"Hope is a disease." Or California Diaries #2

I just want to point out that this image is actually slightly different than my cover.  Who knew there were enough editions of California Diaries to warrant extra printings with different covers? Image courtesy of Goodreads.
People forget about California Diaries.  It’s like the bastard red-headed stepchild of the BSC series.  And the fact that this spin-off lasted only fifteen books while the Little Sister series lasted well over a hundred might be proof of god’s twisted sense of humor.  So.  Here I am…reviewing the California Diaries series because they are full of awesome and sadly forgotten.  Why am I not starting with the first one?  Because I hit that shit on BSC Snark on LJ.  You can read ’em and weep here. 
A quick recap of #1 if you aren’t going to click on the link and read my three-part snark.  Dawn is living in California, starting 8th grade (again!) at Vista.  Vista requires all students keep personal journals, and that is what we’re reading. The middle school is too crowded, so the 8th graders are moved to the high school building. The We Heart Kids Club is defunct.  Dawn, Sunny and Maggie kick Jill out of the group for being too babyish.  Then they meet Amalia, a fellow 8th grader, and Ducky, who is sixteen and can drive (and is totally gay, but that’s never mentioned specifically).  They sneak out to a party, Sunny gets wasted but they end up getting away with it.
So, on to book two, which you know is going to be fabulous because it’s written by Peter Lerangis.  This is, obviously, told from Sunny’s point of view.  The book starts with Sunny in the middle of some very serious angst.  She has insomnia so badly she considers (but doesn’t) calling Dawn.  Sunny makes some bitchy remarks about Jill being too babyish and Maggie being too perfectionist.  I mean, Maggie wouldn’t even cut math class with Sunny!  Fucking bitch.  Sunny is convinced that she’s the only one who cares about having fun.
But we know why Sunny’s really worried, right?  It’s her mom, who has lung cancer.  Sunny cuts out of school at lunch one day and bikes over to the hospital to visit her mom.  She overhears the doctor telling her dad about a new lump on the clavicle that they found.  Sunny wasn’t supposed to hear it.  She’s late getting back to school, and when she tells her history teacher where she was, he gets awkward and starts treating her with kid gloves.
Things suck in the Winslow household.  Mom is, of course, sick and is concentrating on getting well and has been spending a lot of time with her cancer support group.  Dad has become a workaholic, obsessed with some competition his bookstore is facing. So Sunny feels neglected.  So much so that she decides to cut school one day.  She hops on a bus and ends up at the beach.  Not Palo beach where they normally hang out.  Oh no, she goes to the end of the line- Venice Beach.  Sunny has a great day by herself. Then in the afternoon, she’s sitting on the boardwalk, trying to get a splinter out of her foot and along comes the OMG cutest guy evar!  He helps her with his splinter.  His name is Carson.  He’s a wanderer, no fixed address and because he’s a total cliche, his favorite book is Kerouac’s On the Road.  Sunny is in luuuuuurve.
Back home, mom’s support group has taken over the house.  Which is more time that mom doesn’t get to spend with Sunny.  The next day, Sunny’s mom gives her a crapload of old jewelry.  This freaks Sunny the fuck out because that’s what dying people do.  They give their shit away.   Sunny doesn’t tell her mom this, and instead tells her mom that the jewelry is ugly, which causes Sunny’s dad to blow a gasket.  Sunny says she’s going to Maggie’s but really goes back to Venice Beach.  She doesn’t see Carson there though.  Sad face.
A few mornings later, Sunny’s mom is rushed back to the hospital with shortness of breath.  Turns out to be pneumonia.  Sunny sleeps in and doesn’t go to school.  She goes back to Venice Beach, where she sees Carson again.  Carson is Mr. Plays-by-No-Rules-But-His-Own and is very approving of the fact that Sunny is skipping school.  They drink coffee and bond, though he is very short on personal details.  That’s OK with Sunny, she’s in love!  Sunny skips school one more time and even forges a note from her mother’s doctor to excuse her absences.  Mrs. Krueger isn’t a fucking idiot though, and she knows what’s what.
Sunny and Dawn get into a fight because Dawn gets bitchface and judgmental about Sunny going to the beach while her mom is in the hospital.  Dawn can’t believe Sunny is turning her back on her friends who want to help.  And Dawn warns Sunny that someday Sunny might want her friends and they’ll no longer be there.  Because that’s how to be a good friend Dawn – insist that your friend whose mom is dying MUST feel one way and MUST talk to you about it when YOU want her to, not when she wants to!  Shut up, Dawn.
Uh…then Sunny sees that Dawn is wearing a pair of the earrings her mom had tried to give her.  And Sunny has a big huge freakout.  She runs away (to the beach, where else?)  She finds Carson, gets upset, tells him what happened.  And Carson is like “What the fuck, you’re only thirteen?”  (And the BSC fandom collectively thinks of Luca yelling “Thirteen!” in a cab in NYC, humiliating Stacey.)  Carson tells her that she has a family who cares about her and she needs to go back to them.  He admits he’s runaway because his home life is bad – terrible, but hers isn’t and she should go back.  Sunny feels bad for a moment, but then decides that her life IS bad and she needs to stay run away.
Guess what?  Venice Beach at night is fucking scary.  Sunny learns this as the shops start to close and the crowd thins out and only creepy people are left behind.  She hides from a pervo following her.  Ducky saves the day.  He knew she’d been sneaking out to the beach and he figured it was Venice Beach.  He takes her to Dawn’s house, where Sunny and Dawn..don’t exactly make up, but aren’t exactly fighting anymore.  Dawn is still being a judgmental cunt.  Sunny goes to her parents the next day, and they have a talk, but nothing is really resolved.
And, my friends, this is a BSC book with no happy ending. Sunny is back home with her family, but her closing lines are “Sometimes I wish this were all one big story, and this were the hard part.  The middle, where everything goes wrong before everything goes right.  But it’s not.  And happy endings are for fairy tales.  I will never, ever tell anyone this, but I’m scared.  Really scared.  And I desperately want to escape.  Somewhere.”
  • The entire CD series would work better with a few adjustments.  1- Age the girls up to ninth grade.  That way the more mature storylines are more believable.  And it’s less creepy for Ducky to hang out with them. 2- Get rid of the handwritten entries.  God, I hate reading handwriting.  3- Make the story narrative with journal entries interspersed. The main problem I have with this series is that no one writes in their journals narratively like Dawn and Sunny do.
  • Sunny is surprisingly perceptive about herself, though has little motivation or desire to change what she recognizes to be her faults.  At one point she says, “I’m glad I’m not my friend.”
  • She also writes, “Sometimes I wish that Mom would just hurry up and die so we can get on with everything.”  Then she freaks out over having those thoughts.  Mostly because Dawn is feeding Sunny a bunch of holistic, power of positive thinking, crap about cancer.  So naturally non-positive thoughts are going to be compounded by guilt.
  • Still, Sunny tries to be optimistic, but she can’t even picture her mom looking healthy anymore.  “Optimism is a strange thing. It’s like a beautiful ice sculpture on a clear, sunny day.  Everything seems perfect, but no matter what you do, the sculpture starts to melt.”
  • Sunny is obsessed with Carson’s name and looks in up in a baby book at her dad’s store.  It means, ‘son of marsh dwellers.’  That kind of bums Sunny out.  (Note to Sunny, if you want to laugh, look up Claudia’s name). She also reads On the Road at her dad’s store and loves it as much as she loves Carson.
  • At one point, Dawn calls Carol and her dad “Mom and Dad.”  I’m pretty sure that would never happen.
  • I haven’t read more of these books (yet) but I kind of can’t stand Maggie.  Sunny makes what is actually a funny joke when she gets in trouble in the principal’s office.  And Maggie gets pissed and huffy about it.
  • Carson is fucking creepy.  OK, he validated himself a little bit at the end of the book by asking Sunny to go back home.  But really, he had to know she was not close to eighteen.  And he’s very secretive about somethings, but brags about not working for ‘the man.’  So where does he get money for new rollerblades and arcade games?
  • Another thing I’m going to do?  Tally up the hints that Ducky is gay.  In this book, we learn that the upperclassmen guys call Ducky ‘Bambi.’  I’m not sure that’s an outright hint.  BUT, Sunny asks Ducky for guy advice (re: Carson).  “Ducky faced me and shrugged.  ‘Well, I’m not sure I know what guys think.  But I’ll try.'”  Awww, Ducky.  It’s probably true.  If you knew what guys thought you’d be out getting a blowie right now and not hanging out with thirteen year old girls.
  • Also guys?  I only have books 1-8 and one measly paperbackswap credit, which I’m saving for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. So if you have an extra copy of California Diaries #’s 9-15 that you’d be willing to part with please email me.  nhboisture (at) gmail (dot) com.  Also, if you look in my side bar, (section titled Desperately Seeking) you’ll see titles of other books I’m trying to find to review.

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in Angst, Ann M. Martin, BSC, California Diaries. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to "Hope is a disease." Or California Diaries #2

  1. Awesome recap! And now I'm dying to read this series! I read a recap of the first one (actually, I think it was your recap on BSC Snark, crazily enough, before I'd even found this blog!) and it was my first exposure to CD. Sounds much better than BSC (and, obviously, BSC:LS).

  2. I hearted this series. I think I have a couple of them (thank you, Paperback Swap!), but I'll have to check and see if they're the ones you want.I agree about aging the girls one year–I never understood why that wasn't done here. Might have been some arbitrary mandate of the publisher. I was once told that YA protagonists are never over 18, which is not true because a couple of my favorite YA books have main characters that are 19-20.Along those lines, I feel like Martin & Co. made Ducky as gay as they could get away with–kind of like what Disney did with Ryan in the High School Musical movies.WOOOORD on the handwritten pages and the narratives. I was considering making my next project an epistolary novel, but my critique partner talked me out of that because 99% of letters/emails aren't written narratively.Excited to read your other CD recaps!

  3. Katrine says:

    I'm convinced that most of the problems I faced in middle school had to do with the fact that I thought my life would involve running around with boys and skipping school once I turned 12 or 13. How shocked I was when at 13 I still relied on rides from parents to get anywhere and the boys my age were all shorter than me and 18 year old boys never looked at me twice!That said, I did like this series and I remember thinking that it was way more grown up than BSC.http://lifeinburntorange.blogspot.com/

  4. CarrieLives says:

    Of course I had to go look up the meaning of "Claudia". Lame. Haha.I never actually read the CD series when I was younger but I'm enjoying the recaps here and at BSC snark.

  5. Sadako says:

    Love love LOVE.Oh, I agree with all your changes so much. And I think having the CA group of friends be a bit older would make the "hanging out with older guys" thing believable. I do think Carson was creepy. But in BSC world, there are SO many creepy guys. Ethan? King? Travis? THIRTEEN, as Luca put it.Also, did you feel that Dawn was judgmental in general in this series, not just this book? I honestly really disliked her. Also she feels less of an "individual" in CD–she's NOT the only tofu eating health nut, she's NOT the only California girl, and she's surrounded by blondes.Oh, I'd totally send you some CD but I don't have mine. If only I'd kept all of mine!

  6. ali says:

    Awesome! I can't wait to read the rest. Somewhere I have a Ducky journal but I'm not sure which one. If I find it and you need it, it's yours. I'm ashamed to admit I never really read it but I just couldn't deal with his handwriting.

  7. oldschoolpopculture says:

    California Diaries sound much more tolerable than the BSC books, except for the handwriting. I really hate handwriting in books!!! As for Dawn, I never really liked her anyway…

  8. Jane Marie says:

    I didn't even know these books EXISTED! OMG! Sneaking out and parties and getting drunk? Does Ann M. know about this?I must read these!

  9. Lorelai says:

    Whoah, it always freaks me out when a blogger I follow turns out to be in the same LJ community as me!I never read California Diaries, but they sound so much better than Little Sister, with their angst and their homoerotic subtext and their characters named after ones from Pretty In Pink.

  10. Amiee says:

    When I read the nickname 'bambi' I just thought of Carla calling JD that in Scrubs but had always thought it was a sweet nickname! I never read these, I'll keep a lookout for number 9 and up!

  11. nikki says:

    Glad I'm not the only one who wanted to age the girls up a year.Sadako – not too sure about Dawn. In the first two, she's definitely judgmental bitchface. I haven't read the rest of the series yet…I hope she doesn't keep it up. It'll get real old real fast. Lorelai – The BSC fandom is surprisingly small. Well, maybe not that surprisingly… there are a few others from the LJ groups who read here. Amiee – yes! I thought of Carla calling JD Bambi also. Somehow I don't think the upperclassmen guys at Vista were being sweet to Ducky. I think they were really calling him a fag, which obviously can't be used in a BSC book – even in Cali Diaries.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Word of advice: Don't try to snark Sunny#3. That book gets me misty-eyed every time I try to read it. Plus, Ann M. Martin actually wrote it herself instead of farming it out to ghostwriters. That said for all its faults, I like the California Diaries though I've only read Sunny's. Sunny's awesome.

  13. nikki says:

    Don't worry Anon, I don't automatically snark everything. Good books get a nice gushing treatment….

  14. Caroline says:

    The Sunny books are easily my favourite of the CD series, I think because she has the strongest subject matter, and I feel like I vaguely know her through the BSC books (which is why I never got in to the stories about Maggie, Amalia, and Ducky). It's super strange to read Welcome Home Mary Anne in the Friends Forever series, where Dawn (and Sunny) post-CD come to Stoneybrook and they try to reconcile CD and FF world. But yeah, I'm totally with Anonymous, Sunny's diary #3 makes me tear up. In other BSC news, have you come across The Summer Before yet? I bought it yesterday (the day it came out, and I didn't even pretend to be buying it for a younger sister/daughter/cousin/stranger), and it's exactly what I want a BSC prequel to be.

  15. zehava says:

    Just found your blog (TY, EW!) I think I read the CD series in HS (or maybe even College, eep) and I remember being blown away by the one where Sunny's mother died. It has to be the best serialized YA book ever. Not that there is too much competition, but still. I wonder if it would stand up now. Looking forward to your review.

  16. Gretchen says:

    So late to the party, but I just wanted to say, I love this whole idea of a blog. I've been searching for something to fill my Fine Lines fix. I also LOVED the California Diaries, and I'm so glad you are doing these recaps! I'll have to dig my old copies out of my parents' basement.

  17. charmecia says:

    crudssorry nikki but i only have dawn diary two as the goodwill i usually go to has closed down recently due to lack of customers.man i so want to read sunny diary three, i heard it was good and i can already assume that sunny's mom had died after reading maggie diary 3in which maggie points out that sunny's mom had recently passed and stuff.i was a dawn fan growing up, but only because she came from califorina and i was like mary anne when it comes to new york. now though i prefer abby over dawn, with some claudia or stacey. i still like dawn, but man does that bitch have issues.good thing mary anne knows how to stand up to dawn without being all babyish about it.

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