Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

At Childhood’s End

Four young friends discover more about the world — and themselves — than they bargained for

“Panting, trembling, I stare straight at it, my eyes glued wide, my ears ringing, terror prickling across my skin. It’s going to hit us! Please, God, don’t let me die! An intense bright light flares as the meteor whistles through the air right above our heads.” That’s Annie, the protagonist of Shannon Greenland’s middle-grade novel Scouts, describing one of many thrilling (and frightening) moments in this story of early adolescent friendship.

Photo: Marliese Carmona

The year is 1985 and Annie has been looking forward to the first camping trip of summer with her three best pals: Rocky, Beans, and Fynn. They call themselves the Scouts, since their little town of Friendly, Tennessee, is too small to have a traditional troop.

They’ve been friends all their lives, and Annie’s status as the only girl in the group has never been an issue. But it’s the summer before seventh grade, and things suddenly seem to be changing. Annie inexplicably finds herself attracted to the ruggedly athletic Rocky, who is angry because his widowed dad is dating Fynn’s divorced mom. At the same time, Rocky is trying extra hard to impress Fynn’s 13-year-old cousin Scarlett, who’s visiting from Chicago. (Annie thinks she looks like “one of those Pert shampoo commercials where there’s obviously a fan off-camera blowing the girl’s hair.”)

Beans — science nerd, inventor, and straight-A student — may have to move away if his family’s worsening finances cause them to lose their home. And handsome hypochondriac Fynn, with a talent for baking and for stretching the truth, is just excited to have a father figure in Rocky’s dad, since his own father is out of the picture. The fact that this annoys Rocky is icing on the cake.

But all of that can wait. On this magical summer day, the four friends will head for a nearby pasture and climb a local farmer’s silo to watch a forecast meteor shower, and everything will be back to normal — Annie is sure of it. That’s before Scarlett invites herself along and things start to go sideways. When one of the meteors almost hits them, they decide to set a course toward its landing site 15 miles away in hopes of recovering it. That’s when the real adventures begin, and they’re more challenging than any of the friends expected.

Greenland, a native of Athens, Tennessee, has written an old-fashioned summer adventure story that’s great fun — complete with wild animals, mysterious phenomena, a menacing mountain clan, puzzling clues, spooky caves, and dangerous strangers. But the scariest thing of all, of course, is growing up. “And to think I thought this trip would be good for them. For all of us,” Annie muses. “It seems to be anything but. They’ve all got other friends, and now all we do is argue. My stomach drops on a new and horrible thought. What if after this, none of us want anything to do with one another anymore? What if the Scouts won’t exist by the time this is over? What if I’m losing my best friends and I didn’t even realize it?”

Before the journey ends, all of the Scouts will confront their fears and learn important lessons about friendship, loyalty, and courage — not a bad return on the investment of a simple summer’s day at childhood’s end.

At Childhood’s End

Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.

Tagged: ,