"James is changing before my eyes." or California Diaries #4 (Amalia)

<p><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br><br>This book was actually kind of physically pai<p>fffffffsajkdfaa</p></p>
Surprise! A two-post week! 

I actually kind of found this book physically painful to read.  I have a hard time watching movies or reading books where people are put in really scary, nearly powerless situations.  Thank god this subject matter was trusted to Lerangis, the only ghostie who could handle it.   Also, the whole 16 year old boy with a 13 year old girlfriend thing creeps me the fuck out.  And I can’t believe Amalia’s parents didn’t put a stop to that even before they knew what a creep James was going to turn in to. 

This is our first-person introduction to Amalia Vargas.  She lives with her Mami, her Papi and older sister Isabel. Amalia is a bit of an artist, and her diary is riddled with comic strip like interpretations of the events of her life.

Amalia is the band manager for Vanish.  You remember Vanish, the band that Maggie is the lead singer of.  Amalia is kind of seeing the guitarist, James, who is sixteen.  She’s not quite sure exactly what she and James are, so at the beginning of the book, Amalia’s angsting about what type of gift to give him for Christmas.  Is cologne to boyfriend-y?

James calls a band rehearsal the day before Christmas Eve.  No one wants to go, and Amalia is ten minutes late.  Justin (the hottie, Justin Randall) jokes with Amalia about the rehearsal and her timing.  And it’s after rehearsal that Amalia first feels James’ wrath, which Amalia pretty much laughs off. On Christmas, James is acting much nicer and he likes the cologne Amalia got him.  James got Amalia an ankle bracelet that has their two names linked.  A wildly inappropriate gift for a 13 year old girl, but even more inappropriate because they aren’t even officially boyfriend/girlfriend.  Also on Christmas, Amalia agrees to go to work with Isabel, who so happens to work at a women’s shelter.  Will this be important later on?  You can count on it.

A few days after Christmas, James and Amalia go to see Fatal Judgment.  They happen to see Ducky and Sunny in line and are chatting with them.  James is very cool toward Ducky.  Then on the way home, he sees that Amalia isn’t wearing her ankle bracelet and gives her the silent treatment.  Then on New Year’s Eve they are at a party and James takes Amalia outside and smooches her.  And she’s trying hard to kiss with her mouth closed, but clearly the boy wants a little tongue.  Then he says he loves her, which makes Amalia uncomfortable, so he covers it up by backtracking that he “really likes her a lot.”  Back inside Ducky is acting all fruity or whatever and singing Auld Lang Syne and dancing with all the girls.  He tries to dance with Amalia and she ends up getting yet another cold shoulder from James.  My, he is a frosty fellow.

A couple days after that, Isabel gets a call from the shelter where she works that one of the women’s ex-husband’s snuck into the shelter and took their son.  It was the same boy that Amalia had been playing with on Christmas when she went to the shelter with Isabel.  She starts doodling a comic for little Mikey and at Vanish rehearsal, she is showing it to Maggie.  James overhears them talking about a guy named Mikey and gets jealous and gives her yet another cold shoulder.  When Amalia shows the drawings to James, he doesn’t apologize, but he does tell her she’s talented.  Like that makes up for his dick behavior.  This time though, Amalia sticks up for herself and breaks things off.

But….later that day she thinks she should have given James more of an opportunity to explain himself.  So she writes a letter to him basically saying she wants to talk things out.  After school, James takes her for a walk, where he creepily throws rocks at turtles (isn’t hurting animals a sign of something???) but he does apologize for his behavior and then they make smoochies for a while. Then even more creepily, he says to her “I think about you all the time, Amalia.  I’ll do anything to keep you in my life.  Anything.”  Cue creepy music. 

Turns out, Amalia was totally wrong about James!  He’s the sweetest guy!  I mean, he loves her so much, he calls her constantly and wants her to do nothing but spend time with him.  Isn’t that the sweetest thing you ever heard?  And he only gets a little annoyed when Amalia goes to volunteer at the shelter!  Only a little!  After a bad day at the shelter, Isabel and her boyfriend, Simon, take Amalia to a restaurant.  The next day, James is furious with Amalia.  Because someone told him that Amalia was at this restaurant with an older guy.  And Amalia was like, ‘yeah, with my sister and her boyfriend.’  And there’s an argument and for some reason, it leaves a bad taste in Amalia’s mouth.  She’s not quite sure why though. 

Shit like this goes on.  James is sweet, James is a dick.  James hates Ducky. James believes Justin is hitting on Amalia.  James forces Amalia to skip math to go out to lunch with him.  Finally at Vanish rehearsal one night, James creates a huge scene after Justin is talking to Amalia (how the fuck dare he????) and yells at Ducky who tries to intervene.  There’s nearly a fist fight before Amalia breaks them up and James leaves.  Amalia runs after him to find out what’s up with him.  He almost hits her – but she runs away before he can. 

Everyone’s after Amalia to dump this douche.  And she’s not sure.  Should she? Shouldn’t she?  Oh, and the phone calls?  Keep coming.  In the middle of the night.  Answering machine messages all day.  Non-stop phone calls.  Amalia tries to talk to him, and James talks about how no one understands him and trying to comfort him, Amalia says the ‘wrong’ thing causing James to turn on her again.  So she dumps him officially. Then he plants two creepy rag dolls in the yard, the boy rag doll with a knife sticking out its chest.  It’s OK – Papi goes and threatens him.  Also, Vanish kicks him out of the group. 

Mysterious rumors start to get floated all over the school about Amalia.  That she’s dating Ducky.  That she’s dating Justin.  Certainly James is behind them.  Then Amalia signs up for a Valentine’s Day dance decorating committee.  James also signs up and leaves a note in her locker :”Didn’t I tell you we were meant for each other?  XXXOOO” 

  • She’s fucking THIRTEEN!!!!! Someone put a stop to this madness!
  • The comic drawings are done by a guy named Steig Retlin.  Any relation to Cary you think?
  • Amalia really doesn’t understand what “type” of women are at this shelter until the one lady’s husband comes back.  She kind of just thinks it’s a homeless shelter.  Which…duh.  You’d see men at a homeless shelter also.  
  • Foreshadowing: Maggie doesn’t eat anything at Christmas dinner.  Also, Amalia worries about the pressure Maggie’s dad puts on her.
  • Are thirteen year olds really that concerned about a little tongue action when they kiss?  Isn’t that kind of kissing kind of normal in the 13 year old set?
  • So Isabel works for this abused women’s shelter, yet she doesn’t recognize the signs of James calling night and day.  Initially she jokes with Amalia that James is a lovesick puppy.  But that type of calling should be worrisome to someone with her experience.  (Also, the 13-16 year age difference.  Sorry, I just can’t let that go.)
  • So we know Amalia is Hispanic.  I mean, her last name is Vargas.  She calls her parents Mami and Papi.  She eats huevos rancheros and she wishes family members a Feliz Navidad.  But besides that, the race thing was handled much more subtly here than it was with Jessi in the BSC series.  Where Jessi has African Art in her house and celebrates Kwanzaa, (because she’s black, in case you missed out on the 12569 times it was mentioned in the series) Amalia NEVER mentions her quincanera in two years. 
  • This book is flush with ‘Ducky is gay!’ hints, mostly in the form of James’ homophobia.  When Amalia and James see Ducky and Sunny at the movie theater, James asks Amalia if they’re together.  Amalia says no and James says, “She isn’t his type, if you know what I mean.” We know what you mean, James.  You don’t have to be so fucking snide about it. Then at the big fight at Vanish rehearsal, James is generally rude to Ducky and says, “Since when are you trying to tell me about girls?”  And then later Amalia apologizes to Ducky for what James says, Ducky softly replies, “I’ve heard worse.”  I bet you have, Ducky and I kind of want to cuddle the hell out of you right about now.  Oh, and after James starts the rumors about Ducky and Amalia, Amalia confronts him and James says, “Who could imagine such a ridiculous thing?” (Also – Sadako – you really didn’t pick up on these hints?)
  • I must apologize for my flagrant over-use of the words creep, creepy and creepily in this post.  There really is no other good descriptor.

About nikkihb

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

16 Responses to "James is changing before my eyes." or California Diaries #4 (Amalia)

  1. Ally says:

    I was all about getting some tongue at 13. Bad girl, I know 😦FourthGradeNothing.com

  2. Eh, it's BSC-land, where 11-16 are basically all the same age (just like 4-10), so I give that a pass, but it does strike me as ever so amazing that these totally average girls with cheerful normal lives suddenly turn dark and angsty out of nowhere. I mean, I get that that was the whole point of the series. But still, I always thought it was a bit random. I guess not so much Amalia, since we didn't know her before, and we knew Sunny's issues before Dawn returned for the 389th time, but the others, especially goody two shoes Dawn…eh.

  3. Sadako says:

    This is why I wish the girls had been aged up to fifteen or so. I wouldn't find this kind of behavior QUITE as weird. I mean, abuse is abuse, but the idea of a thirteen year old being serious with anyone is creepy. But a 15-16 year old talking about love might be stupid but not oh no break out Chris Hansen.I don't know why I didn't remember the Ducky stuff. I don't think I read most of these books more than once, so I don't think any of it stuck with me. All I really remember about Ducky is him dealing with his depressed friend Alex. James is a creep though.

  4. obie119 says:

    So that's how it ends? With the note in her locker? Totally creepy.By the way, here in Boston most of the family shelters are only women and children, simply because a majority of the families in the system are not intact (sorry, that is the word that is used). You'd differentiate a DV shelter more from the security measures – confidential address, etc. Otherwise they basically appear the same.Totally irrelevant I know, but anyway…

  5. You know, at 13 I wasn't allowed to go out with guys my own age (except in a group), so yeah, I found it weird that the 13-16 thing wasn't an issue with Amalia's family.Also, I know this is overthinking, but there was a women's shelter in the town where I attended law school. To volunteer, you had to undergo 60 hours of training. Meaning you couldn't just walk in and help out–which makes sense, considering the sensitive subject matter. I know Amalia was tagging along with her sister, but still, it bothered me.Yeah, really wish they would have aged them even two years, but I'm willing to bet Scholastic didn't want to lose their target audience or something lame like that. I wish it had been a bit more like Harry Potter, where the books grow with the audience, ya know?Great recap!

  6. Sadako says:

    Agreed, maybeimamazed. I liked that Phyllis Reynolds Naylor aged her Alice character over time. Yay for not having a thousand summers in one series! I kind of wish PBS's Arthur had done that, too. It doesn't even have to be a lot of aging. Just a few years really.

  7. Katie Fries says:

    So, basically Amalia is the Stacey (dating older boys) and James is a grown-up Logan (creepy and controlling)? I like how some of the more unrealistic hallmarks of BSC-dom are still present in this series, like 13 year olds going out with older boys and having far more responsibility than real kids. (Band manager? Really? I know it's a kid band but what kind of 13 year old has managerial experience? Except maybe Kristy Thomas.)

  8. Ditty75 says:

    It's so funny that you posted this recap today. Are you still desperately seeking California Diaries #14? I have a copy of it in my classroom library! Would you like to borrow it to recap? Let me know–just email me at ditty75@ligtel.com

  9. Katie Fries says:

    Also: I used to own a copy of Slam Book. I am 95% sure it got donated somewhere but I have a box of juvenile and YA fiction at my parents' house that I've been meaning to go through the next time I visit (in three weeks). If it's in there it's yours.

  10. Ditty75 says:

    Okay, I meant to say that it's funny that you posted this today because someone just returned my Amalia book to my classroom library. I sort of forgot that last part in my last comment.

  11. TS Hendrik says:

    Never heard of it before, but this sounds beyond creepy. Kind of gives me the same feeling as that one oldies song "Little Children" does.

  12. HelenB says:

    I don't find the age gap that unrealistic – when I was that age I had friends who dated guys that much older than them. I do think it's unrealistic that no one comments on it though – we definitely used to think 16 year olds who were trying to pick us up were creepy, in a "why can't he find someone his own age?" kind of way.

  13. Alison says:

    Hello, Lifetime movie much?I agree with Maybe and Sadako–the series could have been better if the girls were aged up a couple years. An abusive relationship would be more believable if Amalia and James were both a few years older.With the women's shelter…How does someone just sneak in and take a kid? Isn't protecting the women and children the shelter's job? Where I'm at, the shelter has security in place. You can't just walk in. If the partner is hanging around the shelter, they'll send her to stay with a volunteer family. They even have foster families that will take in her dogs or cats so the partner can't get the fur babies!

  14. Sarah says:

    I've been reading your California Diaries recaps, and loving them. But I have to admit – I never picked up on the whole "Ducky is gay" subtext. NEVER. Based on your reviews and pulled quotes, it's seems pretty obvious. Huh. I'll have to go back and read. Wasn't there supposed to be some sort of "maybe/maybe not" thing going on with Ducky and Sunny, though?

  15. Linainverse5 says:

    sarahi was just thinking the same thingbecause there's always seem to be a thing between him and sunny.oh well.great post by the way nikkiand i love the book.James is definitely the 16 year old version of loganbut since james has longer hairas shown in the drawingswho knows?

  16. charmecia says:

    i think amalia is more of a california version of abby, since amalia took jill's place in the california diaries series,just like abby took dawn's place in the series.but amalia is like stacey only when it comes to dating an older boy, henceforth james, like stacey dating ethan.and omg i agree that james is so like a future replica of logan, only with longer hair. but who knows? maybe logan will grow his hair longer in a couple of years.and mary anne, take note. abusive relationships like this can happen to you if you continue dating logan.

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