Night Road

Kristin Hannah

St. Martin's Press

Night Road
Behind the Novel
How little I knew about the world, and about parenting. When my son started school, I relaxed a tiny bit. He had made it past the dangerous years--or so I thought. He had learned how to cross the street, to wear a helmet, to ask for help, to stay away from strangers. But how do you keep them safe when the danger comes from within?
Senior year of high school. The Big Year.
I wanted so much for him in that year--to love his classes, do well in his endeavors, ace the SAT, go to the prom, sign his yearbook, pick his college. All of it. I remembered how much fun I had senior year, and I wanted the same for him.
I didn't realize how much the world had changed ... and how much it had stayed the same.
It's been five years now since my son graduated from high school, and those few years have given me a little space. I've gone through the empty nest and come out on the other side. Now, finally, I can look back on that incredibly difficult year and see it for what it was. See me for who I was, and see the mistakes I made along the way. And I made more than a few, believe me.
In retrospect, I think we underestimate the immense pressure our kids are operating under in that last year of high school. We don't realize how much they want to make us proud ... and how much they fear failing. They're ready to fly away from the nest, but they don't really want to test their wings. Everything is dangerous--tests can be suddenly failed, teams can lose, application deadlines can be missed, hearts can be broken.
And then comes spring. The party season.
Believe me, whatever you remember abouthigh school parties hasn't changed. Teen parties still spring up like mushrooms in dark, quiet places, far from adult eyes. Weekend after weekend.
"How could I have been a better mother?"
For me, this became the most challenging time of all. As I said before, I am a person who researches things. I pride myself on my ability to gather knowledge. I don't want to operate in a don't ask/don't tell world. I believe in honesty and transparency. Unfortunately, there's a price to all that honesty. Sometimes your kids tell you what you don't want to hear.
In looking back, I have tried to come up with The Answer. The right way to parent in that stressful, dangerous year. What should I have said about all the pressures he was under? How could I have been a better mother? How should I have dealt with the threat of teen drinking and driving? What's the right answer when the partying starts?
These are the questions that started me out on Night Road. The novel is my exploration of the year that is so pivotal, both to parents and kids.
It was definitely stressful. It was also exciting, exhilarating, and magical. Here's what I didn't know then: Everything I said to my son, he heard. I didn't need to say it twice or underscore it or remind him. He heard it all and took what he needed. In the end, we both grew up and learned that trickiest of skills: how to let go and hold on at the same time.