Jaime Berry on Hope Springs

The first place I ever thought of as home as an adult was a small apartment in Brooklyn right across the street from Prospect Park and only a few blocks from the school where I taught. I’d lived in many apartments during my time in New York City, but I’d never thought of any of them as belonging to me, some I didn’t even bother decorating at all. But this apartment with its high ceilings and elaborate wood molding was different. There I moved in with my then boyfriend, who became my husband. We filled that apartment together, first with our dog and all our stuff, and eventually with two sons and all their stuff. We packed that little apartment full to bursting, which in the end, is why we had to move.


Our next apartment was far less homey, and while unboxing dishes in a kitchen with a view of an airshaft, the pieces of a story idea I’d been mulling over sort of clicked together. At first, I only pictured a single scene—a young girl riding down a dirt and gravel road on a beat-up bike, finally feeling like she’d come home. It took me a while to figure out that I knew exactly what road she was on.


I grew up in a tiny town called Antlers, nestled in the southeast corner of Oklahoma and just a skip’s distance from Texas. It felt like my whole family, my grandmother, two aunts, and many cousins, all lived down a gravel road off Highway 3. My dad owned Berry Drug Store in town, right next to what was at the time, the only stop light in the whole county. After school as a kid, I spent my time visiting the different stores along Main Street, chatting up shop owners and accepting free candy. For the longest time, home for me meant Main Street, my extended family, and the horse pastures, honeysuckle, and haybales along Red Hill Road. Even after years of living in New York City, when I thought of home, Antlers was in my head and heart and is without a doubt the inspiration for the small town in my book, Hope Springs, Texas.


Jubilee and her grandmother, Nan, move from town to town living by a set of Relocation Rules as they search for their “perfect place”. The idea of writing about characters struggling to find their place in the world, a place where they feel at home, is certainly not a new one. But I’d never really thought deeply about what home meant to me before, why I hadn’t thought of my other apartments as mine. I didn’t have a set of rules as I searched; for me it was real estate amenities, things like roof decks and a bedroom bigger than a closet. I didn’t find my perfect place in Brooklyn. When we moved to New Jersey, as I tried to settle into our new suburban town and into the house I thought I’d always wanted, I wondered if there even was such a thing.


At the time of our move to the suburbs, I’d finished a draft of Hope Springs, but something was missing. The story just wasn’t quite working. What I hadn’t realized was that in Brooklyn, my sense of belonging, even my sense of self had become connected to where I lived. I taught elementary school in a unique historic building with no hallways, each classroom connected to the next. Without fail anytime I left my apartment I would see colleagues, kids, or family members of kids I knew. On errands, walking the dog, to and from work, everywhere I went in my little neighborhood, I’d collect hugs, high-fives, and hellos. I’d created my own Antlers, my own Red Hill Road, right in Brooklyn. But other than try my best to be a good teacher, I’d never put much effort into all the ties I had to my community; they were de facto perks of my job, literally coming with the territory. What I realized in suburban New Jersey is that feeling at home isn’t always effortless; it’s a relationship between place and person, and relationships usually take some amount of work to build.


I went back to that first draft of Hope Springs and rewrote it, now with a clearer sense of what was missing. I gave Jubilee her own Main Street and her own Red Hill Road. Jubilee tells her mother that in Hope Springs she feels different; she says, “I’m more me here.” I wanted to give her a safe place to hope, to take risks, to make friends, to care deeply, a place where she felt secure enough to be involved and invested in her surroundings and the people who lived there. But more than that I wanted to give her such a sense of connection and comfort that it leant her some surety of self. My hope is that every reader finds a place like Hope Springs, Texas, where they have something like quilting classes with Holly, fishing in Mrs. Esther’s murky pond, and friends like Colton and Abby, their own spot in the world where they feel loved and supported and more themselves than ever before.