Kathleen Foster is twelve years old and the oldest of four sisters. She lives in Baltimore until early one summer when her dad is laid off from his steel mill job. The family has to vacate their rental row home and move in with Kathleen’s Aunt and Uncle and fourteen year old cousin in a small town called Bay View, right on the Chesapeake Bay. Their dad is staying with a brother in Baltimore, in hopes that he can find work in the city before the girls need to start back to school.
Kathleen is tall and skinny, she hates being called a beanpole. She’s also shy and awkward and bookish. She’s very close to her ten year old sister Patsy, who’s a trouble making motor-mouth. Kathleen is a stark contrast to her fourteen year old cousin, Fay. Fay is short and voluptuous (bazooms out to HERE) and a social butterfly with a new boyfriend seemingly each week. Fay is no happier about sharing her bedroom with Kathleen and Patsy than they are about sharing with Fay.
Fay admits to Kathleen that she has a boyfriend named Joe, who is twenty years old and stationed at a nearby naval base. She told Joe that she’s eighteen, and of course her parents know nothing about Joe’s very existence. Kathleen agrees to keep the secret, though she does tell Patsy.
Pretty much as soon as the family arrives in Bay View, Kathleen’s mom starts getting ill and sleeping a lot. This leaves a lot of the responsibility of watching the two youngest girls, Rosie and Maureen (Mo) on Kathleen. And mostly all they have to do in such a small town is go to the beach with Fay and watch her make out with Joe.
Joe, to his credit, does believe Fay is eighteen. He’s also super-nice and treats the Foster sisters great. Unlike Fay, who acts like a spoiled brat around them. Both Kathleen and Patsy develop little crushes on Joe.
When Kathleen and Fay get into an argument one day, Fay tells Kathleen that her mother is pregnant. That’s why she’s been sick and tired recently. Kathleen can’t believe her parents would freaking DO that, especially since her father seems to be spending his time, not looking for a job, but getting drunk in bars. Kathleen waits for her mom to break the news, but days go by and she never does.
One night a carnival is in town, and Fay is forced to bring Kathleen and Patsy with her. She walks off with Joe, of course, and when the girls are supposed to meet up with them, they’re nowhere to be found. Finally, they find them at the goldfish booth. Fay and Patsy get into a screaming match and just as her parents come around the corner, Patsy tells Joe that Fay is only fourteen.
Joe is all, ‘what the fuck’ about it. And Fay’s dad is furious, and Joe is insisting he thought Fay was older. Fay is grounded until eternity and even Kathleen is in trouble for keeping this relationship a secret.
In a sick way, Kathleen is upset for Fay. She really believes Fay and Joe love each other and are meant to be together. So she’s angry with Patsy for breaking them up. Patsy doesn’t care, she figures Joe was going to find out sooner or later. She even believes that if Joe would just take Fay’s calls, which he’s refusing to do, they could work it out and be together again. Clearly at twelve, Kathleen knows nothing of statutory rape laws.
So Kathleen and Fay become somewhat friendlier and Kathleen reluctantly agrees to hang out with Fay outside a bar to wait for Joe. A bunch of bikers are hitting on Fay before a police woman rescues the girls and takes them home. Fay is in trouble again, Kathleen is in trouble for not being more sensible.
Finally, Kathleen and her mom have a long talk about how her mom is, indeed, pregnant and she’s sorry she’s put too much responsibility on her this summer. And that their father is going to move to Bay View and work at Fay’s dad’s garage as a mechanic. So they won’t be going back to Baltimore, but will find a house in Bay View. Dad is still a worthless drunk though. No fixing that in this book.
- So the title of the book doesn’t have much to do with the actual book. In the bay, there were fences set up around the swimming area to keep the jellyfish out. That’s really it. And let me tell you, I spent a couple of summers along the bay as a kid and it is jellyfish central there. It hurts like a fucker to get stung. I know because my sister pushed me out of an inflatable boat and one stung me on my side. (Thanks a lot, Carrie.)
- I’ve said it before, anachronistic names are one of my pet peeves. These girls would have been born in the seventies, but with names like Fay, Patsy, Cindy, Maureen, etc, it sounds like they should have been born two decades earlier. They should have been named Jessica, Lauren, Michelle, Nicole, etc.
- Mary Downing Hahn excels at writing girls who are shy and bookish. Kathleen fits in with Jessica from Daphne’s Book and Lauren from The Wind Blows Backwards. (Hey….I didn’t even realize these were two of the same names from my non-anachronistic list above!)
- Holy Shit Mr. Foster. Go get a vasectomy.
- Another thing Mary Downing Hahn does well is writing flawed parents. She manages to create parents who are just bad enough to give sympathy to the protagonists (important in a YA book), but not so bad that they’re CPS-worthy. Except maybe Tallahasee’s mom.
- Not my favorite MDH book, but a nice little read nonetheless. I’d recommend it for any bookish tween girl.