14 year old Enid Crowley really hates her name (for the reasons listed above), so one summer she decides to go by her favorite name, Cynthia. Enid gets a summertime babysitting job for four year old Joshua Warwick Cameron, IV. Joshua’s mother is a stuffy, upper class hover parent. Poor Joshua has basically never been dirty and spends way too little time with his peers. But Enid takes a liking to little Joshua immediately, and they spend nearly every afternoon in Boston’s Public Garden. It’s there that they decide to shed their images, as Enid transforms into Cynthia and Joshua into Tom Terrific.
Cynthia and Tom Terrific befriend a local jazz man. A saxophone playing black guy who goes by the name Hawk. I know he’s described as tall and lanky, but I naturally think of Bleeding Gums Murphy:
One day while enjoying a green popsicle with Hawk, Cynthia and Tom Terrific overhear a bag lady complaining about how the popsicle man no longer makes rootbeer popsicles; how he just decided to stop making them without asking anybody’s opinion. This really sticks with Cynthia, who feels like probably a lot of the bag ladies want root beer popsicles and their wants are being ignored because they are homeless and no one cares what they want. In talking to other bag ladies, Hawk discovers that this is indeed the case.
So what does Enid do? She and Tom stage a protest with Hawk and about 25 bag ladies demanding root beer popsicles be returned. It’s a proud moment for Enid/Cynthia as the popsicle man acquiesces and says he’ll bring back root beer popsicles.
Riding the high of that, Cynthia decides her next move will be to give the bag ladies and Tom a ride on the famous Public Garden Swan Boats. (Tom’s mom won’t let him go, because they are tacky and filthy). Cynthia enlists the help of Seth Sandroff, a really annoying boy who goes to her school, who obviously has a thing for her.
One weekend, Tom’s mom asks Cynthia to babysit overnight, and Cynthia knows this is the night. Seth and Hawk get together and learn how the swan boats are tied up and kept overnight. Seth steals a pair of bolt cutters and Hawk spreads the word among the bag ladies.
At midnight, Cynthia wakes Tom and sneaks him to the park. They meet Hawk and Seth who manage to steal a swan boat. The bag ladies all show up, and everyone enjoys a peaceful ride, with Hawk playing on his sax. But of course, they’re caught. The police show up, arrest almost all of them. Enid’s parents are furious, as is Tom’s mom (naturally). Seth’s mom (who is a famous adolescent child-psychologist whose three kids all hate her guts) is away on a book tour. Enid is grounded for life and is never allowed to speak to Tom Terrific again. His mom hires a live-in Nanny.
Epilogue: One day a few weeks after this, Tom Terrific prank calls Enid/Cynthia (which is something she had taught him). He assures her that he likes his new nanny, who he calls Wonder Woman.
- Really? I was looking for Rabble Starkey when this gem was in my possession the whole time?
- When Enid decides to go by Cynthia, she can’t stop saying it. She even signs a petition as Cynthia. What’s the petition for? Denouncing transvestites. (She’s not even sure what a transvestite is!)
- Enid’s parents have a housekeeper, Mrs. Kolodny, who basically raised her. Mrs. Kolodny is a total romance-reading, Donahue watching flake. And I love her. Mrs. Kolodny and Seth are probably my favorite characters.
- Enid is not shy about her hatred of Joshua/Tom’s mom or Seth’s mom. She’s really hilarious.
- But honestly, protesting the popsicle stand guy? He runs a popsicle stand. He’s probably like one payday away from being homeless himself. That’s not exactly fighting the power, yanno.
- When they all get arrested at the end, the cops yell “Cuff the black guy!,” referring to Hawk. Obviously, it wouldn’t be a realistic story that takes place in Boston without racist cops. Also, turns out that Hawk is a sociology professor at Harvard. How fucking timely is that?
- Also, it turns out that the bag lady who originally started the whole root beer popsicle thing is an eccentric millionaire who lives at the Ritz. She had taken Cynthia and Tom Terrific there to pee once, and Cynthia couldn’t figure out why a homeless lady didn’t get kicked out.
- God, another reason why this book is so great? It quotes Ogden Nash. “It’s not cricket to picket.” I have a stashery of Ogden Nashery!
- I think this book may have shaped my views on homeless people. For the better.
- Seriously, if I was a sixth grade teacher, I’d probably assign this book. It’s well-written and idealistic and teaches a good lesson without being overtly preachy and annoying.
- How’s this for an awesome quote? “The problem with most people’s lives is that they have lost the capacity to believe that Gregory Peck would be along.”
- At the end, Enid decides she likes her name. It sounds like Splendid.
Sorry if this wasn’t my best post. I was simultaneously writing this AND chatting online with my friend Becky who is 35 weeks pregnant and stuck on bedrest and stim-u-crank to keep those contractions at bay. So I wanted to give her a shout out here to let her know to keep that child in for at least one more week and that I’m thinking of her and can’t wait to see her and the new babe on her next trip back east!!!! Chin up Becky, it’ll be over before you know it. And then you’ll be wondering if there’s any way to put the kid back.
Also, I just finished reading Fight Club. Now help me decide on my next grown up book to read in my sidebar poll. I chose four at random from my TBR pile.