Marcia is turning 15, and for any Latin American girl this is a big deal, a date that deserves celebrating in a special way. For this reason Charlie, her best friend since, well… forever, got her a personalised Puerto Rico national football team jersey, with Torres printed at the back and a big 15 at the front. Marcia is beyond excited for her present, to the point that she feels silly for giving Charlie an art set for her birthday. But Charlie brushes it off, more than happy with her present.
Marcia’s birthday is too soon followed by another, much less appreciated, big day: the first day back to school.
Like it or hate, Marcia thought, there’s nothing like the first day of school. Patience would probably say that it was a new year, full of new possibilities. Charlie would probably complain about the end to the freedom of summer. Both fairly accurate. Marcia would add to that the opportunity to show off new clothes, which, for her, meant the personalized soccer jersey that Charlie got her. It hangs a little large, but who cares when it’s so cool?
This year, though, is not any first day back; it’s her sophomore year. All of a sudden, freshmen look so young…
Marcia looked around. “Boy, what a difference, right? Last year we were newbies. We didn’t know anyone. Now, look at all these freshmen! They look like little kids!”
As usual, Marcia gives her light and kind touch to things, and keeps scanning the corridors with Patience and Charlie, finding known faces, but also new ones. Two of those are Sana, a freshman Muslim boy, and his older sister’s Faiza, who also plays soccer with Marcia.
The buzz for the new beginning fades quite soon, and before long it’s time to go back to sport clubs and homework, but also the election of the new year Student Council members. Marcia takes part in a double-ticket campaign, presenting her nomination along with the one of her girlfriend Patience, who also doubles as the ‘black girl’. Together they represent different minorities and cliques, so their chances to win are high, at least on paper. Sana is running too, for the only representative position freshman year are allowed to have.
Once again, Charlie and Marcia, with the help of Patience, prepare for the election: they rally in the corridors, prepare posters and work on their speech. The day has come, all the candidates are ready to speak in front of the school. Marcia takes a deep breath, gets ready, fights the twitch of panic that’s arising, but being how she is, she realises that, when leaving home, she took her English Lit homework with her instead of her notes. Now she has to improvise. After a second of pure confusion, she simply follows her heart.
“But, as many of you may already know, last year, I screwed up. I did. I lost my spot on the council. And rightfully so. What I did was inexcusable. I hurt someone.” Marcia was quiet. “And for that, I’d like to apologize. To you, my fellow students. To the teachers and administration.” She turned. “And to you, Ashley. I’m sorry. I really am.” She turned back to the audience. “I want to tell you something else I learned from my time on the Student Council. Not everyone respects the underclassmen. When I was a freshman I was looked down upon by sophomores. Sophomores are looked down upon by juniors, and the seniors look down on everyone!” […] “If you put me back on the council, I promise to make your voices heard! I promise that every time they try to push us down, I will stand up and push back harder!”
Speeches done and dusted, it’s time for the students to vote. There is nothing left to do but wait for the results. And when the day comes, it’s not a happy ending for everyone. Sana has been elected, but that doesn’t come as a big surprise – almost the whole school backed up his candidature. When it comes to sophomore’s representatives, though, the names pronounced are Patience Lancaster and Ashley Harwood. It comes as a shock to Marcia, even more because she receives an anonymous threatening message right after.
Hi! Burn in Hell, you skank whore faggot. You thought you could beat me? Well guess who won? You’re first. Your little whore girlfriend is next. I hope you both die. A friend.
It’s obvious that Marcia’s first reaction is a long sequence of swearwords that she lets out despite being still in class. Of course the incident calls for disciplinary action. Once Marcia explains what happened and why, the message is thoroughly investigated, but with no result. It doesn’t appear to come from Ashley’s phone or any other mobile number connected to her. However, the swearing was real and, as a punishment, Marcia will not take part in the first soccer game of the season.
The fact that Marcia hasn’t been elected is not the only bad news for the council. The rest of it doesn’t look good either, since most of its members are homophobes. As a result, one of the first motions of the new student council is to shut down the Gay/Straight Alliance using a technicality: the student council has the power to shut down a student group on the spot within the first 12 months of its formation. The Alliance was founded in November, and it’s still October.
It’s unfair and sad, but nothing can be done. At least, Marcia’s suspension from the soccer team is over and she can go back to the field. They are midway through the match, when Marcia receives a terrible kick in the shin, that leaves her with a broken leg and a damaged knee. She will be out of the team for a long while. Not having her playing is a great loss, but given her experience, she’s offered to sit on the bench as a coach consultant and help. She is on crutches anyway, so there isn’t much she can do, but in that way she can still support her teammates.
In the meantime, Sana finds a way to go around the council homophobic restrictions and re-creates the Gay/Straight Alliance under a new name and with a new purpose. The group will simply be called ‘The Alliance’ and its main purpose will be to offer a safe space where students can talk freely, be it about being gay, being depressed, being anxious or being bullied. The student council cannot turn this down without looking bad, so the new group is born.
Life moves on, until one day Sara Iverson, a girl who lives across the road from Faiza and Sana and goes to a different school, reveals to Marcia that she knows what happened, both with the election and the soccer accident. The injury wasn’t an accident at all, and actually Marcia didn’t really lose the elections, despite the official results, as it was rigged. Ashley still has friends at St. Mary’s – the rival team on the day of the accident – because they went to middle school together.
It’s a lot of speculation and no concrete proof. They need something more to be believed. It’s only after Christmas that Carlie, another member of the student council, decided to come clean.
“Look. Like I explained to Mr. Anderson, I’m still Senior Class President. People look up to me. I need them to trust and respect me. And that can’t happen with this kind of… corruption. So, yes. When I found out, I decided – we decided, me and Maggie – that we needed to do something. Say something.”
Mr. Anderson nodded. “And the testimonies of everyone involved all seem to point to the same thing. Ms. Harwood broke school policy and guidelines by rigging the election and costing you a spot on the council.”
This is all that’s needed to point the finger at Ashley and remove her from the student council. This leaves the council with a vacancy, but it’s very clear that the replacement has to be someone neutral, or the whole body will suffer from it. The choice falls on Mitchell Keller, who is a sophomore too and part of The Alliance.
It finally seems that the whole school can sit back and relax, at least for a minute, when a tragic news hits the corridors: Mrs Williams, the students counsellor, passed away overnight. It’s a great shock for everybody but especially for Marcia, who relied on Mrs Williams quite a lot during her first year to create the Gay/Straight Alliance. It’s even a greater shock to find out that Mrs Williams wanted Marcia to prepare a speech for her wake, and Marcia does it. In pure Marcia style.
But that’s not the last surprise before the end of school. The truth behind the rigged elections, the rise of the homophobic groups and other school anomalies (like Homecoming in December and the below-standards food served in the canteen) will surface in a last, unforeseen plot twist.
It’s a very good second chapter of the ‘Marcia&co.’ story, written by someone that clearly has a privileged point of view on high school dynamics and gay young adults. It’s a delicate read, perfect for struggling teenagers, that with some sharp editing would also become an amazing read for adults. Be prepared though, this book might leave a dent in your heart.