Kataryna Balyk, a gifted fine arts student, is hoping to have a fresh start at Cawthra School for the Arts, after a less-than-successful year at the neighbouring Catholic high school.
But her hopes for a peaceful grade ten are shattered when she comes home from one of her first days at Cawthra and finds the RCMP interrogating her grandfather Danylo Feschuk. Kat learns that Danylo is accused of being a policeman for the Nazis in World War II Ukraine, and what’s worse, he is suspected of having participated in atrocities against civilians.
When the story is exposed in the local newspaper, Kat and her family become the centre of a media storm. Her grades in school and her relationships with friends suffer. Her only support comes from her family and Ian, a classmate with whom she discovers she has more in common than just artistic promise.
Kat Baliuk felt like a traitor.
She hugged her books to her chest and stepped onto the sidewalk as the bus stopped in front of Cawthra School for the Arts, then she turned and waved faintly to her friends. They were staying on until the next stop: St. Paul’s Catholic High school. No one waved back. They were already involved in animated conversations without her. Kat’s older sister Genya was also staying on the bus with a group of her friends until the St. Paul’s stop, but Genya did turn and wink reassuringly at her little sister just as the bus pulled away.
Kat ran her fingers nervously through her dark blonde hair, hoping that it didn’t look as flyaway as it felt. Classes didn’t start for another twenty minutes. She looked through her wire-rimmed glasses towards the concrete steps leading into the school and searched the faces of the students loitering there. Not one she could call a friend.
She felt so odd coming to school without a uniform. Last year in grade 9 at St. Paul’s, it was a no-brainer getting ready for school, but she must have spent forty-five minutes this morning deciding what to wear. The low-slung cargo pants and midriff-baring tops that the cluster of girls on the bottom step wore were a far cry from grey uniform pants and white blouse. She didn’t feel too out of place with the choice that she made for this day: baggy hip-hugging jeans and a T-shirt.
As she walked past the girls, she noticed from the corner of her glasses that they appraised her, discounted her, then continued with their chatter. Probably dance students, she calculated, noticing their tight bodies and hair pulled back into little buns.
There was a group of guys just in front of the school’s front doors discussing something with great seriousness. They too looked up for a moment, assessed her, then ignored her. Drama, she figured.
Kat opened her binder, found her timetable and pretended to look up the room number of her first class. Room 113, Visual Arts was already imbedded in her brain. She must have taken that timetable out a hundred times over the summer! But at least she looked occupied.
Kat turned, thankful that someone had actually wanted to speak with her. She did her best not to gasp at what stood before her: a Goth in full regalia. Right down to the black lipstick and eyeliner and leather coat held together with hundreds of safety pins. The hair was bright turquoise gelled to bed-head perfection, and the plain silver nose-ring was downright painful to look at.
“Name’s Ian, what’s yours?” he asked, extending a hand covered with tarnished silver rings.
Kat clasped his outstretched hand limply and introduced herself. She noticed that the girls on the step were watching her and smirking.
“You’re from St. Paul’s, right?” he asked. “I was there for grade nine last year too.”
Kat tried to hold back her surprise. She tried to imagine Ian’s head pasted onto a body wearing the white shirt and grey pants, but the image was too absurd.
“I didn’t last long,” he explained. “They kicked me out one minute into day two when I showed up in a kilt.”
“A kilt?” exclaimed Kat. “And you’re wondering why you got kicked out?” Even the girls at St. Paul’s didn’t wear the kilts. She would have loved to see the havoc Ian created when he walked through the door. How was it that she had been there the whole year and hadn’t even heard of this incident? The mind police must’ve been working overtime on that one.
“You’re hardly one to talk,” said Ian, smiling.
“What do you mean?”
“You’re here for pretty much the same reason that I am.”
Kat hadn’t thought of it that way, but there was some truth in the statement.
“What’s your specialty?” she asked.
“Music,” Ian replied.
Just as Kat thought.
Right at that moment, the bell rang so Kat and Ian headed in. “See you around,” said Ian.
Kat watched as his turquoise head disappeared down the hallway.
Kat made her way to the end of the hall and then walked down the staircase and past the cafeteria in a sea of other students going in the same direction. Soon room 113 was in front of her and so she pushed the door and walked in.
The actual layout of the art room wasn’t that much different from the one at St. Paul’s. There were three rows of two-student art tables with stools instead of chairs taking up the main part of the room. Off to one side was a huge supply cupboard, and beside that was an alcove with a table in the middle holding stacks of paper and drawing boards.
The big difference between this art room and the one at St. Paul’s could be seen in the paintings that hung on the walls, and in the sculptures that were displayed on shelves. And it wasn’t just the quality of the artwork. Obviously, kids going to an art school where you have to audition to get accepted would be talented. It was the subject matter that was the crucial difference. At St. Paul’s, there were some subjects that could not be painted or sculpted — or even thought of.
Two girls were already sitting in desks, side by side, close to the front of the room. The dark haired one kept on covering her mouth with her hand to hide her braces as she talked to her blonde friend. Both girls were dressed in dark coloured scoop neck T-shirts, but one had tight black jeans on, and the other was wearing baggy black cargo pants. They turned to look as Kat approached them, and they both smiled.
“You must be Katie,” said the girl with braces. “My name’s Beth Gupta.”
“And I’m Callie Goodfriend,” said the blonde.
“My name’s Kat, not Katie. How did you know who I was?”
“We don’t exactly get new students coming into the program all the time,” said Beth, hiding her teeth. “Mrs. O’Connor told us at the end of last year that we were getting an ‘exciting new student’.” Both the girls giggled. “We heard about what happened at St. Paul’s.”
Kat smiled uncomfortably.
She didn’t really want to talk about what happened at St. Paul’s. While that one instance had been a bad experience, she still felt loyal to all her friends there. And it was only a year ago that she had joined with these friends in scoffing at the self-important snobs of Cawthra. There was much tension between Cawthra and St. Paul’s, and the fact that their properties backed onto each other didn’t make matters any better. St. Paul’s students liked to call Cawthra the CGCC — Cawthra Golf and Country Club. It was only for rich kids, after all.
And now here she was, one of Them.
“Well? Are you sitting with us, or what?” asked Beth, pointing to an empty chair behind them.
Kat looked around and noticed that the class was quickly filling up. With a grateful smile to Beth and Callie, Kat sat down behind them. As the other students wandered in and took up seats behind and around her, Kat had a tremor of apprehension. What if she didn’t measure up?
She had always been the best student in any art class she had ever taken. But then again, there had never been much competition. Cawthra was different: every single student in this class had been required to undergo the same rigorous audition that she had, and each of them had passed. Not only that, the other students had been here for a full year already, so they were bound to be better. Kat took a deep breath and sighed.
The last person to enter the room was the teacher. Kat already knew from her schedule that his name was Mr. Harding. He was much younger than how she had imagined him. In fact, he was so young looking that in another context, she might have thought he was a senior student. He wore the long sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up almost to the elbow, revealing muscular arms. The shirttail was tucked haphazardly into a pair of khakis, and although he wore a tie around his neck, it hung loose at an open collar.
He stood at the front of the class and waited, silently, until the murmuring of conversation died down. “It is good to see you all back here,” said Mr. Harding. “I am sure that you all spent those glorious summer days holed up in the library researching the Renaissance masters.”
Kat gave a gulp, but then realized he was just kidding.
“We have one new student this year, and I would like you to all welcome her,” Mr. Harding motioned to Kat. She stood up.
“This is Katreena Balick.”
“It’s Kat-ar-in-a. Kat for short,” she corrected. “And my last name is B-A-L-I-U-K, pronounced Ball-ook.” She could feel the flush of embarrassment heating her cheeks.
“Oh!” said Mr. Harding. “I’ll correct that in my files. Welcome, Kat. I think you’ll like it here.”
“Thank you,” she said, then sat down.
Mr. Harding began to pace at the front of the classroom. “For our first lesson, I need a volunteer. Each of you will have to do this at some point, so don’t be shy.” He surveyed the class. No one raised their hand.
“That’s not exactly volunteering,” said Callie, getting up from her desk.
“When I don’t get a volunteer, I make a volunteer,” said Mr. Harding. The class chuckled at his feeble joke.
“Let’s move our desks into a circle,” he said. “And you two, Michael and George.” Mr. Harding gestured at one teen sitting on the other side of Callie and at another from the back of the room. “Grab the platform from the storage area and drag it into the centre of the class.”
After much scraping and pushing, the desks and platform were configured in the way that Mr. Harding wanted. He gestured to Callie.
“Lie down there and pose as if you just got hit by an ice-cream truck,” he said, pointing to the platform. The class tittered uncomfortably again.
Callie wrapped her blonde hair into a knot to keep it off her face and then flopped on the platform, her arms and legs splayed out limply. “Like this?” she asked.
“Perfect,” said Mr. Harding. “Hold that pose.”
“Okay class,” said the teacher taking a timer out of his shirt pocket. “You’ve got two minutes to do a shadow profile of Callie. Use the broad side of a black crayon and start from the middle of the body and work your way out to the edges.”
As the timer ticked, the students quickly sketched. With a crayon in her hand and a sheet of paper in front of her, Kat was in her element. Maybe these other students were better than her, but she figured she could hold her own. She smiled with satisfaction as she put in the last touches. Mr. Harding passed behind her, then stopped to study her work. “The feet are inaccurate. Fix that up and it’ll do.”
Kat felt momentarily crushed, but then she smiled inwardly. She had a feeling that she would be learning a lot in Mr. Harding’s class.
A kids’ book with meat.
Joan Marshall on CM wrote:
“Hope’s War is a gripping novel that effortlessly intertwines many complicated facts”,
Cherie Delorey on Infoukes wrote:
“It’s ironic that author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch would receive the galley proof of her latest novel, Hope’s War, on September 11.”
Cherie Delorey, InfoUkes