Meet Carrie Wang
Carrie Wang was a surprise to me. In my original outlines for Divided, Carrie didn't exist. Then, a few years ago, I took a one-month class with the International Writing Program from the University of Iowa on character development and out popped Carrie! I loved her so much, that I worked her into the trilogy. Disclaimer - while my middle sister, who is seriously kick-butt, inspired her name, the similarities stop there.
Carrie Wang has always been a super-boss female character, fashioned into a warrior from a young age and honed to a sharp edge by family tragedy and bullying. In Divided, Carrie's role is as foil to the main villain, Junior. She often acts out of emotion, yet is a highly-skilled Underground operative who plays a significant role in the Divided world.
I hesitated creating another Almond main character until I decided to expand "POV" characters (or "point of view", those whose head we are in as narrator) beyond my original four main characters (Rose, Marcos, Harriet and Jason) in Books 02 and 03. This opened up possibilities for developing Carrie's character arc over the trilogy and for introducing unique POV angles no other main character could bring.
This scene was the first "Carrie" scene I wrote for that IWP project and is set in the Lower School in Almond area in Queenstown. "Lower School" is the equivalent of our elementary and middle schools, combined, or K-8th grades. Carrie and Simon are ten-year-olds here, or about 4th grade.
Carrie peeked around the corner of the building, on her hands and knees. The sunlight shone brightly in her eyes, but she saw them on the nearby swings, the metal creaking ominously, as if daring her to turn and flee.
"She's an odd child," the teacher leaning against the cement block building said, completely unaware that Carrie stood less than five feet away, listening. Carrie snuck around the building to spy on the girls in her class, but wouldn’t refuse easy information along the way. She could watch the popular, pretty girls in her year while eavesdropping on the teachers. Simple as rice.
"Yes, reclusive," another teacher said, frowning at a group of boys who flailed around the yard with a flying disc. "And too dark-skinned, if you ask me."
"Is there something wrong with her?" the first teacher asked.
"No mother," the second teacher replied. "That'll do it. Oh, for the shame of it. I almost pity her. Almost. But her father, too. He's so odd. That'll be where it comes from. Perhaps she has a skin sickness."
The teachers were speculating about Carrie, without a doubt. There couldn’t be another female Lower School student who fit their description. She abandoned her inspection of the girls and tilted her ear toward the teachers.
“I heard he used to make bombs to take down the buildings outside the walls,” the first teacher intoned, disbelief filling her voice. "But now he’s a factory worker. You'd think someone with that knowledge would be further along, wouldn't you? At least a manager by now."
Carrie fumed. My parents are nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, the Martin regime had executed her mother for treason after she gave birth to Carrie. And her father selected his factory line job and refused promotions on purpose, despite years of bomb-making for Martin. These teachers could never learn why he remained in that job. It would bring his execution for treason. And if the regime learned the truth about Carrie’s mother, Martin would execute Carrie along with him.
The whistle sounded for the end of their mandatory physical exercise period. She glanced across the yard to where her best friend, Simon, lay on his belly under a bush. The two melted seamlessly into the press of children's bodies and joined the line heading inside, the teachers never having detected them, as usual.
"Trina obsessed about Adam again," he said under his breath.
She glanced at him, eye-level with her now that they walked side by side, his pale skin covered in a thin film of dust.
"You're covered in dirt," she said, brushing his shirt front off quickly before the teachers suspected them of anything other than hard play. "They gossiped about me again."
"Did they mention not being able to find you?" Simon asked, pinching her elbow. She abandoned her attempt to clean him up. He hated it when she mothered him like that. Which made it hard for her to resist doing it.
She shook her head. They walked the halls solemnly after that. This made two weeks straight that teachers talked about her during their physical exercise period. That meant they gossiped about her at other times, too.
"I need to cover my tracks," she muttered to him. "I need a female friend, and not your older sister, silly. Someone in our year."
"What about Grace?" he suggested.
She snorted. "And for the fiftieth time, why?"
"Reason one, you know why," he said. Their families were all Underground operatives. But unlike she and Simon, who already carried Underground messages, Grace didn't yet realize the Underground existed.
"Reason two. She's smart," he added. True, Grace was smart. Carrie didn't see why that weighed into the argument.
"And reason three. We can teach her," she finished for him. This wasn't his third reason, but she grew tired of the conversation. And she didn't want him to say reason three, anyway. Not today. Not after the teacher's comments about her skin tone.
Carrie’s father worked with her on the codes, and Simon had started martial arts training. Carrie wanted to learn how to fight, but Simon wouldn't teach her. So she refused to teach him codes.
They reached the science classroom, one of five classes they shared. Grace would be there, in her assigned seat beside Carrie, but hadn’t yet arrived.
The truth was that Carrie hadn’t approached Grace to be friends because she didn't know how. She wouldn't say it out loud. And definitely never admit it to Simon if he brought it up. He’d laugh at her ineptitude.
Carrie had known Simon for as long as she could remember. The two of them spent summers climbing onto the flat rooftops in the factory district, spying on adults coming and going from the factories or warehouses.
Carrie plopped into her seat, digging her pencil and papers out of her backpack before shoving it underneath the desk. Simon took his seat directly behind her and Carrie sensed his impatience to hear what she’d discovered.
Nothing happened in Almond that they didn’t eventually learn about. Even if it involved the area’s political leaders. In which case, Simon often learned of it from eavesdropping on his parents. Simon's mom worked as an administrator in the Central Warehouse and his dad was a newly elected Queenstown city council rep.
When Carrie's father had brought her as a baby into Almond under the cover of night, Simon’s mom, Mrs. Bong Kim had falsified her birth records and created a medical exemption that explained her father's disappearance. Covering an absence of even a few days carried risk, but Mrs. Kim excelled at subterfuge and had since rocketed to prominence within the Almond Underground. And she’d kept that information a secret for ten years now.
Therefore, Simon often overheard critical information at home when his parents thought him asleep, then shared it with her. That’s how two ten-year-olds kept a finger on the pulse of one-fourth of Queenstown’s population. They heard little about Kink, Havana, or Ivory, mainly because the walls trapped them inside Almond.
One day Carrie would figure out a way to climb them without being shot by a patrol, getting herself tangled in barbed wire, or crumpling into a ball of despair at encountering the sonic field blanketing the walls.
She passed her science homework forward, into the hands of one of the meanest girls in her year. Marilyn was always spotless, her clothes washed and pressed with a hot iron even though her family was as dirt poor as the rest of them. Marilyn's mom worked a warehouse job and to hear her talk about her mother’s co-workers, you would think they were all dumpster-diving rats. Marilyn had probably learned her sharp tongue and harsh language at home. Carrie had personally experienced Marilyn’s venom, along with half the girls in their class. But even Marilyn had friends.
Carrie sighed as she settled into the lesson, her fingers drifting to her jeans where she’d hid a fabric message in a secret hip pocket. They would deliver it later at Market to the old dish-seller.
A kick under the desk told her Simon had read her mood - and seen where her fingers lay.
She turned around and rolled her eyes at him. He stuck his tongue out at her and nodded to the teacher, who had written the day's lesson on the chalkboard.
Ugh, plants again. How could knowing about plants help her be a better spy? To be as good as her Mom? Or maybe better, since the regime had caught her Mom.
She focused her mind and pushed out all thoughts of teachers and Marilyn and unfair treatment. One day, she'd show them. One day, she'd avenge her mother's death on Martin and his cronies. And like those teachers, they'd never know she was there.