Revising Leah

August 9, 2008

Things I Like #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 8:26 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Because most of the narrative of Leah occurs from the main character’s point of view, whenever another character crashes into Leah’s sometimes insular world, the effect — at least for me — can be a bit jarring. Leah’s isolation from her classmates doesn’t just make her interactions with her classmates awkward and uncomfortable, but a lot of her fellow students think she’s weird, and this leaves her exposed as a potential target for bullies. As I’m rewriting Leah, I’m also sketching out some rough drafts for my next novel, and as I’ve hinted in a previous post, I’m going to let Leah make a very, very brief “cameo” appearance in the new story. The next novel is set about a year and a half after the events of Leah, and the glimpse that we get of her in that new context is perhaps a little disturbing. It suggests that the teasing and bullying that Leah experiences from time to time in this novel might actually get worse for her.

In this book, though, the most explicit scene of bullying occurs after Leah has already suffered a significant disappointment in her English class. After English, she goes on to world history where she tries to cheer herself up by reading a page or two out of her latest book before class starts, but she’s interrupted:

She had a few minutes of free time available to her so she opened her backpack and removed her new book, 5087 Trivia Questions & Answers. She opened the book to page 49 and began reading where she left off at the end of lunch. She didn’t expect to read very far, maybe only one or two pages, but that didn’t matter. At times like this, reading offered the kind of escape which she needed. She read her book and ignored her the other students as they filed into class. Shortly before the bell rang, she sensed a shadow looming over her, and she heard a husky voice ask, “What are you reading?”

Startled, Leah looked up and found a boy named Kyle standing over her. He was a tall, slightly overweight, aggressive guy who was destined to become a varsity football player in his later years of high school. Leah didn’t like him. He was loud, rude, and intimidating, but what she didn’t understand was why he was standing here beside her when his desk was on the other side of the room.

Leah, still shocked by Kyle’s intrusion, hadn’t answered the boy’s question, and her silence was starting to annoy him.  Kyle pried the book out of the girl’s hands and read the title himself. “5087 Trivia Questions & Answers,” he declared, loudly, so that anyone in the classroom who might be watching could hear him. “What’s this for? Are you trying out for a game show or something?” He laughed and added, “If you do, you’ll have to talk, you know. You can’t just stand there and not say anything.” Still holding the book, he turned around. “Hey Jake!” he shouted across the room to another boy. “Jake! Look at this!” Kyle wanted to show the book to his friend, but the boy named Jake was engaged in a serious conversation with a couple of giggling girls and so Kyle was the last thing on his mind. Meanwhile, Leah was beginning to feel embarrassed as Kyle was determined to make her the center of attention, even though he wasn’t having much success. She wanted to stop him and get her book back, but she didn’t know what to do. Kyle was a lot bigger than she was, and if he was determined to keep the book away from her, he could. She looked in vain for Mr. Simmons, but he was nowhere to be found. She felt helpless.

Frustrated by his failure to attract Jake’s attention, Kyle turned to Leah again. He saw the alarm and desperation on the girl’s face and teased, “What? Do you really want this book back?”

“Give it back to her, Kyle,” said the voice of a boy sitting in a desk somewhere behind Leah.

Kyle, thinking he had finally found an audience, turned in the direction of the voice and said, “Hey, David, check out this book! This girl thinks she’s gonna be on a game show or something.” He opened the book to a random page and asked, “Hey, can you answer this? ‘What did the philosopher Soccerts drink when he committed suicide?'”

“You’re an idiot,” the voice laughed. “It’s pronounced ‘Socrates,’ not ‘Soccerts’. Simmons talked about him just last week. Weren’t you paying attention?”

Kyle stared at the book in his hands. “Oh,” he said flatly. A few of Leah’s classmates, who were now-at last-paying attention to Kyle, started laughing.

“Now give her back her book,” the voice commanded.

Kyle hesitated for a moment, but then he handed the book to Leah without saying another word. He left her desk and returned to the other side of the room just as the bell rang and Mr. Simmons, who had missed the scene, entered the class, and, unaware of what had just occurred, asked everyone to take a seat so he could call roll. Leah turned around to face the voice who freed her book from Kyle’s grasp. In the row to her right, sitting two seats back, was the boy named David . . .

This, of course, also marks the first appearance of David in the novel. Leah’s moment of humiliation turns into the start of something more exciting. But for me, what I like most in this scene is Kyle’s bullying of Leah and what that suggests about her character’s life at school outside the narrative bounds of the story.

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