Chapter 4 — Cultures
Yeesh, almost two months since my last AQ chapter repost. I do intend to continue the Alexandra Quick rereading project, and I will try to do so more regularly.
Alexandra's trying to take Magical Ecology or something else zoology-related, only to wind up in P.M.E. again each year, was a running joke which I guess was amusing only to me. It reminded me of all those years in middle school where I put "band" as my last elective, not realizing that the band teacher claimed any student who listed band anywhere on their electives list.
I hated band.
Alexandra nodded. Her mother and Archie were still arguing about exactly where they would be, she knew. “You'll let me know your new address, right?” she asked, with a trace of sarcasm.
Her mother looked at her askance, and shook her head. “You've been awfully sulky this summer, Alex. I know it hasn't been easy, living in this little apartment. And I know you had some kind of falling out with Brian.”
Finally figured that out? Alexandra thought bitterly, and almost said something about Vacation Bible School contributing to her 'sulkiness,' but she just shrugged.
Claudia Green sighed. The Charmbridge bus pulled into the parking lot, and she put an arm around her daughter's shoulders and leaned in to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I will miss you, you know,” she murmured quietly.
“Yeah,” Alexandra mumbled. “I'll miss you, too.” Somewhere deep down she knew that was probably true, but right now, she could hardly wait to get away from Larkin Mills.
I was always going back and forth on how much affection to show between Alexandra and Claudia. Claudia and Archie are not the Dursleys, and were not meant to be. At the same time, I wanted them to be somewhere on that spectrum — not monsters, not abusive, but almost comically negligent at times. I gradually began making them more realistic, particularly as the Big Reveal came closer. So here, I was trying to drop more hints that what was presented in book one — that Alexandra's parents were TOTALLY NEGLECTFUL and that they DIDN'T CARE ABOUT HER AT ALL and nobody really loves her, etc. — was the world filtered through Alexandra's perceptions, and Alexandra's perceptions aren't always reliable. (Especially when she was eleven!)
Claudia is still in serious Avoidance & Denial mode, but yes, she does actually care about her
Alexandra shook her head, but they were laughing as they entered the cafeteria. They waited in line for the Clockworks to serve them from a hearty buffet selection. Alexandra put a pile of pancakes on her plate, and added some scrambled eggs and a glass of orange juice. Anna chose toast, cold cereal, and a bowl of fruit. As they headed to the table where their friends were sitting, another girl bumped into Anna, hard enough to tip over her cereal bowl. Milk went spilling across her tray and dripped down the front of her robe.
The other girl was one of the new sixth graders. She was Asian, and even shorter than Anna. Alexandra was startled, however, when instead of apologizing, or even saying, “Oops,” the smaller girl gave Anna a nasty look and kept walking.
Alexandra Quick and the Lands Below was in large part a worldbuilding book. I'd already introduced the American Wizarding Confederation in book one; now I wanted to enlarge it. Hence the BMI students coming to Charmbridge. Hence Alexandra learning about two rival banks, Gringotts and the Colonial Bank of the New World in the previous chapter. Hence the introduction of Tomo Matsuzaka and the Majokai, and their rivalry with the more-assimilated Chinese wizarding community.
Most of the rest of this chapter was refreshing and catching up - the BMI boys are here, everyone gets their classes, David is pushing ASPEW again, and Alexandra visits Bran and Poe.
“Bone-stealer!” screamed Tomo.
“Ghost-dwarf!” screamed Anna back.
Tomo began cursing in Japanese, and Anna began cursing in Chinese. Alexandra couldn't understand any of it, but it sounded awful, and worse, both girls had drawn their wands. Alexandra had never seen her quiet, soft-spoken roommate fly into a rage like this.
“Anna!” exclaimed Constance and Forbearance, aghast, and Alexandra and David both moved to restrain their friend, while the other sixth graders did the same to Tomo, but the two girls simultaneously cast hexes at each other. Anna's hair stood straight up and then every strand spiraled and kinked as Tomo's hex hit her, while Tomo's feet went flying out from under her and she almost landed on her head. David and Alexandra both received a nasty shock and had to let go of Anna.
Anna trembled and then pointed her wand again, while Tomo staggered to her feet and did the same.
Alexandra had drawn her own wand almost without thinking about it, and Tomo's wand went flying from her hand. With a flick, Alexandra disarmed her roommate as well, and for one moment felt rather proud of herself. Then Tomo and Anna both leapt at one another and began punching and kicking and slapping.
So, part of the reason for introducing Tomo and the Majokai was to show different Cultures. And what "Culture" means, which is a point I realize now has remained rather muddled even after four books. I will clarify it more in book five, in which this will become more significant as you finally find out why exactly the Majokai (the Japanese-American wizards) and the Ozarkers are "Cultures" while the Chinese-American wizards (and the Palatines and several other communities) are certainly small-c wizarding cultures, but not Cultures.
Also, it let me show a different side of Anna. Anna, who is usually the quiet, polite, respectful girl who avoids trouble, not only can be provoked (we've seen this before), but she's also got an ugly side. Despite having been a victim of bigotry all her life, she can also be a bigot.
The BMI students break up the fight, and Alexandra (who for once was actually trying to do the right thing, and got in trouble anyway — but don't feel too sorry for her, since Anna has gotten in trouble just for standing by Alex often enough in the past), Anna, and Tomo are taken to the Dean's office.
This chapter is too long, because I hadn't yet learned (maybe still haven't) how to do a quick recap of events and characters from the previous book. So this chapter was mostly Reorientation Week. Notwithstanding the padded descriptions of classes and teachers and the school though, it did serve a purpose in introducing the conflict between Anna and Tomo, which would have several important plot-related consequences, as well as doing a bit more worldbuilding.