It’s 1979 in Arboria Park, and this time it’s 14-year-old Autumn’s turn to narrate. She’s a latchkey ’70s kid with some problems: Though she likes stepfather JC and new siblings Ruby and Jason, she doesn’t feel she “fits in” with them, or the endless parade of friends and extended family who troop in and out of Mary and JC’s house. And because she’s ostracized at school for reasons “nobody even remembered,” there’s no comfort there. Her last remaining friend is Brenda, with whom she has almost nothing in common anymore, so most of her time is spent drifting: through the lonely halls at school, the half-vacant shopping center, and the streets of Arboria Park.
On a solo Saturday walk she encounters Kip Vanderwende, a 21-year-old who’s the first person she’s ever seen with a mohawk and a vest covered in studs, pins, and band patches. Though “every part of me knew” not to go off with a stranger, Autumn accepts Kip’s invitation to listen to some punk music with him and meet his roommates, Sylvie and Nox. The music is a revelation to Autumn, and Kip and his friends give her a place to finally belong.
Her newfound joy and friendships, however, obscure the fact that Kip has some serious problems and that their “relationship” is probably headed for disaster. It’s a good thing Aunt Stacy (now a social worker) is around for advice. And to Autumn’s surprise she finds a place within her family (as they dance to Santana while cleaning the house), a way to honestly relate to Brenda, some new punk friends her own age, and a couple of goals her family and friends support.
In addition to obvious bands like the Clash (who were crossing into the mainstream) and the Ramones, Kip introduces Autumn to groups like the Avengers (San Francisco), the Germs (Los Angeles), and Sham 69 (England). There were punk scenes all over the world still thriving and expanding, though much of the world’s attention had moved on. Autumn’s excitement over what’s she’s hearing even gives her a new way to connect with JC, whose musical background and knowledge make him a bit more sympathetic to her interests than her Woodstock-mired mom. And she begins to understand how Mary’s desire not to repeat her own mother’s mistakes may have led her to misinterpret Autumn’s needs and problems.
Here’s a playlist that Autumn’s family may have listened to during their family cleaning day:
Soul Sacrifice Santana
Low Rider War
See The Rascals
Birdland Weather Report
School Days Stanley Clarke
Feelin’ Stronger Every Day Chicago
Them Changes Buddy Miles
And here are some of the songs Kip played for Autumn: