If there were Ten Commandments of writing for children, the main character shall change by the end of the story would be among them. Jumped, by Rita Williams-Garcia breaks the rule. I would argue that the main character does change, but she’s not the obvious character.
Most of the story takes place in a day and is told from three girls’ points of view: Leticia, who narrates sixteen chapters and appears to be the main character; artsy Trina who narrates ten; and basket-ball star Dominique, who narrates eight. Ivan, a secondary character in Trina’s art class, tells the next-to-last chapter before we return to Leticia at the end.
Throughout the story, Leticia is the spectator. She calls her best friend Bea, to tell her Dominique will fight Trina after school. Bea asks, “So what are you going to do, Leticia?” (27). This is the driving question in the story. We wonder whether Leticia will speak up, whether Dominique will follow through with her threat, and whether self-absorbed Trina, who is oblivious to the growing threat, will realize she’s in danger.
We expect Leticia to have change of heart, or a plot event that will turn the narrative away from its violent culmination. However, chapter thirty-three dissolves into a chorus of narrators, shouting on the page, as Trina is attacked.
Ivan’s only direct narration feels like a distant pause, constructed of choppy bits of conversation directed at Trina in her hospital bed. He leaves behind a portrait he drew in art class, “Yeah, nurse. I know. I’m going. Oh. Check it out. This is what she really looks like.” (164)
The book closes with Leticia, several months later. She sees a news report of girl-on-girl violence featuring an unrepentant Dominique, in an orange jumpsuit, and Trina, speaking slowly because of her injuries, from behind a screen. Leticia’s final words are “And I’m like, wow. I finally know real people on television. And to think, I was there when it all went down. I could have been on that news program being interviewed. I knew all about it from start to finish. I just look at the TV and I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” (168)
Reading this ending, I felt a swell of dislike for Leticia, thinking, “You could have stopped it.” Then I realized, she’s not the main character. The reader is.
Let’s go back to the beginning.
In the first chapter, Leticia is mad about the early-morning math class she’s forced to take for “extra help.” She complains about the hassle of getting to her zero-period class and “For all this chaos you get zero. Period.” (4) Leticia is consistently unmoved by the situations around her.
About halfway through the book, Leticia listens to Principal Bates’s “Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved” spirit initiative (71) over the PA but mentally counters it with “What Principal Bates should do is find a song called ‘Mind Your Business.’ If people minded their business everything would be straight.” (72) Most of Chapter 13: Get Involved is Leticia’s rationale for tending to her own crises: changing a hard class for an easier one and, later, nursing a broken fingernail. She is focused only her smallest concern.
Close to the end of the book, Leticia tells us that the year before, she was sent to another classroom to collect cards and the teacher slumped to the floor. “Everyone stood around saying, ‘Oh shit,’ and stuff like that.” Leticia whips out her phone and calls Bea to gossip and Bea shouts, “Do something, Leticia. Do something.” Someone else in the class overhears and runs for help. (140) It’s clear that Leticia, phone in hand, could have called 911, but instead chose to gossip.
Dominique builds up a head of anger over her chapters, mad at being benched because of low grades; her last interaction with Coach has her at a break point:
“This is all so simple to her. No big thing to her. But it’s life to me and she’s not hearing me. Not seeing me.
“Coach is wrong. It’s not how she says it is. I don’t control shit. I don’t control Hershheiser. The grades I get. The classes on my schedule. When I come and go. I don’t control none of that. All that’s controlling me. Boxing me in.” (147)
If Dominique is invisible and looking for a way to be seen, to regain control, Trina believes she is visible and seen.
The shifting relationships between the girls take a clear form at lunch. We see each of their perspectives, summed up by Leticia with “And that’s why Trina can’t blame anyone but Trina for this mess. So no. I don’t have to tell Trina a thing. This might even be good for her. She might learn a lesson.” (114)
The reader walks the edges of the triangle with each chapter, feeling the shifts, hoping someone will change positions, knowing that violence is likely. Although the story characters don’t change, the reader questions their choices, unable to stop the forward momentum.
Leticia may be the unchanged spectator in the story, but the reader is the changed spectator outside. Leticia’s inaction is an implied question for the reader: what would I do? Bea, Leticia’s best friend, echoes this question, asking the reader also to get involved, tell her, do something. Bea is the voice of what’s right, and at the end of the book, when Leticia is completely unrepentant and unlikable, the reader is likely to align with Bea.
Subverting the tenant of main character change is an interesting choice, supporting the supreme writing commandment: break the rules well.
Whether intended or organic, considering the reader as character can strengthen emotional engagement, and that's a rule worth following.
Smith, Cynthia Leitich. “Cynsations.” Author Interview: Rita Williams-Garcia on Jumped, 27 Mar. 2009, cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/2009/03/author-interview-rita-williams-garcia.html.
Williams-Garcia, Rita. Jumped. Harper Teen, 2011.