A Tiny Upward Shove

A Novel

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Pub Date 12 Apr 2022 | Archive Date 31 May 2022


“Wild and ambitious . . . [with] something ablaze at its core. It burns.” The New York Times Book Review

A Tiny Upward Shove is inspired by Melissa Chadburn's Filipino heritage and its folklore, as it traces the too-short life of a young, cast-off woman transformed by death into an agent of justice—or mercy.

Marina Salles’s life does not end the day she wakes up dead.

Instead, in the course of a moment, she is transformed into the stuff of myth, the stuff of her grandmother’s old Filipino stories—an aswang, a creature of mystery and vengeance. She spent her time on earth on the margins; shot like a pinball through a childhood of loss, she was a veteran of Child Protective Services and a survivor, but always reacting, watching from a distance, understanding very little of her own life, let alone the lives of others. Death brings her into the hearts and minds of those she has known—even her killer—as she accesses their memories and sees anew the meaning of her own. In her nine days as an aswang, while she considers whether to exact vengeance on her killer, she also traces back, finally able to see what led these two lost souls to a crushingly inevitable conclusion.

In A Tiny Upward Shove, the debut novelist Melissa Chadburn charts the heartbreaking journeys of two of society’s castoffs as they make their way to each other and their roles as criminal and victim. What does it mean to be on the brink? When are those moments that change not only our lives but our very selves? And how, in this impossible world, full of cruelty and negligence, can we rouse ourselves toward mercy?

“Wild and ambitious . . . [with] something ablaze at its core. It burns.” The New York Times Book Review

A Tiny Upward Shove is inspired by Melissa Chadburn's Filipino heritage and its folklore, as...

Advance Praise

“A Tiny Upward Shove is gloriously voiced, the kind of addictive and headlong novel that makes reading into a wild bronco ride. Melissa Chadburn has it, the spark; her first novel is strange and tender and not to be missed.”

—Lauren Groff, author of Matrix

“Impressive . . . Chadburn’s prose is sometimes lovely, always compelling . . . A dark, powerful novel.”

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In Chadburn’s astonishing debut, the story of a Filipino woman’s short life is told by an aswang spirit . . . The author’s poetic language enthralls . . . [A Tiny Upward Shove] is electrifying.”

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Melissa Chadburn writes with tenderness and grit, and A Tiny Upward Shove is a beautiful and brave novel about powerlessness, longing, and that universal, unavoidable desire to be loved. Let this book happen to you.”

—Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17

“There is no soft or easy way to reveal the truth of some lives: that suffering does not earn survival. The women of Melissa Chadburn’s gorgeous, wrecking debut novel don’t find much mercy in the streets of their stories, or other people. Still, I could not look away. Her telling held me captive and reminded me that art is its own kind of mercy. The hardest stories need a writer like this to tell them—brilliant and brave enough to lead us into the darkest corners of this life, to find what glowing parts of us persist, in any darkness.”

—Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood

“Melissa Chadburn has written a novel that grabs your attention and won’t let it go—it’s fueled by a wild, jagged energy and an exuberant mixing of cultures and a narrator whose frank, poignant voice will keep echoing in your head.”

—Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, author of Likes

“Melissa Chadburn is a fiercely original, brave writer. She writes with the voice of the survivor she is, finding the lyrical and the deeply human in seemingly dark and impenetrable landscapes.”

—Héctor Tobar, author of The Last Great Road Bum

“In A Tiny Upward Shove, Melissa Chadburn leans into the center of a bad dream. Go with her. Keep going.”

—Sia, singer/songwriter

“Melissa Chadburn gives words to a life’s sorrow, breathing into a life’s pain what novels provide—detailed and observant empathy. In sharing the trauma of a haunted and hunted soul, the novel gives back to society its terrible face.”

—Gina Apostol, author of Insurrecto

“Melissa Chadburn’s A Tiny Upward Shove is haunting, teeming with grit, humor, and longing. A mesmerizing work in which beauty and ugliness and realism and mythology coexist. Chadburn is an emerging literary force!”

—Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls

“Melissa Chadburn’s writing is more than unflinching—it’s steely and brave. Chadburn fearlessly takes her reader down, down into the dark heart and harsh landscapes of sexual violence and drug abuse but she renders these worlds with a painter’s eye and a skylark’s ascendant song. Her thrilling work brings to mind the lyrical daring of The Lovely Bones and White Oleander. There is much to admire in Chadburn’s writing—every line carries music, emotional weight, philosophical insight, and punk rock glory.”

—Amber Dermont, author of Damage Control

“I got sucked into the lyric intensity of the prose, that thrilling sense of being in the company of a writer who can make the language sing and bleed. Melissa Chadburn has the patience and the sense of humanity to forgive everyone involved, without for a second forgetting what made it hurt.”

—Steve Almond, author of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories

“In its verve, vibrancy, and sheer reckless energy, Melissa Chadburn’s writing recalls a number of wonders from the last several decades: Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, say, or Jamaica Kincaid’s At the Bottom of the River. Chadburn’s vision, however, her intelligence and empathy, are entirely her own. A Tiny Upward Shove is a marvel.”

—Matthew Specktor, author of American Dream Machine

“Melissa Chadburn’s gripping novel feels fully lived as well as fully imagined. Brave, fierce, and smart, A Tiny Upward Shove announces an exciting new voice in fiction.”

—Rob Spillman, author of All Tomorrow’s Parties

“Melissa Chadburn is a writer of violent honesty, and A Tiny Upward Shove is a knife pressed to the throat of secrecy. There is no other debut novelist whose work I’m more excited to share with everyone in the world.”

—Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk

“An extraordinary book with surprising turns and fierce momentum, A Tiny Upward Shove illuminates a very real Canadian serial killer and the underworld of children set adrift by poverty and broken families. I felt a gratitude to Melissa Chadburn for her moral courage and unflinching honesty—she writes about the most difficult aspects of life with beauty and empathy. This book is alive, and you can feel its heart beating; when you read its pages, I promise you will feel its life rush through you.”

—Jennifer Percy, author of Demon Camp

“Melissa Chadburn’s riveting debut novel offers readers an astonishing story about what makes us human and bound to each other. A Tiny Upward Shove gives us Marina, a half Black, half Filipina character whose complex life, imploded by rape, addiction, and prostitution, takes her through Northern California, Southern California, and Vancouver. In transitory, dreamy prose that is revelatory and cutting, the novel barrels toward an inevitable climax of murder and redemption. More books should be written like this: fiercely, without apology, and with devastating honesty.”

—Dana Johnson, author of Elsewhere, California

“Melissa Chadburn has given an engrossingly raw but tenderly vulnerable voice to the narrator of her debut novel. She brings to vivid life a character stained by cruelty, but who has the last word?”

—Lisa Ling, journalist and coauthor of Somewhere Inside

“A Tiny Upward Shove is gloriously voiced, the kind of addictive and headlong novel that makes reading into a wild bronco ride. Melissa Chadburn has it, the spark; her first novel is strange and...

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