“The Sun is Gonna Surely Shine”….or, Blossom

There are a handful of pop culture items that I strongly associate with my childhood and adolescence. I’ve covered a shitload of them here, from the BSC, to Judy Blume, and even non-book nostalgia like Roseanne, Pump Up the Volume, and Sassy. But the show Blossom has always belonged on this blog and in my heart, but until recently, was difficult to find. Thanks to Hulu, we can all watch Blossom in it’s fantastic 90’s-girl glory.

You all remember Blossom, right? The TV show followed fourteen year old (in season one) Blossom Russo (Mayim Bialik) as she dealt with teen girl issues (periods! boys! friends!) while living with her single musician father (Ted Wass), and two older brothers, the adorable but dim Joey (Joey Lawrence) and newly clean and sober Anthony (Michael Stoyanov). She had a sidekick best friend, the fast talking Six Lemure (Jenna Von Oy), and in later seasons, a boyfriend Vinnie, (David Lascher).

It sounds fairly tame, but Blossom was known for the ‘very special episode,’ and for being pretty frank about teen issues without being melodramatic in a 90210 sort of way, and for being pretty feminist as far as the 1990s go. Blossom was her own self, had her own wacky sense of style, and even though she could be boy-crazy, she had a lot of self respect.

So what’s it like re-watching it as an adult?

Well, I’m only a couple episodes into season two, and I can tell you it holds up surprisingly well. Despite being multi-cam with a laugh track (something I normally can’t stand now), I find a lot of comfort in it with Blossom. It helps that the laugh track isn’t very invasive, unlike Mayim Bialik’s current terrible show, The Big Bang Theory. Even things like Blossom’s vivid imagination and dreams featuring celebrities (Phylicia Rashad and Little Richard are among season one dream stars), could seem cheesy, and next to modern shows they do. But somehow it all manages to work. Also, hey that’s Johnny Galecki and Tobey Maguire with small roles in season one!

For whatever reason, in my head I was remembering Blossom as a slightly older version of Full House. But really it’s not. The characters talk really frankly about sex pretty frequently, and they don’t shy away from Anthony’s drug-addict and alcoholic past. Joey at sixteen hates being a virgin and talks about wanting to have sex all the time, and there are plenty of jokes at his expense about his masturbating to dirty magazines in his room. The dad, Nick, is single and goes on dates and when Joey reports he found condoms in his dad’s sock drawer no one is shocked and Nick shrugs it off (“Stay out of my sock drawer.”)

And let’s talk about Nick for a minute. First of all, hot dad alert. While most 90s girls were creaming themselves over Joey Lawrence, I was all about Anthony and Nick. (I also preferred Angela’s dad to Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life, so idk what that says about me.) Second of all he’s a thousand times better a father than any of the nitwits on Full House. His wife left him four years prior to the start of the show (I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that is the same time frame when Anthony’s drug problems started) and he stuck around. Even with his weird late-night schedule, he’s always there for his kids. And I want to pay particular attention to how he is with Anthony. He’s tough but fair with Anthony, helping him through his sobriety, but giving just enough tough love to help him be successful.

Anthony is another character I’d forgotten was as interesting as he is. Again, most people seem to remember Joey and his “Whoa!” catchphrase. But Anthony both has a more interesting back story and is a better brother to Blossom. Also, he’s a better dresser. I mean, Joey wears jorts, vests and fanny packs.

The thing that Blossom was most famous for were her wacky outfits. There were some crazy clothes in the 90s, and if anyone is going back and looking for 90s fashions, I want to assure you that even for the time period, Blossom’s outfits were pretty bizarre. I don’t know anyone who wore hats like Blossom Russo.

I’m considering starting a Blossom fashion blog on Tumblr. Let me know if you’d be interested.

But listen, the show isn’t perfect. I remember it being peak feminism, but honestly? There are a couple of troubling lines. A couple of jokes by Six about fat girls. Definitely calling girls sluts, and Joey is really misogynistic and no one seems to call him out on it. I get it that it was 25 years ago, but some of the jokes are really cringe-worthy to 2017 ears.

Anyway, despite that, having a rewatch of Blossom is 100% worth it. It’s a completely fun, sweet show that about 80% holds up to contemporary standards.

(***A little off topic, but I want to point out that, yes, Mayim Bialik is SUPER DUPER problematic. Her playing feminist teen icon Blossom taught her absolutely nothing and I was insanely disappointed in her recent NYT opinion piece where she states that the reason she was never sexually assaulted by anyone in the industry is because she dresses modestly. It was a really gross thing to say, especially considering a-the ages of the many minors who were, and b-the fact that she must know she’s an anomaly and the industry demands 99% of its women dress differently. There is only room for so many anomalies. It really sucks that she seems to be picking up lessons more from her current show, The Big Bang Theory, which is basically a study in gross misogyny, than she did from the show where she came of age.***)

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Posted in non-book review, teen sex, TV | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Guess who barfed in the rented van?” Or, Sea City Here We Come!

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At some point, the BSC books became crazy-ass bonkers. Pretty sure it started with Mary Anne’s Makeover but who knows? I just finished reading Super Special #10; Sea City, Here We Come!, and I’m still not entirely clear on what all of the sitters were doing in Sea City. (Should we blame Ann M. Martin? Or my favorite BSC ghostwriter Peter Lerangis? Who knows?)

Mallory and Jessi are being parent-helpers for the ever-negligent John and Dee Pike. No word on whether Mallory is getting paid or her parents are taking advantage AGAIN. Stacey is a mother’s helper for Mrs. Barrett. But the rest? They’re just kind of randomly invited by either the Pikes or Barretts, or Mrs. Barrett’s boyfriend Franklin. And there’s all this unnecessary movement about how some of the sitters are getting there later with Franklin, but the helpers are going to be there the entire two weeks. I don’t know, man. It would have just been easier to have Watson rent a bigger more luxurious house than the Pike’s like he does in most Super Specials.

Just like in all the BSC Super Specials, each babysitter gets a story line. And because not all the sitters are at Sea City the whole time, not each storyline has anything to do with the beach. (BOOOOOO!!!!! I’m reading a Super Special involving Sea City I expect non-stop boy and beach drama!)

In a nutshell: Stacey is annoyed by Mrs. Barrett being a high-stress individual and is mad that Toby broke up with her and has eyes on butt-monkey Mallory. Mallory likes Toby and agrees to go out on a date with him for no other reason than to make Stacey who is acting like a bitch, totally jealous. Jessi decides for some reason she wants to be a “Super Sitter.” Claudia has to finish summer school before going to Sea City and she makes friends with the other dum-dums in her summer school class. Kristy’s Krushers have one game left against Bart’s Bashers but too many of her players are on vacation, so she recruits random kids in her neighborhood for that one game and they’re terrible and they lose 34-1. (Gabby ‘Perfect’ Perkins scores the one run, natch.) Logan comes along for a few days he can get off working as a busboy at the Rosebud Cafe (Hellooooo Child Labor Laws), and he is super jealous of Mary Anne’s friendship with Alex. He keeps it to himself though, smart boy. Dawn tells two ghost stories and then complains about Stacey being a bitch a lot, even though Stacey’s bitchiness is directed mostly toward Mallory. Mary Anne, meanwhile, loves Sea City and is just happy to be there with Logie-pie.

All of this goodness is told against the backdrop of an incoming Hurricane. The whole gang tries to evacuate, but the causeway is flooded because they waited too long, so they are put up by the Red Cross in a local elementary school. The Hurricane passes and they spend the next two days back at the beach houses with no electricity, but making the best of it by cooking out or whatever. Yawn.

There’s not a whole lot in the way of plot. But there are a lot of little things to unpack that made reading this a pretty bonkers experience. So let’s begin:

  • First of all, I blame the BSC books for my love of parentheses. Parenthetical asides are my jam. But maaaaaybe they are slightly overused. Someone let Peter Lerangis know that he used parentheses 34 time, yes that’s THIRTY-FOUR, in just the first chapter. Fifteen pages, guys.
  • When describing Stacey’s backstory, Kristy says that she (Stacey) moved from New York back to Stoneybrook a second time without her father. Why wasn’t her father there? Because of the big D. (I know, she means divorce.) But let it be known that Ed McGill stayed in NY because of the Big D. (I knew he wanted to vacay on Fire Island for a reason)
  • Claudia really likes her new summer school friends, but worries they don’t realize how close she is with the BSC. Someone should let them know how bananas these girls are over their cult-status. 
  • Let’s talk about Stacey’s story for a minute. Here’s why she’s annoyed with Mrs. Barrett: because Mrs. Barrett is a nervous driver, and is nervous about being on vacation by herself with her three kids for the first time since her divorce. How DARE she! Here’s why she’s mad at Mallory: A boy paid Mallory some positive attention. You’re the worst, Stacey. I’m glad you only got two chapters. (Dawn is equally aghast that a boy would EVER flirt with poor Mallory.)
  • Mallory describes Toby’s eyes as ‘luscious.’ Which, ew. But also, Toby’s fourteen and Mal is eleven and this whole storyline is nonsense. Not that it matters anyway, because at the end, she decides she likes Ben Hobart still, not Toby.
  • Kristy fills out her Krushers’ roster with kids from her wealthy neighborhood. None of them know anything about how to play baseball. I call total bullshit because wealthy kids are all at camp during the summer. And also, most kids have at least a tiny bit of knowledge about baseball, like where homebase is, and the general idea of how a bat gets held. Also? Calling bullshit that Kristy & Co. somehow babysit for the Papadakises and the Kormans and the Delaneys, but somehow not these other kids in the neighborhood? Also one of the new rich kids’ parents brought champagne to the game. Because that’s what rich people do I guess?
  • Listen, when I read my BSC Super Specials, I don’t care about the babysitting charges. So why, then, are we subject to a Margo chapter, a Buddy chapter and even worse – a Karen chapter? Karen wasn’t even at Sea City. She was in Stoneybrook when the Hurricane came through. No one cares about you, Karen.
  • There’s a store in Sea City called Kotton Kandy Korner. Nuh-uh. Nope. You do not ever give those initials to your business.
  • “Somehow, Kristy had devised a way to convince the grownups to take care of the kids for a half hour.”  WHAT???? Stoneybrook parents watch their own kids on vacation??? As if.
  • The one I Love Lucy reference in the book goes to Mallory, who for some reason, writes a postcard to Stacey’s mom? (Who’s got it goin’ on, as the song goes)
  • I call bullshit again. Dawn takes the kids to a circus. Nope. Dawn would be vehemently anti-circus. She points out that the animals are “tired-looking,” but she doesn’t lecture us about animal rights. That’s not like her at all.
  • When Mal is getting ready for her date night with Toby, the triplets sing, “Mal and Toby, sitting in a tree. N-E-C-K-I-N-G.” What. Everyone knows it’s K-I-S-S-I-N-G, and no ten year old boy is going to call making out ‘necking.’ Not even ten year old boys who know too much about I Love Lucy.
  • Listen, there are some real shippy and slashy lines in Logan’s chapters. Like Logan talking about how good looking Alex is. And when he gets back to Stoneybrook, he can’t stop thinking about Alex. “I tried to put him out of my mind. I mean, he’s just a guy…” All this worrying is supposedly under the guise of being worried about Mary Anne, but c’mon. And is it one-sided? Oh not at all my friends. Alex agrees with Mary Anne that Logan looks like Cam Geary. We should get some fanfic out, stat.

Honestly though. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read a BSC book. I forgot how much I love them and hate them and am fond of them and rolls my eyes at them. They’re everything to me, nostalgically speaking.

Posted in Ann M. Martin, BSC | 3 Comments

“Everybody wants a rock to wind a piece of string around.”

I’m not sure if I can even tell the difference between pointless nostalgia and meaningful nostalgia anymore.

A conversation with my husband last night led me to listening to They Might Be Giants’ 1990 album Flood while I was working out this morning. Despite not having listened to it in years, I still knew nearly every word. I was hit hard by the nostalgia stick.

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I swear I don’t remember that this is what the cover of my cassette tape looked like.

I don’t really know how popular TMBG were? I think a lot of kids at the time knew them because two of their songs, Istanbul and Particle Man,were featured on Tiny Toons. But I was thirteen when Flood was released and I don’t really remember other thirteen year olds going crazy for them the same way they did, say, Paula Abdul. (No judgment on the other thirteen year olds; I went EQUALLY crazy for TMGB and Paula Abdul.)

So how was it listening to Flood as an almost-40 year old? (Yes, yes. My 40th birthday is next week). I’m here to tell you that it was fantastic. Flood is one of those things where your memory of it actually holds up. It’s even better than I remembered. In fact, when I was thirteen, I think I just like the goofy lyrics. I still like the goofy lyrics, but as an old lady I appreciate them in a different way. And I also appreciate how eclectic the music really is. They hit everything from a slight country-western twang on Lucky Ball & Chain, to odd sound-sampling in Minimum Wage, to the horn riff in Whistling in the Dark.

And while the lyrics to Your Racist Friend might seem a little on the nose (they aren’t meant to be subtle, y’all), who could have guessed that a B-side track on a 1990 album from a moderately successful band would be so fucking RELEVANT in 2017?

This is where the party ends
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend
It was the loveliest party that I’ve ever attended
If anything was broken I’m sure it could be mended
My head can’t tolerate this bobbing and pretending
Listen to some bullet-head and the madness that he’s saying
This is where the party ends
I’ll just sit here wondering how you
Can stand by your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
You and your racist friend
Out from the kitchen to the bedroom to the hallway
Your friend apologizes, he couldn’t see it my way
He let the contents of the bottle do the thinking
Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding
This is where the party ends
I can’t stand here listening to you
And your racist friend
I know politics bore you
But I feel like a hypocrite talking to you
And your racist friend

^^^The 2017 Political and Social Media Anthem, right there.

Posted in General nostalgia, Music, non-book review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

"I fit in fine back where I belong…" or Up Country

Classic Post time!
I was just going through some of my older posts and I came across this one. Reblogging because I completely loved this book as a teenager.

Are You There Youth? It's Me, Nikki




Can we start off talking about this cover art?Poor Carl is sitting there, in the snow, all alone.He does have that magnificent head of hair.Did I love him a little bit when I was 15?Indeed I did.Plus when I read the book, I got those sick pathological adolescent girl-thoughts. Ohhhh.Poor Carl, I’ll take care of you.Because that’s real healthy.

Oh, and also when I was looking for this image, I found another one. Which I like a lot better and which 15 year old me would have also like a whole lot better…. if you know what I mean.


Thanks to Goodreads for both images!!!!

So…Carl Staggers is sixteen years old.He lives in Milwaukee with his single mother who is a drunken whore.She’s constantly bringing home classy guys and says she’s going to make them Carl’s new daddy.(One particular guy’s…

View original post 1,325 more words

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Books Read 2016

2016 blew. But I managed to read fifty-one books. I read a lot of good things, but very few things that absolutely blew me away. On the other hand, I only read one book that I absolutely loathed, so that’s not so bad!

Everything bolded means I’d recommend it.

1. Among Others; Jo Walton
2. Ms. Marvel Vol 1; G. Willow Wilson, et al
3. Ms. Marvel Vol 2; G. Willow Wilson, et al
4. Check, Please, Year One; Ngozi Ukazu
5. Navel Gazing; Michael Ian Black
6. A Monster Calls; Patrick Ness
7. Jessica Jones: Alias Vol 1; Brian Michael Bendis
8. Jessica Jones: Alias Vol 2; Brian Michael Bendis
9. The Goldfinch; Donna Tartt
10. A Girl from Yamhill; Beverly Cleary
11. Turnbull House; Jess Faraday
12. Everything I Never Told You; Celeste Ng
14. Jessica Jones: Alias Vol 4; Brian Michael Bendis
15. Mosquitoland; David Arnold
16. Purity; Jonathan Franzen (DNF)
17. House of Robots; James Patterson (read to kids)
18. If I Stay; Gayle Forman
19. The Complete Jessica Jones: The Pulse; Brian Michael Bendis
20. I Know I am But What Are You?; Samantha Bee
21. The Foxhole Court; Nora Sakavic
22. King George; What was His Problem?; Steve Shinekin
23. The Raven King; Nora Sakavic
24. Kindred Spirits; Rainbow Rowell
25. Two Miserable Presidents; Steve Sheinkin
26. The Girls; Emma Cline
27. Roller Girl: Victoria Jamieson
28. Ms. Marvel Vol. 5; G. Willow Wilson, et al
29. Openly Straight; Bill Konigsburg
30. The House of Secrets; Brad Meltzer
31. The Luckiest Girl; Beverly Cleary*
32. DC Trip; Sara Benincasa
33. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; JK Rowling
34. The Notorious Benedict Arnold; Steve Sheinkin
35. A Spool of Blue Thread; Anne Tyler
36. Atlanta Burns; Chuck Wendig
37. Fun Home; Alison Bechdel
38. The Graveyard Book; Neil Gaiman
39. Ghosts; Raina Telgemeier
40. Presto!; Penn Jillette
41. Black Panther #1; Ta-Nehisi Coates, et al
42. Today Will Be Different; Maria Semple
43. Hellcat! Vol 1; Katie Leth, et al
44. The Girl on the Train; Paula Hawkins
45. All the Bright Places; Jennifer Niven
46. Took: A Ghost Story; Mary Downing Hahn
47. The Runaways; Brian Vaughan
48. The All-New Archie Vol. 1; Mark Waid
49. I’ll Give You the Sun; Jandy Nelson
50. iZombie Vol. 1; Chris Roberson, et al
51. iZombie Vol. 2; Chris Roberson, et al

Best Book of 2016
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Worst Book of 2016
Purity by Jonathan Franzen. I couldn’t even finish it.

Most Disappointing Book of 2016
The Foxhole Court series by Nora Sakavic. So many people I know absolutely RAVED about these books. There were things I liked about the series, but it had sooo many problems.

Most Surprising (in a good way) Book of 2016
The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin. History can be fascinating when it’s well-written.

Book You Recommended to People Most in 2016
Check Please. Check it out here for free.

Best Series You Discovered in 2016
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Favourite New Authors You Discovered in 2016
Steve Sheinkin

Most Hilarious Read of 2016
Navel Gazing by Michael Ian Black

Most Thrilling, Unputdownable Book in 2016
The Girls by Emma Cline

Book You Most Anticipated in 2016
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, obviously. I didn’t totally hate it, but it was pretty disappointing.

Favourite Cover of a Book You Read in 2016
Hellcat! 

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Most Memorable Character in 2016
Jessica Jones

Beautifully Written Book in 2016
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

Book That Had the Greatest Impact on You in 2016
Check Please.  It impacted me in that I’ve spent a LOT of hours reading fanfiction.

Book You Can’t Believe You Waited Until 2016 to Finally Read
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’ve heard great things about it for YEARS, before finally picking it up this year. And I’m so glad I did!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“Do you hear noises at night?” or, Took

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I didn’t realize that Mary Downing Hahn is still writing and publishing books! In my mind, her books firmly belong in the 1980’s and 90’s. So imagine my surprise when I saw this book at my kids’ Scholastic Book Fair this year. I had to buy it. (For myself. Neither of my kids loves scary things).

I’ve reviewed several MDH books over the years on this blog, and if you’re a regular reader you’ll know she was one of my favorite authors growing up. I was all ready to not like this book because it didn’t have the nostalgia factor for me, but you know what? I actually loved it. It was a perfect read for anyone who loved Wait Til Helen Comes, which seems to be everyone’s MDH favorite.

The book starts out on a creepy note. An old woman watching from a hilltop as a new family moves into an old farmhouse. The old woman has a special interest in the little girl in the family, and tells her companion that their plans are coming to fruition. (Her companion squeals and snorts in response, which is creepy in its own right).

Except for a few brief interludes by the old woman, Auntie, as she’s called, this book is told from the point of view of seventh grader, Daniel. Daniel and his family are moving from Fairfield, Connecticut to Woodville, West Virginia. Daniel has a little sister, Erica, who is in second grade. They used to be rich. Their father had a big corporate job, but lost it with the recession. First the family downgraded (no more private school, only one car, etc) but when his dad couldn’t find work in Connecticut, the parents decided to move to rural Woodville, West Virginia where the living is cheap.

Things aren’t easy for the family after moving. The people in the town dislike them, particularly the school children, because they still wear rich-kid clothes. The dad has trouble finding a job, but eventually finds work at the Home Depot. Mostly though, Erica starts exhibiting some odd behavior. She stops talking to the family and communicates mostly with her doll, plus she claims the wind is calling her name at night.

Mom and Dad are so worried about the state of the old farmhouse and their money issues, that they don’t seem to be as concerned about Erica as Daniel thinks they should be. And Daniel is very worried. Especially after a boy who lives near them tells them a story of Auntie, a conjure woman, who lived up on the hill in the woods behind Daniel’s house who kidnaps a little girl every fifty years. Fifty years ago, the little girl, Selene, who lived in their house, was ‘took,’ as the locals say. This woman has a companion called Bloody Bones, the skeleton of a bipedal wild boar who does Auntie’s killing for her.

Daniel catches Erica wandering off into the woods and tries to get her to come home. They fight and Erica runs off, too fast for Daniel, dropping her doll in the process. Erica never makes it home.

The whole town comes together to search for her, but all the Woodville locals know the story of Auntie and flat-out refuse to go up the hill where her cabin is. Daniel decides to go alone, and finds another little girl, wearing Erica’s clothes. He takes this other girl back home, and the older locals are stunned that it’s little Selene who went missing fifty years ago, not aged a bit.

Daniel’s parents meanwhile, can’t even look at this little girl, and don’t believe anyone who tells them about the conjure-woman. They don’t even believe Daniel as he starts to understand that something supernatural is happening out on that hill in the woods. That Erica was Took, just like Selene had been.

With the help of a friendly neighbor, who takes in a very scared and confused Selene, Daniel finds Auntie’s last kin. An old lady who lives on the outskirts of town with her dozens of cats. This old lady, Miss Perkins, is known as a conjure-woman as well, though not evil like Auntie. And together they devise a plan to get Erica back, help Selene, and rid the woods of Auntie and Bloody Bones.

Does the plan work? Sure it does. They get a much happier Erica back, and their parents can not deny that Erica wasn’t lost in the woods. She was, in fact, Took. Selene is being raised by the elderly neighbor couple, and she and Erica become good friends. Daniel ends up becoming friends with the neighbor boy, Brody, who tried to scare them when they first moved there with stories about Auntie and Bloody Bones.

  • This is something that I wouldn’t have batted an eye at as a kid, but as an adult it’s so illogical. The decision to move from CT to rural WV makes absolutely no sense. Yes, the real estate is cheap there, but did Daniel’s parents stop to think WHY the house was so cheap? Here’s a hint, it’s not because the woods are haunted by Auntie and Bloody Bones. It’s because there are no jobs in rural West Virginia. So when his dad is upset that he has an MBA and is working at the Home Depot…well. What did he think was going to happen? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to move more locally and just rent an apartment instead of purchasing a house?
  • The public school the kids go to is very bare-bones. And yeah, old rural schools aren’t going to have promethean boards and Chrome Books necessarily. But Daniel was talking about how even the walls were bare. No school work or art work was hanging up. His classroom has only an American Flag and a picture of George Washington. And I can go into detail about the issues facing rural education. But I swear, they can afford worksheets and coloring paper to hang on the walls in the classrooms.
  • Daniel stands out in his class because he has an accent (though to him, he’s the one without the accent) and he wears kind of preppy clothes, while all the kids are in grungy jeans and sneakers and t-shirts. At the beginning, Daniel is just mad at the kids for making fun of him. But later on in the book, he has a moment of growth when he sees that Brody’s shoes have holes in the them. “Something’s wrong with a world that lets me have waterproof boots and someone else have tennis shoes with holes in the toes.”
  • Before he gets to where he feels for the impoverished kids, he is fairly judgmental of the local dialect. When Erica starts fretting about being ‘Took,’ his response is “Took? That’s how kids in Woodville talk. Not you and me. We say ‘taken.'”
  • Overall, this is a good scary story. Anyone who liked the other MDH ghost stories is sure to like this one as well.
Posted in Mary Downing Hahn, paranormal | 1 Comment

“She would find the boy she always wanted to meet.” Or, The Luckiest Girl

This book was published in 1958. In many ways, it’s really dated, but in other ways it’s completely timeless. Honestly, I went in to this expecting to roll my eyes at the fifties-ishness of the whole thing. But I actually enjoyed reading it, because it was kind of fun to compare what was relatable and what was totally WTF about it.

Shelley Latham is sixteen years old. She’s an only child growing up in Portland, OR, and her mother is her biggest problem. Shelley’s mom had been a teacher, but obviously quit to become a housewife, but she doesn’t really have anything to focus on outside of Shelley. And she just plain doesn’t understand what it’s like to be sixteen!

The mom keeps in contact with her old college roommate (by mail, natch), Mavis, who is quirky and fun and a mom living in a small citriculture community in California. Mavis suggests Shelley come live with them for a year. It seems ridiculous at first, but Shelley’s dad thinks it would be good for her. After all, they are only going to be able to afford to send Shelley to the local State University where she will attend with a lot of her high school classmates and still live at home. He thinks a year away will be good for her.

Shelley is thrilled to go. She’d been going steady with Jack, who is a nice guy but completely boring, and Shelley didn’t know how to break things off with him. She goes to San Sebastian, CA hoping to meet a boy who isn’t dull as dishwater.

Shelley is adorably enthusiastic about everything in California. The orange grove owned by the family she lives with, their weird old house, the stucco buildings, the constant sunshine, the locals who are all suntanned and healthy looking. On her first day of school, Shelley spots a very good looking guy, and immediately wants him. His name is Philip and he’s in her bio lab class. She also meets Hartley, who is not as handsome but is very nice and is in homeroom and journalism with her.

Shelley fits in well at school, and has a lot of fun with the Michie family. She has a date with Hartley, and has a good time. But eventually Philip asks her out and it’s not long before she and Philip are An Item. Philip is super handsome, and Shelley spends a lot of time thinking about his adorable sunburned nose and blond hair, and that he’s the school basketball star. Unfortunately, he’s very shy and has little in common with Shelley, who is outgoing and gets good grades.

Still, they like each other enough that they distract each other during bio lab and for first semester Shelley ends up with a D, while Philip outright flunks the class, meaning he can’t play basketball this season. Shelley feels guilty about ‘making’ Philip get an F, and she’s sure the entire class will hate her for it. (They don’t.) But still, Philip is grounded for the next semester and isn’t allowed to take Shelley on dates.

Shelley works hard to pull up her bio grade, and meanwhile ends up going out on dates with Hartley, and has a great time. And she’s bummed she spent so much of the school year with Philip when they clearly weren’t made for each other. The book ends with the end of the school year, (A final grade of B in her bio lab) and Shelley going back to Oregon with her parents and knowing Hartley was her first love and that she’ll miss him. Sensible Shelley doesn’t have any grand ideas about trying to go to college with Hartley, just understanding he was her first love and they probably won’t see each other again.

The things that are relatable, despite being from the 1950’s:

  • Shelley’s relationship with her mother. This is very clearly based on Cleary’s own relationship with her mother, as she wrote about in her biography. Shelley is struggling for independence against a mother who is a little smothering.
  • Shelley having to hear about how things were done in ‘the old days,’ by her parents and teachers – most of whom were teenagers during the Depression. The generation gap is absolutely timeless and in just as stupid in every generation as it was in the one before it. (I could go on about how millennials are FINE despite whatever Gen X and the Boomers write about them ad nauseum, but I won’t.)
  • But, as part of growing up, Shelley learns about her mother as a person, and not just as a mom. She gets good stories of her mom from Mavis.
  • Philip suffers from the same lack of connection with his dad. His dad is pushing college on him, but Philip just isn’t studious. He’s working part-time as a tree-trimmer and honestly loves it and wants to make a career of it.
  • At Christmas, Mavis’s mother comes to visit and Shelley gets to see for herself that parents and children can continue to butt heads into adulthood, without loving each other less.
  • Shelley is anxious to get out of the city, but her friend Jeannie (who grew up in San Sebastian) is anxious to get out of her small town.  The grass is always greener, city mouse vs. country mouse, and all that.

Things that are hopelessly old-fashioned:

  • It’s an unbearably white book. Schools in 1958 were still segregated. And obviously I’m not blaming Beverly Clearly for having all white characters in this book. (In her last book, the final Ramona book written in 1999, Ramona has a black friend, so she obviously grew with the times).  It’s just really jarring to read a book like this now. I know some people look at the 50’s through rose-colored lenses, but I never do. I always associate the 50’s with the oppression of women and non-whites.
  • The Michie family does the weekly ironing together, and the whole scene I was like ‘what the fuck is happening here?’
    • “Tom lit the gas that heated the old-fashioned mangle and Mavis prepared to iron at the ironing board. “Shelley, you take the other ironing board,” directed Tom. “Katie, you and Luke feed the flat things into the mangle while I run it.”  …   Obediently, Shelley plugged in the iron and selected a sport shirt while Mavis started to iron one of Katie’s blouses. Tom operated the lever that raised the top of the mangle. “Now!” he ordered, and simultaneously he and his two children fed napkins into the mangle. This was the secret of fresh napkins at every meal. Tom brought the top down on the heated cylinder and the napkins rolled in and came out ironed……”

  • Shelley, seeing all the students with tans on the first day of school, calls herself, “a paleface among the natives.” That’s not outright offensive, but is definitely language that wouldn’t fly today.
  • Also, the words that are used to describe Philip, are now considered ‘coded gay’ words. He’s “shy and sensitive,” and “doesn’t want to waste his time on girls,” and “is closer with Friz (his male friend) than any girl,”and “pleasant and courteous but in a reserved way.” Also, he never even tries to kiss Shelley, even when they’re a known item. I’m 100% certain that Beverly Cleary’s intention was not to write a coded gay character. It’s just funny that the language she used to describe him is basically the same that was used to describe Ducky in California Diaries, because they needed to make him gay without using the word gay.
  • As a new kid, Shelley gets interviewed for the school paper, and she’s described as a “pert miss.” EWWWWW, why are you so gross, 1950’s?
  • Luke, the fifteen year old in the house she’s living in, is HUMILIATED in English class. Why? Because they were taking turns reading a story off the board and the sentence Luke had to read was, “Mother! They’ve crowned me Queen of the May.” Scandalous.
  • They had to get rid of hay at a barn-dance because the smokers (in a HIGH SCHOOL) might cause it to light on fire.
  • Shelley’s mom asks her not to “lose her head,” over Philip. Snerk. More like lose her cherry, amirite?

Despite it all. This was a really fun book to go back and re-read. It’s a charming little book, and it manages to be so charming by having a good balance of being timeless and dated.

Also, Beverly Cleary has four of these books about high school girls finding boyfriends. I don’t think they were intentionally written as a series, but they are currently being sold as a set called First Love. This one is #2, and #4 (Sister of the Bride) was reviewed on this blog by guest reviewer, Alison.  The Luckiest Girl is better than Sister of the Bride.

 

 

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