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The People We Keep by Allison Larkin
Historical fiction

The People We Keep

Early Release

This is an early release that's only available to our members—the rest of the world has to wait to read it.

by Allison Larkin

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Quick take

Like the perfect summer mixtape, a coming of age story about hitting the open road and finding yourself along the way.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Inspirational


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_ForbiddenLove

    Forbidden love

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Quest



Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

Driving without a chosen destination, she stops to rest in Ithaca. Her only plan is to survive, but as she looks for work, she finds a kindred sense of belonging at Cafe Decadence, the local coffee shop. Still, somehow, it doesn’t make sense to her that life could be this easy. The more she falls in love with her friends in Ithaca, the more she can’t shake the feeling that she’ll hurt them the way she’s been hurt.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be.

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The People We Keep.
The People We Keep

Chapter 1

November 1994, Little River, New York

I’m standing at the end of my driveway in the dark, watching Mrs. Varnick’s trailer, waiting for her lights to go out, getting really pissed off. I’ve been watching for at least a week and her lights went out at eight thirty every other night. She must have picked up a clear signal on reruns of Lawrence Welk or Hee Haw with her rabbit ears, because it’s a quarter to nine and she’s still plopped in her BarcaLounger in the living room with the TV flickering and every light in the house blazing like she owns the damn electric company.

I decide I’ll wait until nine and then go for it, because she’s deafer than Mozart or Beethoven or whoever the deaf one is, and she probably has the TV cranked up anyway. But it’s freezing, my legs are bare under my skirt, and doing my little so fucking cold jig isn’t getting my blood pumping anymore. So I tell myself Mrs. Varnick must have fallen asleep in her chair. The woman eats dinner at four in the afternoon. She’s got to be snoring away, dreaming about Lawrence and his powder blue tuxedo shirts by now.

Grabbing my guitar, I move in, walking soft, keeping low. The car isn’t locked, but she wasn’t kind enough to leave the keys. I squeeze my Ren & Stimpy keychain flashlight between my teeth to keep it lit and aimed at the spot my instructions refer to as the “ignition tumbler.” I don’t know why they couldn’t just say “place where the key goes.” Thank goodness I read through the instructions in the library when I copied them. I had to look up most of the terms. So I take my dad’s screwdriver and shove it between the metal ignition tumbler and the plastic of whatever the place underneath it is called. I can’t get the tumbler part to come out and I have to keep prying at it around the edges the way you open up a paint can, all the while looking up to check on Mrs. Varnick every few seconds.

Finally, it pops. I shove the screwdriver into what I assume is the ignition switch, hold my breath, and turn. The car hiccups. I let it go. If I can’t make this work, I’m screwed. I promised myself I wouldn’t get into wire stripping and removing dashboard panels. It’s all too complicated and I have to be able to put the car back like nothing happened. I wiggle the screwdriver. Try again. This time the engine turns and the car starts. Headlights off, I back out of Mrs. Varnick’s driveway, watching her living room window carefully. She doesn’t move.

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Why I love it

The bright sunburst on the cover of The People We Keep might make you think this is just another breezy summer read, but don’t be fooled. Between its covers lies a heartbreaker of a story about one wayward teen, the family she finds, and a love of music that keeps her fighting even when the universe won’t stop throwing punches.

We first meet April in the old trailer her father has basically abandoned, living on Pop-Tarts and songwriting, trying desperately to break out of her small town. Then one day chance strikes and April finds herself city-bound. A small fish in a big pond, she nonetheless finds friends, a job at the quaint Cafe Decadence, and even a touch of romance. But April, vulnerable from some hard knocks, can’t seem to let her walls down and love in.

What I loved about this story is the way that April keeps moving to the beat of her own drum despite setbacks and travails. I didn’t agree with every choice she made but I could understand why she made them and it kept me excited on every page to see what she might get up to next. For all the hard questions it poses, The People We Keep is ultimately about resilience, compassion, and the fact that the good folks really are out there—if we can just find the courage to give them a chance.

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Member ratings (22,055)

  • Erin R.

    Suffolk, VA

    Family doesn’t always mean the people that gave birth to you. I loved how April finally found that family she longed for and felt the love she deserved. Loved this book and it’s characters! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Chloe S.

    St Paul, MN

    This is probably the best book I’ve read during 2021. The story was beautiful and heart breaking all at the same time, and while I couldn’t stop crying near the end, they were happy tears! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Kiley H.

    Arlington, VA

    I absolutely ADORED this book. April’s journey was brave, raw, and imperfect, making it a beautiful coming of age story about forgiveness and the power of caring for yourself and others. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Jennifer J.

    Neenah, WI

    This book was perfect! I chose it on a whim & I am so happy I did. I could not love this book more. I didn’t want it to end. April is such a perfect character, she was so wonderfully written! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Madelyn K.

    Asheville, NC

    I'm a sucker for ???? with dark subject matter about women who the ???? doesn't seem to care about. April comes from trash, has been abandoned, & lives life on the ????‍♀️, escaping her past & finding ❤&????

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