Youngest of six, 17-year-old Dawn has suffered enough coddling and managing at the hands of her well-meaning parents and boyfriend of three years. When the boyfriend gives her a promise ring, Dawn panics and starts searching for an out. High school graduation is supposed to be about freedom, but Mama has already chosen her college. Now her boyfriend wants to plan out her life. 

When Dawn discovers the possibility of national park summer jobs she realizes she can escape both the boy and the mother—at least for a summer. The day after her high school graduation, Dawn dumps Texas, boyfriend and all, and hops a plane to Alaska.

Hotel life at Denali National Park is more than she bargained for. She requested a nice, quiet single in employee housing but is assigned a quad with boisterous roommates. On her first solo hike she’s cornered by an imposing moose. One co-worker, a bell boy, pushes her too far during their night sharing a tent, meanwhile Flint, the sexy employee cook from Dallas, friend-zones her even though she wants more. All that and grizzlies too.

Mama and Daddy arrive late-summer with her ex in tow, pushing for Dawn to come on home claiming she’s needed to help out with her oldest brother’s shotgun wedding. But the wild beauty of Alaska has stolen her heart and she’s not letting go of her chance with Flint. Dawn has to find the courage to stand up to her family and finish out her Denali summer or risk going back to following everyone else’s plan for her life.

DENALI SUMMER, complete at 67,000 words, is a contemporary young adult with a bit of Bachelorette fun and lots of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild hiking frustrations. It also contains handwritten journal pages interspersed adding approximately 1,000 words to the regular manuscript text.


Mama hates my plan. Not one of my mess of siblings understands, and my summer travels are certainly not supported by Chris, my ex, who still goes around calling me his girl. But I have Daddy on my side, so the day after my high school graduation, I’ll leave Texas and fly to Alaska to be a front desk agent at the Denali Tundra Lodge. Because ever since Chris gave me that promise ring on prom night, a flight to Alaska has felt like the most rational possible thing.

    “You want the corner piece?” Mama asks, cake knife lifted in the air, eyes focused somewhere around my left shoulder. 

    “Yup, thanks.” Dale butts in and grabs the plate. 

    “That was mine!” I swat my oldest brother’s back. He turns and smiles, lips already lined with dark blue frosting. 

    “Now it’s mine.” He waves the plate above my head to taunt me before scooting off into the living room where the rest of my siblings are mostly through their own slices.

    Mama cuts off another corner but lifts it behind her where Jesslyn, Dale’s girlfriend, takes it from her hands.

    “Mama!” I protest.

    “What?” she asks, eyes returning to my shoulder.

    “That was the last corner piece.”

    She blinks at the cake. “I guess it was. Sorry, hun. You get what you get and you don’t—” 

    I will too have a fit. “It’s my graduation cake, and you started cutting it while I was upstairs hanging my gown.” Even as I say the words, I know Mama will be deaf to my legitimate complaint and only hear my baby-of-the-family whine.

    “You wanted me to ask our guests to wait?”

    Our “guests” are my five siblings, Dale’s girlfriend and her daughter, my daddy’s parents, Giggy and G-Daddy, and his diabetic sister, Aunt Kay who doesn’t eat cake. This same crew could show up for any ‘ol meal on any ‘ol day of the week, but it’s Mama’s last day to needle me before my summer of far-away Alaska freedom. As every Wilson knows, Mama could medal in needling.

    One of my daddy’s favorite expressions is, “Never miss a good chance to shut up,” but I could medal in ignoring advice.

     “It’s just family, and yes, they all should have waited,” I say.

    She slams the knife, point-down into the middle of the ETBU tiger’s growling face and glares, eye contact complete and piercing. “I would have had a proper party, but you couldn’t be bothered to stick around even through the weekend. Everybody knows graduation day is for family and then parties start at night and on through for a few days. Every one of your brothers and sisters had a Sunday afternoon graduation barbecue. Every one.”

    But not me. I broke with tradition. Partly because my employee letter assigned a start date that meant I had to leave the day after graduation, and it hadn’t occurred to me to ask for a later date. Partly to avoid my ex’s graduation party. And partly because I happened to like breaking with tradition. 
    I cut my own slice and slink away from Mama to join my siblings.