How do you get over one of the lowest points in your life? How do you let go of your past so you can move on to your future? Those are just some of the questions Lianne Oelke explores in her debut novel, Nice Try, Jane Sinner.
As readers will quickly learn, the titular Jane Sinner had recently attempted to end her own life, however neither her deeply religious parents nor her sister want to discuss what happened and what might have led her down that path. So in search of some change in her life, Jane decides to move out, finish high school using community college credits and compete on House of Orange, a low-budget reality TV show run by fellow student Alexander Park as part of his school project.
But in searching for a way out of her current life, Jane finds that she’s slowly finding a way back in.
Check out an exclusive first look at the book’s cover, as well as an excerpt from the upcoming novel.
Nice Try, Jane Sinner hits bookstores Jan. 9, 2018. Preorder it here.
Excerpt from ‘Nice Try, Jane Sinner‘ by Lianne Oelke
I’m not a particularly good daughter, but I sat through a month of therapy for my parents’ sake. I’d like to think they got more out of it than I did. Couldn’t have been too hard. Any system that requires the patient’s family to pay someone else to care about her is fundamentally flawed. But I digress. If my decision to stop attending therapy means James Fowler High School no longer welcomes me as a student, I guess that’s on me.
The novelty of playing hooky has worn off, and I’m desperate to fill my time with something other than introspection, the occasional afternoon stocking groceries, and Mario Kart.
Bonnie just texted me. She wants me to burst through the clouds like the beautiful ray of sunshine that I am and come to a party tonight where everyone is apparently super super stoked to see me again. I told her it’s too dangerous. I have been known to blind others with my relentlessly sunny disposition. I may be desperate for a change, but I’m not desperate enough to face a party full of ex-classmates. Bonnie is a better person than I will ever be, so she promised to stop by later for whatever garbage I’ll be binge watching on my laptop.
So that’s nice. It’s also nice to write in here. I haven’t written in this journal for months. It’s kind of funny that the only time I don’t write in here is when a therapist says I should. But I needed a break from myself. Understandably, I think.
SunMar6Ditching school five months before grad isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s too late to catch up now. I dropped the ship, that ball has sailed, Jane Sinner has left the building. Everyone is still a little scared to ask what I’m going to do now because they know I have no fucking clue. The parents certainly didn’t see this coming. They’re still scrambling to find “the window God must have opened, since he closed this particular door.” I’m old enough to close doors on my own, thank you very much. But the parents don’t want to hear that. They want to hear me say, “Why yes, I’d love to come with you to church this morning.” Not “I can’t, I have to catch up on a variety of reality television shows.”
They thought if Bonnie came over for lunch after the service, it would encourage me to at least shower and put on a bra by the time they got home. It didn’t.
Apparently, Bonnie’s fashion choices are rubbing off on Carol. They both decided to wear skinny jeans and fluorescent baggy sweaters to church, which annoyed the parents. Carol kept getting her sleeve caught in her lasagna while we ate.
DADI wish you would have come with us this morning, Jane.
MOMYou used to love going to church.
I also used to love running around half-naked with crayons up my nose because I thought they looked like fangs. I take comfort in knowing people can change.
DADYou know, the best way to move on is to get back in the swing of things. There’s nothing wrong with taking some more classes. You could use more structure in your life. Some order.
It’s like he didn’t even notice that I had divided my salad into a rainbow of vegetables.
JSYou’re meowing up the wrong tree.
DAD(Sigh.)Barking, Jane. It’s barking up the wrong tree.
BONNIECats chase small animals up trees too, you know.
DADYeah, well. You don’t want to end up like your Aunt Gina, Jane. You can’t make a decent living for your kids by sitting at home all day, “being funny” and writing Lord knows what for the internet
JSI don’t have kids, Dad.
MOMOh, please. Can’t we all just get along for one meal? Bonnie, how have you been lately? Is school going well for you?
I guess that’s why they invited her over. Not only is she a conversational buffer, she’s also a reminder that even bisexual girls with tattoos can have their shit together, so why don’t I?
BONNIEYeah, school is going okay, I guess. We all miss Jane.
CAROLJanie’s gonna go to community college instead. That’s what the guidance counselor thinks she should do, anyway.
Oh really? She didn’t mention that to me.
That’s because I’m not going.
Well, you can’t just not go back to school!
JSThanks, Obvious McObviouspants.
DADWell. You can at least go to the information session tomorrow. It’ll be good for you to explore your options.
We talked to Pastor Ron this morning, and he thinks that finishing your diploma at Elbow River is a good idea.
The parents are Pastor Ron’s biggest fans, so if he thinks an idea is good, my parents think it’s great. I think he’s all right (for a pastor), but I’m not convinced he’s the most qualified authority figure in my life, considering that my apathy toward his church was the domino that broke the camel’s back. I’d tell the parents that, but they get frustrated when I use idioms incorrectly.
Carol told me I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I told her to bite me.
CAROLNo one says that anymore, Janie! And stop tagging embarrassing pics of me on Facebook. Mom always has to comment on each one. She’s on a roll this morning.
JSI can do what I want.
I took Carol’s Pop-Tart out of the toaster and ate it in front of her to drive the lesson home.
JSRespect your elders.
I’d like to say I’m going to the info meeting because I care about my parents’ happiness. But really it’s because I’ve racked my brain trying to answer the question Well, what else are you going to do with yourself, Jane? and I’ve got nothing. Just restlessness and understimulation and this constant hum in my body from energy wasted on Netflix. I need to run a marathon or something. I hate living in limbo.
From a distance, Elbow River Community College looked half-decent. Up close, it was just a fresh paint job and decorative glass designed to look like windows. I distrusted it already. It was bigger than I imagined. Not that my imagination has been getting a chance to shine lately.
I stopped in the bathroom on my way to room 213. You can tell a lot about an establishment from its bathroom maintenance. This bathroom looked like it was recently renovated as cheaply as possible. Small, but cleanish. No get out while you can! Or jake s. is full of chlamydia n lies! scrawled on the stalls. I did find a pamphlet tucked behind the tampon dispenser, featuring a girl with a perm and a turtleneck holding a pregnancy pee stick too close to her face. It was called Tracy’s in Trouble! I would have stayed and learned a thing or two, but I was late as it was.
The classroom had twenty other potential students in it, all of whom looked even less excited to be there than I was. A middle-aged man leaned awkwardly on the teacher’s desk. His ass barely grazed the wooden surface, the same way cautious girls hover over public toilets. Maybe it was the stiffness of his pressed slacks that wouldn’t allow his legs to bend. He was the kind of tall that constantly invites strangers to comment on how tall he is.
TALL GUYThe weather is fine up here, thank you.
I wasn’t going to say anything.
He’s also the kind of guy that makes me cringe every time he says something remotely modern. Even “cool.”
TALL GUYAs I was explaining to everyone else here, when we started at three—
Yes, I know I’m late. Thanks for the reminder, though.
TALL GUY—you can call me Mr. Dubs. That’s short for Mr. W, which is short for Mr. Wickershnitzel.
That’s probably for sure not his real name, but he didn’t expect me to remember it anyway.
JSNice to meet you.
MR. DUBSLikewise, Ms. …
JSSinner. Jane Sinner.
Anyone who addresses me as “Ms.” or “Miss” is automatically someone I would rather not talk to. I resisted the urge to check my phone to see if the hour was up yet.
Mr. Dubs explained that he’s the Youth Re-engagement Program Admissions Coordinator and High School Integration Adviser. Or something to that effect.
MR. DUBSYou should have all received an email with links to our new website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts. Here at Elbow River we believe in building a sustainable community, materially and mentally, so I’m excited to let you know we’ve recently committed to a paperless future!
The students broke into a scattered applause. Just kidding. They didn’t.
MR. DUBSHowever, we still have a ways to go, and for now I’m required to hand you this piece of paper. I apologize.
The girl in front of me passed the paper back. Under the Elbow River logo the hashtags #COMMUNITY #SUSTAINABILITY and #FREEDOM were printed. I couldn’t wait to make fun of this place to Bonnie. Mr. Dubs spent the next hour going over the school philosophy (“We believe in philosophy, not policy”). I started a tally of how many times Mr. Dubs used the word sustainability in his talk but gave up after sixteen. He also reviewed the logistics of completing a certain number of high school credits over the spring term. He said it’s possible to study through the summer term as well, if we’re interested in earning college credits too. But if I attend community college, I’ll want to get out as quickly as possible.
After the talk came the application form, which was broken down into three sections: name, address, and credit card information. I didn’t fill it out. I got the feeling Elbow River was the Venus flytrap of last-resort education and it would clamp down on any student with a pulse. Even students like me. I was half-afraid Mr. Dubs would pull me aside to discuss my “history.” But I can’t be the only one with a “history” here. The other prospective students seem normal enough, but they’re all here for a reason, too.
The required aptitude test came last. Maybe I’d discover a hidden talent for Sustainable Basket Weaving or Intergenerational Social Media Communications. A girl can dream. It took Mr. Dubs more than twenty minutes to troubleshoot the Wi-Fi so we could do the test online. I browsed the bulletin board outside the classroom while we waited.
Three flyers for Recreational Ceramics. Four for a car share with a picture of a man holding a cat under each arm. One handwritten Post-it note saying “smile, ur beautiful!” I can’t stand that sort of senseless optimism. And one flyer for Optimism Club. I might have trouble fitting in here. The only notice that caught my interest was for a reality show:
ARE YOU A STUDENT LOOKING FOR CHEAP RENT AND A FREE CAR???
My name is Alexander Park and I’m a film student. I’m looking for new and returning Elbow River students to compete in my YouTube reality show: House of Orange!
Three guys and three girls live in a Big Brother type house and compete to win my five-year-old VW Golf (perfect condition)! The house is located near the campus and has separate bedrooms. Rent is only $200 a month (utilities and internet included). Meet some new people, do some crazy things, win yourself a car! For details and to fill out an application, go to http://www.houseoforangeshow.com.
Students must be over 18 and enrolled in full-time studies for both the Spring and Summer terms.
Maybe Bonnie and I can fit House of Orange in with America’s Next Top Model and The Bachelorette this spring. I stuffed the flyer into my bra because these jeggings don’t have pockets. The ladies also made room for the Tracy’s in Trouble! pamphlet. Maybe community college could teach me something after all.
I spent the bus ride home trying to figure out how to tell the parents what I’m going to do. I have to play my cards right, or it won’t work.
As soon as I walked into the kitchen, Mom turned toward the stove and began rapidly stirring a pot.
How’d it go, then?
She is really quite terrible at pretending to be casual about things she cares about.
JSAll right. Not great. I don’t know.
DADWell, don’t a-worry, we’re making a-curry!
JSCurry is not Italian, Dad.
DADYou think you’re so smart, don’t you?
I opened a cupboard and grabbed some clean plates for the table.
MOMSo, Jane? Do you think it’s… a possibility?
DADYou know, Jane, when God closes a door, he—
JSHe opens a window, I know.
DADNo need for that tone, Jane.
JSI just don’t know if it will work.
MOMIf you decide that education is no longer a priority for you, we could discuss other options. Like pitching in more around the house. Maybe paying rent.
I set down four shiny glasses next to four shiny plates. Hiccups of doubt followed me around the table, but I said it anyway:
JSI’ll go to Elbow River. But only if I move out.
Mom set her spoon on the counter with a sharp click.
DADThat’s not happening.
MOMYou could go back to James Fowler in the fall.
JSBut all my friends will have graduated already.
MOMYou can always make new friends! You can be such a nice girl when you make the effort, Jane.
This is why I can’t talk to the parents. They think you can get friends in high school the same way you get chips from a vending machine. Put in a little niceness, and some kid pops out ready to double-check your homework and paint your nails at a slumber party. Niceness is not a valid currency in high school.
JSIt’s not that easy, Mom. I’m not going back there.
Friends or no friends, the Legend of Jane Sinner will linger in the halls of James Fowler for years to come. All I want is to put some distance between myself and that story. Between myself and anyone who thinks of me that way. All the parents want is for me to stabilize, to become the girl who used to exist but doesn’t exist anymore, for everything to stay the same forever and ever, amen.
MOMI suppose you could study online.
And never have a reason to leave this house? I’ve wasted far too much time here lately.
JSI don’t think so.
MOMWe’re just concerned for you, is all. It might be too much for you right now, what with—
JSI know. And I appreciate your concern. But I really need some space… to focus on my studies.
It’s not easy being diplomatic. As if on cue, they looked at each other, took a deep breath, and exhaled my name.
I wonder if they know they’ve slowly merged into the same person in two different bodies.
I can’t believe I said this, but—
JSI’ll go back to youth group.
They immediately softened. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to play the Prodigal Daughter card, but as far as I know, nothing can trump it.
PARENTSOh, Jane. That would be so good for you right now. Good friends, Christian support—
JSOnly if I move out.
Awkwardly trying to fit into conversations that aren’t the right size or shape for me while dying of boredom every other week is not ideal, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make for my freedom. Mom picked up her spoon and resumed stirring, turning her back to hide the tiny smile inching across her face.
Well, that’s something to consider, isn’t it? Why don’t we sleep on it?
Obviously I’m not going to tell them about House of Orange just yet. One step at a time.
This is what I sent to Alexander Park:
PART A: THE BASICS
NAME: Jane Sinner
DOB: June 6
PROGRAM/ COURSE: psychology
DO YOU HAVE ANY ALLERGIES? no
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL DIETARY RESTRICTIONS? no
DO YOU HAVE ANY MENTAL OR PHYSICAL CONDITIONS THAT WOULD PREVENT YOU FROM COMPETING IN HIGH STRESS LEVEL CHALLENGES? not really
PART B: PERSONAL RESPONSES
ARE YOU IN A RELATIONSHIP? HOW LONG? no
DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT RELATIONSHIP: no
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FAMILY: no
DO YOU HAVE ANY SINGING, ACTING, OR PERFORMING ASPIRATIONS? god no
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME? draw, eat, watch substandard television programming
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH? brevity
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WEAKNESS? no
WHAT (OR WHOM) DO YOU VALUE MOST IN YOUR LIFE? competence, autonomy, absurdity, abstract nouns in general, steak, the people who slaughter cows so I don’t have to
WHAT REALLY ANNOYS YOU? poor grammar, penciled-in eyebrows, most displays of emotion, ballpoint pens
FAVORITE TV SHOW? America’s Next Top Model
FAVORITE BOOK? the internet
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON POLITICS? I’m happily apathetic
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RELIGION? My thoughts are too profound and complex to be adequately dealt with here
WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? pain, middle age, the bottom of the ocean
WHAT GOALS DO YOU HAVE FOR YOURSELF? to become a well-adjusted and self-aware individual
PART C: THE SHOW
ARE YOU A PRIVATE PERSON/ HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU ON CAMERA? privacy is a state of mind
ARE YOU WILLING TO COMMIT TO LIVING AT HOUSE OF ORANGE FULL TIME (SPENDING AT LEAST 30 HOURS A WEEK AT THE HOUSE BETWEEN 8AM AND 11PM)? yes
ARE YOU A COMPETITIVE PERSON? yes
HOW DO YOU PLAN TO COPE WITH THE STRESS OF SCHOOL AS WELL AS A REALITY SHOW? I plan to not get stressed in the first place
WHAT MAKES YOU A GOOD CANDIDATE FOR HOUSE OF ORANGE? I don’t know
WHY DO YOU WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN HOUSE OF ORANGE? to win the car, obviously
WHAT ELSE CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF? @ . . @
Technically I’m not eighteen yet, but almost eighteen should be close enough. I don’t know if high school students qualify for the show, so psychology seemed like as good a fake area of study as any. I’ll do that program or whatever that allows me to take college courses too. If that’s not good enough for some shitty community college show, it’s not like I have anything to lose. And if I’m going to be spending my spring attending some shitty community college, I might as well become a reality show superstar. Move over, Bachelorette.
I filled out and submitted all three sections of the Elbow River application. It left a lot less to creativity than the House of Orange form, although it did make an effort to at least appear interesting. All the titles and headers are typed in what looks suspiciously like the Twitter font. I swear, their marketing department must be run by the kind of parents who think wearing a baseball cap backwards and having a Hotmail account will help them fit in with their children. Is this really the sort of establishment I want to entrust with my future?
Well, what else are you going to do with yourself, Jane?
For starters, I can revise my history. That’s what I’m doing here, isn’t it? Rewriting my story so it no longer revolves around the Event. So it no longer stars some washed-up nihilist too uncomfortable in her own skin to do anything worthwhile. People already talk about me behind my back. Maybe it’s time I give them something new to talk about.
The parents made another attempt to persuade me to live at home. It was just a formality, really. They know as well as I do what happens when I make up my mind. “Why would you ever move out when you could have free room and board plus family support right here? You shouldn’t be alone. Let us do your laundry and provide you with furniture and cook you macaroni and cheese with REAL CHEESE and chew your face off every time you come home later than we think you should and let you know when you’re actin’ sassy and love you more efficiently by seeing you EVERY DAY and living in the same house FOREVER.” So. Pros and Cons of moving out:
freedom macaroni and unreal cheese
The decision basically made itself.
I guess they do have a point about money, though. I’m no mathematician and I’m certainly no economist, but I think this formula is on point:
reduced standard of living (student loans + part-time job)
= affordable housing
Two hundred dollars a month is all I can afford to pay for rent, and as far as I know, two hundred dollars won’t get me anything besides a room on House of Orange. Unless, perhaps, I’m okay with living in some hoarder’s closet, smothered in poorly trained cats and breathing musty thrift store air until my lungs collapse.
I met Alexander Park today and saw the house. He emailed me back thirty-two minutes after I sent him the application, asking for an interview. This means that either I am incredibly awesome or Alexander Park is desperate for people. When I got the reply I still wasn’t sure if this was all a joke, and if it was serious, just how seriously it was being taken. House of Orange could mean nothing more than a lonely fourteen-year-old with a GoPro. I don’t know how old Alexander Park is, but he has more than one GoPro. He also has four cameras on loan from the school, several computers, and a team of fellow film students wearing orange baseball caps embroidered with the letters hoo. Alexander Park introduced me to each one, but I don’t remember all the names. I took a tour of the house, and it’s not too bad. The house is a ten-minute bus ride from the school, and it’s located in a reassuringly mediocre neighborhood. AP’s parents own the place and usually rent it out to students. It’s not a big house, but there are six “bedrooms,” three up and three down. I have to admire the creative use of curtains and large shelving units. Not exactly conducive to privacy, but privacy’s not the point. There’s a bathroom on each floor, a living room, a large dining room, and a tiny kitchen with counters possibly made from recycled pylons. Also, orange shag carpet. Everywhere.
The team asked me the sorts of questions one asks on a first date, then talked for a while about the technical aspects of the show. They said enough to convince me it’s legit. At least, as legit as a group of film students can make it.
ALEXANDER PARKSo, do you have any other questions?
JSWell, where exactly are you going with this?
APWhat do you mean?
JSYou said the show would air on YouTube.
APRight, episodes every two weeks.
JS(That’s lazy marketing.)Don’t you have a target audience, like other college students?
HOOCAP 2Yeah. Those.
APWe’re going to promote it within the school—advertisements in the paper, commercials at basketball games—things like that. Elbow River has been quite supportive of the idea. This show is our baby. I’m going to make sure it’s done properly.
JSSo how can you afford to give away your car?
API’ll just get another one.
APSo what do you think?
APThe car is the grand prize, of course, and to win it you simply have to be the last person standing, but there will be other incentives along the way. Movies, hockey tickets, books. Things students normally can’t afford.
APPizza, home-cooked meals…
APReally? Great! That’s great. I’ll give you some time to look over the paperwork, etc…
I’ve told the parents I’ve found a place, but I haven’t mentioned the “conditions.” I’ll do that later. They asked if I’ll be living with girls, because of course college-age boyz (and even worse, college-age men) have no place intruding on a young woman’s personal space. I told them I’ll be living with girls, which is true enough.
I got a call from Mr. Dubs today.
MR. DUBSGood morning, Ms. Sinner. This is Mr. Dubs from Elbow River calling. How are you?
MR. DUBSCool! That’s great. Well, I have some great news. Your application has been approved!
JSWhat? Oh. Good.
MR. DUBSI’ll be your adviser. I’ve sent you a friend request on Facebook—feel free to message me anytime, you know?
Speaking of Facebook, Bonnie only had a few minutes to chat before her class started, and I needed to know if she was coming over after school or if I should just catch up on America’s Next Top Model without her.
JSYeah. Sure. Hey, I’ve got to go—
MR. DUBSYou know, we’re really happy to have you as a student. We think you have great potential. Elbow River is such a cool place to really grow as a community-oriented individual, you know?
JSYeah. Sounds cool. But right now I’m in the middle of… making… lunch…
MR. DUBSHey, how about I send you a T-shirt? We just reinvented our mascot to better reflect our evolution as a community.
MR. DUBSWhat are you making for lunch, Ms. Sinner?
Cool! That’s great. Well, you’re officially a Greaser now!
MR. DUBSAn Elbow Greaser! Ha-ha.
MR. DUBSWe’re going to have a great year, Ms. Sinner.
MR. DUBSOh, and Ms. Sinner?
MR. DUBSLike us on Facebook and you’ll get ten percent off your online textbooks!
26 April 2017 | 3:30 pm