"She ought to write a book called the Art of Kvetching." Or Robbie and the Leap Year Blues

 Thanks to Library Thing for the image.
So Norma Klein was ridiculously prolific.  In seventeen years, she wrote thirty-one books for teens, most of which skewed towards older teens (like the ones that I’ve recapped before).  This is one that is geared toward a slightly younger crowd, maybe eleven or twelve years old.  So it definitely lacks a little of what you’d normally expect from the great NK, which namely is privileged and gifted teenagers having sex.  But it’s definitely good starter NK material.  A boy is discovering girls! 
Robbie is eleven years old, and because he’s an NK protagonist, is growing up in New York City.  His parents divorced a couple of years ago, and in a weird twist, his dad liked where they lived so much, he rented an apartment in the same building. So Robbie’s parents would occasionally run in to each other, which was awkward.  But it made their joint custody arrangement work out quite easily for Robbie. 
One weekend, it’s supposed to be Robbie’s mom’s turn with him but she’ll be out of town, and she’d made arrangements for Robbie to spend the weekend with his dad.  The only problem is that Robbie’s dad forgot and he also had left town.  Robbie is stuck in the apartment with his dad’s twenty-four year old live-in girlfriend, Jill, who is battling a terrible flu.  Not wanting to get Robbie sick, she asks him if he can find somewhere else to stay.  Robbie calls his mom’s boyfriend, Paul, who agrees that Robbie can spend the weekend with him.  Paul is divorced and has his girls, ages almost-ten and twelve that weekend.  When Paul comes to pick up Robbie, he and Jill play a little flirty pants with each other.  We learn that Jill works as a clown for childrens’ birthday parties.  And we learn that she and Paul are both total flakes. 
Robbie has an OK time at Paul’s.  He gets along all right with Paul’s daughters.  Twelve year old Nina is bookish, dorky and prone to sarcasm (think: 12 year old Daria Morgendorfer) while almost-ten year old Tracie is pretty and bubbly and an aspiring actress.  Tracie is smitten with Robbie immediately and even invites him to her roller skating birthday party. 
Robbie goes to his best friend, the awesomely named Thor (seriously, if my husband and I had the balls, we’d totally name our next son Thor***) for roller skating lessons.  Thor has..ahem…matured faster than Robbie has as far as the whole interest in girls thing goes.  Thor’s older brother Derek (really? Derek and Thor?)  had taken naked pictures of his girlfriend, which Thor totally stole and showed Robbie.  The photos were interesting to Robbie – he tells us she has a great figure-but it kind of makes him uncomfortable looking at them.   Robbie does not tell Thor why he needs to learn to roller skate. 
It’s leap year, and in some weird kind of Leap Day tradition I’ve never heard of, the girls get to ask the boys to do whatever they want.  Two girls in their class ask Thor to marry them.  Robbie and the girls’ friend Eve obviously feel weird about being there, so Eve asks Robbie to marry her.  They do it as recess, and Robbie has to kiss Eve – his first.  A few days later he and Eve go out for pizza and Eve admits she didn’t really want to be married.  They agree to just be friends. 

At Tracie’s birthday party, Robbie is the only boy and the only one older than ten, other than Nina.  He does OK, and Tracie (girl is way ahead of her age!) continuously flirts with Robbie.  She decides Robbie is her boyfriend.  Oh, and guess who is at the party? Jill.  Paul had hired her to do a clown show after the roller skating.  She does all right, except she hurts the rabbit that was supposed to disappear.  Then she acts all weird and whiny about it. 
When Robbie lets it slip to his mother that Jill was at Paul’s daughter’s party, she’s shocked.  And Robbie overhears them arguing about it. Then Paul leaves and Robbie doesn’t hear from him anymore.   Then the next weekend at his dad’s house, Robbie learns that Jill has moved out.  Hmm…..I wonder what the hell could be going on here?
One day a month or so later, Robbie and Thor are hanging out in Greenwich Village and Thor wants to go into an art gallery to see art made out of cereal boxes.  Robbie is hesitant because it’s Paul’s gallery, but he does go in.  Nina and Tracie are there.  Nina comes up and says that Jill is living with her dad now, and she (Nina) is none to happy with it.  She’s pretty sure it’s Robbie’s fault.  Robbie’s pretty sure it’s Robbie’s fault too.  Nina tries to convince her dad to go back to Robbie’s mom, and Robbie tries to convince both of his parents to get back with their respective others.  It doesn’t work, and Robbie calls Nina to tell her so. 
And that’s pretty much how it ends.  Oh, and Eve is moving back to Venezuela or something, so there goes Robbie’s first marriage.

  • Jill is the most ridiculous woman on Earth.  She’s only twenty-four and she laments pretty much all the time about how she’s so sure she’ll never get married and have babies.  Maybe she should stop hopping into co-habiting relationships with divorcees who are a good decade or two her senior and already parents to boot. (Robbie’s dad was I think forty-three and Paul is thirty-four).  Also – God.  She seriously left Robbie’s dad and moved right in with Paul.  No transitional single-girl time for her!  Mostly it’s because she’s completely unemployed except for very very occasional clown work.
  • What the hell is the deal with the Leap Day tradition?  I know not all eleven year old girls are as cripplingly shy as I was at eleven, but I don’t think I knew any that were bold enough to demand a boy marry her on Leap Day.
  •    Thor.  Oh my god, this kid is gonna be such a perv as a teenager.  He’s already stolen naked pictures of his older brother’s girlfriend.  But he also asked one of his two “wives” if he could see her naked.  And she said yes!  As long as she could see him naked.  Then at the gallery, he’s surprisingly interested in ten-year old Tracie, who, according to him, is the prettiest girl he’s ever seen.  And I know he’s only eleven and she’s ten, but there is still something just so skeevy about it!  He’s the next Bill Hendrickson, I tells ya.
  •  Robbie’s dad kind of reminds me of Charles’ dad from Going Backwards.  Pushing his son to be a hit with the ladies. 
  •   Even though this is for younger readers, it’s still an NK book.  So of course they live in New York City.  But there is surprisingly no detail about whether Robbie is Jewish or if his school is for gifted kids.  Oh.  NK’s style when writing for the younger crowd is actually kind of reminiscent of Judy Blume. 

  • Robbie has to take some kind of Family Living class in school, where the kids are supposed to learn about, well, Family Life I guess.  So the students are broken into groups of two and given a baby – a real live baby- to help take care of during class time.  Robbie and Thor are in a group and have a middle eastern baby named Tigran.  Tigran is so sweet and good natured that he gets chosen to be in a play in the high school, which makes Robbie and Thor stupidly puffed up with pride.
  •  And this play?  I don’t know why all the high schoolers thought it was so serious, but eleven year old Robbie and Thor both could see how ridic it is.  It was a modernized nativity.  So the three wise men bring gifts of a walkman and other modern things.  And the dialogue is all, “Groovy, man.”  It was written by one of the high schoolers.  No doubt by one of the gifted playwright classmates of Paul from That’s My Baby. 
  •  Ah shiz.  I need to read more NK.  I read the shit out of her books as a teenager. I don’t know why I haven’t reviewed more. 
*** I found out I’m having a boy.

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
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8 Responses to "She ought to write a book called the Art of Kvetching." Or Robbie and the Leap Year Blues

  1. Stephanie says:

    Wow, this is an NK book I've never heard of (I've read everything from her I could get my hands on, which, sadly, hasn't been all of her work). Her books are so awesomely weird/crazy/fun/strange/bizarre. I agree, you need to review more. 🙂

  2. Carin S. says:

    Love it! I'm pretty sure this book is upstairs and you have now skyrocketed it up the To Be Reread list (I am like the world's biggest NK fan – I kept ALL of her books that I read as a kid and am still scouring used bookstores for the few I missed.) I prefer her YS to her MR books so have been reluctant to reread those, but will do so shortly!

  3. Feb 29 is Sadie Hawkins Day, thus Sadie Hawkins Dances ("girls ask the guys, it's always a surprise!") are usually held during leap years, though not necessarily on the 29th. Apparently, according to this book and the movie "Leap Year" with Amy Adams, girls can also propose on leap years. Go figure.Shockingly, I've never read NK, so I need to fix that problem…

  4. Steve G. says:

    Holy smokes, this whole book sounds weird and slightly disturbing to me :/ haha. I'm so prudish sometimes. But yeah, it just sounds like a whole circle of bad parenting and mixed messages.

  5. Shannon says:

    I vaguely recall this book. Vaguely. Huge NK fan. HUGE.My 9-year-old son thinks his 8-year-old friend Becca is the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. So that's not really a stretch. And yeah, growing up we used to always have the "Leap Day" tradition of girls asking boys to do something — usually go to a dance. But I am older than you — I'm sure it fell out of vogue after the early 1980s. Or it was one of those things that was popular in some parts of the country and not others.

  6. Shannon says:

    Oh wait, I mis-read that paragraph and the part where it was THOR, wanting to see this girl naked. That IS a bit creepy… but then, he's probably just parroting what he hears from his older brother.Then again, those New York children get up to all sorts of shenanigans. Did you ever see "KIDS"??

  7. nikki says:

    @Carin – Yep. I like her YA stuff better than the middle grade stuff as well. Though I've only read this and Tomboy as far as her middle grade books go. @SteveG-I've said it in older posts, but it's always worth repeating. YA lit is chock full of terrible parenting. Thanks for all the Leap Day info all! I must admit, the only place I'd ever heard of it is in this book. @Shannon-Yes I've seen Kids and was relieved to find out it was a fake doc. Terrible movie in so many ways. I prefer to think of NYC kids growing up to be like the smug protags of NK novels. 🙂

  8. Alison says:

    I'm a little fixated on Jill. Is being a clown her life ambition? Is she even a good clown? (Apparently not if she hurt the rabbit.) And why does she move in with guys so easily? And how does she keep finding guys that are like, 'Hey, we just met so you should totally just move right on in. And don't worry, my kid(s) and seniority won't complicate our budding relationship at all!'Pshhh.

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