In chapter eight of Xenia the Warm-hearted, we meet some interesting new people at Mrs. Higg’s Historical Sleuthing Society meeting. But what in the world is going on here?
The unnamed girl had been lolling nearby, managing to look completely bored. But at this last volley of questions, she threw both hands in the air and turned away, muttering, “Kill me now.” Xenia didn’t want to be left alone with the demanding CJ, but his challenge was impossible for her to resist. And it was a better problem, after all, than having to guess about Charlie’s body temperature.
“If you live next door,” she reasoned, “then there must be another road you use. And there’s nothing I can see that cuts through the cornfields, so there must be a road in that forest back there. Is that it? Did you come through the forest?”
CJ glowered at her, obviously working out a way he could disagree. (page 127)
Boy, not exactly the people you want to pal around with.
I’m afraid Xenia is a victim of my own problems at her age. I was in a military family, and we moved around constantly. So, my family was my social safety net. When I went into junior high school, I felt like I was surrounded by kids that I had nothing in common with and — I’m afraid — didn’t have a very high opinion of. There were some good kids there, of course, who I would’ve liked to befriend. But they had already formed cliques to shut out the riff-raff, and most of the time, I was left to fend for myself.
And that riff-raff, it seemed to me, divided into two categories:
- Boys who were rude, spoiled and disrespectful, and who would do anything to make an impression.
- Skanky girls who evinced a bored, worldly air and were inclined to be unprincipled and mean-spirited.
Not a pretty picture, for a hopelessly out-of-it nerd who just wanted everyone to behave themselves. (There’s quite a bit of Photini in me as well.)
It has been interesting to write these books and have the opportunity to revisit these years. Xenia is the unfortunate recipient of some unresolved issues, I’m sure. But also, some ongoing realities. Adolescence is such a rough time, and a lot of kids react to the pressure by posturing about, trying desperately to fit in sometimes and stand out at others. Wanting so much to figure out who they are and how they’ll fit into the world.
Since Xenia’s problem had to do with social skills, what am I saying here? Just that the problems aren’t all with her. There doesn’t seem like an easy path to good fellowship with Shar and CJ.
And Charlie! What’s up with him? Charlie doesn’t represent anyone I remember from junior high, but then, it’s pretty obvious that his life situation is quite different. Xenia’s father wondered at one point what Charlie thought of living out on some remote farm with just his father for company. That’s a good question. We’ll get back to him in time. For now, suffice it to say that Xenia has her work cut out for her, in terms of honing her social skills.
‘Did someone say murder?’
In chapter nine, we pivot to something a little more light-hearted. When I thought of Xenia’s book, I was really looking forward to sharing a little of my love of mysteries. In A Year of Every Tuesday, I found a way to include a murder mystery, and all four books have some kind of problem-solving along those lines.
So it’s a trifle self-indulgent, really, for me to give so much space to Destination: Murder. This made-up television show — which I would totally love, by the way — could’ve easily been reduced to a couple sentences without any specific details, and we’d still get the point. But it was a kind of labor of love.
I remember watching ’70s mystery shows like Ellery Queen and Banacek and hoping that I could get the answer, which I nearly never did. I could’ve used the help that Xenia brings in, calling a friend with internet access. Too bad, then, that it doesn’t go well for her. In her haste to triumph over the obnoxious CJ, she commits the unforgiveable sin of mystery fans: she blurts out the answer.
The grownups are good-natured about the gaffe. Charlie, however, seems to be thrown into an even blacker mood over it.
And I will just say, at the risk of giving spoiler of my own, that Xenia has already begun to put some wheels in motion, though she doesn’t know it and didn’t mean to.
She will begin to have some real problems to parse out, and calling in a clue won’t work. We’ll see how that goes, as the book unfolds.
Friday: Chapters 10 & 11 — Some meaningful conversations, and an unexpected crisis
Monday: Chapters 12 & 13 — Another Society meeting and news about Blakkdogg