Hanna Pylväinen is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her previous publications include We Sinners, Henry Holt & Co. (2012) and “Jonas Chan,” Harper’s Magazine (2012).
Pylväinen is a recipient of the Whiting Writer’s Award, NY (2012) and has completed residencies at Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY (2012) and at MacDowell Colony (2011). She received a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and a M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and is currently a Lewis Arts Fellow at Princeton University.
Image credit: courtesy of the writer
Jonas Chan – published August 2012, Harper’s Magazine
He was the new kid, but already he knew who Uppu Rovaniemi was. Everyone knew who every Rovaniemi was, the way people recited the litany of their names, the way teachers would say, “Well, we can’t all be Rovaniemis,” laugh, laugh. And Uppu, as the last of the nine, seemed determined to surpass them all—her impatience with stupid people,the way she leaned in over the test and circled undoubtedly correct answers faster than he could read the questions. And it would have always been like that, his eyes tottering after her down the halls, except that she had sat by him in calculus and
locked her arm in his and said— knowing perfectly well he couldn’t refuse—“Let’s be friends.”
The truth was that he wasn’t nerdy enough for the nerds, no one cared that he came from California, and there were exactly enough Asians for him to be different without being interesting, and those Asians were Korean, and he was Chinese from Malaysia, and anyway the Koreans all went to the same church, and at lunch they held hands and prayed together. The only thing he had going for him was the viola. But who wanted to be friends because you were a good violist?
Uppu did. “Such a relief,” she gushed, “to not wince when the violas come in. But you play like a violinist,” she said. “Not enough weight on the bow.”
“My parents made me switch,” he said. He pushed at his glasses nervously.
“I knew it,” she said. “I could see it a mile away. Okay. Other guesses. You practice every day. True or false.”
“True,” he said.
“I forgive you,” she said.
She announced they were skipping school to go to the zoo. She said it was more educational. They walked through the glass tunnel with the polar bears and held their hands up to their paws. He stood just behind her so he could stare at a small freckle behind her ear. “His fur is getting moldy,” she said. “Look, it’s like, oxidizing.” Around
them moms tried to push strollers and kids screamed, and the bear lolled in the water. The bear flexed its mouth in boredom.
His dad grounded him for skipping school. He announced this via a Post-it on Jonas’s door.
“Who does that?” Uppu said, when he called her that night. “Tell them to read some parenting books, I mean, really.”
“How come you aren’t in trouble?” he asked.
“Oh,” she said, “it’s the only good thing about big families. My parents never check up on anything. Except faith,” she said. She made an ungraceful sound. “Nothing else matters,” she intoned.
“How come you never talk about it?” he said. “Your church.”
“It’s just that insanity is so dull. What’s there to say?”
“But what kind of Christianity is it, even?”
“Well,” Uppu said. She stopped to eat a few Cheetos. “It’s called Laestadianism,
it’s a kind of Lutheranism where everyone is much more hung up on being Lutheran than all the other normal Lutherans. End of story.”