Welcome to the blog tour for historical fiction, The Road to Delano by John DeSimone!
The Road to Delano
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Coming of Age
Publisher: Rare Bird Books
Jack Duncan is a high school senior whose dream is to play baseball in college and beyond―as far away from Delano as possible. He longs to escape the political turmoil surrounding the labor struggles of the striking fieldworkers that infests his small ag town. Ever since his father, a grape grower, died under suspicious circumstances ten years earlier, he’s had to be the sole emotional support of his mother, who has kept secrets from him about his father’s involvement in the ongoing labor strife.
With their property on the verge of a tax sale, Jack drives an old combine into town to sell it so he and his mother don’t become homeless. On the road, an old friend of his father’s shows up and hands him the police report indicating Jack’s father was murdered. Jack is compelled to dig deep to discover the entire truth, which throws him into the heart of the corruption endemic in the Central Valley. Everything he has dreamed of is at stake if he can’t control his impulse for revenge.
While Jack’s girlfriend, the intelligent and articulate Ella, warns him not to so anything to jeopardize their plans of moving to L.A., after graduation, Jack turns to his best friend, Adrian, a star player on the team, to help to save his mother’s land. When Jack’s efforts to rescue a stolen piece of farm equipment leaves Adrian―the son of a boycotting fieldworker who works closely with Cesar Chavez―in a catastrophic situation, Jack must bail his friend out of his dilemma before it ruins his future prospects. Jack uses his wits, his acumen at card playing, and his boldness to raise the money to spring his friend, who has been transformed by his jail experience.
The Road to Delano is the path Jack, Ella, and Adrian must take to find their strength, their duty, their destiny.
“This whole story is an absolute triumph!”
―Thehauntedfae Book Blog
“The Road to Delano is a compelling story that will leave readers thinking about its surprise ending long after the final confrontation comes to a head.” ―California Bookwatch
“Five Stars. Outstanding writing, fast-paced. A must-read for people who love history AND baseball.” ―ReedsyDiscovery
“I really enjoyed this story. It’s more than a little Steinbeck, in a very good way…” —Leigh Anne, Book Sirens
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Monday at lunch, Jack and Ella settled on the grassy school quad. The morning haze, a gray dullness, hung over them. Ella in a long skirt and T-shirt printed with her favorite saying played her guitar. Jack ate slowly, as Ella gently strummed a Joan Baez song.
She let the last chord vibrate in the air. “You look far away today, Jack.”
“Worried about the big game?” She strummed a C chord.
“Not really. I’m ready for those guys.” As crucial as the Arvin game was to his chances for a scholarship, his head spun with Herm, the sheriff, and lost combine. He needed to set all that aside.
“You’re worried about losing that combine, aren’t you?”
He shrugged and glanced off into the haze. Herm’s beat-up face filled him with too many questions, ones he would rather not ask.
“What do you think happened to it?”
Jack did his best to suppress a frown. He spent the next twenty minutes explaining how Sheriff Grant found Herm Gordon face down in the mud and how their combine had gone missing. Short of stealing someone else’s machine and selling it to pay the taxes, he didn’t have too many ideas about what he could do to save his mom’s place.
“Jack, you have to protest. Write to the newspaper. Make noise until the sheriff finds your combine. Someone knew you needed that money to save your property.”
Ella’s sense of urgency hovered over her, an impending sense of doom that required her to stand up and shout to drive it away. She had been this way since he first met her, always ready to protest. Vietnam had taken up most of her attention. But it was their trip to Berkeley a couple of years ago that had set her on fire, and had almost got Jack arrested in front of Sproul Hall.
Two years ago, their sophomore debate team had joined the junior and senior team on a field trip to UC Berkeley to observe a statewide competition. They left Delano before dawn and talked for the entire four-hour bus ride. That was something he had never done with any girl. They sat across from each other, an aisle between them. Her darting green eyes held his interest. Life shot out of them, beautiful and intelligent in the same instant.
They debated the war in Vietnam, who killed JFK, the likelihood of a gunman on the grassy knoll, the Selma march, the Freedom Riders, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers—she had an opinion on everything. Mostly, she made sense. The girl’s intensity at times unsettled him, but it mostly intrigued him.
During the debate competition in a Berkeley auditorium, shortly after the lunch break, Ella leaned into him in the dark. “Meet me outside on the steps in a few minutes.”
Without waiting for an answer, she rose and disappeared. Jack stewed in his seat, trying to figure out what she was up to. He wouldn’t miss much if he left. Besides, her sense of adventure piqued him. A few minutes later, he found her outside the glass doors on the steps. In the breeze, her brown hair, straight and long, riffled across her mischievous smile.
“There’s an FSM rally on the other side of the campus. Go with me. We’ll be back in plenty of time.” “A what?” he asked.
“You know, the Free Speech Movement. Please, go with me,” she pleaded with her green eyes. “Mario Savio is going to speak.”
From the way she threw out his name, he was someone Jack should know. He had never heard of the Free Speech Movement, or Savio, whoever he was. Jack glanced back to the doors.
“They’ll be in there for hours.” She took his hand. He marveled at her warm grasp. He liked it.
They made their way through a maze of buildings. She must have had this all planned out. She led him directly to a large plaza packed with students milling about. Some sat, most stood talking and smoking, and clouds of strange smelling smoke wafted over the crowd. A line of cops stood on the fringes of the crowd. They fidgeted with their batons.
The two of them were so far back, they could hardly make out what the speaker was saying. Ella pushed her way toward the front, and Jack held on. Had she done this before? She stopped when they were about twenty feet from the speaker, who read a list of students who were being expelled. People were booing.
A new speaker came to the microphone, a tall wiry-haired student in a white shirt and sheepskin-lined jacket. Electricity seemed to shoot right out of his hair. The crowd around Jack murmured, likely wondering what this guy was going to say. Ella squeezed his hand tighter. He didn’t dare let go of her, afraid they’d get separated in the jostling crowd.
The crowd hushed when the man with the electric hair started to speak. He had a machine-gun delivery. His message burst from him with so much energy the entire crowd leaned in for more. His lips moved like waves, every word coated with fire.
I ask you to consider if this university is a firm…we’re the raw materials.
And we don’t mean to be made into any product…to be bought by anyone.
We’re human beings!
The crowd applauded, and Ella loosed her hand to clap and shout.
There’s a time the operation of the machine becomes so odious… you can’t take part.
You’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears…upon the levers… and you’ve got to make it stop.…Unless you’re free, the machine won’t be prevented from working.
The crowd broke into more applause. Kids were yelling their agreement. Jack wasn’t clear what machine the guy was talking about, or what freedom he didn’t have, and what gears needed to be stopped. Then the speaker introduced Joan Baez, and the crowd went crazy with chatter and clapping.
She started singing a Bob Dylan song, and a hush fell over everyone.
How many times can a man turn his head And pretend that he doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind… Ella hopped up and down on the balls of her feet.
Baez started up another song, “We shall overcome…,” and everyone joined in, the crowd swayed with the words. Something great, something powerful was about to break open here. He took Ella’s hand, and she gave him a complicit smile. She held him tight as if she feared she would float away in the euphoria of the moment.
When the song ended, she pulsed forward. Jack dared not let her go as they slipped between applauding students who hovered around the famous singer. Ella ascended right up to the great Joan Baez, her long black hair draped over her shoulders, her guitar slung over her neck.
Ella tried to talk calmly, but she only stammered.
“Did you want an autograph, honey?”
Ella had a confused look as if the question she wanted to ask had slipped away.
“Do you go to school here?”
Ella shook her head. “Delano High School.”
“Look,” Baez pointed over Ella’s shoulder. “You guys got to get out of here. There’s going to be trouble.”
At the far end of the crowd, cops were forcing students to move. Cop cars with lights flashing swarmed into the quad forcing students toward them. Panicked voices, screams, and shouting rose in the quad. Police vans rolled into the quad, lights flashing, the short squawks of their sirens stirred up the crowd.
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About the Author
John DeSimone is a novelist, memoirist, and editor. He’s co-authored bestselling The Broken Circle: A memoir of escaping Afghanistan, and others. He taught writing as an adjunct professor at Biola University and has worked as a freelance editor and writer for nearly twenty years. His current release, a historical novel, The Road to Delano, is a coming of age novel set during the Delano grape strike led by Cesar Chavez. BookSirens said, “It’s more than a little Steinbeck, in a good way….” He lives in Claremont, Ca, and can be found on Goodreads and at www.johndesimone.com
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