Going Back to High School with Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith/Maddie writing from north of Boston, where all the leaves have turned, all the sandals are stashed, and all the tomatoes are above average – albeit green.

I’m so happy to welcome friend Judy Penz Sheluk back to the blog. Her new Marketville mystery is out today!

Here’s the blurb for Before There Were Skeletons: The last time anyone saw Veronica Goodman was the night of February 14, 1995, the only clue to her disappearance a silver heart-shaped pendant, found in the parking lot behind the bar where she worked. Twenty-seven years later, Veronica’s daughter, Kate, just a year old when her mother vanished, hires Past & Present Investigations to find out what happened that fateful night.

Calamity (Callie) Barnstable is drawn to the case, the similarities to her own mother’s disappearance on Valentine’s Day 1986 hauntingly familiar. A disappearance she thought she’d come to terms with. Until Veronica’s case, and five high school yearbooks, take her back in time…a time before there were skeletons.

Going Back to High School

After seven years of splitting our time between our condo bungalow in Southern Ontario and our place on Lake Superior, my husband Mike and I decided it was time to try lakeside living on a fulltime basis. There were a lot of reasons for the decision, though the eight-hour drive between the two and ever-rising gas prices was certainly a factor.

Judy’s pup Gibbs looking out onto Lake Superior, one of his favorite swimming holes

Anyone who has ever downsized can tell you that it means a lot of purging, not just dishes and furniture, but personal stuff. Now, I’m a minimalist by nature, buy a t-shirt, get rid of a t-shirt, that kind of thing, but Mike tends to hang on to things, even if those things are stored in boxes he never opens.

Before this move, he had the luxury of keeping those unopened boxes stashed away in a basement closet, promising to get to them “one day.” Knowing we’d be moving into a 1200 square foot house with limited crawl space, that day had come. We decided to treat the whole thing like a bit of a treasure hunt and began to dig.

While we didn’t find any gold or silver beyond some loose change, we did discover old report cards and a box filled with Mike’s high school yearbooks. Gosh he looked young and innocent. And having skipped a grade in elementary school, he also looked much smaller than a lot of kids in his class, especially in the early years.

After my initial fascination with the geeky guy in the pictures, I realized this really was a treasure trove. I found myself randomly selecting a handful of his classmates from grade 9 and tracked them through the years. Some remained throughout, joining sports or clubs, their achievements photographed and journalized (Mike played hockey and joined the wrestling team). Still others disappeared without a mention. Perhaps they’d moved, dropped out, changed schools…anything was possible.

And that’s when the idea struck me. Anything really WAS possible. I’d been looking for a way for my protagonist Calamity (Callie) Barnstable to learn more about her mother’s high school years. Her mother, you see, had dropped out of high school in her final year to have Callie. She’d also long ago dropped out of Callie’s life. But yearbooks…that might just be the “in” that I needed.

I decided that Callie’s estranged grandmother would be doing some downsizing of her own, and in so doing, come across her daughter’s Lakeside High yearbooks. And despite their fractured relationship, or perhaps because of it, she wants Callie to have them. Despite her reservations, Callie finds herself accepting them, albeit reluctantly.

It isn’t long before she’s going through the pages, night after night, getting to know her mother’s life pre-teenage pregnancy, one friend, and one secret, at a time.

Readers: Do you still have your high school yearbooks? If so, when was the last time you looked through them and what, if anything, stood out to you?

A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and the Marketville Mysteries. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited.

Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served as Chair on the Board of Directors. She lives in Northern Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Find her at judypenzsheluk.com.

37 Thoughts

  1. I do still have my yearbooks as does hubby. The last time I looked at them was when we downsized 5 years ago. We both decided that it was a way to keep photos from the past and have kind of a record of our youth even if we don’t look at them often. The thing that stood out to me was to treasure friendships that you have while you have them. Life changes, people move and interest change and some friendships are meant only to last for a short time. So cherish them while you have them and make those memories that stick with you a lifetime. It makes those that remain with you a lifetime precious all the more.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. So right, Kay, though I believe people come into our lives for a reason. It doesn’t have to be a permanent reason, or even a reason that makes you happy.

  2. I do still have my high school yearbook. However, I can’t tell you the last time I looked through it. It doesn’t play a factor in my regular life so I really don’t have a use for it at this time.

    I suppose I keep it for some unfathomable reason so I don’t know that I plan to get rid of it though I suppose downsizing the amount of STUFF in the house is always a good idea.

  3. I still have my high school yearbook. Last time I looked was a few years ago when a friend told me someone in our class had died and I couldn’t remember the person. So I looked and was sad that a HS buddy has passed and we had lost touched.

    1. Lives change, people move and years ago there was no social media. But it’s always sad to hear of someone you once knew passing. Thanks for dropping by Dru.

  4. Yes, I still have my HS yearbooks for all 3 years. We had our 50th reunion just before covid put a stop to large gatherings, so the books came out for a lot of reminiscing.

  5. Yes I still have the highschool yearbooks. I look through them every now and then, like when I hear about one of my classmates having passed away or thinking about some of the good times we had.

  6. I have all my high school yearbooks – as do my kids. But I haven’t looked at them in ages. They are stored in a closet that’s hard to get open and I’m just not motivated.

    1. Happy book birthday! You are always welcome here.

      I have my yearbook and the one from the year before (my sister’s class), and my eighth-grade yearbook. I like having them available to refresh my memory, and when I connect with someone on FB and can’t quite remember who they were!

  7. Welcome back! What a great inspiration for a book! I do have my high school year books — like you we didn’t have them until then. I do have them as I worked on them and was editor in chief my senior year.

  8. Judy, your story is yet another example of how plot inspiration can strike us at any time and from any object. I’ve periodically looked at my yearbook over the years, especially when I’m stuck for a character name. I don’t use actual classmate names, but I have taken a first name from one and paired it with the last name of another.

  9. Both my wife and I have ours, Judy. The last time I looked at mine was 10 years ago or so, when my kids didn’t believe that I played Harold Hill in my high school’s spring musical my senior year.
    I had to show them proof that I actually was The Music Man. 🙂

  10. Congratulations on the move. We went from 4k to 1200 in 2020. Yes, it is an experience.

    I do have my high school yearbooks and I’m in touch with several of my high school friends. I was lucky to attend a small school. We made close friendships.

  11. I still have my yearbooks from junior high (now called middle school, at least in the area where I now live) as well as the books from high school. I look at them every few years. About two years ago I reconnected with a guy that I’ve known since first grade. We reminisced about many things. I dragged out my yearbooks and we had many laughs about some of the comments. In high school, my math teacher called me a Leggy Beauty or some such moniker. Today that type of reference wouldn’t be considered at all appropriate. But at the time, I thought nothing of it. I was thin, all legs, and wearing miniskirts. The books as well as the inscriptions are a time capsule. Groovy. One year the students editing the book decided to list the students by astrological sign instead of the more common alphabetical order. Let me tell you, that makes it very difficult to find names that you might remember. The Age of Aquarius…(insert the soundtrack from the Musical Hair here.)

  12. My high school year books are in my garage somewhere. Haven’t looked at them in at least two decades.

    Congrats on the new book!

  13. Both my husband and I have our yearbooks. He spent a lot of time studying his 4 years ago when he went to his 60th reunion. I didn’t go to my 50th 4 years ago, but occasionally look up something in one of the books.

  14. Yes. I still have my high school yearbooks. I have not looked at them in a couple of years. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

  15. I still have all of mine as does my husband (we went to the same high school, but he was a year earlier). I was amazed at all of the things that I took part in. Where did I get the moxie? I still keep in touch with many of my HS friends along with many from 1st grade (we had 60 students with one Sister Agnes Celine teaching us). The neatest thing with yearbooks, is that I found all of my mother’s University of Texas yearbooks along with her two sister’s yearbooks. I found out a lot about my mother and aunts. Who they dated, who they ended up marrying, who they hung with, what clubs they were in, what awards they got (one aunt was named Bluebonnet Belle and was picked by Mae West). I bought them on eBay for a reasonable sum–years 1933 until 1939. One even had an autograph of my aunt’s husband’s brother (who was like an uncle to me). These are treasured finds, and I am still studying them. It is amazing what questions they can answer.

  16. And my husband graduated in 1965 and I graduated in 1967. So, ours are old also.

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