Monday, 26 February 2018

The History of Hilary Hambrushina by Marnie Lamb

Title: The History of Hilary Hambrushina
Author: Marnie Lamb
Publication date: May 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Hilary has one goal for her first year in junior high: to become popular. But her plans are turned upside down when her best friend leaves for the summer and a quirky girl named Kallie moves in next door. Kallie paints constellations on her ceiling, sleeps in a hammock, and enacts fantastical plays in front of cute boys on the beach. Yet despite Kallie’s lack of interest in being -cool, – Hilary and Kallie find themselves becoming friends. That summer friendship, however, is put to the test when school begins, reigniting Hilary’s obsession with climbing the social ladder. As Hilary discovers the dark side to popularity, she must decide who she wants to be before she loses everything.

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      I put on a sweatband and sneakers and brought down a water bottle. My plan was to pedal non-stop for an hour. I figured I could do it, since I was used to riding my own bike, and how different could this bike be? I should lose at least one pound that way, I told myself. So if I use the bike every day, in fifteen days I’ll have lost the weight I want to lose.
      I stepped over boxes and piles of books to reach the bike, which sat in a dark corner. This corner had a musty smell, like an old church that hadn’t been dusted since Queen Victoria was my age. A fake raccoon-fur hat someone had given my dad as a joke hung on the wall nearby.
      The bike seat was too high for me, but I couldn’t move it because it was screwed in place. Gripping the handlebars for support, I tried to heave my leg over the seat several times without success. I was becoming angry and sweaty, so I started breathing deeply, like I was having a baby, to calm myself down. “Hoo hoo hoo.”
      “Hilary!” shouted my mom. “Why are you making monkey noises?”
      I froze. I knew that if I said, “It’s nothing,” she’d come down, and I didn’t want her to think I needed help getting on a stationary bicycle. So I called, “I’m just playing a game.”
      I managed to lift myself on to the bike. I had to stretch to reach the pedals, but I finally did and started pumping. It was O.K. at first, but soon, my muscles felt like some psycho was using them as rubber bands. And some people actually do this for fun! What’s wrong with them, I thought. I reached for the water bottle and tried to squirt some water in my mouth. Nothing but air came out. I’d forgotten to fill the bottle! I threw it away and continued to pump furiously. Objects on the wall began rattling, and I was making so many strange noises my mother must have thought a whole pack of monkeys was performing a conga line in the basement. I began to have visions of monkeys in spangly pink bikinis kicking up their heels (did monkeys have heels, I wondered) on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
      Suddenly my sweatband fell over my eyes. I didn’t stop to fix it, though. You’re going to pump for the full hour, not for fifty-nine minutes, I ordered myself. Instead, I tried nodding vigorously to get the sweatband to fall under my chin. It fell over my nose and I couldn’t breathe. Then something dark and furry leapt on my head, covering my eyes and tickling my face like a bunch of feathers. I screamed, batting at the thing with one hand and pumping frantically, as if I could escape that way. I soon realized it was only my dad’s hat, but I still couldn’t get it off. Finally I stumbled off the bike and yanked the hat’s tail away from my eyes.
      I had no energy left to remove the hat, so I left it on and trudged upstairs. I passed my mom, who took one look at me and started to snicker. Ignoring her, I went into the kitchen to check the clock. I’d been on the bike five minutes.
      So that was the end of my experiment with exercising.

Author Bio:

A Journey Prize nominee, Marnie Lamb earned a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Windsor. Her short stories have appeared in various Canadian literary journals. Her first novel, a YA book named The History of Hilary Hambrushina, is forthcoming from Iguana Books. When she is not writing fiction or running her freelance editing business, she can be found cooking recipes with eggplant or scouting out colourful fashions at the One of a Kind Show.

Guest Post by Marnie Lamb:

Bullying: A Single Retrospective

My young adult novel, The History of Hilary Hambrushina, deals in part with bullying at a junior high school and was inspired by my own experiences. Although I’ve often been teased, more or less good naturedly, for being different, I’ve experienced only two distinct periods of behaviour that I would define as bullying: persistent, cruel teasing in which the perpetrators knew full well that they were hurting me. This occurred once in school when I was twelve and again nearly twenty years later when I was working full time in an office. In both instances, the bullies were groups of females with whom I’d previously been friends and from whom, for various reasons, I had begun to distance myself socially. I tried to remain civil and amicable towards my former friends, particularly in the office, but I was not allowed to leave the group without paying a heavy toll.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been introverted, slow to speak, sensitive, and in some situations, shy—qualities that, in the extrovert-centric North American culture, made me an easy mark for bullies. Because I was not the type to make a scene or assert myself, the bullies quickly discerned that they had found the ideal target. I’ve come to realize, though, that the bullying had less to do with any particular characteristic of mine and more to do with the fact that I had dared to leave the sanctity of the in-group. As punishment, the queen bee ordered her workers to sting me. My gentle personality simply facilitated the bullying.

In both periods, I tried to brave the taunting alone before eventually confiding in my parents, particularly my mother. My parents offered immediate support both emotionally and practically. The school bullying began in elementary school and continued in junior high school when the bullies and I graduated from grade six and switched schools for grade seven. This occurred in the 1980s, before schools had anti-bullying programs, as some now do. My parents spoke to several of my teachers at both schools. Most teachers were sympathetic and promised to look out for me and address bullying if they spotted it. Yet I can recall my homeroom teacher from grade seven expressing little support for my situation. “She and I are not in the same boat” was my mother’s diplomatic assessment of this response. And other than the nanoboost my self-confidence received when I understood that most of my teachers didn’t think I deserved the bullying, I can’t recall my teachers being much help. The bullying continued in the hallways, in the lunchroom, on the bus, and especially in the ninth circle of hell that is a junior high school girls’ washroom. The bullying didn’t diminish until I reconnected with a friend from grade three who had left my elementary school and was now attending the same junior high school. She introduced me to some fellow “nerds” who also became my friends. Once I had a group of allies, the bullies backed off.

When I was taunted as an adult, the responsibility of confiding in someone at the institution in which the bullying was occurring (in my case, a workplace) fell to me alone. I chose not to involve anyone else, primarily because I had already made a comment about the queen bee to my manager, which had backfired. During a performance review, I noted that I sometimes had difficulty concentrating because of the amount of socializing that went on around my cubicle. My manager pressed me to name the noisemakers. Although I refused, she soon figured out to whom I was referring. Several months later, she spoke to the queen bee about this, and that’s when the bullying ramped up. Concerned that involving my manager or anyone else might escalate the situation, I chose a different way to address it.

When the queen bee was absent one day, I asked the worker bees to meet me in the lunchroom. There, I said that I had noticed tension between us and I was sorry if I had done anything to cause a conflict. The workers batted their eyelashes and expressed surprise, saying that they “had no idea” that there was any tension between us. The following day, the ringleader returned, less a queen bee and more a moth with a broken wing. She even smiled sheepishly at me. The workers had clearly phoned her and told her about my conversation with them, as I had hoped they would. That diffused the tension and paused the bullying. But within a couple of weeks, a low buzzing started up again. Two weeks after that, however, the queen bee left the company and the bullying stopped. Looking back, I wish that I had confided in Human Resources instead of trying to play the saint by taking on the problem alone. But I bought into the teenage idea that involving someone else would only intensify the bullying—which is exactly what the bullies wanted me to think.

Both of these experiences have fundamentally shaped me. I’ve realized that the abuse at the hands of former friends has caused me to exercise restraint and place barriers between myself and the very people with whom I should be open: true friends. My reserve is such that even some of my current friends have said that they are sometimes uncertain as to whether I want them to reach out to me when I’m in a crisis or whether I want them to leave me alone. Perhaps it’s fate, then, that the publication of this book has forced me to reveal more of myself by going on social media and writing articles like this. These revelations have encouraged me to open up to close friends about other personal issues and struggles. By sharing Hilary’s story, I’ve taken several strides in my lifelong journey of healing and peace.

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