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The Fan Club

Rona Maynard. "The Fan Club" by Rona Maynard. Copyright by Rona Maynard. Reprinted/recorded by permission of the author.

During Reading Strategy
Use What You Know as You Read

Vocabulary from the Selection

Guided Reading Question 1
Laura thinks this group of students is whispering about and staring at whom?
Click to answer

Guided Reading Question 2
What does Laura think about the group?
Click to answer

It was Monday again. It was Monday and the day was damp and cold. Rain splattered the cover of Algebra I as Laura heaved her books higher on her arm and sighed. School was such a bore.

School. It loomed before her now, massive and dark against the sky. In a few minutes, she would have to face them again—Diane Goddard with her sleek blond hair and Terri Pierce in her candy-pink sweater. And Carol and Steve and Bill and Nancy… There were so many of them, so exclusive as they stood in their tight little groups laughing and joking.

Why were they so cold and unkind? Was it because her long stringy hair hung in her eyes instead of dipping in graceful curls? Was it because she wrote poetry in algebra class and got A’s in Latin without really trying? Shivering, Laura remembered how they would sit at the back of English class, passing notes and whispering. She thought of their identical brown loafers, their plastic purses, their hostile stares as they passed her in the corridors. She didn’t care. They were clods, the whole lot of them.

She shoved her way through the door and there they were. They thronged the hall, streamed in and out of doors, clustered under red and yellow posters advertising the latest dance. Mohair sweaters, madras shirts, pea-green raincoats. They were all alike, all the same. And in the center of the group, as usual, Diane Goddard was saying, “It’ll be a riot! I just can’t wait to see her face when she finds out.”

Laura flushed painfully. Were they talking about her?

“What a scream! Can’t wait to hear what she says!”

Silently she hurried past and submerged herself in the stream of students heading for the lockers. It was then that she saw Rachel Horton—alone as always, her too-long skirt billowing over the white, heavy columns of her legs, her freckled face ringed with shapeless black curls. She called herself Horton, but everyone knew her father was Jacob Hortensky, the tailor. He ran that greasy little shop where you could always smell the cooked cabbage from the back rooms where the family lived.

“Oh, Laura!” Rachel was calling her. Laura turned, startled.

“Hi, Rachel.”

“Laura, did you watch World of Nature last night? On Channel 11?”

“No—no, I didn’t.” Laura hesitated. “I almost never watch that kind of program.”

“Well, gee, you missed something—last night, I mean. It was a real good show. Laura, it showed this fly being born!” Rachel was smiling now; she waved her hands as she talked.

“First the feelers and then the wings. And they’re sort of wet at first, the wings are. Gosh, it was a good show.”

“I bet it was.” Laura tried to sound interested. She turned to go, but Rachel still stood there, her mouth half open, her pale, moon-like face strangely urgent. It was as if an invisible hand tugged at Laura’s sleeve.

“And Laura,” Rachel continued, “that was an awful good poem you read yesterday in English.”
Laura remembered how Terri and Diane had laughed and whispered. “You really think so? Well, thanks, Rachel. I mean, not too many people care about poetry.”

“Yours was real nice though. I wish I could write like you. I always like those things you write.”

Laura blushed. “I’m glad you do.”

“Laura, can you come over sometime after school? Tomorrow maybe? It’s not very far and you can stay for dinner. I told my parents all about you!”

Laura thought of the narrow, dirty street and the tattered awning in front of the tailor shop. An awful district, the kids said. But she couldn’t let that matter. “Okay,” she said. And then, faking enthusiasm, “I’d be glad to come.”

She turned into the algebra room, sniffing at the smell of chalk and dusty erasers. In the back row, she saw the “in” group, laughing and joking and whispering.

“What a panic!”

“Here, you make the first one.”

Diane and Terri had their heads together over a lot of little cards. You could see they were cooking up something.

Fumbling through the pages of her book, she tried to memorize the theorems1 she hadn’t looked at the night before. The laughter at the back of the room rang in her ears. Also those smiles—those heartless smiles. . . .

Guided Reading Question 3
What does Laura say about Rachel’s compliment?
Click to answer

Guided Reading Question 4
How does Laura respond to Rachel’s invitation?
Click to answer







A bell buzzed in the corridors; students scrambled to their places. “We will now have the national anthem,” said the voice on the loudspeaker. Laura shifted her weight from one foot to the other. It was so false, so pointless. How could they sing of the land of the free, when there was still discrimination. Smothered laughter behind her. Were they all looking at her?

And then it was over. Slumping in her seat, she shuffled through last week’s half-finished homework papers and scribbled flowers in the margins.

“Now this one is just a direct application of the equation.” The voice was hollow, distant, an echo beyond the sound of rustling papers and hushed whispers. Laura sketched a guitar on the cover of her notebook. Someday she would live in the Village2 and there would be no more algebra classes and people would accept her.

Guided Reading Question 5
What does Laura think about the national anthem? What does she hear?
Click to answer

She turned towards the back row. Diane was passing around one of her cards. Terri leaned over, smiling. “Hey, can I do the next one?”
“. . . by using the distributive law.” Would the class never end? Math was so dull, so painfully dull. They made you multiply and cancel and factor, multiply, cancel, and factor. Just like a machine. The steel sound of the bell shattered the silence. Scraping chairs, cries of “Hey, wait!” The crowd moved into the hallway now, a thronging, jostling mass.

Alone in the tide of faces, Laura felt someone nudge her. It was Ellen. “Hey, how’s that for a smart outfit?” She pointed to the other side of the hall.

The gaudy flowers of Rachel Horton’s blouse stood out among the fluffy sweaters and pleated skirts. What a lumpish, awkward creature Rachel was. Did she have to dress like that? Her socks had fallen untidily around her heavy ankles, and her slip showed a raggedy edge of lace. As she moved into the English room, shoelaces trailing, her books tumbled to the floor.

“Isn’t that something?” Terri said. Little waves of mocking laughter swept through the crowd.

The bell rang; the laughter died away. As they hurried to their seats, Diane and Terri exchanged last-minute whispers. “Make one for Steve. He wants one too!”

Guided Reading Question 6
How do the other students behave toward Rachel?
Click to answer

Then Miss Merrill pushed aside the book she was holding, folded her hands, and beamed. “All right, people, that will be enough. Now, today we have our speeches. Laura, would you begin please?”

So it was her turn. Her throat tightened as she thought of Diane and Carol and Steve grinning and waiting for her to stumble. Perhaps if she was careful they’d never know she hadn’t thought out everything beforehand. Careful, careful, she thought. Look confident.

“Let’s try to be prompt.” Miss Merrill tapped the cover of her book with her fountain pen.

Laura pushed her way to the front of the class. Before her, the room was large and still. Twenty-five round, blurred faces stared blankly. Was that Diane’s laughter? She folded her hands and looked at the wall, strangely distant now, its brown paint cracked and peeling. A dusty portrait of Robert Frost, a card with the seven rules for better paragraphs, last year’s calendar, and the steady, hollow ticking of the clock.

Laura cleared her throat. “Well,” she began, “my speech is on civil rights.” A chorus of snickers rose from the back of the room.

“Most people,” Laura continued, “most people don’t care enough about others. Here in New England, they think they’re pretty far removed from discrimination and violence. Lots of people sit back and fold their hands and wait for somebody else to do the work. But I think we’re all responsible for people that haven’t had some of the advantages. . . .”

Diane was giggling and gesturing at Steve Becker. All she ever thought about was parties and dates—and such dates! Always the president of the student council or the captain of the football team.

Guided Reading Question 7
What does Laura say that people do about discrimination and violence?
Click to answer

“A lot of people think that race prejudice is limited to the South. But most of us are prejudiced—whether we know it or not. It’s not just that we don’t give other people a chance; we don’t give ourselves a chance either. We form narrow opinions and then we don’t see the truth. We keep right on believing that we’re open-minded liberals when all we’re doing is deceiving ourselves.”

How many of them cared about truth? Laura looked past the rows of blank, empty faces, past the bored stares and cynical grins.

Guided Reading Question 8
What does Laura think about during her speech?
Click to answer

“But I think we should try to forget our prejudices. We must realize now that we’ve done too little for too long. We must accept the fact that one person’s misfortune is everyone’s responsibility. We must defend the natural dignity of people—a dignity that thousands are denied.”

None of them knew what it was like to be unwanted, unaccepted. Did Steve know? Did Diane?

“Most of us are proud to say that we live in a free country. But is this really true? Can we call the United States a free country when millions of people face prejudice and discrimination? As long as one person is forbidden to share the basic rights we take for granted, as long as we are still the victims of irrational hatreds, there can be no freedom. Only when every American learns to respect the dignity of every other American can we truly call our country free.”

The class was silent. “Very nice, Laura.” Things remained quiet as other students droned through their speeches. Then Miss Merrill looked briskly around the room. “Now, Rachel, I believe you’re next.”

Guided Reading Question 9
What does Laura say about responsibility? about dignity?
Click to answer

Guided Reading Question 10
What does Laura wonder about the “in“ group?
Click to answer

There was a ripple of dry, humorless laughter—almost, Laura thought, like the sound of a rattlesnake. Rachel stood before the class now, her face red, her heavy arms piled with boxes.

Diane Goddard tossed back her head and winked at Steve.

“Well, well, don’t we have lots of things to show,” said Miss Merrill. “But aren’t you going to put those boxes down, Rachel? No, no, not there!”

“Man, that kid’s dumb,” Steve muttered, and his voice could be clearly heard all through the room.

With a brisk rattle, Miss Merrill’s pen tapped the desk for silence.

Rachel’s slow smile twitched at the corners. She looked frightened. There was a crash and a clatter as the tower of boxes slid to the floor. Now everyone was giggling.

“Hurry and pick them up,” said Miss Merrill sharply.

Rachel crouched on her knees and began very clumsily to gather her scattered treasures. Papers and boxes lay all about, and some of the boxes had broken open, spilling their contents in wild confusion. No one went to help. At last she scrambled to her feet and began fumbling with her notes.

“My—my speech is on shells.”

A cold and stony silence had settled upon the room.

“Lots of people collect shells, because they’re kind of pretty—sort of, and you just find them on the beach.”

“Well, whaddaya know!” It was Steve’s voice, softer this time, but all mock amazement. Laura jabbed her notebook with her pencil. Why were they so cruel, so thoughtless? Why did they have to laugh?

“This one,” Rachel was saying as she opened one of the boxes, “it’s one of the best.” Off came the layers of paper and there, at last, smooth and pearly and shimmering, was the shell. Rachel turned it over lovingly in her hands. White, fluted sides, like the closecurled petals of a flower; a scrolled coral back. Laura held her breath. It was beautiful. At the back of the room snickers had begun again.

“Bet she got it at Woolworth’s,” somebody whispered.

“Or in a trash dump.” That was Diane.

Rachel pretended not to hear, but her face was getting very red and Laura could see she was flustered.

“Here’s another that’s kind of pretty. I found it last summer at Ogunquit.”3 In her outstretched hand there was a small, drab, brownish object. A common snail shell. “It’s called a . . . It’s called. . . .”

Rachel rustled through her notes. “I—I can’t find it. But it was here. It was in here somewhere. I know it was.” Her broad face had turned bright pink again. “Just can’t find it. . . .” Miss Merrill stood up and strode toward her. “Rachel,” she said sharply, “we are supposed to be prepared when we make a speech. Now, I’m sure you remember those rules on page twenty-one. I expect you to know these things. Next time you must have your material organized.”

The bell sounded, ending the period. Miss Merrill collected her books.

Then, suddenly, chairs were shoved aside at the back of the room and there was the sound of many voices whispering. They were standing now, whole rows of them, their faces grinning with delight. Choked giggles, shuffling feet—and then applause—wild, sarcastic, malicious applause. That was when Laura saw that they were all wearing little white cards with a fat, frizzy-haired figure drawn on the front. What did it mean? She looked more closely.

“HORTENSKY FAN CLUB,” said the bright-red letters.

So that was what the whispering had been about all morning. She’d been wrong. They weren’t out to get her after all. It was only Rachel.

Diane was nudging her and holding out a card. “Hey, Laura, here’s one for you to wear.”

For a moment Laura stared at the card. She looked from Rachel’s red, frightened face to Diane’s mocking smile, and she heard the pulsing, frenzied rhythm of the claps and the stamping, faster and faster. Her hands trembled as she picked up the card and pinned it to her sweater. And as she turned, she saw Rachel’s stricken look.

“She’s a creep, isn’t she?” Diane’s voice was soft and intimate.

And Laura began to clap.

Guided Reading Question 11
What does Laura realize?
Click to answer

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