BY: SHANNON KENNEDY

Seventeen-year-old, Darcy Gallatin hates the Christmas holidays because her alcoholic father always ruins them for the whole family. But this year, Darcy is determined to make the season special for her ten-year-old brother, regardless of how hard her father tries to sabotage it. Disaster strikes when her dad injures Darcy’s horse, Whisky. Can Darcy ever forgive her father, or has he finally crossed the line and made her hate him? Even Darcy doesn’t know for sure, but one thing is certain—she needs to change things. And fast. But how?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Hangover Holidays by Shannon Kennedy, seventeen-year-old Darcy Gallatin is the first one in her family to go to college. In fact, she is the first girl in her family who wasn’t pregnant at sixteen. But her dreams fall on deaf ears with her alcoholic father and over-wrought mother, who have all they can handle with the Christmas holidays coming up. Darcy’s father always ruins the holidays, and this year is so much worse once he gets fired from his logging job for drinking on the job.

Kennedy has a real flair for depicting troubled teens, their problems, and their support groups. Her stories have a ring of truth that makes them a pleasure to read.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Hangover Holidays by Shannon Kennedy is the fourth book in the Stewart Falls Academy Cheerleaders series. This book, like the others in the series, focuses on the dysfunctional home of one of the SFA cheerleaders, Darcy Gallatin. Darcy’s father is an alcoholic, and as such is never there for his kids. Darcy’s older brother handles the problems at home by drinking, like his father. Her little brother handles them by running away and hiding in the hay loft. Darcy handles them by concentrating on her dreams of becoming a large animal vet. But Christmas is the hardest time for Darcy and her brothers because their father always turns the holidays into a family war. So this time Darcy is determined to make Christmas special for her little ten-year-old brother.

Like the first three books in the series, Kennedy has penned a thought-provoking tale of troubled teens and dysfunctional homes that is not only heartwarming but extremely realistic and believable. She handles this heartbreaking subject with sensitivity and a deep understanding of trouble teens. It’s a book that all high school students and their parents should read.

CHAPTER 1

Snohomish, Washington,
Sunday, November 24th, 3:15 pm:

He’ll be there this time, I told myself, staring out the bus window. Stop worrying. We were on Highway 9 headed north toward our school, Stewart Falls Academy and my dad was supposed to pick us up after our weekend field trip to one of the top-ranked state universities in Pullman, Washington. Mom had promised that Dad would meet us when I called on my cell to let her know we were getting close.

“What did you think of Washington State University?” Lynn, my best friend forever, elbowed me, breaking into my thoughts. “Earth to Darcy. Come in, Darcy. Are you okay?”

“Fine.” I tried to smile at her. “I was a bit nervous at first in Pullman, but everybody was really nice and friendly. It reminded me of Stewart Falls.”

“Yeah.” Lynn giggled. “But, Pullman is bigger.” She glanced forward to where our cheer coach sat behind the bus driver. “Remember how Ms. Olson kept apologizing for taking us to what she called a “small town” until you told her the college had the premier vet school in the state?”

“And you kept reminding her that Stewart Falls doesn’t have department stores, bowling alleys, or movie theaters and Pullman does.” I remembered the town clustered near the university. I was more certain than ever that I wanted to go there next fall. Right now, it still seemed like a long time, not a little over nine months away.

I glanced around the bus at the other cheerleaders. Rita and Kaitlyn had their heads bent over a horse book, but most of the girls were talking to the people nearby. “I really liked being in Pullman with the Varsity and JV squad. Everyone’s been great. No drama divas.”

Lynn eyed me for a moment, coiling and uncoiling a strand of bright red hair around one finger before she lowered her voice. “Are your parents still fighting?”

I nodded and then shrugged as if it was no big deal. “Dad comes in, saying he got off late from work, and Mom yells at him. Then he storms out and gets drunk. He doesn’t get home again till the bars close.”

“Gross.” Lynn wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Do you want to talk to my dad about it?”

“No way.” I shook my head quickly. “I don’t want Dr. Jed to know.”

“Darcy, he wouldn’t blame you,” Lynn said. “Everybody in Pine Ridge and Stewart Falls knows what the Gallatins are like.”

“Thanks a lot!”

“Not you.” Lynn sighed, a blush filling her cheeks. “You’re different. Everyone in Pine Ridge and SF knows that too. You’ve gotten straight As ever since third grade. People say that you’ll be the first Gallatin to go to college. If you weren’t special, you’d never have gotten into the Academy.”

She was right about that. I couldn’t believe it when the private middle school offered me a scholarship. Sure, Mom was a teacher at the SFA elementary, but she’d only gotten the job there five years ago, two years after I’d started. I forced a smile when Lynn kept looking at me. It was hard. She was right about my family.

The Gallatins were, as my paternal grandmother put it, pure trash with a capital T. It’d be a step up for us to be referred to as “trailer trash,” or “white trash.” My dad was the worst of all. Everyone called him “Roaring Rory Gallatin,” because he drank and brawled so much, especially if someone called him a “no-good drunk” to his face.

Lynn didn’t have that problem. Her dad was Dr. Jed or Dr. Jensen to the towns of Pine Ridge and Stewart Falls. When I told my grandma that I wanted to be a large animal veterinarian like Dr. Jed, she said, “Good luck with that. You’re the same as the rest of the Gallatin clan. You’ll be pregnant before you finish your senior year.”

The only person who didn’t laugh or sneer at my dreams was Lynn’s dad. He told me that with a diploma from WSU’s vet school, I could start a clinic of my own anywhere in Washington State. Somehow, I’d make it to Pullman and I’d be a doctor, too.

The bus slowed and I looked out the window. We were turning off on the road in front of the Academy. We’d be at the school in a few minutes. I looked for my dad’s battered red pickup, but I didn’t see it. According to him, trees and mailboxes jumped out in front of him after he’d had a few beers. His stories made the whole family laugh. He still didn’t get anywhere on time.

Lynn stood and pulled her backpack out from under our seats. “Where do you suppose your dad is?”

“He’ll be along.” I followed her and the rest of the girls off the bus. We hung around, waiting for the driver to open the luggage compartment. I reached in my pocket for my cell. No messages. I stepped away and pressed buttons, calling home. My younger brother answered. “Mitch, it’s me. We’re at the Academy. Where’s Dad?”

“I don’t know. Mom reminded him a million times today that you’d be home this afternoon,” Mitch said. “He muttered something about leaving early and stopping by Gordy’s place.”

I glared across the parking lot at the main office. I knew what that meant. Gordy and Dad had been buddies since they were kids. They’d undoubtedly gotten busy doing something and Dad forgot all about me. He did it whenever he and Gordy got together, so I ought to be used to it by now. But I wasn’t. “Where’s Connor?”

“Cutting Christmas trees with Timber Watkins,” Mitch said. “Do you want me to call him?”

“No!” My older brother and Dad fought like tigers and when Connor heard about this, he’d freak. I didn’t need that hassle. I took a deep breath. “I don’t have the number to call Gordy’s to remind Dad to come get us and he’s undoubtedly run out of minutes on his cell again. You do it. Then call me back.”

“You got it. I’m glad you’re almost home. It’s been awful here without you.”

“I know,” I said and ended the call. I wondered what happened while I was away, then decided Mitch would tell me when I got home, whether I wanted to hear it or not. He had a good brain, but he only turned ten this past summer and he didn’t always think first.

“What happened?” Lynn came toward me, pulling our suitcases behind her. “Is he on the way?”

I shrugged again, putting on my “no problem” act. “Dad told Mitch that he might stop by a friend’s on the way here. Mitch is going to call and see if Dad’s still there. He probably left late.”

I was lying, but it was better than telling her the truth. No way could I tell Lynn that we’d been stranded and might not even have a ride home. I was used to being left places and looking after myself. I’d done it for years since I was younger than Mitch. Lynn hadn’t. And now, she had to put up with this garbage today.

“Don’t worry, Darcy. He’ll be here any time. I’ll get the rest of our stuff. Be right back.”

I nodded. “I’ll wait for Mitch to call back.”

She stalked across the parking lot. I could tell by the stiffness in her back how irritated she was. I wished her dad had agreed to pick us up. Dr. Jed never forgot us, or was too busy at work to come when he said he would. My phone vibrated and I answered. “Hello? Mitch?”

“Darcy, Dad isn’t at Gordy’s. He left ages ago. Mom’s gone to Cost-Co and she’s not answering her cell. I can ride around town on my bike and see if I can find Dad.”

“Don’t you dare! There are too many busy streets and it’s almost dark.” When I wanted to pick on Mitch, I called him shrimp. It wasn’t a joke. He was shorter than all the other boys in his fourth-grade class. “You stay home. I’ll work this out.”

“I called all the taverns. Nobody’s seen Dad.”

“Then he’s on the way here,” I told my brother. I prayed I was right, that I was telling the truth, but I knew I was lying. I had to keep Mitch safe. “You hang out at home and call me as soon as Mom, or Connor, or Dad shows up. Okay? Lynn and I will walk down to Parthenon’s and grab some pasta. We’re starving. Tell whoever comes home first to pick us up there and I’ll call you back.”

“All right.” Mitch heaved a huge sigh as if I was picking on him. “You win, Madame Worry-wart.”

He hung up before I told him that if he didn’t take chances, I wouldn’t lose it. I’d taken care of him since I was seven and he was a newborn baby. Somebody had to and Mom was too busy looking after Dad. I really didn’t want Mitch riding his bike all over Pine Ridge trying to find our father when he was probably hanging out at one of the local taverns. I sure wasn’t going to start calling those.

I hastily called the veterinary clinic and got the answering machine. Wonderful! I didn’t bother to leave a message. Nobody would get it until tomorrow morning. I could have told Dr. Jed if he picked up. He never yelled at me, not even when I made a mistake. I wasn’t about to make a recorded announcement that we’d been forgotten. Cindy the receptionist was a treasure, but even she would blab all over town about the trouble my dad caused.

“What’s up?” Lynn asked, arriving with our red cheerleading duffels.

“He’s not at Gordy’s so he must be at Parthenon’s getting pizza for Sunday dinner,” I lied. “Let’s go there.”

“Okay, I’m ready to eat. It’s been forever since we stopped for lunch.”

We waved at a couple other girls, grabbed our bags, and then headed off down the hill as if we had somewhere important to go. I breathed a sigh of relief when Ms. Olson didn’t see us. She was responsible for us and if she knew we’d been abandoned, she’d have opened up the school and called all over town, starting with Dr. O’Malley, the vice-principal. The big thing was to avoid being embarrassed in front of everyone.

When we got to the restaurant, of course none of my family was there which meant Mitch still hadn’t heard from any of them. Lynn and I left our stuff in one of the booths and went to clean up. I ran a brush through my long, golden-brown hair. Then I added more mascara to my already dark lashes. I flicked a couple hairs off my red cheerleader sweater, grateful that Ms. Olson told us to wear our dark blue slacks instead of the short tartan skirts. At least, I wasn’t freezing.

With her curly red hair, big green eyes, and model’s figure, Lynn looked as if she belonged in a fashion magazine, not as if she was the Senior Class President of Stewart Falls Academy. We studied together all the time and usually tied for top student in our classes. Once we were up to our usual standards, we headed back out to the booth.

Zelda, the owner of Parthenon Pizza, had brought over mugs of hot chocolate while we hogged her bathroom. She was a fifty-something woman with dyed blonde hair, wearing a big white apron over her clothes. The name printed in giant red letters across her huge boobs read Zelda. All smiles, she handed us menus. “Pizza or pasta, ladies? How was your trip?”

“Wonderful.” Lynn chatted with her while we debated and settled on a super-combo, deep dish pie. “So are you going to be one of the sponsors for the food drive this year?”

“You bet. We have to help each other through hard times.” Zelda wrote down our order and sauntered in the direction of the kitchen. “Bring me some posters this week.”

While we waited, Lynn and I talked about the food drive. Classes would compete for prizes and so would the different grades. Of course, the winner would be the local food bank and people who needed the holiday baskets. We’d managed to put together and deliver two hundred baskets last year, but this season, we wanted to double that.

Abbie, our cheer captain, had put Lynn and me in charge of publicity. Somehow, we had to get Stewart Falls jacked up about the Academy’s holiday activities. It wouldn’t do any good to look for contributions from Pine Ridge where I lived. The public schools had their own drive and their cheer squad had been papering the community with banners and posters since they started right after Halloween.

When we finished eating, I tried Mitch again. Nobody was home yet. “I think you better call your dad, Lynn,” I said.

“He’ll be mad about this, Darce. Last spring when it happened, he yelled at your dad. You didn’t get to help at the clinic for two weeks, not until Dr. O’Malley told your parents that you’d fail your core classes if you didn’t finish the junior project.”

“I’ll do my senior project anyway.” I lifted my chin. “What can they do? Ground me? They’d have to pick us up first.”

“Good point.”

A faint smile crept across her face, as she pulled out her own cell. The smile faded when he answered. She listened, agreed to something, and then clicked off her phone. “He’s out on a call. I don’t go to Equine Nation on Sundays so we could have gone with my dad and helped if your dad bothered to pick us up on time. We’d have learned a lot too since it’s a cow with a breech birth.”

© 2015 by Shannon Kennedy