September 22, 2020: “Guided Tours in Living Color” by Donna Miscolta

Hey, there, Story366!

Tomorrow, Moon City Press is hosting its next virtual reading, this time featuring Missouri State alum and my former student, Brenna Womer. Here’s the link to the event:

I’m excited, as I’ll be hosting. Brenna’s become a valuable colleague and friend to me since graduating, making me and everyone proud.

To note, to host one of these things, you need the prime-supreme-deluxe version of Zoom. I’m embarrassed to say, it took me a while to figure this out. We finally got in touch with the university people who handle all the Zoominations. In the end, we’ve had to purchase this extra-special level of Zoomness, as it did not come with the massive package the school had purchased before. To make sure everything goes down tomorrow, we’re again borrowing mega-Zoom capability from our colleague, Jen Murvin, who hosts these things through her awesome indie bookstore, Pagination Bookshop. I hope you can make it, as Brenna’s a great reader, andshe’ll answer some questions after the reading to boot.

Today I’m covering another writer I’ve covered here before, what I call a two-timer here at Story366. Today’s two-timer is Donna Miscolta, who I covered back on March 10, reading from her first collection, Hola and Goodbye: Una Familia in Stories. I have an entire two-timer week planned for next week, but since Miscolta’s new collection, Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories, comes out today from Jaded Ibis Press, I’m jumping ahead a bit. I love that first book so much and was looking forward to this one. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t wrong for anticipating more great stories.

To set up what Living Color is, I’ll note that these are interrelated pieces, all featuring the same protagonist, Angie Rubio. Angie is a Mexican-American girl living in not-urban California. The first story, “Welcome to Kindergarten,” picks up with Angie on her first day of school, at five years old, in the early 1960s. I skipped ahead to read other stories, finding Angie again as a sixth grader, then as a junior in high school. So, this is sort of a novel-in-stories—or maybe it’s not—but certainly follows the life of this young hero, Miscolta making Angie grow up before our eyes.

That first one, “Welcome to Kindergarten,” pits Angie against the horrors of school when she’d never been anywhere before. Angie generally doesn’t like school, as she isn’t making fast friends, doesn’t get along with her teacher, and basically wants to do her own thing at home. Angie realizes the horrors of the group mentality when she brings her prized doll to show and tell—still wrapped in plastic and in its box—and her classmates descend upon it, rendering it not-mint. This is just one of the traumatic events that Angie faces while out and about in the world for the first time.

Sixth-grade Angie faces full-blown Beatlemania in “Help.” By this point in the book, it’s clear Angie hasn’t adjusted well to school, still not making many friends. The other sixth-grade girls sing Beatle lyrics and learn to dance, anticipating an invite from one of the boys to the spring dance (which is how they get to go to the dance—remember that?). Angie likes the Beatles, but not as much as her rival, Jori-Page. Jori-Page’s name is actually Debbie, but she’s taken the first two letters of all the fabs’ names to make a new name, which has caught on, even with teachers and parents. In this story, we start to get the idea that our hero is an outcast, as Angie isn’t included in the other girls’ fun. When she claims to be a Beatles’ fan, too, they’re skeptical at best. The rest of the story shows Angie preparing for a dance she may or may not ever be invited to (I won’t tell here), but there’s also this great bit: There’s a fourth-grader from the UK that all the girls chase around , hoping he’ll ask them to the dance, just for his Britishness, the closest to their idols they’ll ever get.

The semi-title story, “Guided Tours in Living Color,” two stories from the end of the book, sees Angie in high school. Most of the story takes place on a school trip to LA, where these rural kids are dragged to galleries and museums, culturing them up despite protests.

Angie is looking forward to the trip, as it’s the kind where everyone goes on a bus, eats at restaurants every meal, and stays in a hotel. Angie is again looking to be just one of the girls, and is thrilled to be staying in a room with two of her more popular classmates (and one of their moms). This dream is shattered right way when another chaperon, her teacher’s sister, says she has room in her room, and before Angie knows it, the popular girls’ door has shut in her face and she’s in with one of the adults. So much for shenanigans, let alone hanging with the cool kids.

Angie’s mom has equipped her with some new outfits for her trip, including a navy blue pantsuit with red pinstripes, which makes Angie think she’ll be the belle of the ball. As it turns out, kids are going pretty casual, shorts and T-shirts, so Angie’s fantasy of fashion supremacy is quickly diminished, and Miscolta plays it for laughs (think Parisian night suit).

Angie’s trip is a series of museums, galleries, and other sightseeing trips that get old for the kids real fast. Most of her time is spent with her roommate, chaperone Bernadette, who’s nice … but is one of the chaperones. Angie also works on a project for her English class, writing her own autobiography, which reveals a whole lot of Angie’s interior. Angie is a pretty fantastic writer, chronicling her existence so poetically, yet tragically. A young girl who doesn’t fit in and can’t make friends who can write well ends up making her tragedy beautiful, but a tragedy nonetheless. The bright spot? Angie owns it.

Angie Rucio is a tragic comic hero, and I loved reading about her today, seeing her grow up, learning what it’s like inside her complicated and wonderful head. It’s easy to see why Donna Miscolta liked this character enough to write a whole book about her, Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories a worthy follow-up to her impressive debut. Happy book birthday, Donna! Congratulations!

One thought on “September 22, 2020: “Guided Tours in Living Color” by Donna Miscolta

  1. Pingback: September 23, 2020: “Anatomy of a Father, of a Moose” by Brenna Womer – Story366

Comments are closed.