“Mrs Pincent is evil. Peter was right – Mrs Pincent is the most evil Legal who ever lived.”
In a more nuanced book, she wouldn’t be, but here, Mrs Pincent is the ultimate evil of evils. Anna feels hurt, betrayed and angry, and because she has the emotional maturity of someone half her age, her first reaction is to have a tantrum.
I’m not denying here that Mrs Pincent is A Bad Person, by the way. She’s certainly manipulative and abusive. But this book isn’t often a fan of nuance.
Anyway, Anna has a good old cry in her favourite bathroom, and is too depressed to even have a go at the other girls in her dorm for being imperfect. Sheila reminds her that Anna has to go on Ramping Duty – yes, another capitalised duty – which basically involves wandering around and checking that everyone is in bed.
“Had anyone disobeyed her or challenged her, she might well have shrugged and walked away rather than ruthlessly punishing them.”
Anna remains too miserable to be anything other than listless about Ramping Duty, and again, we get a glimpse of how much more complex this book can be. As can happen with abused people, Anna is growing up to be an abuser herself – after all, it’s the only way she knows how to discipline and interact with subordinates. By rights, Anna should be a complex character, but the way this book is written, it’s almost like we should just go along with the fact that she’s actually pretty horrible to her fellow Surpluses. Anna’s the heroine, so it’s no big deal that she also hits and punishes the other girls.
And then we have this:
“When female Surpluses were menstruating, they had to wear a red cloth around their neck to show everyone that they were unclean, that their bodies were dirty, flaunting their fertility, which was shameful and evil.”
There are several paragraphs about what a sin it is to menstruate, and how it’s preferable to sleep on the floor rather than get scrubbed with a wire brush because you got blood on your sheets. I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s a very visceral way of showing how fucked up this society is, but on the other hand, it’s in a YA book that’s going to be read by girls who may have started menstruating themselves. Periods aren’t the nicest thing to deal with at the best of times, so the message that you’re being shameful and wrong because your body is uncontrollably bleeding is hardly a welcome. And besides, whilst periods are indicators of fertility, it takes two to tango. Is anyone tying a white rag around the boys’ necks any time they have a wet dream or decide to masturbate?
Meanwhile, Anna can’t get to sleep, so she decides to sneak out of the dorm and visit Peter. She’s followed by the ever-present Sheila, who senses that something is up between Anna and Peter, and wants to be part of any escape attempt they might make.
“’I’m not going anywhere,’ she whispered crossly, hoping to intimidate Sheila into submission.”
Good old Anna, interacting in the only way she knows how.
I’m not sure what we’re supposed to make of Sheila. From Anna’s perspective, she’s useless and annoying, but we the readers know that she is actually Legal and shouldn’t even be here in the first place. Personally, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for her, but it feels like the author is trying hard to make me hate Sheila as much as Anna does. And I’m almost certain that we’re being set up for Sheila to betray Peter and Anna later on.
But for now, Sheila is sent back to bed, and Anna goes to see Peter to tell him that she’s getting on board with the Mrs Pincent is Evil and We Should Get Out of Here plan. Well, she’s still not entirely sure that she should escape to see parents she’s never known, but Peter describes how amazing life is outside of Grange Hall, and she starts daring to hope for a better life. Yes, Anna’s Moment of Decision is finally here. The plot can begin.