I really loved this book as a kid. Really I loved every book Mary Downing Hahn wrote. Part of that is probably because all of her stories took place in Maryland, where I grew up and where I have lived my whole life, save for two years in Ohio. Also, this book has the added bonus of being about a kid whose parent(s) left her. I was way in to the parents abandoning their children genre for some reason when I was younger. Maybe it was in response to my middle class life with two parents still married to each other and, seemingly, quite happy! I dunno….
But let’s start this book. Tallahasee Higgins is a twelve year old girl who was raised by her single mom, Liz, in Florida. Talley doesn’t know who her dad is, and Liz isn’t telling. We start the book in the airport. Liz is off to California with her motorcycle-riding boyfriend, Bob, to make it big in the movies. Bob knows some people in the industry (can we saaaaaay porn?). Liz is shipping Talley off to Hyattsdale, Maryland to live with her (Liz’s) brother, Dan and his wife, Thelma. Dan raised Liz from the time she was twelve years old, after their parents died, up until Liz turned seventeen and ran away from home. Still, she tells us Dan is a top-notch fellow.
Right off the bat, we get a feel for the relationship between Talley and Liz. Talley is a typical twelve year old, but feels overly-responsible for her mother’s happiness and well-being. Liz is a shitty parent. Seriously, I hate Liz; she’s such a bitch. She shows Talley absolutely no sympathy for being abandoned. Clearly, she gets angry when Talley gets sad because it makes her feel bad. Talley begs to go to Cali with Liz and Bob, and Liz is all “This is my chance to get out of this rut while I’m still young, before I lose my looks. Bob is sure his friends can get me into the movies. Don’t make it so hard for me Tallahasee.” Oh, I see Liz,I guess it should be EASY for you to abandon your only child. Talley gets her back by pointed out the wrinkles around Liz’s mouth. Zing! Talley gets upset and is crying, and Liz is all “Will you shut up? You’re embarrassing me!” and “Don’t let Bob see you acting like a baby.” Anyway, Talley boards her plane and Liz promises to write a postcard every day. Hmmm…..do we think that will happen?
Dan picks Talley up at the airport and she is shocked to find the weather cold. In Maryland. In February. Poor Talley, her mom couldn’t even think to buy her a coat. Uncle Dan is quite obviously the opposite of Liz. In other words, he’s nice and he’s stable and he is honestly concerned about Talley. They get home and Aunt Thelma is a whole ‘nother story. Her dog, Fritzi is a monster to Talley, even though Talley tells us dogs generally like her. It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between Thelma and Liz. Which Thelma so kindly takes out on poor Talley. Oh, but here is my favorite line, one which I actually used a LOT growing up. At one point, Dan says something to Talley about her being a child, and Talley says “I’m not a child. I’m an adolescent.” I love our plucky Talley just for that very line!
Talley is staying in Liz’s old bedroom. Thelma shows her where it is, then bombards her with the rules of the house. She goes on about bedtimes, keeping her room clean, obeying her and Dan, etc. Way to make a girl feel welcome, Thelma. Obviously this is going to be much different than living with Liz! But Talley makes herself feel better thinking that this is just temporary and Liz would be sending for her soon. Then Talley goes to bed and overhears Thelma and Dan talking about her and about how she (Thelma) believes that Liz is gone for good. The next morning, Talley totally calls Thelma out on it. Thelma cares not, but Dan is sympathetic.
They go shopping for winter clothes. On the way back, she sees a McDonalds and asks to eat dinner there. Thelma says no, Talley had a hot dog at the mall, and that’s enough junk food for one day. In Talley’s opinion though, “you can never have enough junk food.” Have I mentioned how much I love this girl?
Talley starts school at Pinkney Magruder Elementary School. She meets the class princess, Dawn, who is impressed that Talley’s mom is off to make it big in Hollywood. Talley wants to be in their favor, so she tells Dawn and her bitchy popular friends that Liz is being considered for a role opposite Richard Gere. Sa-weeeet, like Debra Winger. Mmm….Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman…rowr….oh wait, where was I?
Right, so Talley becomes friends with a girl named Jane DeFlores, who lives just behind Thelma and Dan. Jane has five siblings, including her brothers Matthew, Mark, and Luke (and because I was raised with zero religious upbringing, it was in this book that I learned that those are the names of apostles, which Jane explained to Talley.) Then she said if her mother has another boy, he will be John. Yeah, I didn’t get that till later either when my mom was remembering some chapel songs she sang at church as a kid. Anyway, Jane tells Talley that her mom and Liz were BFFs growing up. So Talley wanted to talk to her, but Mrs. DeFlores is a straight up bitch to Talley. Hmmm…..maybe someone else taking Liz’s mistakes out on poor twelve year old Talley? Talley asks Aunt Thelma about their friendship and Thelma basically shuts her down also. Here’s a great conversation though: Talley says “She (Mrs. DeFlores) seems so much older than Liz, more your age.” Thelma says “Not every thirty-year old woman wants to look like a teenager.” Then Talley thinks (but doesn’t say) I knew she was wrong about that! High-larious! Seriously Talley is one smart cookie.
Weeks go by without hearing from Liz and she finally calls. She won’t send for Talley yet because it “takes some time” to get into the movies. So she’s waitressing at the Big Carrot restaurant and Bob found work in a photo shop. They are living in a motel. Talley begs to come out and won’t complain about living in a hotel. She is whining about it…hey the girl is only 12! Liz says “Calm down, I can’t handle all this emotion right now.” I HATE YOU LIZ!
Talley and Jane talk about their mothers. They are comparing the two and Talley says that Jane’s mom is always there for them and wouldn’t care about riding around on motorcycles with her boyfriend. Jane thinks her mom is lame. She says that her mom is now re-wall papering the bathroom for the third time and is constantly moving furniture. My own opinion is that women who spend a crazy amount of time on home crafts like wall papering and constant rearranging of furniture have some serious pent up sexual frustration. But I dunno in this case, Mr. & Mrs. DeFlores have six kids, so they have to be having the sex at least somewhat frequently, right?
Jane and Talley look through her (Jane) mom’s old photo albums. They see a pic of Mrs. DeFlores with her ex-boyfriend…..who Talley so happens to resemble. Clearly, clearly resemble. Talley takes the picture and shows it to Aunt Thelma,who tells that is Johnny Russell from down the street. He was killed in the Vietnam War. She asks Thelma if he is her father, and Thelma has no idea who is Talley’s dad. Guess what though? Johnny’s mom, Mrs. Russell still lives in the neighborhood.
Jane and Talley go to the park, where they run into Mrs. Russell. Talley tries her hardest to be Ms. Friendly. Mrs. Russell isn’t exactly rude, like Mrs. DeFlores, but isn’t overly welcoming either. Talley gets along great with her dog, Bo, though. She plans on trying to win over Mrs. Russell. She stops by Mrs. Russell’s house at one point and plays with Bo. Mrs. Russell is the same, friendly but non-committal.
Talley calls information in California to get the number where Liz works. She calls Liz. Liz doesn’t know when she’ll be able to send for Talley because Bob’s friends turned out to be real losers who didn’t know anybody (again, porn industry?). She wanted to ask Liz about Johnny, but Liz had to go back to work. Liz, you suck!
Talley continues to bug Mrs. Russell, who seems to be warming up to Talley. Mrs. Russell offers her a job of running Bo to the park once a week. Talley is happy to do it. At one point, Talley has a crying spell about her mother in front of Mrs. Russell, who is very sweet to her. Talley says she doesn’t know who her dad is, but Liz always told her that she has his hair and teeth….but nothing from Mrs. Russell.
Ugh, I hate this part of the book. Talley and Jane decide to play a game with Fritzi. They dress him up in doll clothes and push him around in a toy stroller. Of course, the dog jumps out and gets hit by a car. Of course Aunt Thelma comes home right then. And of course Aunt Thelma is infuriated (as I would be too, in all fairness). Fritzi is OK though. But Aunt Thelma is convinced Talley hurt Fritzi on purpose. She calls Talley a “cold, coniving little liar just like her mother,” and “I knew I’d be sorry when I said she could stay with us!” Poor Talley didn’t even want to play with Fritzi, it was all Jane’s idea.
The next morning Talley and Thelma fight after Talley tries to apologize. So she decides to run away. She goes to Mrs. Russell’s and says that she thinks she is her granddaughter. It’s a really emotional moment and Talley asks if she can live with her. When Mrs. Russell isn’t over the moon happy, Talley runs out and to Jane. Jane breaks her piggy bank and gives Talley all her money to help Talley run away. She goes to the Greyhound station and Talley only has enough money for a trip to Colorado. That’s good enough she thinks, and buys the ticket. She gets as far as Hagerstown, Maryland (about an hour west of where this fictional Hyattsdale is supposed to be) when the cops come aboard.
Aunt Thelma had reported Talley missing when the school called her to find out where she is. The trooper gives her a lecture about missing kids…blah blah blah. Anyway, Aunt Thelma finally gets there to pick up Talley. They fight some more. But then they have a heart to heart, and Thelma apologizes for her behavior. She knows she was unfair to Talley because she hadn’t always gotten along with Liz. It’s a sweet moment, and we get to see a vulnerable side of Thelma, who was afraid the responsibility of rearing a kid (adolescent) who isn’t hers. Later that night, Dan breaks the news that he tried to contact Liz about Talley having run away, but Liz quit her job and didn’t leave a forwarding number. Fuck you, Liz! Have I mentioned that I hate you?
Toward the end of the school year, Talley comes home from school, and who is on her front porch but Liz??? They hug and Talley says she was afraid she wasnt’ coming back. Then Liz says “You knew I’d never leave you.” Really, Liz? Should Talley really know that? How, from your history of, oh I don’t know LEAVING HER???!?!?!? I hate you, Liz. Anyway, Talley asks Liz the big question, is Johnny Russell her father? The answer is…….yes. Johnny is Talley’s dad. And Liz had noooo idea that Johnny was killed in ‘Nam. Seriously, Liz…you never think to find out what happened to your baby daddy? Then Liz drops another bomb. She’s not staying. She’s going to NY to try to make it in the theater with the new boyfriend, Max. Liz acts pretty much the same way she did at the begnning in the airport. I hate her. She leaves before Thelma and Dan get home. We end the book with Talley kind of beginning to realize that the stability in Hyattsdale is preferable to her flaky mom.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this. Liz, in her infinite wisdom, named Talley after the city in which she was born. So Liz is not only a crappy parent, she’s a total idiot as well. And she wants everyone who meets her daughter to know that.
OK, sorry this wasn’t a completely snarky blog. It’s a good book though, not too much to make fun of. Except, of course, for how much I fucking hate Liz.