. We're too close.

The road tilts down and I can feel we're about to pass the Taughannock Falls Restaurant and State Park. The falls overlook is a cool place to go, but we can't stop there either.

The trees are thinning out and the sunlight is shining onto my eyelids. The car is going faster. Dad's pushing it. He wants to get there as bad as I do. And Mom wants to get there more than anyone. I hear the car blinker, and I can't help it anymore.
I open my eyes. The first view of the lake from high up on the hill. The smokestacks. The power station, like two fingers pointing to heaven. The way the road curves at the cornfield. The sign for fresh strawberries. The slow turn down toward the lake.

I say, "Do you know where you packed my bathing suit?"

"I think it's in the black suitcase, honey. Under the white T-shirts."

Dad turns off the book on tape because nobody is even listening to it anymore.
We're so close. The mailbox that's shaped like the house it's in front of. The place where that famous guy used to live. The old house that nobody lives in and looks like it's haunted. My parents' favorite restaurant. The chimneys on the Wirth mansion.

The place where the road dips and I lose my stomach. The house that looks like a tepee. The dairy farm and the old farmhouse. My favorite sign. The mailboxes all in a row right before the bridge and the creek. The right turn onto the dirt road.

Everything looks exactly the same as when we left. All the cottages are still here. The Bells'. The Vizquels'. The Richardsons' big cottage at the end of the lake, and our little cottage right here on the left. We park under the pine tree in front of the garage.

Here we are. We're back. It feels like it's been forever and no time at all.

I jump out of the car, take my shoes off, and sprint down to the lake. I'm not supposed to go on the Richardsons' property, so I run straight ahead to the pine tree and then turn left and run past the woodpile. The grass is cool and slick under my feet. It must have rained today. It feels like running on sponge. I'm careful not to step on any of the old rotten apples or in the hole where the tree used to be. I'm faster than I was last year, I can feel it, but when I get to the stones, I have to slow down. The stones kill my feet, but I keep running all the way into the water. I'm up to my knees. God, it's cold. I yell because it's so cold and step back out onto the dry rocks again. It's so much colder than I thought it would be.

I wait for the ache in my feet to go away and then run back to the cottage to get my bathing suit. I want to do everything all at once. Swim and skip stones and fish and go to the waterfall and cook marshmallows.

Mom and Dad are still unpacking the car. Dad says something about me having to help unpack, but I just blow right by and run into the cottage. Where did she say my bathing suit was? Under the black T-shirts in the white suitcase, or under the white T-shirts in the black suitcase? I'm pretty sure it's in the black suitcase, because we don't have a white suitcase.

I run back down to the beach, to where the good skipping stones are. I've got a system. I look for a stone that I can hook my index finger around. One that's smooth on both sides and thin, but not too thin.

I find a good one and stand sideways. I bring my arm back and whip it sidearm at the water. I snap my wrist so it's got extra rotation on it, and it flies over the water.
The stone slaps down, arcs back up into the air, then back to the water. I get four skips, which is okay, but not great. I do another, and it goes crazy and ricochets hard off the Bells' dock. I love that sound, like hitting a baseball with a wooden bat.
I pick up a perfect stone and whip it with everything I've got, but it just splashes. I can never get the perfect ones to skip.

I skip another one that bends between the pilings on the Bells' dock.

The next one skips a few times and then stops in the water like it hit something. I say out loud, "Hit a fish," but no one is here to think that it's funny.

I sling another perfect one and it catches the air wrong, turns sideways, and knifes into the lake. Damn, I can't do this anymore. What happened?

I think I'm trying too hard or something. I look back and see Mom and Dad are standing behind me. Dad has his arms wrapped around Mom's waist. Gross.
I stop skipping stones and go to work looking for a luckystone. A luckystone is just a normal stone with a hole in it that goes all the way through. I don't know why some have holes and other ones don't, but the ones with holes are rare, which is why they're lucky.

Even more rare than a luckystone is a luckystone ring, which is a luckystone that has a hole big enough to put your finger through it. I've never seen one of those.
My parents say this is the only place on earth that luckystone rings exist, but I don't know if that's really true. I bet I won't find one this summer.

From the Hardcover edition.
Brent Runyon

About Brent Runyon

Brent Runyon - Surface Tension

Photo © Judith Haut

"The second hardest thing to do in life is to change from a child into an adult. There are so many ways to mess up. So many ways to get lost. It's like crossing the ocean in a rowboat."--Brent Runyon

I took a job as a newspaper reporter a few months ago to help pay the bills. The other reason I took the job is that I get to do the police briefs, the section of the paper that details all of the crime and arrests in the small town I live in.

I’ve always loved that section of the paper. Especially here in this town. For years, I’ve been opening up to that section first, because there’s always something special in there.

A tan work glove was reported stolen from a 55-year-old man's unlocked car on Spinnaker Lane, at 9:32 AM. The man told police his GPS was moved but not stolen. A neighbor said his unlocked car was also rifled through, some change had been stolen, and a tan work glove was left on his seat.


An Alderberry Lane, man was arrested at 7:10 PM after neighbors reported he was threatening to kill them with a phone book.


Police were dispatched to Lakeview Avenue for a report of an uncontrollable teenage boy at 9:42 PM. The teen was reportedly refusing to follow directions, yelling, and screaming at his mother.

Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of the teenage boy who is so uncontrollable his parents have to call the cops to get him to calm down.

Not because it would be fun to be in that situation, but because I think we’ve probably all been in that situation–at least on one side of it. Most of us, I’m guessing, don’t get to the point where we call the cops.

Imagine if we did?

Dispatcher: 911, what is your emergency?
Parent: Yeah, hi, I have an uncontrollable teenage boy on my hands out here on Lakeview.
Dispatcher: What is the teenager doing?
Parent: Not following directions. Yelling and screaming. Acting in a generally uncontrollable ways.
Dispatcher: I’ve already dispatched a unit. Hold tight.

I mean, I get calling the cops if your car has been stolen or someone breaks into your house, but for a missing work glove? A phone book? An uncontrollable teenager?

But people do it all the time. And I mean, all the time. In a big city, probably, that stuff never gets into the police briefs because there are cars being stolen and homes broken into and worse.

And that’s part of the reason I took this job in this town for this newspaper. I love that I get to write about this stuff, because in a way, it makes the town seem small and quiet and normal.

There are still houses getting broken into, and the occasional car stolen, and every once in awhile there’s a murder.

But it’s still the kind of place where a tan work glove is stolen from an unlocked car, the police show up to write a report, and it makes it into the local newspaper.


Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2009:
“Runyon reveals how life changes us all and how these unavoidable changes can be full of both turmoil and wonder.”

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, February 23, 2009:
"The detail-rich story offers the type of intensity that sneaks up on readers."

From the Hardcover edition.

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