Vanna Reynolds was popular and happy back in Plano, Texas, but now she lives with her mother in a tiny apartment in San Antonio. How can she start her freshman year as a complete nobody? Fatima Garcia does well in school and helps out with her family's construction business, but is worried about her weight. So she's thrilled when a junior starts paying attention to her – but is he really interested in Fatima? Olivia Silverstein tries to make life easier for her mother. Ever since her father died two years ago, she's been the perfect daughter. When will she get to have her own life? When Vanna, Fatima, and Olivia meet at band practice in August, they quickly become best friends. Together, they are ready to tackle the matters of the heart that await them, deep in the heart of high school.
Written with verve and touches of humor, the voices in this first novel ring with authenticity.
About the Author
Veronica Goldbach grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and went to school less than five minutes away from the Alamo. After receiving a B.A. in humanities and an M.A. in teaching middle grades from Trinity University, she became a public school teacher. She has taught English as a second language at inner-city middle and elementary schools in San Antonio as well as in South Central Los Angeles. Veronica became interested in writing young adult fiction while trying to find novels that her seventh-grade students could relate to and also enjoy. Veronica is currently teaching future writers in San Antonio. She lives in the inner city, close to where she grew up. Veronica shares her home with two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and her sister Theresa.
Read an Excerpt
Deep in the Heart of High School
By Veronica Goldbach
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2009 Veronica Goldbach
All rights reserved.
Fatima Garcia had been in school band since sixth grade, and she had only recently figured something out. Something no one tells you when you sign up and pick your instrument. After just about two months as a member of the Alexander Hamilton High School marching band, Fatima finally understood the social hierarchy of band.
At the top of the food chain was the drumline. They rivaled football players in high school popularity. They had none of the geekiness usually associated with band members. No gross spit valves on their instruments. They were never red-faced or light-headed from lack of oxygen, like the brass or woodwinds. No, they were simply cool. Drummers had to be confident. They kept the beat. They were in control and they knew it. They did their thing and didn't care what anyone thought.
Next came the low brass: tubas, baritones, and trombones. Big, manly instruments usually played by big, manly guys and the occasional tough girl. They were the bass of the band, what gave the band the thumping, like living subwoofers. Strong from carrying huge instruments, they were a group nobody messed with. Not even football players.
Trumpets followed. Trumpets were the section that carried the melody. The show-offs of the band. Big talkers, but not nearly as tough as the low brass. A few nerds filtered into this section.
Female flutes were the coolest of the woodwinds. Like their instruments, they tended to be thin and twitter in high-pitched, breathy voices. Flutes didn't often get to carry the melody. They were more the cheerleaders of the band, playing harmony or background.
Clarinets ranked right below flutes. Not nearly as girlie as the flutes, clarinets did the grunt work of the band. They backed up the trumpets on melody, beefed up the bass line with the low brass, and helped the flutes with trills and runs.
French horns were near the bottom, barely above oboes and male flutes. Saxophones were the wild card. They could be as cool as trumpets with their smooth jazziness or as nerdy as oboes with their random squeaks. Mostly, they moved easily throughout the groups, blending in well.
Fatima and her friends simply had the misfortune of being matched up with the wrong instruments. Olivia, Fatima's best friend since kindergarten, was tall and thin with very long brown hair. She was delicate-looking, like a flute, but had the people-pleasing personality of a clarinet. Olivia, however, played saxophone.
Fatima's newest friend, Vanna, had been in San Antonio only a few months, but it was easy to see she did not belong with her section. Vanna played trombone. With her perfect body, gorgeously curly red hair, huge blue eyes, and flirtatious nature, she would have made the perfect flute.
Alex Menchaca, Fatima's off-and-on friend since first grade, rounded out their little misfit group. Alex had the mouth of a trumpet and the odd sense of humor of a saxophone. But he played French horn.
As for Fatima, she had the bulk of a tuba player and the cynicism of a drummer. Back in sixth grade she had stupidly picked out flute as her instrument. Big mistake. The other flute players went out of their way to avoid her. They made it seem like Fatima's fatness was contagious. She actually enjoyed playing the flute and she was pretty good at it.
The band hierarchy was never more obvious than when bands gathered for competitions. Fatima saw it reflected in every band gathered outside San Antonio's Alamodome on the first weekend in October. The uniforms may have been different, but the division was the same.
Fatima and her friends were crowded into a small shady spot. A shady but by no means cool spot. As usual they were talking about Travis Martinez. Travis was a sophomore trumpet player and the love of Olivia's life, only he didn't know it.
"What kind of stalker are you if you won't even stand near him?" Vanna demanded.
"I'm not a stalker," Olivia replied. As much as she tried not to, she couldn't helping looking at Travis. The sun was shining on his sandy brown hair. His broad shoulders filled out his white uniform jacket quite nicely. He was tall and solid. When Olivia was around him, she turned into a zombie, unable to talk or think.
"She'd probably have to talk to him to be considered a stalker," Fatima agreed.
"True," Vanna said. "There's a group of French horns next to Travis. Maybe Alex could go talk to them."
"Why would I do that?" Alex asked.
"They're your people. We'll all go over there with you and Olivia can strike up a conversation with Travis," Vanna suggested.
As much as they explained it, Vanna didn't really get the whole Travis/Olivia saga. It had been going on since seventh grade. Olivia would never talk to Travis. Fatima and Alex had accepted that long ago. Vanna, however, seemed determined to push. And Olivia, as quiet as she was, could be pretty stubborn.
Now both Fatima and Alex shook their heads.
Olivia didn't move. The idea of casual conversation with Travis filled her with anxiety. What, she wondered, was wrong with her? Why couldn't she just talk to him like a normal person?
But there wasn't time anyway, as the drum major called the band to attention. What followed was an impassioned pep talk. Most of the speech focused on how Last Stand at the Alamodome was one of the few contests where Hamilton High was able to face bands from the wealthy northside schools. Usually HHS competed against other inner-city schools. This was their chance to show everyone they were just as good as those rich kids. Even if their school couldn't afford special effects for their show or private tutors. Or to clean the uniforms more than twice a year, Vanna added silently. She was only half listening. The band would show everyone, blah, blah, blah.
Vanna was annoyed with Olivia for passing up another opportunity to talk to Travis. How could Olivia claim to be in love with Travis and not want to talk to him? It didn't make any sense. But, then again, what did Vanna know about love?
The drum major finished and the band took the field with the low brass blasting the bass line of Daddy Yankee's "Gasolina," a song that never failed to get the crowd on its feet. This was when putting up with all the icky stuff that came along with marching band was worth it. The stupid band camp jokes, the hours of practicing, and the countless pushups were forgotten.
"Gasolina" led into the drum break, the drumline's big moment. The rest of the band danced. The crowd went nuts. The moves might have looked raunchy and improvised, but they had been practiced to uniform precision.
The drum break led into a medley of Selena songs. Vanna didn't know much about Selena Quintanilla- Pérez other than that Jennifer Lopez had been in a movie about the singer's life. In San Antonio, the slain Tejano singer had almost godlike status. The crowd stopped screaming and began singing along. Vanna could play the songs "Amor Prohibido," "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," and "Como La Flor," but she couldn't sing the lyrics. She was totally clueless about Spanish, the unofficial language of San Antonio.
The crowd roared when the show ended. Vanna basked in the taste of rock stardom for a few seconds before the band marched off. In the midst of all the frenzy, Vanna couldn't help remembering that in that huge crowd there was one person missing: Claire Reynolds, Vanna's mother.CHAPTER 2
"Chop up those potatoes. I think we better use them before they go bad," Mrs. Silverstein said. Olivia was helping her mother make their usual Saturday night dinner: mingongo. Olivia didn't know if mingongo was an actual Spanish word. Fatima, who spoke fluent Spanish, had never heard of it. The idea was to use up whatever vegetables they had before going grocery shopping on Sunday.
"Fourth place is really good," Olivia's mom added.
"No one from our district has ever made it in the top ten before. Mr. Mendez was really proud." Olivia was disappointed. She'd thought they had marched their best show ever.
"Are you sure we can use these potatoes?" Olivia asked. There were sprouty things growing out of them.
Mrs. Silverstein glanced at them. "Sure, just cut that stuff off."
Olivia's mom never wasted food. She said it came from growing up poor with six brothers. She could stretch pretty much anything into a meal as long as she had rice or potatoes or eggs. And it didn't matter if the eggs were expired. To her, expiration dates were more like suggestions. She always reasoned that if she cooked something long enough it would be okay. No one had been poisoned yet. Olivia found a can of peas and carrots and handed it to her mother.
"Y'all looked amazing," Mrs. Silverstein praised.
"I can't believe they let you guys dance like that," Rosa said, wandering into the kitchen. "We'd get in big trouble if we tried those moves on our dance team."
"Band's different. It's impossible to look too suggestive in our uniforms," Olivia explained.
"I should have stayed in band," Rosa mumbled. She stood on her tiptoes and flipped channels on the small white television that sat on top of the refrigerator. Rosa had been in band for a week before she decided she wasn't cut out for it. Her flute now sat gathering dust in the attic somewhere.
"I'm going to start back at the jewelry store next week," Mrs. Silverstein announced.
Both girls groaned. After Olivia's dad died, Mrs. Silverstein found that her teaching salary was not enough to support them. Every once in a while she would pick up shifts at a jewelry store in the mall. This meant she would almost never be home, and when she was she was either exhausted or in a bad mood. It also meant Olivia would have to take over the cooking, cleaning, dog walking, and helping Rosa with homework.
"I know. I hate it, too," Mrs. Silverstein said in response to the groaning. "But we really need the money. I've got to get the heater fixed before winter, and it can't hurt to start saving for Christmas."
Peanut, Olivia's black-and-white terrihuahua, whined at her feet.
"Olivia, why don't you take the dogs for a walk while Rosa and I finish up here," Mrs. Silverstein suggested.
Rosa was engrossed in watching Wuthering Heights, one of her absolute favorites. If that was on, she wouldn't be doing anything for a while. Olivia would probably end up helping her mom set the table and warm tortillas after the dog walk.
Olivia sighed and leashed up Peanut and the two other family dogs. As they dragged her down the block, Olivia found herself daydreaming about Travis Martinez asking her out. But who was she kidding. She was too tall, too skinny, and had too frizzy hair for him to notice her in that way.
"So," Vanna was telling her mom about the day's contest, "right before they announced the winners all the bands took the field in one big group and had to play 'Texas, Our Texas,' 'Deep in the Heart of Texas,' and 'The Eyes of Texas,' which sounds exactly like 'I've Been Working on the Railroad.' Cheesy, huh? I'm surprised they didn't have some Alamo song for us to play." It seemed like everywhere Vanna looked in San Antonio there was some picture or reference to the Alamo, the mission church where Davy Crockett and other Texans waged their last stand for Texas's independence from Mexico. They were killed by the Mexican army. But "Remember the Alamo!" became the battle cry of the revolution. The Alamo was the city's claim to fame. Vanna got that, but did every business have to be called Alamo something or other? Alamo Bakery, Alamo Car Repair, Alamo Dry Cleaning, Alamo Pest Control, and so on.
"I can only imagine," Mrs. Reynolds said.
"I guess you'd have to," Vanna mumbled, but her mother didn't seem to notice. What a surprise.
Vanna and her mom sat on the couch watching TV and eating Chinese/Mexican food from Vanna's favorite restaurant, China Latina. Her mother had bought it to try to make up for not going to the contest.
"Dahlia and I are going out in a little while," Vanna's mother said during the commercial break.
"So, now you have energy," Vanna snapped. What happened to being too exhausted to go to the band contest?
"Don't start," Mrs. Reynolds said tiredly. "You know I really need her support right now."
Vanna shrugged. They had moved to San Antonio so her mom could be closer to her best friend. She and Dahlia had known each other since they were in high school. So, when Claire Reynolds had decided she couldn't live in the same city as her ex-husband, she and Vanna had moved in with Dahlia. No one seemed to care that Vanna's life had been totally destroyed.
"Why don't you go out with one of your friends from band tonight?" her mother offered. "It might make you feel better."
Vanna ignored her mother and took the trash to the kitchen. Her mother was beautiful. Her blond hair was always perfectly arranged and her clothes always complemented her figure, but she was a secret slob. If Vanna waited until her mother felt like cleaning up, there'd be mold on the take-out boxes.
As Vanna walked back into the living room, the phone rang. She didn't bother answering it. Hardly anyone ever called her. Every once in a while her old friends from Plano or Olivia or Fatima would call, but that was it. Her boyfriend, Troy, still hadn't found the time to return her calls.
Her mother picked up the phone, mumbled a few words, and walked into her bedroom. What did she need privacy for?
Vanna muted the volume on the TV so she could try to overhear whom her mother was talking to. Before her parents split up, Vanna and her mom had been good friends. They didn't have secrets.
"Well, rent's due on Thursday," Mrs. Reynolds was saying. "Yeah, thanks." Pause. "She's here, but she's in a mood." Pause. "I don't know. Go ahead and try."
Me, Vanna realized. She's talking about me and rent money. Who would she ... Uh-oh.
"Vanna," Mrs. Reynolds called out. "It's your father. Come talk to him."
"Tell him I'm busy," Vanna replied. She turned the volume back up on the television. "Tell him I don't have anything to say to him."
Her mom walked into the living room, turned off the TV, dropped the phone on Vanna's lap, and went back to her room.
"Yeah," Vanna said into the phone.
"Hi, honey, how are you?" Her father's voice was cheerful.
"Great," she answered. So much better without you around.
"Good. Good. Your mom said you're making friends."
"I already had lots of friends."
"I know. How's school?"
"Great," Vanna said with mock enthusiasm. "We have to use see-through backpacks to make sure no one brings a gun to school. We aren't allowed to use lockers because someone might keep a gun in there. And every few days there's a fight in the cafeteria. Loads of fun."
"Maybe we should see about putting you in a private school."
"Oh, yeah, a tiny school with no football team or marching band. Better yet, how about an all-girls school. I could be really miserable there."
"So you like being in marching band?"
"No." What was his problem? Did he think she could pretend everything was okay? "Why did you call?"
"Well, your birthday's coming up. I thought I could drive down and we could do something," Mr. Reynolds said hesitantly.
"I'm spending my birthday with Mom."
"I know, but maybe after that. I haven't seen you since June."
"Oh, come on. We could —"
"Really. I don't want you to come," Vanna said firmly.
"Vanna, you don't mean that."
"I do," Vanna insisted.
"I know you're angry, but we'll never get through this if you don't talk to me." He sighed. "At least talk to your grandma. She doesn't live that far from you."
"I don't think that's a good idea," Vanna said. Her dad's mom lived in San Antonio, but the woman didn't talk to Vanna. She criticized. She didn't like the way Vanna dressed or did her makeup, or her attitude.
"Vanna, I don't know what you want me to say."
"I don't want anything from you. Why don't you get back to Janet," Vanna said, then hung up. He was trying to make himself feel less guilty and she wasn't going to let him.
"Talking to him gets easier the more you do it," Mrs. Reynolds said from the doorway of her bedroom.
"Can you believe him? Why doesn't he leave us alone?"
"Vanna, I can't do this right now. Dahlia's on her way to pick me up."
Vanna just flipped on the TV in response.
Excerpted from Deep in the Heart of High School by Veronica Goldbach. Copyright © 2009 Veronica Goldbach. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked this book It was pretty Good.
It's a slow-starter and takes a while to develop the characters. But about a third of the way through, Goldbach makes up for it, fleshing out her characters and their stories with strokes of humanity. As the title suggests, the reader is thrown into the heart of Texas (San Antonio, specifically) and the lives of three very different freshmen girl-friends in an inner-city high school marching band. The character types are recognizable, though with a new spin. There is Fatima, the studious fat girl with body issues; Olivia, the dutiful daughter walking on eggs shells as she is forced to pick up the slack after her father's death; and Vanna, the riches-to-rags fallen debutante banished to the ghetto after her parents divorce. The three find common ground as they run the gauntlet together through freshman band camp and halftime shows, a world humorously populated by evil upperclassmen and punishing push-ups. Goldbach writes genuinely and the reader never doubts she's been there, done that. We get this sense when she offers her reader a glimpse into the marching band hierarchy as she describes the relative status of the leads. Through her truthful portrayal of the city, she provides the reader with something often missing: a fully-imagined, almost living setting. In her San Antonio, Tex-Mex culture is shown in all its colorful contradictions, elevated beyond the stock imagery of the Alamo, taco stands, and low-riders. Perhaps as important as what this book is, is what it isn't. There are no heavy-handed moral lessons. One of the funniest passages describes Fatima's astonishment as she realizes that the after-school specials she put so much faith in may have exaggerated things. Also (thankfully) amiss are the miraculous happy endings and unbelievable transformations. Overall, the book is a good read notable for its unique flavor.