Panic was my
first reaction to the multiple choice options that lay on my desk in front of me. I glanced at the students around me before turning back to question three. I hated multiple choice. Yet I didn’t want to get question three wrong. I didn’t want to get any of them wrong. The outcome would be too devastating for my sense of being.
So I began with elimination. D was completely out of the question, as was A, so that left B and C. I pondered both for quite a while, and just as I was about to make my final decision I heard my name being called.
“I think you mean ‘I beg your pardon,’ don’t you, dear?”
“I beg your pardon, Sister.”
“What are you doing? You’re reading, aren’t you, young lady?”
“Um . . . yeah.”
“ ‘Um, yeah?’ Excellent, Josephine. I can see you walking away with the English prize this year. Now stand up
So my final school year began. I had promised myself that I would be a saint for this year alone. I would make the greatest impression on my teachers and become the model student. I knew it would all fail. But just not on the first day.
Sister Gregory walked toward me, and when she was so close that I could see her mustache, she held out her hand. “Show me what you’re reading.”
I handed it to her and watched her mouth purse itself together and her nostrils flare in triumph because she knew she was going to get me. She skimmed it and then handed it back to me. I could feel my heart beating fast.
“Read from where you were up to.”
I picked up the magazine and cleared my throat.
“ ‘What kind of a friend are you?’ ” I read from Hot Pants
She looked at me pointedly.
“ ‘You are at a party,’ ” I began with a sigh, “ ‘and your best friend’s good-looking, wealthy and successful boyfriend tries to make a pass. Do you: A—Smile obligingly and steal away into the night via the back door; B—Throw your cocktail all over his Country Road suit; C—Quietly explain the loyalty you have toward your friend; D—Tell your friend instantly, knowing that she will make a scene.’ ”
You can understand, now, why I found it hard to pick between
B and C.
“May I ask what this magazine has to do with my religion class, Miss?”
“Yes, dear,” she continued in her sickeningly sarcastic tone. “The one we are in now.”
“Well . . . quite a lot, Sister.”
I heard snickers around me as I tried to make up as much as I could along the way.
Religion class, first period Monday morning, is the place to try to pull the wool over the eyes of Sister Gregory. (She kept her male saint’s name although the custom went out years ago. She probably thinks it will get her into heaven. I don’t think she realizes that feminism has hit religion and that the female saints in heaven are probably also in revolt.)
“Would you like to explain yourself, Josephine?”
I looked around the classroom, watching everyone shrugging almost sympathetically. They thought I was beaten.
“We were talking about the Bible, right?”
“I personally think that you don’t know what we’ve been talking about, Josephine. I think you’re trying to fool me.”
The nostrils flared again. Sister Gregory is famous for nostril-flaring. Once I commented to someone that she must have been a horse in another life. She overheard and scolded me, saying that, as a Catholic, I shouldn’t believe in reincarnation.
“Fool you, Sister? Oh, no. It’s just that while you were speaking I remembered the magazine. You were talking about today’s influences that affect our Christian lives, right?”
Anna, one of my best friends, turned to face me and nodded slightly.
“Well, Sister, this magazine is a common example,” I said, picking it up and showing everyone.
“It’s full of rubbish. It’s full of questionnaires that insult our intelligence. Do you think they have articles titled ‘Are you a good Christian?’ or ‘Do you love your neighbor?’ No. They have articles titled ‘Do you love your sex life?’ knowing quite well that the average age of the reader is fourteen. Or ‘Does size count?’ and let me assure you, Sister, they are not referring to his height.
“I brought this magazine in today, Sister, to speak to everyone about how insulted we are as teenagers and how important it is that we think for ourselves and not through magazines that exploit us under the guise of educating us.”
Sera, another friend of mine, poked her fingers down her mouth as if she was going to vomit.
Sister and I stared at each other for a long time before she held out her hand again. I passed the magazine to her knowing she hadn’t been fooled.
“You can pick it up from Sister Louise,” she said, referring to the principal.
The bell rang and I packed my books quickly, wanting to escape her icy look.
“You’re full of it,” Sera said as we walked out. “And you owe me a magazine.”
I threw my books into my locker and ignored everyone’s sarcasm.
“Well, what was it?” Lee grinned. “A, B, C or D?” “I would have gone with him,” Sera said, spraying half a can of hair spray around her gelled hair.
“Sera, if they jailed people for ruining the ozone layer, you’d get life,” I told her, turning back to Lee. “I was going to go for the cocktail on the Country Road suit.”
The second bell for our next class rang, and with a sigh I made another pledge to myself that I would be a saint. On the whole I make plenty of pledges that I don’t keep.
My name, by the way, is Josephine Alibrandi and I turned seventeen a few months ago. (The seventeen that Janis Ian sang about where one learns the truth.) I’m in my last year of high school at St. Martha’s, which is situated in the eastern suburbs, and next year I plan to study law.
For the last five years we have been geared for this year. The year of the HSC (the High School Certificate), where one’s whole future can skyrocket or go down the toilet, or so they tell us.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta. Copyright © 2008 by Melina Marchetta. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.