Marcia marches on

Marcia Marches On. Kindle Direct Publishing, 2021.

The new school year hasn’t started yet, and Marcia and bestie Charlie are taking it easy in Marcia’s bedroom, where she is playing to her friend some new tunes she learnt with the guitar.

Their first day in school, the students are in for a treat. They are getting a new principal this year, his name is Mr Baumgardner and his first impression is not great:

“The absolute worst!” agreed Charlie. “He was all like…” Charlie stood ramrod straight with one hand behind her back. “Rah rah rah rah, discipline! Grah rah grah rah, temperament!” She let out a low groan. “God, he was like… like George C. Scott in Patton!”

But that’s not the only news. Patience introduces them a friend of hers, Ontario Hammond, who comes from London and has ‘a funny accent’, Saria ‘Coppertop’ shaved her hair and dyed it a fiery red, Marcia is taking driving lessons, there is a new soccer team coach, Coach Levelle, and a new student counsellor too, Ms Wahmer.  And, contrary to the previous years, things are not really running smoothly. To start with, Coach Levelle is clueless about soccer or its rules, she expects all players to wear the same uniform (meaning that Faiza is not allowed her hijab) and the new student counsellor is not as available as Mrs Williams was – when Marcia asks her for an intent-to-run form, she replies that other teachers have them too. 

The soccer club changes don’t go down well with Marcia and her teammates, but they decide to abide by them: one day, they all show up for practice dressed in the same uniform, meaning the whole team is wearing a hijab. As if karma itself was listening, this social justice display bites Marcia in the back: she is ineligible to run for Student Council, because of a Class C violation on her records for kicking a girl in the face and breaking her nose two years prior.

Patience remains their only hope.

But when the winners are announced, not only Patience hasn’t won, it becomes immediately clear that not a single person of colour, may them be Black, Hispanic o Pakistani, won a single position in the student council.

“You’re saying Baumgardner… what? Rigged the entire Student Council election? How?”

Levelle said softly, “Apparently, he took charge of who counted the votes. He hand-picked the students that he trusted to… well, they said they counted the votes, but, obviously, I think they just chose the people that they wanted. That he wanted.”

Marcia, following her artistic inclinations, and badly in need to redirect her energy, tries Drama Club. But once again there is a catch:

Mr. Offerman frowned a little. “Oh, did I forget to mention that part? Um, well, yes, Principal Baumgardner said the only way he’d approve a Drama Club is if we put on a play before Thanksgiving.”

And then there is the canteen food. It’s never been Michelin Star quality, fair enough, but, if possible, it’s even worse than the previous year. After a brief research, Marcia finds out that the food provider has different tiers of service: the more you are willing to pay, the better the quality. It’s no CIA job, because it’s clearly stated on their website. With a bit of tampering from Patience’s side, all of a sudden the school is raised to a better level of service and Principal Baumgardner’s emails are re-directed to Patience’s account, so that he can’t reverse it again.

Something smells fishy, but all this is only circumstantial proof.

In the meantime, terrible news break: Jamie, a Black guy not much older than Patience, has been killed by the police. In time, he got in with wrong crowd and allegedly became a drug dealer. Still, killing a young man just because he’s dealing doesn’t seem an appropriate response, even more because he’s Black, and American police appears to be biased against the community. A rally is quickly organised, and Patience wants to take part, while Charlie is against it. She has her reasons – it will be full of people who hate the police, but not all cops are bad; ‘look at my father’, she points out. Marcia is caught between a rock and a hard place: which decision is going to hurt less? A big argument explodes between the three girls and it seems to be a deal-breaker. Eventually, Marcia goes to the rally, protesters are charged by the police and Marcia herself is injured, arrested and brought to the hospital.

When Marcia goes back to school, with her ribs still cracked, Charlie tries to apologise to her, but she ends up saying:

Charlie looked away. “God, Marcia, you shouldn’t have gone.”

Marcia frowned. “What?”

“You shouldn’t have gone to that rally! If you’d stayed home…”

Not the best way to make up.

Meanwhile, at Drama club the final rehearsal of Juliet and Romeo is taking place, a revisitation of the original Shakespeare’s play where Romeo and Juliet roles are reversed. Charlie and Patience, who are not on speaking terms, have the two leading roles of, respectively, Tybalt and Juliet. And in typical Patience’s style, the two girls manage to say to each other how sorry they are, in front of an oblivious audience, who believes it’s all part of the play. But Marcia, who knows better, is deeply touched.

So, when it’s time for the Homecoming dance, they will go all together, but Marcia’s presence is cut short by Shannon’s text: ‘can you please meet me at my aunt’s place?’

Marcia instinctively knows something’s very wrong. And it is. April, Shannon’s cousin now in college, has been raped by her date. When she told her ultra-religious father, he kicked her out of his home, accusing her of lying to cover up for her promiscuous behaviour. This is simply unacceptable and in no time another rally is organised.

The Protest Against Sexual Violence and Rally for Justice For April Springer.  In coordination with Indiana University, the rally attendees would meet at the main parking lot and march together from there, across campus, to a small staging area set up in Dunn Meadow, a grassy field across from the school’s LGBTQ+ Culture Center. One group, a local organization known as Women Rising, was taking care of having a small stage erected with mics and sound. All the girls had to do was get the people there.

This time it’s a big thing, big enough to have national coverage. And it’s all because of Marcia. It’s not all, though. Because, as many students already suspected but couldn’t prove, Principal Baumgardner is actually guilty of gross misconduct, and will be incriminated by one of his students.

It’s the second last chapter of Marcia’s saga, and once again the themes touched are many and very complex: rooted homophobia and racism in the mind of the educators, the eternal fight against police brutality and preconceptions, the difficulties of choosing the right thing to do but then having to deal with the consequences, all superbly intertwined with simple and, for us adults, seemingly meaningless problems like the Homecoming close to Thanksgiving and the SAT tests. Once again, a brilliant book that make us long for and dread the conclusion, which we will review next week!

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