An unaccepted Asian girl in an all-white town is suddenly asked to tutor the most popular guy in her school. When she finally does, there just might be more to their feelings for each other than what they let on. But how can they express how they feel when their friends are tearing them apart? -- So I suck at summaries, it's a modern Romeo-and-Juliet with a twist. Read and review, please.
Lark Chan, a spunky 16-year-old Vietnamese-American city-girl, and her family move from New York City to an all-white suburban town in Virginia. Immediately they're unaccepted - because of their nationality, their heritage and the color of their skin. Still, Lark seems to get by - making straight-A's and dealing with having only one friend. Then suddenly Mr. Popular Josh Cambridge needs help with his academics and Lark's perfect for the job. Pretty soon the two spend a lot of time together, and something new seems to be brewing behind their forever-courteous (and almost cold) tutor sessions. But when Josh's friends see what's happening, he's made to make a difficult choice…
Name: Larksong Chan
Parents: Lee and Annelise Chan
Siblings: Franc (11); Andreas (19); Dominique (7)
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Food: Sweet and Sour Pork with Fried Rice; or Penne al Forno
Favorite Type of Music: Rock
Favorite Band: Evanescence; Matchbox 20; Bon Jovi
Favorite Song: All About Loving You = Bon Jovi; Bring Me to Life = Evanescence
Favorite Movie: The Pianist
Hobbies: Writing, reading, playing the violin, playing the guitar, tennis, beach volleyball, surfing the net, hanging out, watching stupid romantic comedies that make you laugh because they're so stupid, listening to rock music, watching foreign films, speaking Latin and Spanish, etc
Name: Joshua Cambridge
Parents: Elizabeth and Michael Cambridge
Siblings: Michael (11); Christopher (8)
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Food: Cheeseburgers and pizza with chocolate milkshakes
Favorite Type of Music: Alternative Rock and Rock
Favorite Band: Matchbox 20; Bon Jovi
Favorite Song: Misunderstood = Bon Jovi
Favorite Movie: Shanghai Noon or Rush Hour
Hobbies: Song-writing, composing, playing the electric guitar, basketball, swimming, running track, soccer, American football, hanging out, playing lead guitar and lead vocals for his band Renaissance, etc
"Put that box in the foyer." Mom instructed.
I lifted the cardboard box of bubble-wrapped picture frames and crossed the cobblestone path cutting across our new green front lawn. Our house was big - two stories, six bedrooms, white with blue roof, basically an American-dream sort of house. Our house's just like all the other houses in White Falls, Virginia. The main differences in the houses in this suburban town were the facts that some were bigger, some were grander and some were colored differently; but at least 70 out of the 100 houses in White Falls looked almost exactly like my new one.
I stepped in through the open doorway of our new house and dumped the box next to the door, going back out to help with more. It was barely seven in the morning and everyone was still sleeping in their cozy little homes on our street.
When I reached my mom's side a paperboy was just passing in front of us, he stared at us momentarily then biked off hurriedly forgetting to deliver the paper to our house.
I tucked a strand of my long shiny black hair behind my ear and stood, shocked, for a moment. It wasn't like we were any different from him - I mean, just cause we were Vietnamese-American didn't mean we were different.
"Probably didn't think anyone lived here quite yet." Dad said, trying to brush it off. Yeah, Dad, and we were standing right in front of him, I thought.
Our next-door neighbor walked out of his house just then in a bathrobe. He stood on his porch and took a deep breath of fresh air then bent over to pick up the morning paper. That's when he spotted us. He stared at my parents first then surveyed my brothers and my sister and I. Then he glared at us icily spat at the bushes separating our properties from each other and hurried back into his house, slamming the door behind him.
"Oh well that went well." Andreas, my older brother, said sarcastically.
I looked down and surveyed my outfit - tight black tank top, black denim-material flares, a black ballet sweater was tied around my waist and I was wearing dark eyeliner and a bit of concealer. My hair was up in a messy bun held together with a clamp on my head, there were dark red and purple mascara highlights in it and two strands of lightning bolt bangs were hanging on either side of my face. I liked the color black. Nothing remarkable there. I looked at my parents - my mother was in a pair of jeans, flats, a white T-shirt and a baseball cap covered most of her rich black hair; my dad was in a pair of black slacks, a white polo shirt and black shoes. I glanced at my brothers - Franc was wearing a pair of jeans, a Ferrari T-shirt and sneakers, his black hair was spiked out in crazy directions and he had a string of pooka-shells around his neck; Andreas wore a tight black T-shirt, black slacks, Prestos and his black hair was highlighted with blond and a little dark red and was spiked all over the place. We didn't look any different from any other urban family. So why were we being treated otherwise?
"It's cause we're Asian, isn't it?" my little sister Dominique said finally, answering my unsaid question. "They hate us."
"No." Dad said gently, "Don't be so judgmental. Maybe they just don't usually get new people around here so they're a little closed-minded."
Andreas caught my eye and rolled his eyes. "That's why he spat at our side of the hedge." He whispered in my ear as he passed by to unload the stuff.
I rolled my eyes and smile slightly. "Anything small enough for me to carry?" I tried brushing off the sinking feelings that this place wasn't going to be much good news for the family. Of course, I did this mostly for Dad's sake. After all, he was the one who was so excited about that new job of his at the Pentagon and White Falls was the village his boss thought would be the best: good schools, good location, etc. I just didn't want to dampen any of our spirits.
"Big enough you mean." Andreas said, heaving the Lazy-Boy out of the back of the moving van. "Give me a hand with this thing."
"Did you hear?"
"I heard their skin is yellow?"
"You sure it isn't green?"
"What if that girl is in my homeroom?"
"My mom said to stay away from them."
"No good. So they say…"
The talk was flying. It was first day of school (at White Falls High School) and everyone was talking about the Chan family and how they'd just moved in and were the first Asian family in the entire village. And my friends were talking the most.
My group of friends (comprised of me - Josh Cambridge, star defense man for the soccer team last year and last year's JV football team captain; my best friend, Dredge Cummings; Lucille Bronze; Rich Brendan; Christian Ells; Anna Golden; Christy Ells; and Amanda Bell) dominated the school. We were the popular group - the people everybody else envied and wanted to be.
Now my friends and I were at our usual spot - stationed at the best picnic table on the school's entire front lawn. Our school, White Falls High School, was a three-story brick building with a very homely feel to it, it had a front lawn with picnic tables to eat, it had a football field out back, a soccer field, a large gym, a baseball pitch and everything else a school needed.
"I heard her name is Lee. Lee Chan, can you believe that?" Lucille exclaimed, "I'd so be suicidal if that was my name."
"Shut up! That's her!" Rich hissed at us.
We all jerked our heads around, looking for a face that stood out. Alas, I found it. It was the face of an obviously Asian girl. She had beautiful Oriental features - blue eyes, light skin, ski-jump nose, pouty red lips and a slim body. She wore a fitted black T-shirt on that had the yellow "Warning, Police Line, Do Not Cross" ribbon designed on the front. Her denim flares were hipsters and had silver studs at the hems of the pants. She wore her hair in that famous Asian hairstyle with the chopsticks sticking out of it, only her chopsticks were translucent, foggy gray and her hair was streaked with dark blue mascara. She wore no real make-up except a coat of lip-gloss and black eyeliner. She was all in all very pretty, but very different. I'd never gone to school with an Asian before. There weren't even many Spanish in our community, much less African-Americans and Asians.
"Ick. Where'd she come from?" Amanda said disgustedly. "She's so not American."
"She's from New York City." Dredge said. "My dad works with her dad at the Pentagon."
"Her dad actually bagged a job at the Pentagon? Is he white?" Amanda asked.
"No. He's Asian, too." Dredge shrugged. "Big deal."
"She's different." Amanda pointed out.
"And what's wrong with different?" Dredge asked.
"Different," Amanda explained, "Means she's not one of us. And she shouldn't be associated with us."
Dredge shrugged. "Whatever, babe. Look, I don't want to miss my first class." He motioned for me to come with him.
I got up from the table and waved bye to my friends and followed him into the school building.
It just wasn't my day. I was tripped four times in the hall. Someone vandalized my locker by scratching, "not one of us", on it. Someone dropped a hate note in my locker. No one invited me to eat lunch with them and I didn't care to try to join anyone because they were all staring at me in this "yuck" way.
The highlight of my day was when this girl named Tracy Black - the only African-American girl in school - invited me to hang with her when our Math teacher didn't show up for class cause he caught some flu last minute.
Andreas picked me up thirty minutes late because his college professor at Washington University made the class stay extra minutes so he could finish his lecture.
All in all, I wasn't very happy with the day.
"How was your day?" Andreas asked me on our way home.
"Like hell." I replied bitterly, staring out the window at the houses we passed.
"First day's always hell." He tried to soothe me.
"Yeah right. Not me. Never me. It was always easy for me. Everyone loved me in New York. Now the only friend I've got is Tracy Black - who is also a subject of racism at my school, she's our only African-American girl student." I sighed angrily.
"Yeah well, you'll get over it. Just think, you get through this year, you only have one more year to go before you can take off for some college far away where you can find more Asians and less judgmental people." Andreas said with forced enthusiasm.
"Two years of hell, Andreas, and I'll be a vegetable by the time college rolls around." I sighed.
"Nah. Not you. Never you. You're too smart for that. If you don't have friends, at least you can be a major hero to all discriminated Asians out there when you say your speech when you win valedictorian of class 2005."
I laughed. At least he could make me laugh. "Yeah, at least." I joked.
The next ten weeks were hell for me. Everyday there was something being done against me. Many times we came home from church services on Sundays (we're Catholics) and find hate signs painted on the walls of our house and our cars. It was painful but I was coping. Did I have any other choice but to cope?
"Josh, your grades are slipping." Dad said.
I looked at him solemnly. We were sitting in the living room having a man-to-man talk about my academics. My first quarter (that's how they divide our school year in White Falls High School) this school year just wasn't panning out the way I wanted it to – or, rather, the way my father wanted it to.
"It's great that you're the quarterback for the football team and I love that you're goalie for the soccer team, but it seems to me all you've been bringing home are mediocre grades. And now that I got this report card of yours…I can't believe they haven't suspended you from the teams yet…" Dad sighed, staring at the piece of paper - that held most of my being in it - in his hands.
I reviewed my grades in my head:
Literature = B+
Grammar = C+
Biology = C-
Algebra = C
History = D
Woodshop = B
Spanish = D
Gym = A+
Humanities = A
Chemistry = D
"I think you need a tutor, son." Dad said finally, after a long and thoughtful silence.
I reviewed my classmates in my head. None of my friends were straight-A students and none of the dorks gave tutorials. The only person around who gave tutorials was…Larksong Chan - the new Asian girl. And she charged a dollar an hour.
"Well, there's this girl who charges a dollar an hour for tutorials. She's a straight-A student and she's okay, I guess. It's that Vietnamese-American girl from New York." I suggested.
"Well…" Dad said slowly, looking taken aback. He didn't want his son socializing with dirty blood, that's what he was thinking. "Whatever it takes to get you to the top again."
"Larksong! Larksong Chan!" a voice called from behind me.
I turned away from my locker and found myself facing a tall, brown-haired, hazel-eyed, extremely attractive junior from my class. It was Josh Cambridge - Mr. Popular. He was running toward me waving a football in the air.
I rolled my eyes and turned back to my locker, pushing some books in and taking some books out. I had Advanced Chemistry in a few minutes and I wanted to review the Greek vocabulary list they gave us for the Advanced Chemistry terms in case we had a pop quiz.
"Larksong Chan?" Josh said, stopping in front of me, taking a deep breath.
"Yeah, the one and only. What do you want?" I asked, not looking at him.
"My grades were low last term and if I don't bright them up this term, I'm dead meat. My dad might even take away my rights to play for my band Renaissance." Josh said, talking fast, like he didn't want to be seen talking to me or something. He kept looking over his shoulder to see if someone was watching.
"Don't worry. It's nearly bell, everyone's too busy cramming for quizzes to care if you're next to a dirty-blood or not." I said, trying to keep my voice from sounding offended. Everyone who spoke to me - except for Tracy - had a tendency to make things short and simple and run away as fast as they could afterward. All my tutoring sessions were held privately and almost every student (out of the five that I have) asked to keep the meetings confidential.
"Uh…" Josh said, looking slightly taken aback, "No…it's not that, I'm just waiting for a friend and I was glancing to see if he'd shown up yet."
"Yeah, right. You don't have to lie to me. I obviously don't care anyway." I turned to him finally, slamming my locker door closed. I handed him a paper with my address on it and telephone number, "Don't worry I put Chelsea or Christopher on all the papers so that nobody knows that you actually have my number. This one says Chelsea since you're obviously one for the girls. Anyway, meet me at my house later on if you want a tutoring session. Stay as long as you like and bring the materials you need for certain subjects and all the past quizzes returned to you. Don't worry. No one will know."
With that I turned and strutted away, keeping my composure only till the nearest girls' room, wherein I ran into a cubicle and locked myself in for a whole five minutes fighting not to cry. Why does everybody hate me so much?
I stared down at the paper that read Chelsea in my hand. The address on it was 91 Gloria Ave. That was only a block away from my house so I didn't bother asking Dad if I could take the car.
I pulled on a pair of jeans and my Team Captain jacket from last year over a plain just-right white T-shirt, it was starting to snow, now that it was November, so I wanted to suit up. I pulled on a pair of socks, my cross-trainers and lugged my school backpack out the door with me - not forgetting to leave a note for my parents who'd gone to see a movie: Be back soon. Went to my friend's house. Contact me via cellular phone if ever. I brought mine. - Josh
I walked the block slowly, wondering what Chelsea, or rather, Larksong's house would look like.
When I finally reached it, 91 Gloria, I thought I was on the wrong street or read the number wrong. Her house was practically identical to mine; only it was missing the picture windows. It even had the same kind of porch and a porch swing and everything. There were three cars in the driveway - a black BMW, a red Toyota and a blue Volvo. I'd seen her with her brother in the red Toyota countless times and there were some days when I'd seen her drive herself to school in the Volvo.
I took a deep breath and walked up to the front door, knocking on it thrice before stepping back and glancing innocently through the front windows. I couldn't see much, the curtains were drawn and nobody seemed to be in the living room anyway.
"I'll get it!" I heard someone call.
I checked my watch. 4:02 p.m. I had band practice at Dredge's house in three hours so I didn't want to spend too much time at Larksong's house.
A woman in her early forties answered the door. She wore a white Berkley college sweater and a pair of jeans, her hair was pulled up in a ponytail and she had a big smile on her face. She looked a lot like Larksong so I assumed she was her mother.
"Hi, you must be Mrs. Chan, I'm Josh Cambridge. I live down the block. I'm here for Larksong. She's supposed to tutor me." I said politely.
"Well, that's good to hear. Come in and I'll get her." Mrs. Chan smiled at me and opened the door wider, motioning me in.
I walked into the foyer. It was just like my house. There were picture frames hung up of the family and at the end of the foyer was the staircase going up. To the right was the living room and to the left was the dining room, which connected to the kitchen, which then connected to the terrace, which was in the backyard. It was exactly like my house. To the dot. My house was probably just a couple of square meters bigger and had nicer windows.
"Lark!" Mrs. Chan called, and then she turned to me and said with a smile, "Have a seat in the living room, Josh."
I did as I was told and sat on a couch in the living room, awkwardly wondering when Larksong would come downstairs.
"Coming, Mom!" a voice called and after a while I heard footsteps and Larksong walked into the living room. She was wearing a white ballet sweater over a white spaghetti-strapped top and she had on black drawstring cotton exercise pants.
"Hey, come up to my room, better study aura there." She said, barely acknowledging me before she hurried out of the room. I followed her upstairs and past her older brother whom she introduced to me as Andreas, her younger brother whom she introduced to me as Franc the Pest, and her little sister - Dominique.
Her room was not exactly an average teenage girl's room. It had wooden floors, white walls and other than that was pretty wild. There was a queen-sized bed against one wall and each wall was covered in posters of Bon Jovi (my personal favorite band) and other rock bands. One of Chris Rock's comedies was playing on her stereo, "See there's a difference between blacks and niggers…'I take care of my kids,' what do you want a cookie? You're supposed to take care of your kids!"
She had a beautiful laptop computer, a study desk, and a lot of gadgets, a super-cool red bass guitar, a beautiful Yamaha acoustic guitar and an even prettier electric Humbucking-Pick-up (the kind of guitar a lot of bands use, including Vertical Horizon). She had a violin propped up on one shelf and awards for all sorts of things were all over her walls - from 2nd grade spelling bee champion to National Junior Violinist of the Year
"Let's get cracking. Okay? I'm sure you want to get out of here as soon as possible anyway. So what're you having trouble with?"
"Um, Larksong, I still don't get number four of my Chemistry quiz." Josh said to me.
I nearly punched him. Number four was the easiest question in the entire test. I sighed, "It's easy. But first, stop calling me Larksong. It's Lark. Okay? Got it? Good. Now, to get this answer all you have to do is…"
"Uh, Lark?" Josh said after I explained the formula for the tenth time.
"Yeah?" I said, frustrated.
"I have to go." He got up and tossed three dollars at me. "I need another session tomorrow after football practice."
"Okay. Chelsea will meet you here again at seven." I said with a sigh, folding the three dollars and stuffing it in my pocket. "And I expect you to get the problem next time?"
"Yeah, whatever." Josh turned and left the room. Not so much as a decent 'thank you'. Yeah, sure. You're welcome!
"Josh, talk's been flying. Irene Wallace told Amanda, who told Rich, who told me that – " Dredge said without so much as a hello when I got to band practice.
"Hi, Dredge. Nice to see you too." I cut in sarcastically. "I just came from someplace else and couldn't go back for my electric guitar so I'll have to borrow yours."
"Yeah, sure, man. Now about this flying talk…word's out that you're hanging with that…unique…Larksong chic." Dredge said.
The rest of the band hadn't arrived yet so we went to his garage to set up.
"I'm taking tutorials under the girl. She the smartest girl in our year. And my dad made me." I said, turning away and lifting an amp from it's original place, moving it to the center of the room for easier access for plug-in so that it wouldn't stress (or stretch) the wires.
"That's killer. Most popular guy in school hanging with the low rats from White Falls' gutters…I can see the headlines now." Dredge joked.
"It's just temporary – 'til my grades are up. After that it's 'adios, weirdo'. Besides, it's not like I'm enjoying tutorial." I made a face at Dredge and that was that. The subject was closed.