"Boy-Stealer!" or Slam Book

Guys, I totally forgot how dark Ann M. could get.  What she tried and failed to do with Missing Since Monday, she succeeded doing here.  Writing a dark book for teenagers that actually is fairly gripping.  (In it’s own Ann M.ish way of course).  So gather ’round children and let me remind you of a time before Facebook and before bullies were prosecuted.

Anna Wallace is about to start high school, and damn is she nervous.  While she’s at an end-of-summer family reunion, her cousin Peggy, a high school senior, shows her something.  It’s called a slam book.  It’s basically a composition book with each page devoted to one student in school.  People write what they really think of their fellow classmates for all to read.  I mean, absolutely nothing could go wrong here, could it?  Anna is psyched about it, sure that it’s her key to popularity.  To Anna, popularity is very very important.

We are introduced to Anna’s circle of friends.  Jessie is her closest friend and she comes from a troubled home.  Dad is abusive to mom, ignores Jessie and is constantly fighting with Jessie’s drug-addict brother.  Randy is one of the few black kids in town and is a pretty average good girl.  Randy has been slightly less happy since she’d lived in the big bad city for a couple years (before moving back to the good safe small town) and being called Oreo by her black classmates.  Thank god the nice white kids in Calvin are better than those mean city-dwelling black kids, eh?  Finally Paige is the total badass of the group.  Her divorced parents are rich as hell and Paige has been kicked out of numerous private schools, finally ending up at the local public school.  Mom is a drunk.  How do we know Paige is a badass?  She shoplifts. 

We’re also introduced to Cheryl Sutphin.  Cheryl is fat and friendless.  Her mom has been dead five years and she takes care of her layabout father who tends to drink away the paltry earnings he makes hauling junk.

High school starts and the slam book is an instant success.  Anna is popular!  The girls have a slumber party at Paige’s (where they pointedly ignore Paige’s wasted mother) and they decide to read their own slam book pages for the first time.  Anna is pretty happy with what she reads, people think she’s nice and pretty.  But everyone else has a bad reaction.  Paige is upset, sure that Casey Reade wrote about her drinking and shoplifting all because Paige is in love with Casey’s boyfriend, the ridiculously named Gooz.  Paige gets back at Casey by writing on Casey’s page, What a liar.  We all know you didn’t really do it with Gooz.

Then Jessie gets upset about what’s written about her, a dig at her fucked up family.  Calling her father Hitler (because he’s dictatorial), her mother Cinderella (because she’ll get beaten if she doesn’t clean properly) and her brother Houdini (because he disappears all the time.) Jessie runs out of the party.  When Anna goes to check on her the next morning, she overhears a terrible fight between Jessie’s dad and her brother.  Where he basically admits to smoking crack.  Jessie, as she does so often, stays the night at Anna’s house.

Next day at school, the girls find out that Casey and Gooz broke up.  Paige tries to go play flirty pants with Gooz, but he’s having none of it.  But he does seem to have eyes for Anna, who he asks to work on a history project with him.  Anna is over the moon happy!  But then she sees Paige glaring at her from across the cafeteria.  In the next period, Cheryl Sutphin gets a hold of the slam book and sees what’s written in it about her.  That she’s fat, she smells bad, she dresses terrible (and shops at the Salvation Army!  Horrors!) and that her mother isn’t really dead but is locked up in a loony bin.  Cheryl runs out of class crying.

The next day, Anna discovers on her own page that Paige had written Gooz’s next conquest?  How far will she go? And someone else had written Boy-stealer.  Anna wants to get back to Paige.  But how?  She thinks and then that night turns to Cheryl Sutphin’s page and writes, in Paige’s distinctive handwriting If only Cheryl knew how much Kirk Norris likes her, maybe she’d fix herself up. 

Anna and Gooz go to the library and really hit it off.  Personally and they think they’re going to do well on their history projects.  But when Anna gets home, Jessie is there.  Her mom finally grew a spine and is leaving her dad.  Jessie is upset, because she was always sure her mom would leave and take her with her.  Jessie’s mom goes to New York.  But really, back to the Slam Book.  Anna fixes it so Cheryl reads her page, with Anna’s comment about Kirk Norris.  Cheryl wants to fix herself up, but she doesn’t have money for new clothes.  So she goes through a box of her mom’s old things and finds a pink flowery dress her mom had worn to the prom in high school.  Cheryl wears that to school and puts her hair up (but doesn’t wash it first) and puts on a little lipstick.  She gets a lot of attention.  Cheryl follows Paige around, trying to talk to her but Paige is annoyed and angry that Cheryl is following her.  Anna thinks this is hilarious and goes one further by adding in the Slam Book, in Paige’s handwriting I’m so proud of Cheryl.  Kirk may ask her out.

Not to be outdone, Paige adds an entry to Anna’s page.  Sweet on the outside, evil on the inside.  Pretty to lok at but don’t touch!  A rattlesnake boy-stealer.   And Paige writes on Randy’s page Black on the outside white on the inside.  A human Oreo.  Anna is fuming and decides to confront Paige about what she wrote.  In the cafeteria in front of everyone.  It kind of backfires on Anna though, because Gooz overhears and what he finds out is not only that Paige wrote that comment about Casey, but that Anna knew Paige wrote the comment and never told him.  He’s really annoyed with the whole lot of girls at this point.

Anna firmly believes that everything is all Paige’s fault, and gets back at her by writing a note to Cheryl Sutphin in Paige’s handwriting telling her that Kirk Norris likes her and he wants to double date with them. Everyone is going to meet at Paige’s house.  Cheryl is thrilled and that Saturday puts on her mother’s old prom dress and bikes over to Paige’s house.  Once there, a drunk Paige greets her at the door and lets loose a stream of insults.  Paige calls her a pig, fat, a psycho, she smells, her hair is oily and on and on.

So Cheryl goes home and kills herself.

Anna can’t help but feel guilty (really???) and Paige is outright distraught over the news of Cheryl’s suicide.  They’re the only two students to attend Cheryl’s funeral, where Paige is crying uncontrollably.  All Anna feels is fear.   A few days later, Paige drinks a lot of vodka and swallows a bottle of valium.  She calls Anna as soon as she’s done it and Anna is able to get the paramedics to Paige’s house in time to save her.

Anna comes clean to her parents about what she did.  They’re unhappy, but assure her that Cheryl had problems and was basically a ticking timebomb.  She has to tell Paige what she did, and they don’t exactly make up, but they do kind of agree that neither is to blame for Cheryl’s suicide.  Also, she throws away the slam book.

In the end, Paige is shipped off to boarding school in England.  Jessie moves to New York to be with her mother and Anna’s sister has a baby girl who she names after Anna.  Blah ending.

  • Really?  No one thinks Anna is even partially responsible for Cheryl’s death?  She’s getting off scot-free?  We all assume because Cheryl did the unthinkable act of committing suicide that she must have been headed that way anyhow.  But in all the Cheryl-centric chapters, suicidal ideation is never mentioned.  
  • Seriously, Anna’s punishment from her parents is to 1-Tell Paige what she did, and 2- Throw the Slam Book away.  Wow…the punishment really fits the crime….?
  • Not to mention Anna is a huge fucking bitch.  I think we’re supposed to think Paige is the bitch, but it’s really Anna.  Paige is acting out because of her fucked up family situation, true.  But Anna does everything because of some completely insane desire to be popular.  Also, Anna, you don’t go after your friends’ crushes.  It was super shitty of her to go after Gooz, knowing that Paige liked him.  Even if Gooz didn’t return Paige’s feelings.  Anna’s really a piece of shit. 
  • You know what bothers me?  When sloppy dialogue is used for exposition.  Like this exchange between Anna and her sister Hilary.  Hilary: “I thought you had it so easy, being the little caboose in the family.  You’ve practically been an only child since I got married.”  Anna: “I hate that term, caboose.  I’m the youngest is all.  And I don’t think I was entirely unexpected.  Was I?”  
    • See, what Ann M. is doing here is letting us know that Anna’s the youngest and that there are a good number of years between her and Hilary.  But it just sounds bad. 
    • Also, Hilary got married at twenty and now at twenty-three is expecting her second child.  Oy. 

  • Hilary makes a joke to her 2 year old son, Seth and Anna lectures Hilary about how kids don’t like to be talked to like adults.  Well, that’s just tough shit for my son.  I’ve never been one for baby talk and I use big words and sarcasm and jokes that go way over his head all the time.  
  • Anna packs her Lanz nightgown for her slumber party at Paige’s.  Lanz nightgowns are mentioned in Ann M.’s biography.  This totally screams teenage slumber party, eh?
      • But really, I’m not sure what Cheryl was thinking coming to school in a 1950’s prom dress.  
      • It’s never really explained why Anna went the route of using Cheryl Sutphin for her ridiculous revenge on Paige.  Why wouldn’t she just have written some other shitty thing on Paige’s page?
      • This is going to sound really fucking morbid, but I totally learned the right way to slit my writs from this book.  I can’t believe Ann M. of all people had to research the most effective wrist-slitting method and then put it down on paper.  When I was in high school, some girl tried to slit her wrists.  When I heard she lived, I thought she must have cut herself horizontally not vertically.  Then I felt like all kinds of shit for even thinking that.  Thanks a lot Ann M.  
      • Immediately after Cheryl dies, Anna is hesitant to get rid of the slam book, “Anna felt sure she’d be dead without it.”  No Anna, only Cheryl is dead.  And your soul.  
      • After Cheryl dies and Jessie decides to move to NY, Anna feels like her safe world is falling apart.  Right Anna, it’s all about you. 
      • Seriously, this is a freaking dark book.  And one of those books that will never ever be re-released because the need for a slam book just isn’t there anymore.  
      • Also, did anyone else think of Martha Dunnstock (aka Martha Dumptruck) when reading about Cheryl?
      • Slam Book on Amazon!
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      About nikkihb

      Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
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      21 Responses to "Boy-Stealer!" or Slam Book

      1. Haha, I'm so glad you mentioned Martha Dumptruck! I totally want to go watch 'Heathers' now.

      2. Time to add Anna to the cunt log.

      3. Sadako says:

        You mean you didn't learn the correct way to slit your wrists from the Craft?Remember, kids. Up the stairs, not across the street.

      4. aimeewins says:

        Wow. I never read this one, and I'm especially glad I didn't read it while I was in the demographic… That's dark. I didn't know AMM was capable.

      5. P says:

        Anna sounds like a complete cow. Although I do quite want to read this book now…

      6. Alison says:

        I've never read this one, so I'm…shocked. Ann Martin writing about wrist slitting or Casey-Gooz sex or shoplifting or drug use. I didn't know those things were in her vocabulary.Like Sadako, I learned the art of wrist slitting from the Craft…

      7. I read that book several times when I was younger, yes, very dark for AMM. I was thinking about it a couple of says ago and actually Googled it….it's ironic you posted about it! 🙂 I just put it on my interlibrary loan list to read again.

      8. nikki says:

        I must be a little older than you Sadako and Alison. I read this book a good ten years before I watched The Craft. Well maybe not ten, but definitely about seven. Charli – I did consider the cunt log. But Anna went beyond mere cuntery into something I consider fairly criminal. I definitely am not sure of my decision to leave her off….

      9. Steve G. says:

        This sounds incredibly dark, and yet, not redeeming, given the ending. It's like a teenage version of Requiem for a Dream.

      10. AMM really likes that "oreo" slur doesn't she? I swear her books are the ONLY place I've heard them used. Granted, I've lived my entire life in the city, where people are more likely to just use the n-word or its equivalent.

      11. Amiee says:

        I never read this either and was pretty shocked at how dark it sounded for Ann…also yep the craft taught me that too.

      12. Thank you so much for recapping this book! I've always seen it printed in the published books list page in the BSC books, and now completely understand why my local libraries never seemed to have ordered it.

      13. Akilah says:

        Wow, I totally remember this book. As soon as I read Cheryl's name, I thought, "She kills herself in the bathtub." I had forgotten about her dirty hair and that dress until you mentioned them again. And I forgot every other single thing that happened in the book except Cheryl's death, so.

      14. bahaha "No Anna, only Cheryl is dead. And your soul."

      15. Anonymous says:

        I remember this. I was somewhat like Cheryl as a teenager, which is why I'm weirdly protective of her. I'd want to befriend her if I were still fourteen (ten years too late!)–hell, I'd probably be an outcast in that high school so we can both be outcasts. Anna was more responsible than her parents claimed! They should have taken the book, held an assembly, and told the students THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULDN'T BE ASSHOLES. That would probably ruin Anna's life, but bitch deserves it. Do people really pull freshman pranks? I started high school in grade seven, as the system goes here, and I'm not American.

      16. zanne says:

        Thanks for the recap! I remember this book, and have been wanting to re-read it. It really is dark. One of the things I remember most is also the part about learning the correct way to slit your wrists. I remember this book kinda freaked me out when I read it when I was little.

      17. Shannon says:

        My mom used to wear Lanz nightgowns. I don't think I've ever met a teenager who wore Lanz nightgowns, though.

      18. Heidi says:

        Yup, I learned the correct way to slit your wrists from this book too. I also remember that Cheryl Sutphin wore her mother's old pin with the dress–I think it might have been a peacock?

      19. Emily says:

        I am so glad you reviewed this one. I actually found this at the public library a couple of months ago. I couldn't get over how pathetic Cheryl was. Poor, slow, dead mom, drunk dad, fat, ugly, bad hygiene, and to top it off, SEVEN people show up at her funeral. The poor girl made Dawn Weiner look like Cher Horowitz.I wish Ann would have written a BSC book about Slam Books. That would have rocked.

      20. Pingback: » Early Ann Books Readalong, Week Seven: Slam Book Stoneybrookite: the best friends you’ll never have

      21. I had never heard of this book until I read the review and found it on OpenLibrary. WOW. In some ways, I think Ann M. Martin was ahead of her time in writing this. I actually think she could write an updated version with the slam book moved online (to maintain the same spirit it would have to be a site that allowed users to post anonymous comments) and would probably have to change very little. (Of course it wouldn’t be exactly the same since Anna, Paige, Jessie and Randy would naturally all have their own smartphones and would theoretically all be able to read their pages at the same time; perhaps the only character who would still have to rely on a computer to read her page might be Cheryl as she would probably not be able to afford her own smartphone, but I digress…) I think this book would still ring true for kids today, despite the fact that Facebook and other social media have largely taken the place of slam books – teenage girls were vicious in 1987 and are still vicious today. I see a lot of parallels between this book and the more recent, real-life tragedy of Megan Meier, who hanged herself after her ex-BFF set up a fake social media account pretending to be a boy who had a crush on her and then one day mysteriously turned on her and told her to kill herself. (If you’ve seen the ABC Family (now Freeform) made-for-TV movie “Cyberbully,” it’s inspired by the story of Megan Meier, except that, like Paige, the main character of that movie overdoses on pills and survives her suicide attempt.)

        What troubles me most about this book and especially the ending, though, has more to do with the way the situation is handled by the adults, the authority figures, than anything to do with Anna or Paige. Anna and Paige are remorseful about what happened, as they should be. But then Anna’s own parents tell her she’s not ultimately to blame because she wasn’t the one who slashed Cheryl’s wrists or poured vodka and pills down Paige’s throat. They essentially blame the victim – just like the scene in Judy Blume’s “Blubber” where Jill’s mother tells Jill it’s her own fault she’s being bullied because she’s difficult to get along with. And she laps this up like a puppy and manages to convince Paige of the same. The end result is that we get “remorse” that is more like “I’m sorry Cheryl was such a nutcase that she offed herself” than “I’m sorry my words and actions wounded another person so much that she decided she no longer wanted to live.” Anna and Paige did feel genuine remorse of the latter type before Anna’s parents convinced them of the former type. Also troubling is that there is absolutely no school investigation, or at least not one that is mentioned, of the circumstances behind Cheryl’s suicide, an investigation that would likely result in Anna and Paige facing much harsher consequences than they ultimately do, including expulsion and possible criminal prosecution, or maybe their parents being hit with wrongful death suits. Instead the girls are simply given opportunities for fresh starts – which I don’t have a problem with, as no one wants to be judged for the rest of his or her life because of something he or she did at 14 – but they should also be given punishments harsher than having to throw away the slam book or being forced to see a psychiatrist. It’s easier to understand (not excuse) the parental failure on the part of Paige’s mom as she’s an absentee mother and is drunk off her ass when she IS around, but Anna’s parents really should know better.

        Not to mention, not ONE teacher or authority figure in the book reached out to try to get Cheryl some help and/or counseling while she was alive? I can’t help thinking that Cheryl’s suicide could have been prevented if anyone had cared enough to extend a helping hand to her. Granted, they’re in a new school and the teachers start off the year not knowing the kids from Adam. But anyone with eyes should be able to look at Cheryl and tell there’s something wrong, and not count on Cheryl to come to them first, because it’s mentioned that she’s been ostracized for so long that she’s become numb to it and just accepts it as a fact of life – in which case teachers in her previous school(s) are also guilty of dropping the ball. ESPECIALLY if they’re aware that her mother is deceased. This is a girl who needs help and whose teachers and school authority figures have failed her big time. In that respect also does this book remind me of “Blubber,” in which the teachers and parents don’t seem to care enough to intervene on Linda’s behalf.

        I don’t know, maybe I’m coming at this too much from a 2017 perspective, and maybe kids reading this thirty years ago took the ending as a matter of course and didn’t think twice about it. As with “Blubber,” one could defend the ending by pointing out that bullies don’t always get punishment that fits the crime, if they get punished at all, and that authority figures often don’t do as they should. (If you’ve ever watched the PBS “Independent Lens” documentary “Bully,” you know that both of those statements are certainly true.) But still, the ending does leave a very sour taste in my mouth.

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