One of our recommended books for 2019 is Beyond the Point by Claire Gibson

BEYOND THE POINT


Three women are brought together in an enthralling story of friendship, heartbreak, and resilience. Set at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, this is an amazing debut novel.

Duty. Honor. Country. That’s West Point’s motto, and every cadet who passes through its stone gates vows to live it. But on the eve of 9/11, as Dani, Hannah and Avery face four grueling years ahead, they realize they’ll only survive if they do it together.

Everyone knows Dani is going places. With athletic talent and a brilliant mind, she navigates West Point’s predominantly male environment with wit and confidence,

more …

Three women are brought together in an enthralling story of friendship, heartbreak, and resilience. Set at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, this is an amazing debut novel.

Duty. Honor. Country. That’s West Point’s motto, and every cadet who passes through its stone gates vows to live it. But on the eve of 9/11, as Dani, Hannah and Avery face four grueling years ahead, they realize they’ll only survive if they do it together.

Everyone knows Dani is going places. With athletic talent and a brilliant mind, she navigates West Point’s predominantly male environment with wit and confidence, breaking stereotypes and embracing new friends.

Hannah’s grandfather, a legendary Army general, offers a stark warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but she moves forward anyway, letting faith guide her path. When she meets her soul mate at West Point, the future looks perfect, just as planned.

Wild child Avery moves fast and doesn’t mind breaking a few rules (and hearts) along the way. But she can’t outpace her self-doubt, and the harder she tries, the further it leads her down a treacherous path.

The world—of business, of love, and of war—awaits Dani, Hannah, and Avery beyond the gates of West Point. These three women know that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But soon, that adage no longer rings true—for their future, or their friendship. As they’re pulled in different directions, will their hard-forged bond prevail or shatter?

Beyond the Point is a heartfelt look at how our closest friends can become our fiercest battle buddies. After all, the greatest battles we fight rarely require a uniform.

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  • William Morrow
  • Hardcover
  • April 2019
  • 528 Pages
  • 9780062884336

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$26.99

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About Claire Gibson

Claire Gibson is the author of Beyond the Point, credit Lindsey RomeClaire Gibson is a writer and journalist based in Nashville, Tennessee. Born and raised at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, she grew up captivated by cadets and always dreamed of writing a story that honored her childhood home and the women that inspired her there. Her stories have been featured in The Washington PostThe Christian Science Monitor, The Tennessean and Entrepreneur Magazine, among many other publications.

Praise

“In Beyond the Point, Claire Gibson writes a stellar trio of heroines–women I want to hug, women I want to befriend, women I want to be…An inspiring tribute to female friendship and female courage!” – Kate Quinn, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Alice Network

“This heartening and heartbreaking story is an ode to the strength of friendship.” – Publishers Weekly

“…the rare novel that allow you to feel the importance of family, friendship, and patriotism simultaneously. This compelling read…offers hours of page-turning fun with believable women… women you know… women you are… women you want to be.” – Nancy French, author of Home and Away

“The book reminds us that in our darkest hours, despite tensions and time, best friends show up, helping us find the light.” – Bryn Chancellor, author of Sycamore

“It’s a book that will make you want to call your best friends, or be a better one.” – Nora McInerny, author of No Happy Endings

Excerpt

1

Winter 2000 // Columbus, Ohio

From the beginning, Dani McNalley wanted to be known for more than basketball.

Her father had introduced her to the sport in the driveway when she was three years old, teaching her the mechanics of dribbling and switching hands and dodging defenders. She’d grown used to the feeling of thirty thousand little bumps under her fingertips and the hollow sound of the ball hitting pavement. Over the years, she’d advanced from the driveway to club teams, from club teams to a travel squad, and from the travel squad to the roster of the top point guards in America. College scouts had written Dani McNalley’s name on their recruiting lists as early as her thirteenth birthday. That she would play NCAA Division I ball was a foregone conclusion—everyone said it was her destiny. What they didn’t know was that while athletics was a big part of her life, it certainly wasn’t her whole life.

That’s why, on a cold February morning of her senior year in high school, Dani didn’t feel nervous at all. What was there to be nervous about? She’d get up, go to school, go to practice, and then come home. Sure, there would be news crews, photographers, and a dotted line to sign. But once she announced what she’d decided, the story wasn’t going to be about basketball. Not anymore.

Her small-minded suburban town of Columbus, Ohio, had tried to put her into a box. After she’d earned a near-perfect score on the PSAT, a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch named Mikey Termini had arrived at her house with a camera and a recording device. He’d only asked her about basketball, and the photo that ran in the cover story was of her shooting baskets in her driveway. He’d buried the fact that she was a National Merit Scholarship finalist below a list of her basketball accolades, and when she’d tried to take him inside to talk, he’d stopped her and said, “I can’t take a picture of you doing calculus. People want to see you play.”

It was the same story everywhere she went. But Dani worked too hard to believe in foregone conclusions. Anything was possible. Even now, she knew she could surprise herself and change her mind at the last minute. But she wouldn’t. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, deep in her psyche, there was something about this day that felt as though it had already happened. Like she could remember it if she closed her eyes and imagined herself from the future.

Grabbing a Pop-Tart from the counter, Dani stuffed her AP Physics homework in her backpack and took the keys to the family sedan from the hook by the door.

“I’m going!” she yelled to no one.

At that moment, her mother, Harper McNalley, shuffled into the kitchen and looked her daughter up and down with the warm disdain of a woman who thought she’d raised her child better. Five foot nothing, Dani’s mother had metal-rimmed glasses and facial expressions that spoke louder than words. Her eyes grew large as she scanned Dani’s choice of wardrobe: sneakers, jeans, and a loose-fitting Nike T-shirt.

“What?” said Dani, sticking her hip out.

Harper reached for the coffee carafe and filled her travel mug. “Why don’t you do something with your hair?” She swirled the carafe through the air, indicating her daughter’s head. “Fix that situation.”

Ever since she was young, Dani had worn her hair in a spiky ponytail. The edges near her forehead were frayed and broken, but athletic pre-wrap headbands did a decent job of keeping the wild parts off her face. She knew her mother was annoyed she hadn’t made an appointment to get her hair relaxed at the salon. But there was no time for that nonsense. Dani didn’t have the patience to sit in a chair and have her head doused with chemicals. There were better things to do with her time. Plus, if they were going to put her picture in the paper, it might as well look like her. Afro and all.

“Go on,” her mother said, pressing her. “Comb it. They should at least know you’re a girl.”

Begrudgingly, Dani ran back upstairs to the hall bathroom, dropped her backpack by the door, and stared at the light-skinned black girl in the mirror. A constellation of freckles graced her face, as if God had decided at the last minute to splatter dark paint against a light brown canvas. Eighteen, with the attitude and swagger to go with it, Dani pulled a brush through her tangled hair and smothered the ends with oil.

They should at least know you’re a girl. Of course they knew she was a girl! She had boobs, for God’s sake. She played women’s basketball. Just because she didn’t wear makeup or wear skirts didn’t make her less of a woman. Her mother of all people should have known that. Harper McNalley was a chemical engineer—a black woman at the height of a white man’s profession. At times, Dani thought her mom was the wisest, most progressive person in the world. Then she’d go and say a thing like that.

A heavy fist pounded against the bathroom door three times in a row. Bang, bang, bang.

“Just a minute!” Dani shouted.

“Dani, I’ve got to go!”

High-pitched and incessant, her little brother’s voice had yet to change. She could imagine Dominic standing outside the door with his little Steve Urkel glasses, holding his crotch and crossing his ankles. Dominic was a confident little boy, always reading some book too advanced for his age. A few nights earlier, he’d recited a Shakespearean soliloquy for the family at dinner. She loved him for how fiercely he chose to be himself. Of course, their father would have liked it better if their talents had been switched at birth, Dani knew. Tom McNalley had hoped to have an athletic son and an artistic daughter. But realizing there was no changing his children, he’d enrolled Dominic in every music lesson, acting class, and audiovisual club the greater Columbus area had to offer. And when Dani showed promise on the driveway basketball court, he’d signed her up for club teams, private coaches, and ultimately, the AAU team that had shaped Dani into the point guard she was today. All opportunities available to white children were equally available to the McNalleys: Tom and Harper had worked hard for that to be so.

Dani knew the stories. Her parents had both grown up in the South—her mother was among some of the first children to integrate her white North Carolina elementary school. After meeting at Howard University in the late 1970s, Tom and Harper uprooted and replanted in Ohio, hoping to chart a new future for their family. They lived in a gated community, the children attended great public schools, and they had two cars in the driveway. By every measure, they had “made it”—whatever that meant. Dani still wondered sometimes if they’d swung the pendulum a bit too far. They were the only black family within a twenty-mile radius, and though it didn’t bother Dani to be different, she wondered if there was something she was missing, some experience that she’d lost, in the shelter of their suburban zip code.

“Dani, I must say, I’ve never seen a black person with freckles,” her friend’s mother had said once, as if Dani were a new species at the local zoo. “Where does that come from? You know, in your gene pool?”

At the time, Dani just shrugged it off and said she wasn’t sure. But if she were asked that same question today, she would say, “Mrs. Littleton, no offense, but I would never ask about your gene pool.” Or, more likely: “That’s easy. One of your ancestors probably raped one of mine.”

Smiling, Dani would of course add that she was joking. But every joke comes with a dose of truth, and sure enough, when Dani’s aunt had dug into the family history several years earlier, it turned out their great-great-grandmother, Scarlet McNalley, had birthed eight children with her slave owner’s son. That was why light skin ran in the family genes.

Most people in the community had pigeonholed Dani as a superstar athlete. She couldn’t really blame them, since her most public achievements took place on the court. But when she earned a near-perfect score on the PSAT, suddenly, Dani was being recruited by the Ivy League for her brain even as state schools chased her for her brawn. People kept assuming that Dani was going to UConn or Tennessee. But that’s what made today so exciting. Because while everyone in the community thought they knew where this shooting star was headed, they were wrong.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

“Open up, D!” her brother shouted. “I’m going to wet myself!” Opening the door, Dani stared straight ahead at her little brother, dressed in long khaki pants and a maroon shirt, the uniform for the arts school he attended. He pushed his glasses up his nose. “I don’t really have to go. Mom just said to—let me see if I can do this right.” Twisting his face and sticking out his hip, Dominic pointed a finger toward his sister and turned his voice into his mother’s. “Get your ass out the door or you’re going to be late!”

Wrapping her little brother’s head under her arm, Dani rubbed his cranium with her knuckles until his glasses nearly fell off. “Well why didn’t you say that, bro?”

THE COURSE OF her fate had changed last fall, when a thin brunette woman arrived at the Lincoln High School gymnasium. Though she hid in the shadows, the woman’s tall and thin silhouette was the picture of pure authority. Her dark hair was sliced with streaks of silver and cut short for easy maintenance. Close-set blue eyes with raised eyebrows made her look strangely alert. Her nose was small and upturned, softened by rosy lips and a quick smile. The femininity of her facial features was offset by the rest of her body: ungraceful and bony arms and legs mimicked the sharpness in her fingers. She was a beautiful woman, but intense, for sure. A hunter.

Unlike other university recruiters who’d leave halfway through practice, Catherine Jankovich stayed to the very end, through conditioning. When she stepped out of the shadows and introduced herself as the head women’s basketball coach at West Point, Dani was impressed by her stature.

West Point. Standing in front of the coach, Dani racked her brain to remember how she’d heard of it before. Eventually, a picture from her AP history textbook surfaced in her mind. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington had chosen West Point as a strategic position during the Revolutionary War. A hillside overlook onto a narrow hairpin turn in the Hudson River, West Point was the perfect position from which to capsize British ships as they tried to navigate north from New York City. Against her better judgment, she was intrigued.

“West Point?” repeated Dani. “Is that a high school?”

“No. It’s a college,” the coach said.

“They have a women’s basketball team?”

“Would I be here if we didn’t?” the coach said, setting her jaw slightly. “I know you’ve got a lot of other colleges trying to get you to pay attention to their programs, Dani. And that’s great. You deserve those choices. You’ve earned them. But I happen to think you need to go to a school that will serve you athletically, academically, and personally. West Point is not exactly a normal school. But I have a feeling that you’re not necessarily a normal girl.”

That in itself might have been enough to convince Dani to pack her bags and buy a pair of combat boots. But when the coach explained how West Point operated, Dani felt transfixed. An interested applicant couldn’t just apply—she first had to interview with her congressman or senator to receive a nomination. With that nomination in hand, an applicant could send on essays and transcripts and SAT scores to West Point’s admissions office. But even then, only 10 percent of applicants were accepted. Of those, less than 15 percent were female. As a university, West Point had a reputation for excellence, and its students went on to leadership in business, military, and government sectors. It wasn’t a normal school. It was better.

Coach Jankovich had insisted on flying her in for an official visit, and three weeks later, when she stepped on campus, her decision was made.

That day, the Hudson River was like a long glittering road, reflecting mountains on the east and granite on the west. Gray stone buildings towered over a green parade field, oozing with history and dignity. The campus teemed with handsome, athletic students in gray uniforms walking to class with full backpacks and square jaws. There were kids of every race, and girls like Dani, who didn’t seem to mind that they were wearing the same uniform as the guys.

Dani’s mother had never been the type to cut out newspaper articles about Dani’s successes. Her ribbons and trophies had been lost or thrown away, not displayed around the house. “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth,” was Harper’s favorite proverb, a biblical reminder to her precocious daughter not to become a braggart. But walking around campus at West Point, Dani met the gaze of every cadet that passed her by, and saw in their eyes a familiar self-assuredness, like she was looking in a mirror. Here, confidence wasn’t a quality to hide; it was essential to survival.

For twenty-four hours, a sophomore on the basketball team named Sarah Goodrich showed Dani around, answering her questions and introducing her to everyone they passed.

“What’s it like playing for Coach Jankovich?” Dani asked, right when they started walking to class.

“I don’t know. I haven’t played for her yet,” explained Sarah. “You know, this is her first year. You’re her star recruit.”

With dark black hair, fair skin, and striking green eyes, Sarah looked like Snow White in a military uniform. Over lunch, she told Dani that she was one of five siblings who had all attended West Point, and that even though she’d been recruited by a different head coach, she would have played for anyone, just to say she played at Army. A psychology major, she planned to be an intelligence officer in the Army after graduation.

“But that’s still two years away,” Sarah said knowingly. “A lot can change in two years.”

At other colleges, kids wore pajamas to class. Here, they wore “as for class”—a uniform of dark wool pants, a white collared shirt, and a flat wool cap with a shiny black bill.

“Then there’s gym alpha,” Sarah had continued, counting off the uniforms on her fingers. “Gray T-shirt, black shorts, ugly crew socks. Most of the time, I’m wearing gym-A. BDUs—that’s ‘battle dress uniform,’ and they’re the most comfortable. Then you’ve got full dress gray, which is the whole shebang, brass buttons, maroon sash, big feather on the hat. Sorry, am I going too fast?”

“Nope,” said Dani.

“Some girls take their uniforms home to get them tailored, but I don’t care that much. You get over it pretty fast. Looking like a dude.”

Dani laughed at the casualness of Sarah’s confidence. Her face shined with the kind of dewy skin normally seen in celebrity magazines, and when Sarah talked about West Point, it was like she was in some kind of secret club where everything had a code name. There were so many inside jokes and terms, Dani wondered if she would ever learn them all.

After shadowing her classes, Dani followed Sarah back to her dorm room, which was about as barebones as any Dani had ever seen. Two single beds sat on opposite sides of the room, wrapped tightly in white sheets and green wool blankets. Sarah explained that she rarely slept under the covers, since it took so long to make up her bed to regulation standards. Instead, she and her roommate both slept on top of the sheets with blankets they kept stowed in their trunks.

Two desks held identical government-issued desktop computers, part of every cadet’s incoming equipment. Sarah and her roommate both had wardrobes that housed their uniforms, hung in perfect order, the hangers evenly spaced two inches apart. Everywhere they went, doors opened and people shouted Sarah’s name—like she was famous.

“Is there anyone here you don’t know?” Dani asked. They were on their way to dinner in the mess hall, guided toward a pair of arched wooden doors by a row of lights and a stream of students. The autumn air felt just cold enough for a jacket, but Dani’s whole body felt warm and alive.

“That’s just how it is here. Four thousand students isn’t really all that many. You’ll see,” Sarah answered, reaching for the iron door handle. She paused and gave Dani a mischievous look. “You ready to see something crazy?”

Dani nodded and Sarah pulled the door open, revealing an expansive room of wood and stone. Inside, the mess hall walls stretched thirty feet high and were covered with golden lamps, state and Revolutionary War flags, oil paintings of epic battle scenes, and towering stained glass windows. The hall spanned the length of two football fields and it overflowed with the raucous, jovial sound of four thousand people breaking bread all at once. Cadets were seated ten to a table and there were 465 tables in perfect rows across six wings, likely in the same place they’d been for centuries. Each wing bustled with clinking plates, glasses, and silverware. Steaming dishes passed from one hand to the next, family style. One homemade pie rested in the center of every table, waiting for a knife.

“Come with me,” Sarah said in Dani’s ear. “We’ve got to get all the way to the back.”

In the back wing of the mess hall, the noise increased by a few decibels. On the far left, Dani identified the football team: hefty boys nearly busted out of their uniforms and chairs, shoveling food into open mouths. The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams sat on the right, the boys leaning back in their chairs, roaring at some joke, the girls leaning forward, rolling their eyes. Sarah guided Dani toward a sundry crowd of girls—some tall, some muscular, some white, some black—that filled three tables in the center of the wing.

“Save yourself!” someone shouted from another table. “You’ll hate it here!”

“Ignore them,” Sarah said. “Of course everyone hates it here. But we love it too. It’s hard to explain.”

When Sarah introduced Dani to the team, they quickly pulled out a chair for her to join them.

That’s all it took. An invitation and an empty chair. In that moment, Dani watched her future unfold before her. Wearing a uniform, joining the military? All that was secondary to the things she saw in the eyes of her soon-to-be teammates. They were like her. From that point forward, imagining a typical college, with its redbrick buildings and kids wearing hoodies and jeans, seemed lackluster. Boring, even.

And so, when she returned to Columbus two days later, Dani canceled every other college visit she’d scheduled. Her parents tried to encourage her to keep her options open, but there was no need to look anywhere else. She’d found her path. Her future existed in the Corps Squad wing of Washington Hall.

It was just like Coach Jankovich had said. At West Point, Dani could be all of herself. Not just a part.

DANI SAT AT the center of a table in the Lincoln High School gymnasium, staring at a gathered crowd of parents, students, and reporters. Two football players sat on her right side, hefty and smiling, while two cross-country runners sat on her left, emaciated and frail. Each of the five athletes had a contract and a ballpoint pen waiting in front of them. Dani read the page for what felt like the millionth time.

I certify that I have read all terms and conditions included in this document . . .

When she looked up, she saw Mikey Termini, the short, balding reporter, in the front row rubbing the lens of his camera with a cloth. He’d written more stories about Dani’s basketball achievements over the years than she could count, and seeing her smile, he snapped a photo of her, checking the light in the room.

“So where’s it going to be, Dani?” he asked. “UConn? Georgia?”

“Ah, come on, Mike. You know I can’t tell you that for another . . .” Dani checked the clock on the gym wall. “Thirty seconds.”

The crowd laughed. Dani’s parents stood near the back of the gym, their smiles only dimly hiding what Dani knew was a growing sense of dread. They were nervous, understandably. Dominic was seated behind them, his legs crossed in a pretzel shape underneath him, reading a book, as if all this fanfare was beneath him. In the moments that remained between her past and her future, Dani replayed all the reasons she’d made this decision, and all she felt was confidence.

“Athletes, it’s time.”

The boys on either side of Dani quickly picked up their pens and scribbled on the page, exactly what everyone already knew they would write. Dan Williams had committed to play football at Auburn. His tie was blue and orange. Tyler Hillenbrand had signed to play for Miami of Ohio—though Dani wondered if he’d ever see the inside of a classroom. The other two, both runners, had pledged to go the distance at Ohio State. Dani waited for the hubbub with the boys to pass. Then she leaned over, pen in hand, and carefully filled in the blank.

She paused before the waiting crowd. Mikey Termini snapped a photo, sending a flash of light throughout the quiet gymnasium. Then Dani picked up the contract and read the final line.

“‘This is to certify my decision to enroll at the United States Military Academy at West Point.’”

A gasp emanated from the crowd, followed by a roar of applause and a whistle from her father—the tallest man in the room, forefinger and thumb in the shape of a circle under his black mustache. Dani smiled, the freckles on her face nearly jumping with excitement. Classmates shook her hand. A line of adults formed around her to ask questions and offer hugs and well wishes. While the boys still had nine months before they headed to college, Dani had to report to West Point for Reception Day on June 29. As she scanned the room from right to left, she tried to etch the scene into her mind, so she could remember it forever.

If this was her destiny—if this was her fate—then so be it.