Viima, WSOY 2006
Illustrated by Jani Ikonen
The School of Possibilities is a captivating novel about an ordinary boy who takes extraordinary measures to bring down a tyrannical institution. Storm’s stepmother decides he needs some discipline, and she sends him to the School of Possibilities, telling him it is his last chance to behave.
Parkkola aptly describes the painful aspects of puberty from the point of view of both the child and the parent. Parkkola’s arresting tales deftly describe the themes of responsibility, friendship and achieving independence. Ikonen’s illustrations add a spine-chilling tone in Parkkola’s stories and yet enhance the already captivating reading.
I am Storm, and I am twelve. Not a bad age. But it could be the worst thing that ever happens to a boy. Worse than being kidnapped by body snatchers or being stuck in detention forever. Being twelve is like being in an eight-vehicle car wreck.
It’s like being stuck upside down on a rollercoaster.
This is my story.
It is also a story about India, who is a girl, not a country or a subcontinent, and about a derelict cookie factory that used to be a hospital.
I am not a bad boy, but I’m not a good one either.
My thing is flying.
Many people want to fly, but not everyone can. You need wings.
I’ve got wings. I’ve got a skateboard.
When you want to fly, you must be fearless. I am fearless.
Maybe you’ve seen me around. I’m the boy on the bus with hair hanging over his eyes, with a board under one arm or in his bag. You’ll never see me without my board or my board without me. We are one, as the saying goes. When I drop my board on the ground, lift my foot onto it, and kick off, no one can catch me. At least not by running or driving in a police car. Not anyone, ever. From time to time, the board gets wrecked, because in this game, you often fall off and sometimes fall over. Anyone who wants to fly shouldn’t be afraid of bruises or broken bones. Quite a few skaters have had this or that split, like knees or insides.
I am starting at a new school this fall. The school is called the School of Possibilities. It is my last chance. That’s what Mom, Dad, the headmaster, and a few others have told me. They’ve said that I had better believe it, because otherwise, I will be expelled, and after that, nothing good will be waiting for me in this life. There are places you can be sent to, even after you’ve been given your last chance, but they are talked about in whispers. They are meant for troublemakers who have no other hope. If you mess up your last chance, you get sent to the school for lost children, and your life will be ruled by the law of the jungle. In the School of the Lost, if you punch another child, you get a teardrop tattooed on your cheek. The worst kids have cheeks covered in tears. The School of the Lost is somewhere on the edge of the city—nobody really knows where. Children whisper about it in their yards and on the streets. It is said that there are no pictures on the walls there, and the students don’t learn the rivers of Europe or the dates of revolutions and wars. They do time—a bit like in prison.
When this story begins, I only have one more opportunity before it’s prison for me. If I fail, I will be Lost No. 101…or something like that.
After that, there is nothing.
I don’t intend to fail.
Before I begin the story, I’ll show you a place. It’s a derelict factory. It doesn’t belong to anybody. Nobody owns it. Nobody looks after it. It stands on the other side of the railroad tracks in the middle of a run-down neighborhood of wooden houses. It is as big as a castle and as black as a hole in a mountain. I liked it as soon as I saw it.
The factory is empty. Its windows and everything else inside it are broken. Even from the yard, you can see that it’s a dark place—so dark that you need a flashlight or eyes like a rat’s to walk through it. A tower stands at the side of the factory. It stands high above everything else, and you can almost see the whole city from it. You can only get up there using your sense of touch. If you were to use a flashlight, you would soon see that the walls of the tower are covered in painted pictures and writing. The place looks a little like a cave decorated with ancient markings:
I WOZ HERE. I’LL BE BACK. TOM & TILLY. DON’T FALL ASLEEP. DON’T FALL DOWN. DON’T FALL OVER. FALL OVER ANYWAY.
When we get to the top of tower, I’ll hand you some binoculars. They are an important tool. My mother gave them to me on the day this story starts. Through the binoculars, you can see the harbor and my new school. You can see the building I live in when I stay with my father. It is the middle one of those three skyscrapers. Doesn’t look like much, does it? You wouldn’t want to live there.
I live halfway up. The apartment has four rooms and a kitchen. It has a walk-in closet, a covered balcony, and a time slot in the basement sauna on Saturdays. There is a plaque on the door that says “Steele and Poole.” My father and I are Steele. My father’s new wife is Poole—Verity Poole. She is thin, although she eats nonstop. She is a bit like a spider that digs a hole and lies in wait for prey. Poole is also very good at a type of martial arts practiced by older people. She met Dad when she was eating goulash in his restaurant on the ground floor of our building. They fell in love.
Poole is a school counselor. You know, those people at school who look after children with problems—kids who are being bullied, or they are bullies themselves, or they are sick, or they have moved from somewhere else…or whatever. The counselor is the students’ friend—that’s the idea, at least. Verity Poole is a counselor at the school that gave me my last chance. You can probably guess the rest. She arranged for me to go to that school. It is thanks to Poole that I was given one more chance. She told Dad about the school. She really sold it to him. She said that the school was experimenting in new child-friendly methods, and that they would work even for me.
Verity Poole thinks she knows everything about boys, but she can think what she likes. The fact is that she knows nothing about boys. Her own child is a girl. The girl is called Mona, and she’s in the eighth grade. When I saw Mona for the first time, she was standing in front of the mirror, combing her long black hair, and she called me little brother. “You look like a prince, little brother,” she said, and asked if she could put some kohl on me. Kohl is a kind of pencil used by girls to draw on their faces. Mona wanted to pierce my eyes with it. That’s what I think.
Mona has a white face, and she listens to dismal music. When you look at Mona, you instinctively expect a sudden spurt of blood to erupt from her mouth, like a vampire. She calls many boys “princes.” She particularly calls boys whose eyes she wants to pierce “princes.” Mona has the names of all these princes written on her arms and her pencil case. She describes them as tattoos, although she has drawn them with marker pens.
When you look out from the tower, you can also see the city center. That’s where my mother lives. That’s where I live when it’s time to stay with my mom. You can see the tower from Mom’s window. The tower is visible from almost anywhere in the city, just as you can see everything from the tower.
Now that you have seen all this, we can come down from the tower and run across the yard.
Now I’ll begin.
This is the first day.
This is where it all starts.
Translated by Annira Silver and Marja Gass