This morning, my mother didn’t get out of bed.
It meant I didn’t have to go through one of her daily pep talks which usually begin with a song that she puts on at 6.45 every morning. It’s mostly 70s and 80s retro crap, anything from ‘I Will Survive’ to some woman called Kate Bush singing, ‘Don’t Give Up’. When I question her choices she says they’re random, but I know that they are subliminal techniques designed to motivate me into being just like her.
But this morning there is no song. There is no advice on how to make friends with the bold and the interesting. No twelve point plan on the best way to make a name for myself in a hostile environment. No motivational messages stuck on my mirror urging me to do something that scares me every day.
There’s just silence.
And for the first time all year I go to school and my only agenda is to get to 3.15.
School is St Sebastian’s in the city. It’s a predominately all-boys’ school that has opened its doors to girls in Year Eleven for the first time ever. My old school, St Stella’s, only goes to Year Ten and most of my friends now go to Pius Senior College, but my mother wouldn’t allow it because she says the girls there leave with limited options and she didn’t bring me up to have limitations placed upon me. If you know my mother, you’ll sense there’s an irony there, based on the fact that she is the Queen of the Limitation Placers in my life. My brother, Luca, is in Year Five at Sebastian’s so my mother figured it would be convenient for all of us in the long run and my dad goes along with it because no one in my family has ever pretended that my mother doesn’t make all the decisions.
There are thirty of us girls at Sebastian’s and I want so much not to do the teenage angst thing, but I have to tell you that I hate the life that, according to my mother, I’m not actually having.
It’s like this. Girls just don’t belong at St Sebastian’s. We belong in schools that were built especially for us, or in co-ed schools. St Sebastian’s pretends it’s co-ed by giving us our own toilet. The rest of the place is all male and I know what you’re thinking if you’re a girl. What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fish bowl or like you don’t exist. Then, on top of that, you have to make a whole new group of friends after being in a comfortable little niche for four years. At Stella’s, you turned up to school, knew exactly what your group’s role and profile was, and the day was a blend of all you found comfortable. My mother calls that complacency but whatever it’s called, I miss it like hell.
Here, at Sebastian’s, after a term of being together, the girls haven’t really moved on in the sorority department. I don’t exactly have friends as much as ex-Stella girls I hang around with who I had barely exchanged a word with over the last four years. Justine Kalinsky, for example, came to Stella’s in Year Eight and never actually seemed to make any friends there. She plays the piano accordion. There’s also Siobhan Sullivan, who uses us as a disembarkation point for when one of the guys calls her over. In Year Seven, for a term, Siobhan and I were the most hysterical of friends because we were the only ones who wanted to gallop around the playground like horses while the rest of the Stella girls sat around in semi-circles being young ladies. Most of our free time was spent making up dance moves to Kylie songs in our bedrooms and performing them in the playground until someone pointed out that we were showing off. My group found me just after that, thank God, and I never really spoke to Siobhan Sullivan again. My friends always told me they wanted to rescue me from Siobhan and I relished being saved because it meant that people stopped tapping me on the shoulder to point out what I was doing wrong.
Tara Finke hangs out with us as well. She was the resident Stella psycho, full of feminist, communist, anythingist rhetoric, and if there is one thing I’ve noticed around here, it’s that Sebastian boys don’t like speeches. Especially not from us girls. They’d actually be very happy if we never opened our mouths at all. Tara’s already been called a lesbian because that’s how the Sebastian boys deal with any girl who has an opinion, and because there are only four ex-Stella girls, I assume the rest of us get called the same thing. I could get all politically correct here and say that there’s nothing wrong with being called a lesbian, but it all comes down to being labelled something that you’re not. Tara Finke thinks she’s going to be able to set up a women’s movement at the school, but girls run for miles when they see her coming.
The girls from St Perpetua’s, another Year Seven to Ten school, make up the bulk of the female students. They don’t want to get involved with Tara and her movement because their mothers have taught them to go with the flow, which I personally think is the best advice anyone can get. My mother is a different story. She’s a Communications lecturer at UTS and her students think she’s the coolest thing around. But they don’t have to put up with her outbursts or her inability to let anything go. If it’s not an argument with the guy at the bank who pushed in front of us, it’ll be questioning the rude tone of some service industry person over the phone. She’s complained to personnel at our local supermarket so many times about the service that I’m sure they have photos of my family at the door with instructions to never let us in.
Every day I come home from St Sebastian’s and my mother asks me if I’ve addressed the issue of the toilets, or the situation with subject selection or girls’ sport. Or if I’ve made new friends, or if there’s a guy there that I’m interested in. And every afternoon I mumble a ‘no’ and she looks at me with great disappointment and says, ‘Frankie, what happened to the little girl who sang “Dancing Queen” at the Year Six Graduation night?’ I’m not quite sure what wearing a white pants suit and boots, belting out an Abba hit has to do with liberating the girls of St Sebastian’s, but somehow my mother makes the connection.
So I come home ready to mumble my ‘no’ again. Ready for the look, the lecture, the unexpected analogies and the disappointment.
But she’s still in bed.
Luca and I wait for my dad at the front door because my mother never stays in bed, even if she has a temperature over 40 degrees. But today the Mia we all know disappears and she becomes someone with nothing to say.
Someone a bit like me.From the Hardcover edition.
"Sparkling dialogue and engaging characters...Francesca’s messy, credible array of emotions and problems will keep readers absorbed to the last, satisfying line."--Kirkus Reviews
"A rich exploration of maturation, identity, family, and friendship." —The Bulletin,
"Readers will applaud the realistic complexity in the relationships here, the genuine love between the characters, as well as Francesca's ultimate decision to save herself."--Publishers Weekly
"Teens will relate to this tender novel and will take to heart its solid messages and realistic treatment of a very real problem."--School Library Journal
, StarredFrom the Hardcover edition.