Oh man, you guys. I totally forgot what a sweetheart of a book this is. It’s one of those really low-key books where there’s no major plot points or major conflict, but it’s just a really nice book about growing up and the emotions involved. It kind of reads like a Judy Blume book in a way. And you know coming from me, that’s a major compliment.
Annie Morrison is 12 years old and lives in a suburb of New York City. Her best friend is Rachel Weiss and at the start of the book, Rachel and Annie are trying to teach Annie’s 10 year old dog, Nora, to fetch. They want to write a magazine article titled “You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.” It doesn’t work, Nora won’t learn. Annie mentions that she’d write the article, and Rachel, a budding photographer, would take the photos. Annie postulates a little about how they’re twelve now and are growing up. It makes them both uncomfortable.
Annie and Rachel have been best friends pretty much forever. They often know exactly what the other one is thinking, and they have a lot of the same quirks. Rachel admits to Annie that she thinks her parents are going to split up. Annie hopes it’s not true, but thinks Rachel may be on to something. Annie is helping her brother Kenny make dinner one night, and the whole family seems to just be having an off day. Everyone is bickering; Kenny being mean to Annie because she didn’t help enough with dinner, then complaining about the dog, then the mom complaining about work. So when Rachel calls during dinner, her news that her parents are, in fact, divorcing and that she’s moving to the city are especially unwelcome.
Annie is sympathetic to Rachel, but she’s also feeling sorry for herself. And this is where this book is so beautiful, because Annie recognizes she should be acting nicer than she is, but she’s twelve and she’s scared about losing her best friend, so she acts kind of mean to Rachel about it. Not outright mean, but generally scolding Rachel’s parents for moving her and divorcing, and making snide comments about the snooty private school they want to send Rachel to. And especially about the fact that Rachel is going to miss their friend Kate’s thirteenth birthday party that weekend because she has to go to the city with her mom to apartment hunt and check out the private school. Annie backtracks and does eventually say the right things to Rachel.
Before the party, Annie learns that Kate is going to get her ears pierced and she worries about all of them changing and becoming too grown-up. She’s not ready to grow up. Then Annie’s mom drags her to the mall to shop for a gift for Kate and new pajamas. Annie, on a crazy whim, decides not to get flannel jammies, but a somewhat slinky nightgown. It’s purple with spaghetti straps and falls to her ankles. It sounds hideous, but this was published in 1979. Everything was hideous back then. Annie’s mom is worried that it’s too grown up for her, but Annie convinces her that she really wants it.
Annie is nervous about bringing that nightgown to the party. Before she leaves, she overhears Nora (the dog) wheezing, but isn’t overly concerned. The party turns out to be a lot of fun, even without Rachel. Annie is appalled that Debbie Goldstein, the most popular girl in the class, is there, but even Debbie turns out to be pretty fun. They talk about boys, and Annie gets the same sinking feeling about not being ready to grow up, even though Debbie acts as much like a sixteen year old. The nightgown is a big hit, and Debbie admits that her mother would never let her buy it. Annie also makes afternoon plans with her friend Sue, then feels guilty about getting close with someone when Rachel hasn’t even moved away yet.
The next day, Rachel calls and she and Annie have their most uncomfortable conversation pretty much ever. Rachel obviously had a great time in the city, making Annie feel jealous of the new kids she met at the private school. And Annie had a great time at the party, making Rachel feel weird about not being there. Annie gets upset and defensive when Rachel starts talking about the great diversity at the new school, because she doesn’t want her suburban school to be all white. Then Rachel gets a little persnickety when Annie insists that Debbie Goldstein is actually nice.
But because they’re best friends, all is better the next day. Rachel and Annie are back to their old selves. It’s a good day at school, but turns out to be a shit day all together because Nora dies. When Annie gets home from school, she’s starting dinner and is overcome with a feeling that something’s wrong. She calls for Nora, who doesn’t come. Annie goes looking for her and finds her barely breathing and twitching under her favorite lilac bush. Annie lays down with Nora and holds her while the dog takes her last breath. (And I’ve admitted to being a crybaby before – so yes. I cried when I read this. I cried quite a lot, thankyouverymuch.) The family and Rachel bury Nora in the backyard, and Kenny, who’s been a brat most of the book, gives Annie a gravemarker he spent the afternoon making. (And I cried a little more). Kenny’s best friend, Peter, sees Annie on the street a few days later and gives her his sympathy. Annie’s a little embarrassed by it, because Peter’s dad had died the year before and she doesn’t think she should be grieving so terribly over a dog. But Peter is very kind and reassuring, and it’s really sweet.
Oy. Annie gets her first period. Then she’s nervous about telling Rachel because they’ve both been so adamant about not wanting to become teenagers. Rachel’s moving day is fast approaching, and she and Annie are spending an afternoon walking around town so Rachel can photograph some of her favorite suburban haunts. They get doughnuts and go into their favorite stores. Then they go into the photo booth at Woolworth’s and get those strips of photos. Then they buy some makeup and take the photos again. Before the last photo snaps, Annie blurts out, “I got my period.” and Rachel turns to her as the camera clicks and says, “So did I!” See? Those girls do everything together.
Rachel invites Annie to come to the city for a day with her. They take the bus in and they have a couple uncomfortable moments where Annie thinks Rachel is making her feel like a tourist. They make up though, and go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and have a great time there. They go back to Rachel’s Aunt Sylvia’s house and rest up, before heading out to dinner with Erica and Bruce, two kids from the new school who Rachel has befriended. Annie is dreading this and feels an intense jealousy of these kids, but gets over it in time to realize that they’re genuinely nice kids. Then she becomes sincerely happy for Rachel to be going to a good school and having met some nice kids already.
In the last chapter, it’s Rachel’s moving day. She gives Annie her gorgeous old dollhouse as a going away present, and Annie gives her a book about photography. Rachel also gives Annie a framed photo she’d taken of Nora, the day that they were trying to teach her tricks. Annie is terribly sad at the end, but hopeful that she and Rachel will be friends forever.
- Rachel and Annie each have weird things with words. Rachel can’t stand how the -oo sound in food and good don’t match, and Annie doesn’t like how the word sweetheart looks like sweeth-eart. They both also went into a Donut shop and argued with the owner about the spelling of doughnut. They tried to explain that doughnut is the correct spelling and donut is incorrect. And guess what? My spell check totally agrees with them. And so do I, there is NO reason to take the ugh out of doughnut. It’s made from dough people, not do! Anyway, the donut shop owner didn’t really get it, but gave them free doughnuts out of the deal. I’d complain about anything for free doughnuts!
- “If you’re feeling bad for any reason, going to the mall always makes you feel worse. It’s so glarey and noisy. The stores are full of things you think you might like until you et up close and see how stupid they are.” This is what was wrong with me as a teenager. I wasn’t enough of a mall-rat because I listened to Annie Morrison.
- When Annie and Rachel are in Woolworth’s one day, they start reading a copy of Ramona the Pest. Annie says “It’s strange how the look and feel of a book can take you back in time.” A feeling I know all too well, Annie.
- When Annie and Rachel go into the city, they buy matching dresses. They are long and have puffed sleeves, drawstring necks and wide skirts. Annie and Rachel think they’re terrific. I’m thinking hideous, but again – 1979. Also, the dresses have pockets. And they cost eighteen dollars – which is only a couple more dollars than a pair of jeans!
- It’s not so much that this book is a wonderful, plot-filled book. It’s just a nice sweet book with realistic characters and a lot of nice little moments. The nightgown scene at the party, for instance. It’s just this little slice of life moment where Annie was so excited about the nightgown, but then gets a little nervous.