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Portrait of Adolescence

Evelyn is teased for trying to join the Boys’ Chess Club

Meet Evelyn Thompson. In kindergarten, she tore down the micro-soccer field in a dress and Mary Janes. By first grade, she could play Bach on the piano as smoothly as a river. During second grade, she smoked all the kids in her class playing checkers, and as she started sixth grade, she joined chess club.

Evelyn walked confidently through the door of the Colorado Boys’ Chess Club. She didn’t mind the looks the nearby boys flashed at her. If it mattered to them that a girl was walking through the door, that was their problem, not hers. Once the boys saw her performance, they would forget about the dividing line that existed between genders.

Evelyn soon found out she was in real-life checkmate.

When she introduced herself, Logan, a tall boy with untidy, dull-blond hair shouted, “Evelyn—what type of pretty-girl name is that?”

The other boys burst into laughter.

Evelyn sat awkwardly and tried to laugh, but only a grunt escaped. These boys had a different sense of humor, a kind that stung your heart.

Before the chess games began, Liam whispered to Evelyn, “Good luck, powerless pawn.”

He then turned toward the boys and said, “Who’s going to teach Evelyn a lesson?”

Logan, the team captain, stepped forward. “I will.” He mocked Evelyn by flipping his tiny strands of hair. She ignored him and made her first move: knight to c3. Logan moved his pawn to h4. The game went on and on, each grainy, wooden chess piece progressing slowly across the black-and-white board.

Finally, Evelyn called out “checkmate,” certain she had proved her right to play in the chess club.

Mason raced over to her. “You’re a cheater, Evelyn. Logan has never lost a game.”

“Neither have I,” Evelyn replied nonchalantly.

“She’s a cheater. I saw her,” Logan declared.

*          *          *

Later that day, Evelyn collapsed on her bed. No one had the right to accuse her of something she didn’t do. Chess was about strategy, and she had simply outplayed Logan. Evelyn did not want to go back to the club—she was treated like a mouse, and the boys were hungry cats. But, if she left this club now, these boys would know they could scare off other girls in the future. Evelyn wanted to change their minds. But how? Her eyes filled with tears, upset at the situation, and even more that these boys could make her feel this way.

*          *          *

When the time rolled around to go back to chess club, Evelyn skipped it. That afternoon, she headed out, her dog, Kaia, several steps ahead. They were walking to the park to play fetch and then to drop off a weekly meal— lasagna—for Mrs. Gates.

As Evelyn was about to throw Kaia’s ball, she spotted that head of untidy, dull-blond hair. Uh-oh. Logan. Evelyn dropped the ball she was holding and pulled Kaia in the other direction, but it was too late. Kaia was already barking at Logan’s Labrador.

Logan looked up and recognized Evelyn immediately. What bad luck. Logan waved—a surprising gesture given what he’d done to her in chess club. He started walking toward Evelyn, his Labrador now headed for Kaia, Kaia headed for his Labrador. Big mess. Dogs barking. Should Evelyn run? No. She wasn’t going to be intimidated.

Should Evelyn run? No. She wasn’t going to be intimidated.

“Hey,” Logan said. “Why weren’t you at chess club today?” The answer was so obvious—why didn’t he understand?

“Why would I go to chess club and tolerate your awful behavior? I didn’t cheat, which you already know!” Evelyn shouted.

“Uh . . .” Logan stammered.

“Why did you treat me that way?” Evelyn snapped.

“Look, I used to be a loner. No one liked me, so I started acting like the others. I don’t know how the boys would react if I stopped teasing you; they might kick me out of the club. I have to be like them,” Logan said.

Evelyn looked Logan up and down. He seemed truthful. She was quiet for a moment before speaking.

“It sounds like we’re both unhappy in chess club. But you can’t treat me like that, not even if all the other boys in that room will hate you.” She then tried a different move. “Maybe we can team up.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re crazy. How can we do that?”

“We just have to think about this as a chess problem.”

The two began to brainstorm. Evelyn was certain they would find a solution.

On the way home, Evelyn was hopeful and even excited. She was so focused on chess club that she forgot to drop off the lasagna dinner—and received a phone call from a very unhappy Mrs. Gates.

*          *          *

It was time for chess club again, and Evelyn’s stomach was twisting harder than ever before. She looked at Logan. He looked at her and nodded. Her throat clenched. But then she imagined a new sign hanging above the chess club’s door that read: Colorado Boys’ and Girls’ Chess Club.

Evelyn started: “I’m here to do the same thing as you, play chess. We all deserve to be on this team, but it doesn’t feel like a team . . .”

“It isn’t a team, powerless pawn,” Liam interrupted. “We’re the kings, and we rule.” He cracked up, and Hugo high-fived him.

Evelyn was about to continue when Logan jumped in. “What’s the problem with having Evelyn in our club?”

“She belongs on a girls’ chess team; we don’t need her help,” Ben said.

“Chess isn’t won just by a king or a queen. You have to use all of your pieces. Don’t we want to be the best team possible?” Evelyn shot back.

Logan stepped to Evelyn’s side.

Mason glared at Logan. “Why are you supporting Evelyn?”

Logan responded, “How many of us have felt different and decided the only way to be liked is to blend in and exclude others from the group?”

An awkward silence followed while the boys pondered this idea.

“That happened to me,” Hugo whispered.

“Me too,” Ben piped in.

“Me three,” Liam said, nodding.

“Exactly,” added Evelyn. “While I’m a girl, we all share a love of chess. Let’s not be players in someone else’s game.”

“Good point. We’re sorry, Evelyn. I think you got the worst treatment out of anybody that’s ever joined the chess club,” Ben admitted. The boys were starting to move out of their boxes.

Logan and Evelyn gathered everyone in a circle to share their best chess tips. Over the next two weeks, Evelyn received apologies from each member of her team.

*          *          *

One month later. National Chess Championship Tournament. Chicago, Illinois.

Evelyn and Jonah, last year’s chess champion, were finishing the definitive match. Everyone gathered around, picking a side. Evelyn was getting tired of moving her chess pieces back and forth. She had to admit: Jonah was a strong competitor. She didn’t give up, though, and that was when she saw her queen’s winning move.

Before she could declare victory, her entire team shouted: “Checkmate! Evelyn wins.” The Colorado Boys’ and Girls’ Chess Club had won first place. They roared with excitement.

“Nice job, queen,” Liam said. Evelyn broke into a full smile, bubbling with excitement. Her teammates hoisted her above their heads, chanting her name as loudly as they could.

Evelyn realized that she had the power to make significant change, and she knew chess was only the beginning.

Harper Fortgang
Harper Fortgang, 11
San Francisco, CA

Rishika Porandla
Rishika Porandla, 13
Coppell, TX