Yay! A non-BSC Ann M. Martin book! I remember bawling my fucking brains out when I read this book back in the day. I have no idea why I picked it up again to read as an adult because I still bawled my fucking brains out. Granted, I’m a bit of a Mary Anne that way, but if this book doesn’t make you cry, you have a cold lump of coal where your heart should be. Grinch.
So the book is told from the point of view of Liza O’Hara, a 12 year old girl from Connecticut. Liza has one older brother, 16 year old Brent and two younger sisters, 10 year old Carrie and 4 year old Hope. We pretty much jump right into the story: It’s right about Thanksgiving time and Liza’s dad is diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and given a prognosis of about 6 months to a year to live. Dad wants to make this the best Christmas ever and the family pulls out all the stops to make it happen for Dad, but also so they can remember one last happy time with then. Are you crying yet? Because I am tearing up just thinking about it!
Liza is given the part of the Ghost of Christmas Future in her class’ production of A Christmas Carol. She doesn’t want anyone in her family to come because she has horrible stage fright. In fact, she tells us that she is well-known throughout the school for her terrible stage fright (really?). So big fat kudos to the teacher for giving her an on-stage part! Why not have her make sets. Ohhhh….because we get to overhear Dad telling Mom that he’s disappointed to not be a part of Liza’s christmas pageant. Of course, Liza then asks dad to come for moral support and she does fine in the pagent. The O’Hara family has the. Best. Christmas. Ever.
We skip pretty quickly to spring and Dad’s death in June. For serious, I think I cried the hardest during Dad’s funeral. He had planned it and wanted his kids to get a chance to speak if they wanted to. They all did, even Liza with her stage fright. Now here is a snippet of the funeral scene (Four year old Hope’s eulogy) and if you aren’t at least a little teary after reading this, I officially hate you.
‘ “I miss my daddy,” Hope began and immediately began to cry. Brent handed her a tissue and she wiped her eyes. Then she seemed to be okay. I watched her, safe in Brent’s arms, fingering her gold locket as she spoke. She never once looked out at the people and I don’t think many of them heard her, but the ones in front sure did.
“He’s a very nice man,” Hope went on. “He’s funny and he sings me funny songs. He calls me Emmy. No one else does.” At that point Mom buried her face in her hands and wept silently.
“He likes animals, even Mouse, and he can always fix my swing. He’s….he was a nice man,” she said again. “He was tall. I love my daddy. That’s all.”
Are you crying? I hope so, because I sure as hell am!
OK, so we fast forward to the next fall. One year after dad officially got his diagnosis. The family had to sell the giant old house the O’Hara’s have lived in for generations because they couldn’t afford the upkeep on mom’s salary. They moved into a small 3 bedroom house, where they are tightly packed. Everyone visits dad’s grave regularly, but Liza can’t bring herself to go. Hope is clingy and sad and scared all the time. But then Christmas season rolls around and she starts to come around. In fact, the whole family gets kind of in to planning for christmas. Except Liza. She is having trouble dealing with the fact that Dad was the real Christmassy one in the family and feels it is a dishonor to him to celebrate without him. Words are exchanged and Liza decides to boycott Christmas this year.
She feels guilty about having any fun. So when her big crush, Marc Radlay asks her to a party, she lies and says she can’t go. And again when he asks her to a movie. Finally, she does agree to go to a Christmas party with him, but is way nervous. Everyone sings carols and Liza can’t take it and runs out. Marc follows her and she ‘fesses up that she feels guilty about singing carols and having any fun since her dad died. Marc was a sweetie about it and helps Liza see that celebrating christmas is like celebrating her father. awwww…..
So the family has a nice Christmas. Liza continues to hang out with Marc and they buy each other nice gifts. Brent gets a full scholarship to Princeton (nice!) and Hope starts to act more like herself and less clingy. We end with Liza finally visiting her dad’s grave.
- Early in the book Liza explains that both her parents work. Dad is a “hotshot” advertising executive and Mom is the head of the English department of their local public school district. Liza goes to great lengths to defend both of her parents working and them being latchkey kids and Hope going to daycare. But really, the book was published in 1986, I think that’s a pretty unnecessary thing to have to defend. It’s not like it was 1956.
- When Liza finds out her dad is dying, she goes to see her BFF, Denise. They cry about it for like two minutes. Then Denise shows Liza some new eyeshadow and Liza is all “Life will go on.” Both of my parents are alive, so I can’t speak from experience, but I really had no idea that all it took was some new makeup to effectively deal with a dying parent.
- After dad dies, Liza’s younger sister, Carrie does a lot of babysitting. At eleven years old. This seems to be a theme with Ann M. Martin.
- When Hope becomes weird and clingy after their dad’s death, their Mom calls on a friend who is a child psychologist. But maybe she should have been asking about Liza instead. I mean, Hope is sad and clingy, but Liza goes off on her family for not boycotting Christmas and has these horrible feelings of guilt. I feel like Hope is greiving more healthily (is that a word?) than Liza.
- Marc Radlay is a totally nice guy. I blame Ann M. Martin for raising my expectations of 13 year old boys. Between Marc Radlay and Logan Bruno, she had me believing that 13 boys were capable of being sweet attentive boyfriend types. When we all know that boys are taken over by horny aliens at that age and don’t become normal boyfriend types until adulthood. And no, I do not need any of you to remind me that in just 11 short years, my own son will be a 13 year old boy!
- So when the family moves into the smaller 3 BR house, here is how they break up the sleeping arrangements. Brent in his own room, Carrie and Liza share, and Hope shares with mom. What?????? A-Mom DESERVES her own room because she is the parent. Why not give the biggest bedroom for all three girls to share? And B-they mention a den later on in the book. Why not give that to Brent, who is leaving for college in less than a year. Then make either Carrie/Liza or Carrie/Hope share? What is a den really good for anyway (besides turning in to my own personal library/study….one of my main goals in life!)
- There is a really moving scene where Liza is talking to her Dad at night. He tells her his thoughts on her. He says “…You’re the quiet one in the family. You’re sandwiched between Brent’s mouth and your two chatterbox sisters. I see you sitting back and taking things in, just listening and watching and storing up what’s going on around you. I know you’re forming opinions, maybe even judging us sometimes and that’s okay. I think you’ll put your mind to good use someday. In fact, you already are but not everyone knows it because you’re so quiet.” I remember this speech of Dad’s being really disconcerting when I read this as a teenager because it pretty much describes me to a T. I am the middle of five kids and believe me when I tell you (and I know at least two or three of my sibs are reading this) they were fucking loud. Like LOUD LOUD LOUD. Still are. I was never loud except when I NEEDED to be heard. God knows I love them, but really…just quiet down a bit! A few times my own mother has even said similar things to me that Liza’s dad said to her. So while this moment is nice and sweet, it is also vaguely creepy to me.