Julie’s Story is a coming-of-age novel about fifteen-year-old Julie Gustafson, who runs away from her home in Homerville, Georgia. She does this to escape restrictions, so she can pursue a music career. The story, set in 1972, follows Julie’s journey to find herself.
The story is based on my daughter, Edie, who was missing for over a year after running away from home at twelve. Like Julie, Edie was a talented keyboard performer with her own Wurlitzer piano, Amp synthesizer, and Jensen speakers. She made her way on the street with her musical talent, but was also a skilled con artist.
Even though I knew Edie, Julie’s Story is fiction. I am still mostly unaware of Edie’s activities. After being moved around to a few different facilities, she was eventually assigned to the Lancaster Detention Facility in Trenton, Florida. There, she received excellent counseling and earned her GED. Edie had an abortion when she became pregnant at fifteen. Julie chooses to go home and have her baby.
Julie discovers that it is impossible to escape oneself. You will always be with yourself, no matter how far or fast you run. One of my father’s favorite idioms was “wanton kittens make sober cats.” Julie, like Edie, is an example of that reference, returning to Homerville to have her baby, assume a good work position, and marry her childhood sweetheart. She is a wanton kitten who has grown into a sober cat.
Julie’s story is very similar to Rosie’s, who is always there for her as a friend and confidante. Rosie is obsessed with Cody Wilkins, a country and folk singer from Wyoming. The story becomes more complicated when Angelo Randazzo, Cody’s uncle and a Chicago mob boss, begins to sponsor their careers. Julie, Rosie, and Cody move to Kansas City, Missouri, and perform at the Cowtown Ball Room, opening for more famous groups who come to town.
Julie becomes impatient with not being a featured performer, but the promoter Waldo tells her that she isn’t a major attraction without Rosie. Rosie is too distracted by Cody to be interested in advancing her career. Julie is bored and looks for excitement outside of music. She has an affair with the band’s drummer, Wally Fenton.
At sixteen, Julie realizes she is pregnant and has to make some decisions. She doesn’t love Wally and tells him so. He suggests she have an abortion, but she rejects that and discusses her situation with Rosie. Rosie tells Julie that she has her parents’ approval to marry Cody, and she’d like Julie to be her Maid of Honor.
Julie, Rosie, and Cody leave Kansas City and go to Homerville to marry Rosie and Cody. The married couple moves to Sheridan, Wyoming, where Cody is offered a job as a tour guide at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area. Julie’s parents welcome her home and agree to help while she carries the baby and after she has it. They’re thrilled to have a grandchild.
Julie returns to Homerville and works at a laundromat while studying for her GED at night. She begins dating Billy Joe Gaskins, a childhood friend, who accepts her pregnancy. At 17, she passes the GED and works for the Heritage Bank. At 18, she marries Billy Joe and they move to Valdosta with her two-year-old son, Adam.
A serial killer murdered Edie in 1979. I believe Julie is still living in Georgia, likely a grandmother. She might be a great-grandmother by now.
Although Julie’s story is fiction, I want to mention that I volunteered with organizations that worked with young adults after Edie’s murder.
Young people who are unhappy at school or home are common, and most can cope given the right guidance and support. More often than not, society’s initial response to delinquency is to punish the offender instead of providing rehabilitation or counseling. We should invest more in helping these young people through their struggles.