“He is adorable,” or, Who’s Reading Darci’s Diary?

You know, sometimes I re-read books for this blog, and I’m surprised how good they still are. Most of Judy Blume’s books, the Ramona books, Jerry Spinelli’s books, and so many others are still good reads for the grownup set.

This book? Not one of those. I don’t even remember whether or not I liked this book back when I first read it, because not much of it at all stuck with me. But, let me assure you, it is really a terrible book.

Image courtesy of FictionDB

Image courtesy of FictionDB

As the title suggests, Darci lost her diary. Darci is in sixth grade and her mom has encouraged her to keep a diary. She writes all kinds of secrets in there, mostly having to do with how cute her classmate, Travis, is and what it would be like to kiss a boy. But one day Darci’s diary goes missing. And she grills her family about it (mom, dad and two brothers) but no one knows where it is.

She and her friends get paranoid and think that Darci’s neighbor, Matt (who is also in her class) took it because he’s kind of a pest. While Darci freaks out about someone reading her diary, Travis starts hanging out with Darci a lot. They listen to records in the den. Neat-O!

There’s a new girl in class, Susan, who wears really nice clothes and even has her ears pierced, so naturally, Darci and her friends hate her. Susan might be having a Valentines Day party and Darci and her friends think they won’t be invited. So they come up with the idea of having a big sixth grade party for the whole class. Then Susan says she has a big house with a nice playroom, so it should be at her house instead of the school cafeteria.

Darci comes over to Susan’s to help decorate, and it turns out Susan is really nice, and she doesn’t have a mother. She lives alone with her father and she’s probably very lonely. Also, Travis plays a prank involving water balloons, which Darci gets blamed for because she was in charge of decorations. She doesn’t rat out Travis, but she’s super pissed when Travis doesn’t take the blame.

She storms out of the party, all mad at Travis, then Matt comes along and offers a ride on his bike. Matt thinks Travis is a dick for having Darci take the blame. Also, it turns out Matt is the one, not Travis, who got Darci a chocolate Valentine. Darci realizes Matt is pretty adorable himself, with freckles that look friendly (what?).

Oh, then it turns out Darci’s little brother broke his bed and had grabbed a bunch of books from Darci’s room to prop up his bed. One of those books was her diary, so she gets it back.

  • Darci’s younger brother has a hamster and he names him Bwana. Darci thinks it’s hilarious because “Bwana is African for master!”  Haha! Also, did you know African is a language? Because I sure didn’t! Here I thought it was a continent that included many different languages (according to Wikipedia, anywhere from 1,250 to 2,100 native-spoken languages). It’s such a weird racist-ish detail. Like, the hamster could have been named anything, but the author chose Bwana?  And then called African a language?
  • The book was written in 1984, so it’s not like this was written in the dark ages. Pretty sure people knew African isn’t a language thirty years ago.
  • Also, given that the book was written in ’84, there was way too much 1970′s slang in usage. Soooo many ‘far-outs’, which I know wasn’t the style in ’84 because we used to laugh at that slang while watching old Brady Bunch re-runs.
  • Also, I doubt Darci and Travis would be so into the Bee-Gees in 1984. Try Wham or Duran Duran.
  • The dialogue is terrible.

“No, you see my brother’s hamster got lost. We’ve been looking all over the house for him.”

“Say, that’s too bad. I’ll help you.”

“Oh neat!” Donny exclaimed.”

  • Seriously, Travis begins so many sentences with the word, “Say.” “Say, that was a great letter you wrote.”  Or, “Say, hamsters are okay.” 
  • And there is just some odd choice of words in the book. When Darci is talking on the phone to her friend Luanne, Luanne is happy, and her voice is described as “breathing into the phone with excitement.” Let me repeat that: Breathing into the phone with excitement.
  • Screenshot 2014-03-21 at 09.13.26Darci’s mom is taking “some psychology classes,” and ever since then she’s become really annoying. I knew some psych majors in college, and I never got the stereotype that they were annoying and trying to diagnose everyone. But Darci’s mom…geez. She goes on and on about what she and her teacher think are appropriate things for kids.
  • Despite all the “psychology classes,” everyone in the family is really unsympathetic toward little Donny when his hamster goes missing. The older brother actually shrugs, and is like “Well, those are the breaks, kid.” The hamster probably  died somewhere in the house because they never found him, but no one is really all that concerned about it.

 

Posted in Martha Tolles, really awful books | 2 Comments

“We don’t quarrel for fun,” or, Ramona and Her Mother

Here are two different covers for this book:

The cover I grew up with.

The cover I grew up with.

The cover of the book I just bought at the used book sale.

The cover of the book I just bought at the used book sale.

I’ve been, trying to get the same versions of books that I had as a kid, but it doesn’t always work out. I find more comfort in what I held as a kid. In this case, it’s not just the cover, the inside illustrations are different too. I was all prepared to dislike the illustrations in the newer version, because the illustrations in the originals are AMAZING, but I have to give this new illustrator credit. There is some nice artwork going on in this book.

This book comes right after Ramona and Her Father, but right before Ramona Quimby, Age 8.  Ramona is seven and a half in this book and is in second grade. Much like the other Ramona books, this book reads like each chapter is its own short story with one theme running throughout the book. The theme, as you can tell by the title, is Ramona’s relationship with her mother.

If you’ll remember, the last book had Mr. Quimby spending a lot of time with Ramona after he was laid off from his job. At the beginning of this book, he’s found a job as a cashier at a local supermarket. However, Mrs. Quimby decides she’s going to continue working to earn extra money, and because she likes be a doctor’s office receptionist. This means poor Ramona has to be watched by Howie Kemp’s grandmother every day after school, and Howie’s little four year old sister, Willa Jean is a terror. Kind of like Ramona was in Beezus and Ramona, but she’ll hear nothing of being compared to Willa Jean.

Beezus is in seventh grade and she’s going through puberty. She complains often about her oily hair, and is sullen with the rest of the family. She no longer wants her mother to cut her hair at home, but when Mrs. Quimby says they can’t afford it, Beezus goes into a sulk that lasts for weeks. Finally, Mrs. Quimby takes her to a hair styling school, where the haircuts are deeply discounted. Beezus ends up with a less than great haircut, but Ramona’s is very cute.

But despite the age difference, Ramona and Beezus have moments of closeness. One night when Mr. and Mrs. Quimby have an argument, they are both heavily bothered by it, and Beezus allows Ramona to sleep in her bed that night. The next night, the Quimby parents are startled that their arguing bothered their girls so much.

“Grown ups aren’t supposed to fight,” she (Ramona) informed them.

“Oh for heaven’s sake,” said Mrs. Quimby, “Why not?”

Ramona was stern, “Grownups are supposed to be perfect.”

Both her parents laughed. “Well they are,” Ramona insisted, annoyed by their laughter.

“Name one perfect grown up,” challenged Mr. Quimby. “You can’t do it.”

“Haven’t you noticed grown ups aren’t perfect?” asked Mrs. Quimby. “Especially when they are tired.”

“Then how come you expect us kids to be so perfect all the time?”  demanded Ramona.

“Good question,” said Mrs. Quimby. “I’ll have to think of an answer.”

….

“You kids fight,” said Mr. Quimby. “Why shouldn’t we?”

“It isn’t dignified,” said Beezus, giving Ramona another word to add to her list. “Especially when you hit someone with a pancake turner.”

“Oh you silly little girls,” said Mrs. Quimby with amusement and affection.

“Why should we let you kids have all the fun?” asked Mr. Quimby.

“We don’t quarrel for fun,” Ramona informed her father.

“You could fool me,” said Mr. Quimby.

Ramona refused to smile, “Don’t you ever do it again,” she ordered her parents in her sternest voice.

Ramona is so used to getting Beezus’ hand-me-downs, that one night she’s stunned when her mother hands her a brand-new pair of pajamas. They are the softest clothes she’s ever owned. So soft, she decides to wear them under her clothes to school.

Of course, she gets overly hot and begins feeling sick. She finally confides in her teacher that she’s wearing her pajamas, but doesn’t want to take them off, because she also isn’t wearing any underwear. But her teacher says not to worry about it, since Ramona is wearing pants instead of a skirt. And she promises not to tell her parents about it.

Unfortunately, Ramona forgets the pajamas at school. And her teacher calls the Quimbys (for something unrelated to the pajamas) but Ramona gets upset and she and Beezus end up getting into an argument over who their parents like the best. Beezus says all Ramona’s artwork is covering the fridge and Ramona never has to do housework. Ramona says that everyone picks on her and they prefer Beezus because she doesn’t have to go to Howie’s house after school. And then Ramona decides to run away.

And, in the most memorable scene of the entire Ramona series, Mrs. Quimby “helps” Ramona pack by giving her things that will make her suitcase too heavy to carry. Then Ramona and her Mother have a heart to heart talk, and they love each other very much. Mrs. Quimby tells her that Mr. Quimby is going to go back to college to study to become an art teacher. Ramona thinks he’s brave to do it, so she decides she can be brave about having to be watched by Howie’s grandmother after school from now on.

  • I always say Ramona and Her Father is my favorite Ramona book. But I really love this one too…. Don’t make me choose!
  • This is the fifth book in the Ramona series. There were twenty-four years between the publishing of the first (Beezus and Ramona) to this one! To put that in perspective: My mother was seven years old when Beezus and Ramona was published. I was two when this one was published.
  • As always, the Quimby parents are a shining and rare example of excellent parents in juvenile lit.
  • God. The toothpaste scene. Ramona can’t control her urge to squeeze all the toothpaste out of the tube. You know, I never once wanted to do that until I read about Ramona doing it!
  • Let’s see if my computer camera is working:
Ramona in her new pajamas

Ramona in her new pajamas

Beezus sulking

Beezus sulking

Eh. not the best pics.

 

Posted in Beverly Cleary | 2 Comments

Tiger Eyes: The Movie

Way back in 2009, I wrote about getting my copy of Tiger Eyes signed by Judy Blume at the National Book Festival. Judy (I call her by her first name because we’re pals now (no we’re not)) told me that her son was working on a screenplay for a movie version of Tiger Eyes. 

I followed the progress of the casting and filming of the movie, which Judy frequently tweeted about. The movie was released toward the end of last year, but I only just got around to watching it a couple weeks ago.  If you’ll recall, I’ve already reviewed the book, which can be read here.

The movie poster.

The movie poster.

The movie follows the book very closely. Davey is played by Willa Holland (Arrow, Gossip Girl) who does an admirable job portraying a girl overcome by grief and the desire to keep things normal. Standing in her way of normalcy is her mother, played by Amy Jo Johnson (aka The Pink Ranger  - aka my little brother’s first celebrity crush).

Much like in the book, Davey’s father is shot and killed in a robbery at his store on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Davey’s mother decides to uproot the family (which also includes Davey’s younger brother Jason) to New Mexico to stay for a while with her sister and brother-in-law.

The sister and brother-in-law are very different from Davey’s parents in that they are very over-protective and insane worry-warts. Davey befriends Jane, a girl at school whose father works with Davey’s uncle at the Los Alamos lab. And while exploring the canyon, she befriends a guy who goes by Wolf. Wolf turns out to be the son of a patient at the hospital where Davey is volunteering.

The movie follows Davey’s struggles to maintain a relationship with her increasingly depressed mother, to help Jane see that she’s an alcoholic, to break away from the pressure of her Aunt and Uncle, and to see Wolf more often than she does.

It was a good, but not great, movie. The AV Club gave it a C, which I think was a little bit low. The production quality wasn’t the best, but the acting by most of the cast was pretty solid.  The book was better, but then again, it’s a rare instance when a movie is better than the book, so I’m trying not to be too hard on it. But there were things missing that would have added a little needed depth to the movie.

  • The race aspect. In the book,  Davey moves from her very diverse school to Los Alamos, which is very white. In the book, Jane is fairly racist, particularly against Hispanic men.  Jane said nothing about Hispanic men in the movie, and the only time it was touched on at all was by Davey’s Aunt who asked who the guy she was hanging out with (Wolf) was. When Davey said his name was Martin Ortiz, the Aunt was like, “Ortiz?”
  • But Jane was still an alcoholic, though there was no confrontation between Davey and Jane over it.
  • No Davey seeing a shrink. I think that could have added a little exposition in a non-clunky way.
  • In the book, Davey makes a connection between the violence that killed her father and the violence unleashed by the bombs her Uncle helps to design at the Los Alamos Lab. This isn’t in the movie at all, which is unfortunate because it helps portray Davey as a very empathetic girl.
  • There is no thirteen days of refusal to get out of bed by Davey at the beginning of the book. No panic attacks or hyperventilating or headaches. It makes it seem a little like Davey handles her father’s death a little too well.
  • There’s no mention of Davey’s best friend or boyfriend back in Atlantic City, which makes it hard to remember that there is a ‘home’ that Davey should be missing while in New Mexico.

Other thoughts?

  • Willa Holland is a decent actress and does a good job carrying the movie. Everyone else ranges from OK (Cynthia Stevenson as Aunt Bitsy, Amy Jo Johnson as Davey’s mom) to not that great (Elise Eberle as Jane). Holland is basically exactly how I pictured Davey. Thin and willowy with large eyes and very little makeup. It was actually a disappointment to see Holland on IMDB in full makeup because she looks a lot better without it.
  • A small change to the story line was really effective here. Instead of Davey landing the lead in a school play, she sings a song in a talent show that she’d always sung with her father. I think it’s the first time we actually see Davey cry over her father’s death.
  • Wolf is played by Tatanka Means, and his father is played by Tatanka’s real-life father Russell Means. Russell Means is a very active leader in the American Indian Movement. It relieves me to see that they used actual American Indians in this role because I loathe when white people are given minority roles.
  • Before this movie came out, The AV Club did a great interview with Judy Blume which is well-worth a read.
Posted in dead parents, Judy Blume, movies, non-book review | 1 Comment

“I told my mother,” or What if They Knew?

Screenshot 2014-02-01 at 16.20.41

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Patricia Hermes writes decent books about pre-teen friendships. This one is not an exception.

Jeremy Martin is almost eleven years old. Much to my dismay, she is a girl with a boy’s name (one of my pet-peeves.) She was named after her grandfather, which is completely unimportant to the story, but important to me, because wasn’t her grandmother someone worthy of being named after? Why do men get all the namesakes?

She’s spending the summer with her grandparents because her parents have business to attend to in London. (The business is never explained. But what IS explained is that it’s for the dad’s business. So why the mom can’t be there with Jeremy is anyone’s guess.) At the end of the summer, the business is mysteriously not taken care of, and Jeremy will have to begin school in her grandparent’s Brooklyn neighborhood, rather than her own Long Island neighborhood.

At first she doesn’t like the idea, but it grows on her because she’s made two really good friends in Brooklyn, Mimi & Libby, who are identical twins. Mimi is kind of a brat, who makes Jeremy feel bad about herself for being overly-cautious, and Libby is the quieter more sensitive of the two. They also have to deal with Carrie, another girl in their same class, who is a pain in the ass and who follows Jeremy around everywhere.

Jeremy is afraid that Mimi and Libby will find out that she has epilepsy and won’t like her anymore. She goes to great lengths to keep anyone from finding it out. One day at school, Carrie tells Jeremy that she stole one of her (Jeremy’s) epilepsy pills that she found and had a pharmacist look at it. And she knows it’s a tranquilizer and tells Jeremy that she’s going to tell everyone that she’s on drugs if Jeremy won’t be her friend.

All the girls in the class hate Carrie. She’s basically tattle-taled on all of them at some point, so they make a plan to get back at her. They find dead mice that they are going to plant in her pencil box, and her desk, and (best of all) inside the folder where Carrie’s speech for Parent’s Night is kept.

As they are decorating the gym for Parent’s Night, Jeremy’s worst nightmare comes true and she has a seizure in front of her friends, Carrie, the teacher and the principal. Everyone is really scared, but Carrie’s a total bitch, announcing that “My mother says people with epilepsy are retarded,” andI think that when people have a disease like that, they should tell other people. I think you should tell everybody in school so they’ll know what’s wrong with you.”  She’s a real sweetheart, Carrie. Mimi and Libby, on the other hand, are great and worried at first, but sympathetic also.

So they pull the mouse prank on Carrie, and even though she’s a bitch, Jeremy does feel pretty guilty about it. Carrie runs from school and refuses to do her big speech at Parent’s Night, so the principal chooses Jeremy to do it. She talks a little about her new friends, and she makes a little concession to Carrie, that a friend can even be someone who’s mean to you sometimes.

  • For whatever reason, when I thought about this book, I remembered it being so much more about epilepsy. But Jeremy’s epilepsy really is just almost an afterthought. It’s more about Jeremy’s new friendships with Mimi & Libby and having to deal with Carrie.
  • Carrie’s a bitch, no doubt. But Mimi and Libby haven’t exactly been kind to her. They tricked her into getting stuck in a dumbwaiter, and they tease her constantly because she’s short. Like that’s something to tease someone about.
  • There’s a kid in their class named Andrew, who has something wrong with him. It’s never named, but I assume it’s cerebral palsy. Jeremy has a moment when she first meets him where she’s upset to see him like that. But she becomes more sympathetic to him as the book goes on. He’s a sweet kid, and when she gives her speech, she looks at him when she talks about friends not caring if you’re a little different.
  • Poor Carrie. It sounds like her mother’s a piece of work and that’s probably why she’s such a bitch. Telling her that people with epilepsy are retarded, and that Jeremy should be watched because she’s probably on drugs.
  • So was epilepsy a big deal back in 1980 (when the book was copyrighted?) I mean, I know it’s a big deal for epileptics, and obviously no one wants to have seizures. But is this something that people got made fun of for? I seem to recall there was an episode of Diff’rent Strokes where a character got teased for having epilepsy. I went to a school that probably had an average amount of bullying going on, and I honestly can’t imagine ANYONE, even the assholiest of bullies, teasing someone for having a neurological disorder that causes seizures.
  • Here’s one way things are different now. After Jeremy had her seizure, the Principal didn’t even call Jeremy’s grandparents to come pick her up. They just sent her on her way home. The principal did, at least, insist she take a cab rather than walk the three blocks home. That would never ever happen now. (And honestly, if one of my kids had a seizure at school – even if it wasn’t a terribly uncommon occurrence, I’d want to be notified.)
  • Weirdly enough, the word seizure is never used. Jeremy says she “got sick,” or “had epilepsy.” The word ‘fit’ is used at one point, which I’m pretty sure is a no-no now.
  • I feel like the copy of the book I had when I was a kid had resources where you could learn more about epilepsy, but this copy doesn’t have it. So maybe I imagined it.
Posted in Patricia Hermes | 6 Comments

“My attraction to Mo was become more than brotherly” Or, Growing Up Brady

Screenshot 2014-01-15 at 18.41.56I’ve mentioned this before, but I was a little bit of a Brady nut when I was a teenager. It may have been my first geek-obsession. I don’t know why – I fully realized that the show was ridiculous and schlocky, but there was something about it that I loved. I wasn’t alone either. The Brady’s were having a weird resurgence in popularity in the early 90′s. Brady books lined the shelves (I had a fair few – including Alice’s Brady Bunch Cookbook) and the Real Live Brady Bunch was a theatrical hit* (and starred a pre-Conan Andy Richter and Jane Lynch in the cast!), and of course, The Brady Bunch Movie, which was a hilarious and satirical take on America’s grooviest family. Barry Williams was a genius for writing this book when he did, and as I recall it sold pretty well.

The book starts off (after a Foreword written by Robert Reed) with a hilarious prologue in which the Brady family (now grown) are on a media tour to promote their TV show The Bradys. Which was terrible (and they knew it was terrible) and lasted a half a season. They were wasted on the plane, Cindy was threatened with arrest, but they had a great time getting to know Brady fans.

Then it delves into fairly innocuous biography territory. Barry Williams (born Barry William Blenkhorn) was a kid obsessed with acting. His parents weren’t giving in to his pleas for acting lessons, so he became a performer for his older brothers and their friends. Whenever they wanted trouble (sneaking girlie mags, raiding the liquor cabinet, setting off firecrackers in a beehive) little Barry was always willing to do whatever they wanted, so long as he got the attention.

At eleven, his parents gave in and got him acting lessons. He landed a couple of spots on TV shows, and eventually auditioned for The Brady Bunch, the brain child of producer Sherwood Schwartz who became aware that blended families were not well-represented on television, in that there weren’t any.

In his arrogance, Barry was sure he was a lock for Greg (despite competition hundreds of kids deep) but Sherwood set him straight. Susan Olsen was the only kid who was cast immediately upon her audition by being fucking adorable.

The most shocking thing about reading this book, was finding out that Robert Reed could be kind of an asshole. Aww…Mike Brady, an asshole? He was a classically trained actor and took the job for a paycheck, convinced the network wouldn’t pick it up seeing the pilot. He was wrong and he ended up on the Brady set as Mike, the role for which he would become best known, for the next five years. Except for the last episode – he and Sherwood had butted heads so badly, Mike wasn’t in the final episode. And, Sherwood even says that if they had been picked up for season six, the Brady’s would have been Mike-less. Mike and Sherwood’s (and later Lloyd Schwartz’s) feuds over terrible scripts became legendary at the Paramount Studio.

Beyond the Reed & Schwartz feud, a lot of the book focused on the relationships of the actors who played the Brady kids. Barry and Mo (Marcia Brady’s Maureen McCormick) were pretty hot and heavy, and made out frequently in his trailer.  Susan Olsen (Cindy) and Mike Lookinland (Bobby) got play-married, and Christopher Knight (Peter) and Eve Plumb (Jan) even had their own thing for a while.

In later seasons, the Bradys became cross-promotional hits. You might recall a few episodes featuring the cast singing and dancing – and they put a few albums out. (I may or may not have had this on cassette tape.) They performed all over the country at smaller arenas and county fairs. They also got their real first taste of being famous. Up to that point, they’d worked on the Paramount lot, then went home each night. But now they were face to face with TONS of screaming fans. And, of course, greedy agents saw their chance, represented all six kids and went to Sherwood Schwartz with demands about getting their act in the show more. The agent managed to break up the bunch (Barry & Chris vs. the others) when it came to voicing the characters in a Brady Kids cartoon. To his credit, Barry Williams is pretty contrite about it, but really – he was eighteen and being led on by shysters.

After the fifth season, The Brady Bunch was canceled. But it wasn’t over yet. The cast got together for the Brady Bunch Variety Hour just three years after the show was over. Then there was The Brady Brides. And then, in 1989, the surprise success of A Very Brady Christmas, which in turn led to the short-lived television series The Bradys. Oddly enough, Robert Reed, who was never happy playing a Brady, came back for every Brady reunion show.

And the book ends with Barry getting married, and all his Brady family there with him (except Mike Lookinland who was home with a nine-months pregnant wife).

This book is actually pretty entertaining, and Barry Williams is pretty open and honest about his life as, and after being, a Brady. Even though my Brady geekiness has toned down about a million times since I was a geek-teen, I still really enjoyed re-reading this.

So here we go: Brady fun facts!

  • Sherwood Schwartz’s first choice to play Mike Brady was Gene Hackman.
  • The Brady Bunch was a single-camera sitcom, which is something that surprises me now. Multi-cam was the rage, and remained so until about ten years ago, but Sherwood Schwartz believed you got better acting, especially from children, using the single-cam method.
  • All this feuding and fighting between Robert Reed and Schwartz, may make you wonder why he didn’t just quit. Barry asked him about it when writing the book. Reed says that mostly it was because he couldn’t get out of his contract. And in the beginning, he always thought it could be more than silly slapstick comedy and he held out that hope for a while. And he was also very fond of his co-stars, especially the kids.
  • In fact, he liked the kids so much, he treated all the cast to a cruise on the QEII.
  • When they were in Hawaii, none of them are wearing lifejackets in the rowboat scene – for reasons entirely having to do with vanity. Unfortunately Susan Olsen couldn’t swim yet and their boat capsized on one take and Florence Henderson had to pull her to safety.
  • Speaking of Florence Henderson – she has a very raunchy sense of humor and Barry had a major crush on her. He even took her out on a date one time. She was humoring him, but still.
  • They had a lot of guest stars over the years. Henry Kissinger didn’t guest star, but he did use his power to get him and his daughter to visit the set. And NASA astronaut James McDivitt guested starred and said, “Being on the Brady Bunch is really going to make me a hero at my house.” Well, it made me laugh.
  • Barry shot the scene where Mike brings home a sailboat while he was very very stoned.
  • For the love of God, Barry wants us all to know that he did NOT perm his hair ever. Once he turned sixteen, his hair stopped being kind enough to agree to simple combing and blow-drying.  Robert Reed, however, also claimed to never perm his hair, but Barry thinks he miiiight have been lying about that.

*I’ve always had this weird dream to create a stage show called The Real Live Babysitters Club. Someone help me make this happen.

Posted in Barry Williams, Non-fiction, TV | 7 Comments

Books read 2013

Screenshot 2013-12-28 at 21.54.16

 

Image from Goodreads

 

Yes, there are a few days left of the year. But I’m going to be pretty busy, so I doubt I’ll be able to finish another book this year. So here’s my annual list of what I read. I read much more than last year – but I think that is because I increased my graphic novel intake. And I can rip through graphic novels pretty quickly.

Asterisked books are those that I read for this blog (whether a post ever got written is another story entirely), and bold is for books I highly recommend.

Hands down, the best book I read this year is Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. I want to doubly or triply bold it.

1. Every Day is an Atheist Holiday: Penn Jillette

2. Anastasia Krupnik; Lois Lowry*                                                                                               3. Ender’s Game; Orson Scott Card

4. Every Day; David Levithan

5. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place; E.L. Konigsburg*

6. Things Go Wrong for Me; Rodney Lacroix

7. Beanpole: Barbara Park*

8. God, No!: Penn Jillette

9. A Study in Scarlet: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

10. Mary Anne Saves the Day – the graphic novel: Ann M. Martin & Reina Telegemeier *

11. The TV Kid – Betsy Byars*

12. Doctor Who: The Hypothetical Gentleman

13. The Lonely Polygamist: Brady Udall

14. Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Maria Semple 

15. Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire (audiobook): JK Rowling, read by Jim Dale

16. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened; Jenny Lawson

17. Dad is Fat; Jim Gaffigan

18: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac; Gabrielle Zevin*

19. The Secrets of Droon #1; Tony Abbott

20. This One is Mine; Maria Semple

21. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 9 – Guarded; Georges Jeanty, et al

22. Doctor Who, The Eye of Ashaya;

23. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; JK Rowling

24. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter; David Colbert

25. The Year We Left Home; Jean Thompson

26. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; JK Rowling

27. Off Balance; Dominique Moceanu

28. Self-Inflicted Wounds; Aisha Tyler

29. The Rainbow Kid; Jeanne Betancourt*

30. The Bedwetter; Sarah Silverman

31. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: JK Rowling

32. BSC Friends Forever, Graduation Day; Ann M. Martin*

33. Sign of the Four; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

34. Smile; Raina Telgemeier*

35: Slapstick; Kurt Vonnegut

36. PS Longer Letter Later; Ann M. Martin, Paula Danziger*

37: Out of my Mind: Sharon Draper*

38: Chuck Klosterman IV; Chuck Klosterman

39. Jedi Academy: Jeff Brown

40. Elsewhere; Gabrielle Zevin

41. Geography Club: Brent Hartinger

42: Outliers; Malcolm Gladwell

43: Superman Earth One: Volume 1;  J.Michael Straczynski, et al

44. Superman Earth One: Volume 2; J. Michael Straczynski, et al

45. Drama: Raina Telgemeier

46. The Nerdist Way: Chris Hardwick

47. Fangirl: Rainbow Rowell 

48. The War Between the Classes: Gloria Miklowitz*

49. Naked Pictures of Famous People: Jon Stewart

50. The End of the Suburbs; Leigh Gallagher

51. The Spectacular Now; Tim Tharp

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“That’s just the way it is.” Or, The War Between the Classes

Image from Goodreads.

Image from Goodreads.

Sorry for the delay in posting. My November was full of NaNoWriMo. I didn’t win, but I did get over 20,000 words. I’m happy enough with it, if not thrilled.

But this book…..oh my god this book. It actually is a decent concept for a Y.A. book if only it didn’t contain as many racial stereotypes while simultaneously trying to dismantle those stereotypes.

Emiko ‘Amy’ Sumoto is a middle-class Japanese American girl with a rich white boyfriend, Adam. Amy’s parents (her father in particular) don’t approve of Adam because he is white, and Adam’s mother doesn’t approve of Amy because she isn’t wealthy. But they don’t care, they’re totally in love anyway.

For their social studies class, they are doing a four-week long project called the Color Game. In this game, the class is split into four groups, each representing a socio-economic class. The Blues are the upper-class, Dark Greens are the upper-middle class, Light Greens are the working class, and Oranges are the very poor. The students randomly draw a colored disc to find out where they go.

Amy becomes a Blue, Adam becomes an Orange. In fact, it mysteriously seems that most minority and poor students are either Blue or Dark Green, while most the rich white kids are Light Green or Orange. Each of the three lower classes have to bow and do whatever a class higher than them ask.  Women are the superior sex, and there will be a male beauty pageant at the end of the project. They are also given an allotment of fake money, and are fined for various offenses. The Oranges being fined the most, the Blues usually not at all.

Amy is initially unsure about being a Blue and wielding this power, particularly over Adam. But she finds her nerve when she gets to boss around Justin, richest, whitest, douchebaggiest, rapiest boy in school. Then she finds a part of her she didn’t know existed, and makes his lowly Orange ass grovel.

In the meantime, Amy’s brother Hideo is trying to get back in to their father’s good graces. Hideo had married a white girl, Sue, and their father had shunned him for it. A year later, Sue is pregnant and Papa Sumoto is beginning to come around.

As Amy begins to see the Color Game spiral out of control, she decides to sneak into the school and line the walls with “All Colors Unite” posters. She does this with the help of her friend Juan, a poor hispanic kid who was unlucky enough to become an Orange. When she gets caught for it, she is demoted from Blue to Orange.

But she’s not done. She organizes Oranges and the Light Greens to rally. They make new armbands with all four colors combined, refuse to bow to higher classes and plan on holding a rally to protest their unfair treatment. The Color Game ‘police’ (called G4s for some reason) do everything in their power to stop them. But with a little help from Amy’s friend Gwen, (who maintained her Blue status) they are able to rally anyway.

It ends with the male beauty pageant, and with every single student learning their lesson about treating people based on who they are rather than their skin color, socioeconomic status or gender. Even Justin, the worst person in the world, decided it’s NOT OK to rape a woman who is ‘asking for it’ by wearing certain clothes. (Yes. Really.) And we also learn that the game was rigged with the discs in a double bag, so most upper-class kids would be Light Greens or Oranges, while mostly minorities and middle to lower class kids would be Blues or Dark Greens.

  • Oh, Lord. Save me from the stereotypes. In case you ever forget that Amy is Japanese, here are some reminders. Her father often talks about being a boy in an internment camp, her mother writes haiku and does origami, her dad is good at bonsai, they have a rock and sand garden in their backyard. And they pressure her for good grades.
  • Juan’s mother is a seamstress and there is salsa music playing in his apartment. Because he is Latino, and don’t you forget it. Carol, Juan’s Latino girlfriend, wears a fiesta-style skirt to the dance.
  • Adam lives in a giant house with expensive framed artwork, and his mother is blonde and often has a drink in her hand. And he drives a BMW. Because these are all things that rich white people do.
  • There are only two Japanese families in town. So my theory is that if Papa Sumoto is so insistent on his kids marrying other Japanese people, maybe he should have, oh I don’t know…..lived somewhere with a higher Japanese population?
  • Amy insists to her father, and to everyone that Adam does respect her. Despite us being able to see that he fucking doesn’t. The very first chapter is a school dance and he insists on sitting with his (white) friends instead of Amy’s (mostly Latino) friends. Then date-rapey Justin wants to dance with Amy, but she doesn’t want to. Adam answers for her – telling Justin he can have one dance. And she types all his papers for him, despite the fact that they both got the same grades in typing class.
  • Oh Justin. His nickname for Juan (and, presumably, all the Latinos) is ‘Enchilada.’ Because Latino.
  • Can I talk for a minute about how awful the dialogue is? It’s Sweet Valley awful. At the dance scene, Amy shows that she knows how to Hula (because she’s Asian I guess?)

         “Hey, honey,” he said gathering me into his arms. “What’s this? You were beautiful! I’ll never forget it. Every guy here wants to dance with you. I think I’ll sell chances.”

 I giggled into his chest then looked up to see the amusement in his eyes. “What did I tell you? Here comes Justin with that determined look.” (That RAPEY look)

…..Justin bowed in a low sweeping movement. “Will the lovely Princess Amy do me the honor?”

“Humor him, honey, but only one dance. Who knows, with your charm, maybe you’ll be able to change this ugly gorilla into a handsome prince.”

  • Now that I think about it, this whole book reads like a Sweet Valley book. Except that by the next book, the poor, minority kids are back to being marginalized.
  • Also, at the end of the book, Hideo’s wife Sue has a miscarriage which helps Papa Sumoto see that he’s been a raging dick. Well if that’s all it takes!
  • The Color Game is based on a sociology course at Occidental College. The front of the book says where you can write (by snail mail. It was 1985, after all) for information about it. I did a quick Google search and I discovered an article about a girl whose parents were suing a school in Milwaukee for making the kids play it. For $2.1 million. She wasn’t hurt, she just didn’t like the game, so they were suing for $2.1 million. What the fuckity hell?
Posted in Gloria Miklowitz | 6 Comments