Heaton Wilson’s Latest Novel (The Whistle Bay Series, Book One)
Heaton Wilson is not a new face in these pages, but so far we’ve only known his ‘thriller side’ with his DCI Jane Birchfield Series (read our review here). This time, he turns to literary fiction for his latest story.
Sam, a stuttering local ex-footballer, has redeemed his father’s deckchairs business after his death, 18 months ago. His mother has been dead for 5 years now, and his older brother Mikey is a fisherman. They also had another brother, Sean, older than Sam by a bunch of years, who died in his teens due to a heart condition.
At the age of 25, Sam is alone. The relationship with Mikey has always been rocky, due to the age gap and the fact that Sam and Sean were closer as kids. But all this will change with Mikey’s illness, and Sam will find himself in a very unpleasant position. He won’t be alone, though, because along the way he will find the support of Lindsay, a painter who made her name in London but who used to come to Whistle Bay as a child with her parents. “I need to refresh my mind and reconnect with my art, that’s why I am here” she tells Sam when they meet for the second time, when she rents one of his chairs for the day, spending her time sketching on the beach, and Sally, a high school mate and his real first love, something he finally confesses to her so many years later.
‘The Waves of Change’ is a delicate book, narrated with a light pen and full of distinctive characters, like Mouthy Stan or ‘Appy Aaron, that bring a delightful touch of colour in a reality so sad and decrepit. Unfortunately, so many UK seaside villages that reached their peak during the ’60s and ’70s are now slowly but painfully degrading, with the younger generations keen to go abroad for a bunch of pounds more. It also touches delicate themes like a terminal disease, love relationships and family problems, but never with a judging or pitiful eye. The story is also full of unexpected twists and turns, keeping the read interesting and suspenseful.
At times, however, it misses the necessary ‘deeper plunge’ into the narrative, made of detailed sharp descriptions and quick dialogues, which we feel would definitely elevate the whole book to a totally new dimension.
Still, we are still quite impressed by the change of tone and register from the previous books and will definitely wait impatiently for book two.
All books by Heaton Wilson are available for purchase on Amazon.
Sarah Farnsworth, a British surgeon who works in the US, is a Tottenham fan and has a ‘funny’ accent (for American standards), enters the operating theatre to perform a surgery that, on paper, is straightforward and low-risk. But, despite her good-luck ritual and her skills, the surgery doesn’t go as planned, and Sarah is shuttered. While her mother passed away, her ghost is still very much present in Sarah’s life, and the loss of a patient only heightens that negative voice she constantly hears in her head. When this and the fact that Sarah developed a proper phobia of entering the operating theatre become too much to handle, she is forced to take a break. A friend of hers offers a temporary way out: there is this old guy, named William ‘Billy’ Caldwell, who needs someone to drive him around Atlanta for a few days. He needs to run some errands, but being of a certain age, he doesn’t trust himself behind the wheel. Would Sarah be at all interested in taking up on this offer? After all, she has nothing to lose, or do, so she accepts. This physical journey across the city turns into a journey down memory lane: Billy is not just simply an old man with business to attend to, and all the anecdotes he tells of what he lived and went through over the years, help Sarah to put her own life in order too. It’s a refreshing and illuminating experience for Sarah, who will eventually overcome her fear of operating theatres and go back to work. But at what price? Because, contrary to your usual romance story, there is no happy ending for this one.
While this is Ivan Scott’s first novel, written around four years ago, it will never cease to amaze me how his work is marketed as ‘romance’ when it is so much more and have nothing to do with the traditional trope ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl’ (or any other gender combination). This is a great story, that dwells heavily into reality. Many people on this planet go through experiences that make them change their mind or their life-path, that make them open their eyes and go in a different direction, but not necessarily there is a romantic experience involved, nor it has to end with ‘boy gets girl’.
And that’s the beauty of Ivan Scott’s books: they transcend the pure romance experience, leaving behind all the outdated and, honestly, annoying cliche so well loved by a certain part of the reading population. It’s fiction with a hint of romance, and accomplishes what fiction should do: digesting reality by breaking it into simple chunks, to help ‘ordinary’ people understand it and maybe even get a hint on how to solve problems they have in their own lives.
The hope is that in the future his books will get the credit they deserve, because his stories are brilliant, the prose is always clean and clear-cut, never boring nor absurd. Perhaps dialogues can sound unrealistic at times, especially when trying to portray the way British characters speak, but this is honestly the only fault I could find, and I had to look very hard.
All books by Ivan Scott are available for purchase on Amazon.
“I guess sometimes, you have to take a step back to see a whole new beautiful world you never knew existed.”
At the end of a successful season, New York City Football Club goalkeeper Ryan Tarkington suddenly dies. Trouble is… it wasn’t his time. After he is mistakenly brought to Heaven, it is imperative that a new body for him is available, as he cannot return into his (he was cremated). A suitable candidate is identified in London, Tottenham football club owner Chadwick Sutton, who does not enjoy a great reputation in town, as he is a ruthless, simply despicable businessman. However, this is as good as it gets, so Ryan accepts to take over his body while a new goalkeeper is found. Being the competent, focused, altruistic human being he is – even after death – Ryan will work hard to change the fortunes of Tottenham for the better and the lives of the local community and those surrounding him. The best part is, he will fall in love for the first time in his life in the process, winning the heart of goalkeeper (and redhead) Samantha Desmore. Unfortunately, God has other plans for Ryan, and in an unexpected turn of events all seems lost, forever.
Will Ryan and Samantha be able to find each other again, even if he can no longer be Chadwick Sutton? At the end of the day, Heaven does owe him a favour…
Ivan Scott offers us a well-executed, uncomplicated yet thought-provoking story that is effortlessly written. There is a lightness, a gentleness about his writing style that is very difficult to define or pinpoint: reading this book felt like witnessing someone tiptoeing around a room that is only full of silence, to leave a huge, permanent mark on a blackboard.
There is definitely a sentimental/romance element to the plot, but unlike your classic romantic novels completely centred on the paradigm ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back’, there is a lot more too. It is a story about how our past does not define us – especially our failures – and even if we surely cannot change it (Ryan’s life as Ryan is over, he’s dead after all) we can reset and restart time and time again if we really want to.
Perhaps a little too sentimental and mellow at times – at least for my liking – for example when Ryan/Sutton starts supporting local community projects like some sort of saviour for whom money is no object, or his conversations on love with his butler. However, this also made me think about myself, to the point that I even started questioning if I have a heart at all and why I have become so bitter, unable to embrace the warm, fuzzy feeling this story evokes.
The answer I found, and I am sure some of our readers can relate to this too, is that sometimes we are so stuck in our lives that we forget the simplicity of the pleasure of reading a light-hearted, very funny yet meaningful story. Thank you Ivan for reminding me there’s nothing wrong with being human.
All books by Ivan Scott are available for purchase on Amazon.
George Callahan is a teacher in awe of Hemingway. ‘Papa’ Hemingway is his role model, his favourite writer and almost his everything. His girlfriend Bertha, on the other hand, is pretty annoyed by George talking, breathing and eating Hemingway. The only thing that would make her change her mind on the subject would be a free trip to Paris, courtesy of Papa.
But that’s not exactly what happens.
George is the finalist, along with another teacher, of a prestigious grant that the Hemingway Historical Society created to celebrate the birthday of ‘The Sun Also Rises’. The final decision will be announced during a celebration weekend in New York. And while Bertha promised to go, she changes her mind at the last minute, forcing George to go alone.
It’s not a big deal, though, because George, being a huge fan, already has some places he absolutely wants to see, to retrace the steps of Papa and his life in New York. One of those places is Scribner, the bookshop on 5th Avenue that saw the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway selling their books there. For George this is the apotheosis of his existence.
While browsing in the bookshop, his path crosses with a redhead, whose name is Darcie Davenport. She works for a second hand bookshop and she is scouting for books, basket in hand. Darcie is also is a great fan of Papa, and in the spur of the moment George shows her the very reason why he’s the grant’s finalist: a first edition of ‘The Sun Also Rises’. By mistake (or maybe a bearded ghost might have played his part *wink, wink*) the book falls into her basket, and by the time George realises what happened, it’s too late. Darcie already brought the basket of books to her workplace, which closed for the day.
From here, an incredible adventure to find the lost book starts, consisting of: tricking the mob, getting help from a group of drag queens, pretending to be FBI agents and becoming single. Spoiler alert: George and Darcie fall in love in the end.
‘The Redhead Who Loves Hemingway’ is undoubtedly a good book: a great plot that goes forward and doesn’t derail (even if it might appear surreal at times), dialogues are natural, the narrative is clear, concise and sharp. Humour and adventure blend very well, and the romantic element is intertwined with the historical one.
A nice read overall, but not your conventional romance story, where every single action brings (or should bring) the reader one step closer to having the two main characters helplessly falling in love. This is romantic fiction with a happy ending.
Having followed Ivan’s writing career over the last few years (‘A Redhead in a Blue Convertible’ was one of our lockdown reads) , we are actually pleasantly surprised by his latest book: we could really see and feel the difference, surely made of a lot of practice and sacrifice. Excellent job!
Once upon a time, there was Alice in Wonderland. But this particular Alice is not a blonde, little girl running up and down the green grass of Victorian England. She has a red bob, she is talking selfies to post online to her fellow cosplayers and the year is 2038 in the city of Chongqing. She is browsing books at a very popular bookstore, when she is approached by this man, a foreigner probably, because he doesn’t look right to her: to start with, he’s overly dressed for a day that warm, and his face looks familiar.
But the mystery is quickly solved, as the man, ‘The Storyteller’ as Alice starts to think of him, introduces himself as a writer, who recently presented his book in that same bookshop. He was on TV, Alice recalls, that’s why his face looks so familiar. “If you like this author, then you will certainly like this story” he said to Alice. “What story?” she asks? “It’s the story of a boy, his name was Amos, Amos the amazing, an odd boy roughly your age, who loved books”. Amos. I knew a boy once, whose name was Amos, but it can’t be him, thinks Alice. And while the two of them sit in front of a hot drink, the Storyteller narrates the incredible adventures of this boy that more often than not finds himself in trouble, but that is also the only one who can rescue his grandfather’s soul from the dreamland.
The settings for this solar-punk sci-fi novel are incredible, taking inspiration from Alice in Wonderland, Chinese folklore and Harry Potter (only spicier), and the world that is created is full of colours and imagination and vivid images. Historical facts and cultural traditions permeate the whole book, creating a unique blend and an impressively layered narration. However, we feel execution impacts heavily on the overall beauty of it. There are times where the narration is too fast and descriptions are shortened instead of extensive; when talking about supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi it’s always good practice to set the rules of a specific world early in the narration and reiterate them along the book if and when necessary, because readers are not in the author’s mind. The final result is somehow botched and that’s unfortunate, because there is a lot of potential in this story. But rushing to put words on paper and be done with is not always the best strategy, and writing is also about tight editing and rewriting.
Having said that, we are keen to see what the future holds for Jorah Kai and his work, because he undeniably has great imagination, even greater storytelling skills, and a unique writing style that could really set him apart from the competition.
Joseph Roy Wright set two books in the city of Runcorn. Book One, ‘The Skinners Incident’, opens with the alarming disappearance of a teenage boy. Kyle Cross, 16, has lived in the city of Runcorn all his life, his family is there, and so are his friends. He always texted his mother to let her know he was late, so when he fails giving news about his whereabouts, panic strikes immediately. The police is alerted and officers Sarah White, Michael Carr and Homicide Detective John Prescott are assigned to the case. What people don’t know is that Sarah has a special power since childhood: she can see the dead. If a person didn’t leave this world peacefully, they remain attached, even if their bodies are no more. Sarah’s gift was a great cause of pain and sufferance to her at the beginning, and it took a lot of therapy for her to learn how to live with it, but growing up she then decided to put this gift to a greater use and enter the police force. What began as a simple Missing Persons Case soon spirals into something darker, discovering a brutal homicide with a supernatural twist.
The city of Runcorn is not new to paranormal experiences. In fact, Book Two, ‘The Cult of Lucien’, describes events that took place in 1978, when the small, rural city was at the centre of another series of weird and spooky deaths. Lori Ripley, who had an accident as a child that left her dead for a few minutes, is now persecuted by three crow-like figures that want to offer her body to their master, Lucien, so he can return on this planet. Since it’s the Halloween weekend, no one really pays attention to the three weirdos, but their attitude and their manners soon raise suspicion and Lori becomes alerted to them too.
While the idea may not be the most original, execution is still fresh, and there is a lot of potential in both books. In the first one, for example, initially disjointed characters gradually get together, and the narrative reveals how and why they are connected. In the second one, the idea of cult followers so obsessed to go the extra mile in order to fulfil the desires of their Master is dreadful but, unfortunately, real (news often feature such stories). The paranormal/supernatural element is also well represented, in the form of a wealth of supernatural entities and paranormal activities, a sign of the fact that Wright does have a solid knowledge of haunted creatures and inexplicable phenomena.
Regrettably, both books have their faults too. The narration is fast – too fast – and kills the horror/scary momentum-building, necessary to really upset, scare and terrify readers. In places, the books barely differs from a personal, WIP book outline, the detailed synopsis that many authors use to jot every single scene before starting the slow and painful process of putting meat to the bones. There are many “technical” scenes, e.g. medical or police related, that don’t use the appropriate jargon nor sound credible, impacting negatively on the narration flow. Dialogues fall flat and descriptions are almost non existent, killing some of the basic rules of horror stories: verisimilitude, a good pace to turn the familiar into strange and a dip in the readers’ darkest fears. This is undoubtedly a shame, because with some extra TLC and no rush to publish these books could be very, very good, slightly more complex and perhaps have the potential to successfully tap into the huge market of mature, discerning audiences who like their horror stories.
Book Three by Irish Writer Riley Cain (& First of the Benjamin Blake Series)
‘The Curse of Silver and Sunlight’ by Riley Cain is a spellbinding gothic tale of witches, vampires, temptation, and love, that will leave you like a vampire with moonlight – hungry for more.
Benjamin Blake yearns for adventure. Working in his uncle’s inn in a small town in rural England during the 1600s doesn’t bring much by way of excitement. There are smugglers and talk of civil war, but it all seems too far out of reach for him to grasp. However, when a renowned witch hunter and his captive – the delightfully malevolent Adefina Corvus – arrive in town one day, Benjamin’s journey takes an unexpected turn and he gets farther away from his old life than he could ever have imagined.
I should be clear at this point – this is a really good book. With a teen protagonist, it could be classed as YA fiction, but like all good YA books it transcends that category. The story and writing have many strengths – the foreboding descriptions of setting and scenery, the wonderfully drawn and complex characters, the interesting twists on genre conventions, the use of tension and dark magic within scenes – but what stood out most for me was the character of Benjamin himself and the relationships he builds with his newfound companions along the way. Benjamin is relatable as a reluctant hero who struggles to do the right thing in the face of his own changing nature and the evil that exists in the world.
Cain’s novel is an excellent showcase for the quality of indie writing that exists out there – its tightly written and edited, with a fast-moving plot, and an allegorical commentary on human nature. What’s more, I was in this world, fully immersed in Benjamin’s journey, and hooked on the story.
I highly recommend this book, and am very much looking forward to the sequel. ‘The Curse of Silver and Sunlight’, like the Grimoire book of dark magic within it, will cast its spell on you and come alive as you read it. Just be careful not to read it in the moonlight – you might find yourself wanting more…
Book Number 10 by Cheshire Author Joseph Roy Wright
December 31st, 1946. A family of four is happily travelling to a New Year’s Eve party when their car is brutally attacked by a group of zombies. Marilyn, the mother, is bitten by one of these creatures and reluctantly left for dead on the street, as the rest of the family flees (not to worry, they will die a terrifying death after). This is only the start of a chilling few days for the small town of Rockwell, under siege by the undead, recently resuscitated from their tombs by a mysterious force. The undead need to feed on human or animal flesh to ‘survive’ and remain sentient, unable to stop their urge to devour anything that comes their way. You can only imagine the chaos this causes to such a small city: violent fights between humans and non-humans, fires and other disasters and a whole load of devastation to be found round every corner. Humanity’s last hope to end this lies in the hands of one of these undead, former detective Harry Reed and his unlikely companions, young Billy, and Marilyn herself (who has actually become a vampire following the attack). With very little time before the apocalypse spreads to the whole of America, our heroes will have to find out who’s behind it all… is it aliens? A mad scientist perhaps? Or is it the devil himself?! Spoiler alert: they will eventually get to the bottom of it, while having to resist their animalistic instincts, hide from humans who obviously are out to kill them and run from a cult leader relentlessly chasing them (and other horrifying, supernatural creatures of course).
You may have guessed this book is not for the faint-hearted… action-packed, brimming with very vivid descriptions especially when it comes to the bloodiest, cruellest parts – including an epic battle or two: author J. R. Wright is definitely not afraid to shock you, terrify you and even make your stomach turn sometimes! I loved the idea of an undead detective investigating other undead, and the fact that despite having lost his humanity through death Harry remains true to who he was in life, fighting the unnatural urges his current condition causes. You do feel for this unlikely hero and his companions and cheer them on as they face adversity. While the story shows immense creative ability in the way it unfolds, with twists and turns aplenty, all culminating in the final resolution and almost happy (or rather bittersweet) ending, the narration could definitely have done with a few more descriptions of the context and scenery surrounding our characters. For example, even though the story takes place in a distant past – 1946 – there are hardly any signs of this, and it could actually be happening anytime/anywhere, except for the hint that radio and black and white TV were the only mass media available at the time. While I do appreciate action-driven plots, Wright made it harder for the reader to picture the town of Rockwell, all we know is it is surrounded by woodland, it has a school and a city centre.
Detective Dead is undoubtedly a good book, but sadly lacks the polish that could make it great. Having said that, I must admit it was an interesting, uncomplicated read, made more seamless by Wright’s undisputed ability to write straightforward, entertaining fiction – and based on my experience with book reviews, I can guarantee this is harder that you think… So if it’s entertainment, lots of blood and a hint of horror you are after when choosing what to read, this is definitely the book for you!!
And here we are… The moment teenage students dream of but us readers dread! It’s Marcia&Co. senior year and it will be their goodbye to high school and what it meant, good or bad.
The last Waltz begins with Marcia and Charlie on the football field, the fifty-yard line.
“One day we’re gonna say it, and one day we’re gonna be right.” She turned to look at Charlie. “One time’s gonna be the last time. The last time that we hang out on the field together. The last time we go to Frosty’s for ice cream. The last time we get hot chocolate and donuts from Cup O’ Joe’s.”
Charlie sat up, blinking. “Oh my God, Torres,” she said softly, “You’re right! One day it will be the last time.” She shook her head and sighed sadly. “I guess all I can do is help speed things along a little.”
Marcia frowned. “Wha?”
Charlie nodded. “By killing you right now.”
But, as bittersweet as the moment can be, the big question is looming: what after? Yes, the end of high school and its rules and weird customs might seem exciting and well-deserved, but what’s going to happen next? Choose university? If so, which one? And how are we all gonna be friends when we won’t see each other everyday anymore and live in opposite sides of the country? It’s all so scary and confusing, but at least there is a whole year ahead to think about it. For now, let’s focus on the here and now, which specifically is a new Headmaster – or better, Headmistress, Dr Shaw. The first thing she does is calling Marcia, Patience and Charlie in her office.
On the first day, or as soon as you have a spare minute, call to the office three girls – Patience Lancaster, Charlie Parker, and Marcia Torres. They’re the answer to your question. When they come in, say nothing. Just wait. Give it a minute and it will all make sense. Parker is the sarcastic one. Lancaster is the observant one. The one who won’t stop talking is Torres. Once you’re satisfied, please show them this letter, and hand them the note I’d left for them.
This is Mr Anderson’s (a former teacher) message to the new principal. The message ends with a plea for the three girls: “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do under any other principal”. It’s a sweet and powerful presentation of these three incredible young people to the new Principal and a way to get them out from the dog’s house from the very first minute. Because let’s face it: it’s Marcia&Co. we are talking about: as much as they’ll try to avoid it, they will end up in one mess or another for sure. But it’s also the answer to Dr Shaw’s request to have an insight into the social climate of the school and have the names of students she could trust. While in the office, the girls are also told that Mr Miller will be back as coach of the soccer team, on two conditions:
One, that Ms. Levelle would become his first assistant coach. And the other condition was that his second assistant coach would be…” Dr. Shaw pretended to check her notebook. “Patience Lancaster.”
Patience’s surprise is understandable, but not so justified: since she did such a great job in guiding the team from the bleachers using sign language, what can se actually do from the bench?
Once the dust of the first day settles down and the school begins for real, the girls realise that it’s their senior year and they all have more classes of their majors, but they don’t even have classes together for core subjects like English or Maths. Marcia turns the whole thing into massive drama, already talking about separation and a future without Patience. But soon the argument takes a different direction and becomes more general. It is not just a matter of sitting in the same class, it’s a matter of being single units living in the world: of course there will be people asking me out, or asking you out, Patience explains patiently, but it doesn’t mean we are bad people. We turn them down, kindly but firmly, because neither of us is the type of person who would cheat, she says to Marcia. And that is because we are nice and reasonable people, with good qualities and a positive attitude and once again Patience shifts the focus of the conversation. It’s their last year and so much happened already, and Patience really believes that Marcia should run for Student Council President. Marcia replies that she will only if Patience will run as V.P. It’s clearly impossible: no one will vote for them both. Marcia is not convinced, though. ‘Prove me I would be a better President than you, then’ she tells Patience. ‘But be loyal: prepare your campaign as you would do if you were going to actually run for it, not just to prove a point.’ Patience does it, but during her speech she subtly keeps saying how Marcia is great and kind and smart and pushes Patience to become a better person, driving the vote the way she wants. Marcia realises what her girlfriend actually did one second before launching into her speech, and pays her back, saying how great of a President Patience would be, concluding with ‘I will vote for her’. What she couldn’t predict was that her fantastic-for-the-position girlfriend sent an email to the whole school before their speeches took place, predicting exactly what Marcia was going to do and re-enforcing the need to vote for her. It comes as a shock to Marcia when the new President is announced and her name comes out of the speakers. But it’s an amazing surprise, and she won’t bear it alone: Mark, Charlie’s boyfriend, is her V.P. His candidature was a last mine one, so much last minute that no one actually knew. But since the other candidate was Kevin Frisk, Mark had to do something.
“Now, to the question of why I am running against Kevin Frisk. Do I have a problem with Kevin?” […] “Yes. Yes, I do.” […] “Kevin Frisk is a bully. I know this from firsthand experience. Many of you do, too. He is a racist and a homophobe. I know this from statements that he’s made, and from the way he treats other people. Of course, some of you already know this. That’s why you’re planning on voting for him. Because you’re racist too.”
It comes as a surprise, but definitely a good one, since the Student Council is divided: gay and gay supporters on one side, homophobe bullies on the other, both elected in almost even numbers, so any future vote on any proposal will become a ferocious arm wrestling exercise, where the matter in question won’t be as important as who proposed it and who is actually going to win the motion. But Homecoming is looming and there is no homophobia, bully or student council election that will be able to ruin it. It’s their last one, after all.
Life goes on, and so do all their activities: Marcia is playing in a jazz band she joined at the beginning of the school year, they are all studying hard for their SATs, scrambling around to allocate enough time for university applications, soccer practice and part time jobs. It’s a chaotic but good time for all of them. One day, Marcia is on the phone with Charlie while her friend is driving back from her part-time job, when the line goes suddenly dead. When Marcia tries her friend’s number again, the call goes straight to voicemail. She doesn’t have a good feeling about it, and unfortunately she is right: Charlie had a nasty collision with a truck, that left her with a temporary spinal injury. It might be gone in a few days or it might be permanent. Mark decides to drop his V.P. position and take care of Charlie, firm in his conviction that it doesn’t matter if he has to help her to go to the toilet for the rest of their life: she is the one and she is worth anything.
And while Charlie lives her last school year in a more or less normal way, the rest of them keeps going through ‘the usual’: the Art Fair, the school play, the jazz band concert, a Code Blue that it’s not a drill [for non-US readers: a Code Blue means danger outside of the school or in the immediate vicinity, so all students must stay put and all doors locked], the Prom, the Prom Queens, graduation and two life-commitment surprises that will squeeze out hearts one last time.
This last instalment of Marcia’s story is a whirlwind of everything! We have an insight of what being queer today might means for teenagers, we are reminded that, yes, high school never ends, nor its cliques and politics, we are guided through first loves and big commitments, we are presented with themes already dealt with in the previous three books (Homecoming, Art exhibition, school play) that feel a little predictable at this point, but as Marcia herself says, this is the last time. And it is for real! Like, no more of her, or Charlie, no more Proms or Patience’s witty remarks, no more big confessions on the fifty-yard line.
As much as I think that there is space for improvement on the quality of the narration, I am actually shedding a tear now that Marcia’s adventures are coming to an end. I followed them for less than the 4 years it took them to complete their personal story arc, but I will miss them just the same.
Do not despair though… Chico has not finished to delight us with his wonderful stories! We have 2 more to present to you, so dry your tears and stay tuned!
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!