Snark-free zone here. I totally love this book in a true, non-ironic way. Have I been a little too heavy on the Mary Downing Hahn recently? That’s only because I found a treasure trove at the Friends of the Library Used Bookstore recently. I think this is the last one for a while though. Until I can find a used copy of Wait Til Helen Comes anyway.
Daphne’s Book is told from the POV of Jessica, a 13 year old 7th grader in Adelphia, MD. Jessica is shy and bookish and short and wears glasses. Her best friend, Tracy, is starting to go boy crazy and is leaving Jessica behind to hang out with the popular bitches, Michelle and Sherry, more often. One day in English class, their teacher announces a write-a-book project. He is setting up pairs of kids to enter a children’s book writing contest. He pairs Jessica up with Daphne, the class freak. Daphne never says a word, she dresses weird and she spends all her time in class making really elaborate doodles. In other words, this is Daphne a little older and with shorter hair:
Jessica is devastated to be paired up with Daphne, who all the cool kids tease relentlessly. But the teacher is firm in his decision, and tells Jessica that between her writing and Daphne’s art, he knows that they can win.
Daphne comes over to Jessica’s house that weekend, with her little sister Hope tagging along. And what do you know? They have a wonderful time working on the book. They are writing about an adventure with mice from Jessica’s old dollhouse. Jessica genuinely likes Daphne, but doesn’t feel confident enough to hang around with her in school. She can’t handle being teased.
Jessica finds out that Daphne and Hope live with their grandmother. Their dad is MIA in Vietnam and their mom was killed by a drunk driver a year earlier. Grandmother is senile and has a ton of cats. In other words:
Daphne starts to miss a lot of school. Jessica asks her about it and Daphne claims to have mono. Eventually though, she confesses that Grandmother is becoming more and more unstable and can’t be left alone. Hope is only in kindergarten for a half day and Grandmother definitely can not be alone with Hope. So Daphne has left school. Grandmother can’t make it to town to cash her SS checks, so the girls have been collecting cans and bottles for extra change to buy a small amount of food, which Grandmother promptly gives to the cats. Daphne makes Jessica promise not to tell anyone. Jessica agrees.
Then one day in the grocery store with Tracy, Michelle and Sherry, they see Daphne with her Grandmother who is talking very crazy and throwing olive jars. Jessica is so upset. She confesses to her brother who insists that they tell their mom. Mom is so worried that she drives over to visit and immediately calls social services. Daphne and Hope are taken to a group home and Grandmother is hospitalized.
Jessica feels so guilty about breaking her promise to Daphne that she doesn’t write or call. Until they win first place in the write a book contest. Then Jessica’s mom drives her to the group home where she apologizes to Daphne. Daphne and Hope are going to Maine to live with a cousin of their mother’s. And Daphne agrees that she will try to get her mother’s cousin to bring her back to Maryland for the award ceremony for the write-a-book contest.
- I think Jessica is the same person (just a few years younger) as Lauren from The Wind Blows Backward. Bookish. Shy. Sensitive. Lives in Adelphia. Hates Adelphia. Hates suburbia in general.
- The English teacher takes the class to the public library to study kids books. Some boys make a big fucking deal over Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen because little Mickey is nekkid. Then Sherry is scandalized when Jessica says she has the book at home. Her mom would have never let her even look at that book as a kid. Sherry’s mom, THIS is your fault.
- I don’t know why Jessica is that upset over losing Tracy as a friend. Listen to this: “Does my hair look funny,” Tracy asked me. “When I was curling it this morning, I just coudn’t get the two sides to look the same….Then when I was looking for my best jeans, I found them in the dirty-clothes basket, and somebody had thrown a wet towel on top of them. I was going to spray some perfume on them- I thought it would hide the moldy smell from the towel. But then I noticed they had a big spot on the knee like I’d spilled ketchup on them or something, so I had to wear these, and they don’t fit me nearly as well.” Seriously, if I had to listen to that drivel I’d have left her behind as a friend looong ago, or at the very least stabbed my lunch fork in her throat.
- This is a good book. Seriously if you like Y.A. and haven’t read this one, it’s probably my favorite non-ghosty MDH book.
- There is no justice in this world when the Y.A. works of Stephenie Meyer and Francine Pascal have sold a gajillion times more books than Mary Downing Hahn.