So, what’s the verdict on this matter?
Here’s how the story begins:
That’s right. Would you take a look at that girl sitting by herself in that cabin over there? Pretty pathetic, isn’t it? Well, this is her story; or rather mine, since I’m that girl. How does it feel when you know you have no social life? You have lived your entire life in the outback of society so no one knows that you exist. Your brother is the only person you can talk to, your cousin is a hopeless geek, and you and your boyfriend want to do the unthinkable* in order to make things better.
So that begins my story. My name is Jacquel Katherine Nicole Rassenworth. I was the nicest person on the planet until someone ruined my life for no reason*. Oh, you don’t believe me? Well, if you would go back a few days before, to when I was an unhappy girl*, you’d see what I mean.
Well, first off, Jacquel Rassenworth is depressed since her mother’s death as a small child. (realistically, I don’t see how she’d be able to get over it.) Also, she lives in a world where society doesn’t accept her and she often retreats into her imaginary world, one where mothers don’t die, people don’t make fun of her, and she can live her life the way she wants to without anyone telling her what to do.
Here’s another part of the story:
I suddenly wake from the dream* thinking I must do something right now to change my life. I must go out there into that cruel world and try to make some friends. After all, I will be 13 years ago this year.
This implies that Jacquel is still 12 years old, as she is in most of the stories. But in the newer editions of “Jacquel’s Russian History“, Jacquel is 14 years old.
Let’s keep going:
In truth, I don’t really like this guy, but he claims to be the only friend that I ever had in this world. Not that the other kids didn’t really know who I was. They would all be indeed surprised if I spoke to them outside of school or when I was away from Sereno.
Well, if she doesn’t like Sereno, then why is she hanging out with him. WTF is wrong with her??? Let’s go to the part about where the bully and abuse really begins:
Gordon said to me later that day, “How can you be friends with that Sereno jerk?” That led me to question everything that Sereno had ever told me: I was too retarded, too depressed, and too pathetic to even have friends at all.
Or let me put it like this: I had began to get over mom’s death when I was 6 years old and I had all but completely forgotten about the whole thing when I was 8 years old; and that was when I met Sereno. He said one mean thing to me about me not having a mom. I began crying and the rest, as they say, was history.
For the next 5 years, Sereno used that to control me and keep me away from anyone who would try to help me. I became a sad girl, one who did nothing but sit in a corner and cry my eyes out. No one was able to help me. Not until last year, when Sereno fed me the thought about suicide, and my cousin Jamie found out and told dad.
That’s when he decided to put his foot down and forbid me from hanging out with Sereno.
Sereno grew angry and began intimidating me further, even enlisting his twin Tammy to keep teachers and other students away from me. I was even more trapped in a friendship that seemed to be sucking away my entire life. The week before they left for Lake Tahoe, Sereno and Tammy got into a fight about me after a student who refused to give in to Tammy’s lies ratted us out to the principal during a school assembly.
Sereno vowed to make me pay for that.
Gordon then said, “Well, I think it’s time you came back to yourself before you met Sereno. It’s not good for you to always be unhappy. You need to break free from him and live your own life.” I swallowed and nodded, knowing that the moment Sereno returned, I would have to confront him, and that could end badly for both of us…
Well, within a few short paragraphs, Jacquel describes her life under Sereno’s thumb and how she felt about her abuse, even disclosing the part where Sereno enlisted Tammy to help him keep Jacquel isolated from the rest of the school despite the teachers and her father’s efforts to keep them separated.
Now comes the kicker:
When I returned to school the next Monday, there were changes to be had. I was no longer sad, I had secretly made new friends, and most of all, and I felt totally and completely free. Nothing is more pleasing to me than the prospect of having some real friends. But then I thought what if Sereno finds out that I had been talking to Gordon when he told me to stay away from him?
As soon as we were alone, I laid into him. “What is your problem?” I snapped.
“You!” he yelled. “You haven’t said anything to me in 3 months; we don’t even hang out anymore. Why is that?”
“Because my dad said that you are a bad influence in my life,” I said. “And besides, I needed to make some new friends anyway…”
“Like those brats from the New Testament?” Sereno scoffed. “The whole lot of them don’t even deserve to come to our school, let alone be with someone who is better than them, someone like you.”
“Watch it,” I snapped. “You do realize that dad was tired of me being all sad and depressed and stuff. Now why was I depressed in the first place?” He stared at me, not believing a word that I was saying. “Remind me!!!”
“I’ve told you 100 times, Jacquel: your mother is dead, no one likes you, and you’re just too retarded to be anyone’s friend,” Sereno said in a huff.
“Thank you for telling me that,” I said with a smile on my face, “but that’s not what Helga said to me.”
“Like what would that ugly girl say to you?” Sereno snapped.
I said, “Helga says I’m all depressed because I don’t have God in my life. I don’t have any friends and I hide my true feelings and lie all the time.”
Sereno, who was now beyond angry, was staring at me in disbelief. I smiled nervously, awaiting the next line from him. “I heard from old Mr. Blander* that you have been hanging around with that Gordon. He tells me that you are friends with Gordon, the guy with 1,000 scabs on his body. Did I not tell you to stay away from him?”
I scoffed and said, “Well, you shouldn’t have judged him before I got to know him.”
Gordon came to my rescue and said to Sereno, “I believe I told her not to talk to you. You have no right to tell her not to do. You are not her parents.”
I said, “Gordon, please don’t…”
“Furthermore,” Gordon said as if I hadn’t said anything to him, “You have ruined the lives of three other people, so much that they are all in a mental hospital in san Diego, never to return to their families. I have heard that you had driven them to suicide and they were taken from their parents. You’re lucky I got to her BEFORE you struck again!”
“You would dare tell her a lie about those other guys?” Sereno snapped. “Jacquel, don’t listen to him; he’s just using you to get stuff. I’ve always been your friend.”
“Oh nice one,” I snapped. “Tell me another lie!”
“That’s exactly what Brian Mathews, Taylor Cummings, and Christopher Vance said to me before I destroyed them,” Sereno said.
“And how did you do that?” Gordon said. He took my hand and we began to walk away.
“Jacquel Katherine Nicole Rassenworth, don’t you dare walk away from me!” Sereno snapped. “You are NOT going off with him!”
A teacher who was in the library said, “Mr. Brownstone, you better behave yourself.”
“Yeah right,” I heard Sereno say as he picked up a huge book. Gordon took the hint and lunged at him, knocking him over. Tammy gasped in horror and said to me, “I knew you were nothing but trouble, Jacquel Rassenworth! But now you’re going to pay…”
“Oh shut up, you witch!” I said as I slapped her and she hit the ground crying. Unaware that a group of students and teachers were watching the whole thing, I then turned to Sereno, saying my last words to him, “I was living my life just fine until you came along. Now you will regret ever meeting me; you should be put in chains and tossed off the Golden Gate Bridge for ever ruining my life!”
I had no idea that in the next second, the second I kicked Sereno out of my life, something large and heavy struck me in the head. And I could do nothing else but fall to the floor, never to rise again…
And that’s where the author cuts off the story, leaving us with a rather soul-crushing cliffhanger. Does Jacquel die or does she recover? At this, we’ll never know what happened.
But what we do know is that Jacquel spends a huge portion of the story in her own world, the world she created in her head. And like the great fantasies that precede her, Jacquel goes on a quest to retrieve magical objects, destroy evil relics, and save the world from a monster who knows nothing but evil.
At one point, we have this:
OK, now here we are, right back at when we first began this story. You see? I’m the victim here because they ruined my life.
Jacquel: Hey! Will you give it a rest up there?
Narrator: But I was just telling them the story.
Jacquel: I don’t care why you’re here. Anyway, they all know the story. They all saw what happened to me.
Narrator: But I thought you said that everyone’s ruining your life.
Jacquel: Now listen to me, you blockheaded idiot. I’m the one who’s ruining my life by staying depressed when I should have gone on with my life. So shut up, go away, and leave me alone!
Narrator: As you wish. (He leaves)
And at the end of the story (which takes place in 2000), Jacquel wakes up in a mental hospital, largely unaware of her own kidnapping. She meets Brian Mathews, Taylor Cummings, and Christopher Vance, all who had been abused by Sereno and Tammy as well. Jacquel eventually deals with her mother’s death and her own abuse.
And one more thing to add:
But on September 11, 2001, a few weeks after I returned to San Francisco, (I had not been enrolled in school and the therapist advised me to take a year away from public school until I was ready to return), I saw the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., where terrorists took planes and blew up the Twin Towers and part of the Pentagon in an attack that the most horrible thing that anyone could ever do.
And if that weren’t enough, I soon learned that the entire Brownstone family (which had consisted of Benjamin, Dolores, Sereno, and Tammy) had been on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.
While many people wept to hear of the terrible news, I said to myself, “Good riddance.” I know, I know, it’s a bit harsh to wish death on the person who hurt you, but I came to realize that while I was away, the Brownstones had packed everything and left San Francisco without a trace, right when Sereno was to be tried for abusing me and the other guys.
In short, I don’t think Sereno ever regretted abusing me, not would he admit to the crime.
But enough about that.
Yeah, and yet, we have another soul-crushing moment in the book, as Jacquel recounts witnessing the September 11 attacks and learns about the deaths of the children who abused her and their parents. To be fair, the Brownstone family had been ashamed to discover what their children had done to Jacquel and they moved away from San Francisco as soon as they could.
At the end, Jacquel and her family eventually reconcile, now that Sereno is out of the way and can never hurt Jacquel or any other child.
So back to my original question: Is Jacquel Rassenworth an imaginative heroine or victim of bullying? I can safely say that she was both, although she was more of a victim of bullying than an imaginative heroine. The evidence is right there in the story. And as StellarGeek had once said in another blog post, “Jacquel Rassenworth’s way of dealing with disability (such as retreating into herself and ignoring everyone around her) is NOT the answer!”
Now you know.