Novel

Which news reports are actually true? Are those immigrants terrorists? Are the police keeping the peace and protecting honest citizens, or crushing peaceful protestors and upholding injustice? Everyone wonders in early 1912 as immigrant laborers in Massachusetts textile mills go on strike, police break up demonstrations, and reporters paint dramatically different stories of what’s happening and who’s to blame…

Twelve-year-old Kassandra Leonhart has always been caught in the middle—between the longtime Americans and the new immigrants like her father; between her classmates who don’t have to work at all and her agemates who have already declared themselves fourteen and started working in the mills full-time (Kass waits tables after school); between the sane people who agree about what’s real and her geisteskrank grandmother who sees demons when nobody else does. (Kass sees the beast-man with his fine suit and empty eyes, she hears his terrible warnings, but she knows she’s only seeing him behind her eyes and she doesn’t believe his words, mostly, so isn’t she sane? Mostly?)

When another kid in her gets mauled by the mill machinery, immigrant millhands go on strike and the police crack down, everybody seems crazy and none of them agree about what’s real or what needs to be done. Kass’s father sees danger on the streets and wants his daughters safe home—but their wages are needed to feed the family while he’s out of work. Kass’s striker friends, and the radical reporter who eats at the restaurant where Kass works and gives her yesterday’s news, see thuggish policemen bullying peaceful protestors. Kass’s schoolmates whose parents stayed out of the strike, her policeman friend, and the conservative reporter who gives Kass papers, see foreign rioters terrorizing honest citizens.

Kass thinks they’re all listening to the beast-man. She wants to make them see each other and stop hurting each other. But as the clashes escalate, filling the hospitals and the jail, it gets harder to be in the middle. Kass tries to reason with people, and is appalled when her words spark a fight in her classroom and a fiery newspaper article that gets her father permanently dismissed. Then she tries keeping her head down, but when she sees a striker friend in danger in a brawl Kass runs to her assistance, and when conflicting reports about that brawl lead to arrests and revenge attacks, Kass testifies in court, writes to opposing newspapers and throws herself into other fights, trying to keep the beast-man from taking over her town and her mind.

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I’m seeking representation for Kass’s story, Cracked Reflections, complete at 99,000 words. Like Kass, I struggle with irrational anxieties, I have dear friends on both sides of a widening sociopolitical divide (though I have my own emphatic political ideas), and I’m intrigued by the parallels between personal anxiety and social/political panic.