She leaned forward, using the same earnest persuasiveness she had once used on Brian.
“Won't you please help me find my dad?”
I have always conceived of Alexandra as very charismatic and persuasive, which is one of the reasons she gets away with so much - even when she's obviously out of her mind and talking rubbish, her friends tend to go along with her. I am afraid her charisma tends to get overshadowed by her obnoxiousness, especially in the earlier books. Hence, people notice how unlikeable she can be more than they notice how easily she attracts people with the force of her personality. I have been trying to show Alexandra growing into someone who is actually worthy of the loyalty she inspires, but I think as of the end of book four, she's still not quite there yet.
In the first book, her combination of charisma and self-centeredness mostly makes her seem pretty damn manipulative. Which was intentional, though I do wish now that I had done just a little more to show her finer qualities. I was genuinely surprised when the first few reviews came in labeling Alexandra "unlikeable."
Rereading this chapter, though, it's hard to see her as being very likable.
Alexandra didn't feel quite as smug about her victory when she left the library that night. She tried to put aside her misgivings, telling herself that Bran and Poe had really wanted to help her, after all. But she couldn't help feeling there was something wrong about the elves feeling a need to punish themselves just for helping her check out a book.
She knew what David would say. She wished she could talk about it with Anna, but after last night, Anna was sulking again and avoiding Alexandra. At least that was how Alexandra saw it. In truth, she was sulking and avoiding Anna because she didn't want to admit that she'd hurt Anna's feelings again.
“She's too sensitive!” was all Alexandra would say to David, when he asked why she and Anna hadn't been speaking at breakfast.
Yeah, she's pretty close to a low point here. She knows what she's asked Bran and Poe to do is forcing them to punish themselves, and she feels guilty about it, but not enough to rescind her request. She knows she's being a bitch to Anna and feels guilty about that, but not enough to actually apologize.
I gave her a pass because she's my creation and because she's eleven. But obviously, not every reader is going to be patient enough to wait for a bratty eleven-year-old to grow up.
Now, also in fairness to Alexandra, I really piled on the misery for her in this chapter. She's getting harassed and bullied, no one likes her, she's an outcast and a Muggle-born, and of course she's homesick.
Alexandra was missing home more than she would have admitted to anyone. Her mother rarely cooked a huge feast; in fact, Claudia, Archie, and Alexandra were more likely to eat a pre-cooked meal purchased at a deli, or else go out to a restaurant. However, Alexandra did associate the holiday with one of the rare times when her mother was warm and affectionate, and even her stepfather made an effort to be kind, if only for her mother's sake.
I'll note here that this as also very much Alexandra's POV; she thinks Archie only makes an effort to be kind for her mother's sake. Throughout all four books, I have dropped hints that Archie, while perhaps not Stepfather of the Year, has made genuine efforts to connect with Alexandra, and he does care about her. Being rebuffed by a bratty, self-centered, headstrong stepdaughter, his chief fault is not making more of an effort to understand that yes, this is a bratty child who's not going to make it easy for you to get close, and you, as the adult, need to be the one to make that effort.
By the end of book four, Alexandra is starting to realize that maybe she hasn't been entirely fair to Archie.
And who else has Alexandra not been entirely fair to?
Mr. Grue was now requiring them to conduct a practical demonstration as well as complete a written test, and the students had been permitted to practice for it during P.M.E. class. Under Grue's baleful eye, Alexandra used an Elemental Scale to convert a bronze potion stirrer into iron, and then into bismuth.
“Bronze to iron to lead, Miss Quick,” said Grue, marking off a point. Some of the other students had only managed to melt their bronze stirrers into puddles of copper and tin.
“Bismuth is harder,” Alexandra said. “And it's used for ingested potions where -”
“Don't you tell me what bismuth is used for!” Grue snapped at her. “I am not giving extra points because you snuck a peek at next year's textbook! In my class you do as instructed, not what you think would be more interesting! If you do not follow instructions to the letter, sooner or later you're going to poison yourself. Or worse, someone else!” He scribbled furiously on his grade sheet. “Pass – barely. Do the next part as instructed, Miss Quick!”
I explicitly point out in this chapter that Mr. Grue is really no meaner to Alexandra than he is to anyone else. Alexandra is just the one who pushes back hardest. I also show how Alexandra really is better than most of her peers in most subjects, when she bothers to apply herself - and that her arrogance and inattention is the main thing holding her back.
So, after several chapters of mostly wizarding world stuff and Alexandra trying to learn things, the plot reappears with Mr. Journey's latest vague, ineffective plot to kill Alex by sabotaging her alchemical supplies and/or cauldron. Alex, of course, helps to obfuscate the murder attempt on herself since she goes and "cheats" with an Undoing Charm. Following the fireball which almost took out a few classmates as well as herself (once again, Alex fails to notice how, even in the face of evidence that she really is a hazard to those around her, Dean Grimm is protecting her), she finally takes a half-step towards redemption.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” said Anna quietly, not meeting Alexandra's eyes. She stood up to leave.
“Anna, I'm sorry!” Alexandra blurted it out without even thinking about it.
Anna turned back, and looked startled.
“Are you in pain?” she asked.
“No,” said Alexandra, and then realized she was crying.
This is the first of two times Alexandra cries in this chapter, the second time being when Dean Grimm confronts her in her office. This is one of the incidents that also generates a lot of hatred for Ms. Grimm among some readers, since she takes advantage of Alexandra's weak emotional state and threatens her friends with collective punishment to make her behave.
“Well, Miss Quick, I do believe you are sincere. And truly remorseful, even,” Grimm said quietly, at last.
Alexandra swallowed and said nothing.
“The problem is,” she sighed, as she continued to stroke her cat, “I am not sure your remorse will last five minutes after you leave this room.”
Dean Grimm understands Alexandra pretty well. She just doesn't quite know how to deal with her. So yeah, Lilith's handling of her niece is pretty harsh and unfair in some respects, but how does one deal with a child like Alex?
Was it effective? Well, her brutal treatment does come pretty close to breaking Alexandra's spirit. On the other hand, it also succeeds in keeping Alexandra from misbehaving - for a while - and in this brief period of self-reflection, Alexandra starts paying more attention to her friends.
“Nice ears,” Anna said, just loudly enough for Larry to hear. Alexandra wasn't sure, but it did seem as if his ears had become even more pointed and rat-like. She stared at Anna in surprise, and then David snickered and said, “Rat-boy!” out loud, and they all burst into laughter again.
Anna isn't a doormat. Not even for Alex. She might be slow to assert herself sometimes, but I still say it's not accurate to call her "submissive."
tealterror0 doesn't like it when I wax on with food descriptions, so just for you dude:
There was duck and goose and an enormous pink ham, as well as rabbit and deer, and there were bowls of silky white mashed potatoes, savory golden-brown stuffing, boats of gravy and pans full of cornbread and biscuits accompanied by fresh-churned butter. There were platters arrayed with crispy celery and carrot sticks sliced and arranged in decorative displays, there were olives and pickles and radishes, and cooked green beans, peas, pearl onions, squash, yams, fried green tomatoes, swiss chard, and okra. There was a platter piled high with fresh corn-on-the-cob, and another with fresh loaves of bread and great wheels of cheese. Pitchers foaming with butterbeer and fizzypop circulated up and down the table, and there was also pumpkin juice and mushroom tea and ice water to quench their thirst. The turkeys, ducks, hams, and other meats carved themselves, or rather, the knives that appeared with them did the carving, as if guided by invisible hands. Everyone stuffed themselves, trying to sample everything that was good, and even though Alexandra passed on the things that weren't (she especially did not like swiss chard or green beans), she was full even before the desserts began appearing.
So, yeah, this chapter was pretty long, and a bit overwritten in places. I can also see a lot of "telling" - I spell out what Alexandra is thinking, what her friends are thinking, how everyone is reacting, what lessons are learned, etc. I still like the bits of magic I detailed in the classroom scenes (and the food descriptions :P), and I like to think that Alexandra's emotional journey had some authenticity here, but there was a whole lot of word count devoted to one significant incident (the murder attempt) and a modest amount of character growth. Some editing would have made this chapter a lot tighter. I still like it, because I like being really mean to Alexandra and then letting her become a (slightly) better person as a result. But we're still in the middle of a fairly bloated mid-section of the book.