Revising Leah

November 6, 2008

Leah Laughed (Things I Like #6)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:10 pm
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While there are quite a few somber moments and some melodrama in Leah, the story isn’t all gloom and doom. There are some light, humorous moments too. Finding a place for humor in Leah wasn’t easy, though, because for me, humor comes from the interaction between characters: their dialogue, the differences in their personalities, and their miscommunication. And since Leah Nells spends a lot of her time in the story by herself, there aren’t as many opportunities for character interaction that would lead to humor, so I have to take those opportunities whenever I can get them.

A lot of the humor is subtle. In chapter three, for example, when Leah is already very nervous about her first day of school, she overreacts when her father is ready to drive her to school:

At 7:39 she heard the sound of her father coming down the stairs. She immediately stood up and gathered her pile of books, her purse, and her lunch in her trembling hands. Mr. Nells appeared in the kitchen, still looking a little sleepy. Like his wife, he noticed immediately how nervous his daughter was. He smiled and teased, “Are you ready to go?”

Leah replied by bolting out the door to the garage and climbing into her father’s car.

The narrator sometimes gets into the act. When Megan tries to befriend Leah in chapter five, she speculates on why Leah isn’t saying very much. When she hits upon the right reason, the narrator adds a little extra commentary that almost serves as a punchline:

But Megan wasn’t prepared to do all of the talking either, especially not with a girl who was still just a stranger. She hadn’t made any friends yet in phys. ed. class, and when she saw that Leah was by herself too, she thought she might introduce herself and see what happened. That sounded so easy, but it had taken her the entire class period so far to work up the courage just to speak to Leah. Megan wondered why Leah had nothing more to say to her than a simple greeting and her name. Megan guessed that maybe Leah was just shy. Megan had no idea.

Leah’s lack of social experience and her naivete also lead to scenes that are at once funny and embarrassing. In chapter nine, she thinks that one way she might be able to attract David’s attention is to dress up and wear make-up. She has almost no experience applying make-up, however, so all she does is add a little lipstick to her lips. Before Leah leaves for school, Mrs. Nells notices what her daughter has done:

The unexpected change in her appearance caught the attention of Mrs. Nells whom Leah met in the kitchen that morning before she went to school. Mrs. Nells sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and trying to wake up, but it wasn’t until her droopy eyes caught sight of Leah’s sparkling new look that they really widened.

“You’re wearing your hair differently today,” Mrs. Nells observed, “and why are you wearing that dress? What’s going on? Is the school taking yearbook pictures today? Do I need to write a check or something?”

Leah smiled and shook her head no. She certainly couldn’t tell her mother that a boy was the reason for the change in her look this morning. Leah didn’t want to get her mother’s hopes — not to mention her own hopes — up without good reason. There really wasn’t anything to tell her mother about David. Not yet, anyway.

As Leah moved about the kitchen, preparing her lunch, she could feel Mrs. Nells’ stare. Her mother was examining Leah’s face and dress with a suspicious eye. She could tell her daughter was hiding a secret.

“Are you wearing lipstick?!” Mrs. Nells asked when Leah came close enough for her to see that her daughter’s lips were redder than usual. Now she knew for sure that something was happening.

“I like to wear lipstick sometimes,” Leah replied while avoiding eye contact with her mother. She didn’t understand why her mother was making such a big deal about a few little changes in her appearance.

“You do? Since when?”

There are some scenes that might have been fun to develop into longer passages but I couldn’t because to fully develop them would be to send the plot off on a tangent, so I’ve included them as brief anecdote-like stories. One of these is a funny little description of how Leah plays softball in phys. ed. class:

. . . for the last few days her class had been playing softball outside, and Leah hated softball. When she was at bat, she felt uncomfortable being the center of attention so she usually just let herself strike out, sometimes by swinging wildly at the ball when it was pitched to her, sometimes by simply standing there and watching it fly past. And when she stood by herself in the outfield and a ball was hit towards her, she always let the ball hit the ground before she picked it up and threw it back — much to her teammates’ frustration.

But for me, the funniest scene in the novel (and perhaps one of my favorite scenes overall) is when Leah tries to draw a picture in support of her Egypt report. She and her teammates are at David’s house, trying to record their reports to video. David has the idea of using hand-drawn images to serve as intermissions between each student’s presentation:

David handed everyone a blank sheet of paper and set a box of markers on the coffee table. Leah and the other three were still confused, so David explained.

“On your sheet of paper, write the title of your report topic and draw a picture that has something to do with your topic. Later, when I’m editing the film, I’ll scan your pictures into the computer and use them to introduce everybody’s reports. It will look cool and waste some time — trust me.” David was the only one who seemed convinced that it was a good idea, but only Alex voiced an objection.

“Do I have to draw a picture?” he asked. “Remember, I drew all those posters — and I’ll talk about them in class.”

David thought for a moment and then answered, “Well, why don’t you draw the title image — you know, something to introduce the whole project? Call it something like, ‘The World of Ancient Egypt’ — or something.”

Alex agreed and the five of them got to work. Leah stared at her blank sheet of paper for a moment and wondered what she should draw. Her report covered the important pharaohs of ancient Egypt, but she didn’t know what they looked like, and even if she did, she wasn’t skilled enough to draw a portrait of any of them. Finally, she took a yellow marker and drew a picture of a golden crown, which was supposed to symbolize royalty. Above it, in large, purple letters, she wrote, “THE PHARAOHS.” She was the first to finish her drawing, and when she was done, she turned the picture face down on the table.

When the others were finished too, David asked to see his partners’ pictures. Alex wrote David’s suggested title for the presentation in bold, black letters and added a yellow and orange drawing of a pyramid. Melanie, whose report was about the process of mummification, drew a crude picture of a sarcophagus that featured a happy face where the head should be. David laughed, “Why is he smiling like that?”

“He’s happy to be dead,” Melanie replied. “When the pharaohs died, they believed that they became gods and lived in a wonderful afterlife.” At least Melanie had learned something during her research. David nodded in approval and asked Heather to show them hers.

Heather’s topic was a general history of Egypt, but her picture was of a sailboat crossing what was supposed to be the Nile River.

“What does that have to do with anything?” David asked. Alex looked at it and started laughing.

Heather looked distraught. “I don’t know!” she shouted. “Why couldn’t we have done a talk show? This whole thing is so stupid!” She tried to fling her picture at the boys, but the air caught it and sent it back towards her where it landed gently at her feet.

“Come on — don’t get upset,” David said.

It was too late. Heather felt humiliated and furious and she sought to take her anger out on someone else. Her eyes searched for a victim and found Leah, who was now holding her drawing face up in her lap, in anticipation of showing it to the group.

“Well, if you think my picture is stupid, look at hers!” Heather said, pointing at Leah’s drawing. Everyone looked and Leah stiffened under their gaze. “What is that? A crown?! The Egyptians never wore crowns like that!”


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