“No harnesses until absolutely necessary!” Or Middle School Blues

Whew, sorry that image sucks.

This is one of those books that I had completely forgotten about until I found it at a used book store.  I saw the cover and immediately remembered it, practically word for word.  I don’t know how I had forgotten it, I must have read it dozens of times as a kid.

Cindy Cunningham is twelve years old and getting ready to start middle school (seventh grade in her district).  Cindy has two older sisters, the tall blond genius Ellen and the tall blond cheerleader Grace.  Cindy is neither tall nor blond, nor a genius nor the cheerleader type.  What is she?  The shortest girl in the class, brown hair, clumsy, sarcastic and smart but a little lazy about her grades.  Who cares though.  Ellen and Grace are both college students, so Cindy only has to see them over the summer.

The summer before seventh grade is especially boring for Cindy.  Her parents are busy dealing with the older sisters having to leave for college and her two best friends, Jeff and Becca are away all summer.  All Cindy has been doing is reading, going to the pool and playing her saxophone.  (Ah to be twelve and complain about a summertime like that again…) Jeff, Becca and Cindy have grown up together and called themselves the Three Mosquitoes.  Jeff is the son of a former Washington Redskin, who wants all of his four sons to be athletes.  Jeff just wants to read comic books and tinker with computers.  (Remember this.  That fact will be important later.)

But first!  On to day one of middle school.  It doesn’t turn out so well. Five elementary schools matriculate into one middle school. Cindy doesn’t have a single class with Becca or Jeff.  But she does meet Margo, who is sweet and chubby, and Andrea, the tall black athlete.  She also has a run-in with the most popular girl in school, whose ridiculous moniker is Brandy Wine.  (Her parents are rich, so I assume they don’t want her to grow up to be a porn star.  But really.  Brandy Wine?)

Cindy also manages to make another unfortunate enemy in Ms. Kilper, the math teacher.  Math is Cindy’s worst subject and when Kilper accuses her of not handing in a paper, Cindy refuses to re-do it because she fucking did it already.  (We’re led to believe that Brandy stole Cindy’s paper to get in trouble.)

That Brandy is really out to get Cindy.  Brandy has a party and invites Becca, but not Cindy.  Things get a little tense between Cindy and Becca, though there’s never an out and out fight. Cindy becomes closer to Margo.  Jeff starts to pull away from both of them a little bit.  This sort of friendship fluctuation makes Cindy mad.

Cindy likes to do two things.  Play the sax and write.  So she joins band, only to discover that there are too many people in band and there will be tryouts for a varsity band and a junior varsity. (Because everyone knows how popular band is!  That’s why they’re called Band Cool-Kids, as opposed to Band Geeks* or something like that) Only six (out of ten) saxophonists will make varsity.  Cindy works hard and manages to make sixth chair in varsity band.  Just ahead of Brandy’s best friend, Elicia.  Which only ticks Brandy off even more.  Oh, and first chair in the saxes is a ninth grader named Garth who is kinda cute and seems super-extra-friendly toward Cindy.

As far as writing goes, Cindy wants to write for the school paper. There is only one spot available for a seventh grader.  And of course she’s up against Brandy for the spot.  Cindy turns in an article that is so well written, she’s sure it’s in the bag.  When the announcement is made it turns out that neither she nor Brandy got the position.  Super sadness.

But it wouldn’t be juvenile fiction if Brandy didn’t get her comeuppance courtesy of Cindy.  So she does, but not so Cindy doesn’t learn a very valuable lesson about A-Jumping to conclusions and B-Talking about people behind their backs.

Cindy takes these lessons to heart when Jeff goes missing.  He’s gone for a few days, when Cindy has a brainstorm and believes she knows where he is.  She overheard Jeff’s parents tell her own parents that they’d given up a second honeymoon and decided to spend the money on some fancy-ass sports camp for the kids.  Cindy realizes Jeff ran away, and she’s sure he went to his Grandfather’s old lake house.  But because of the lessons learned, she decides to break into her piggy bank and take the bus there herself rather than burden anyone with the info.

The only problem?  The bus only runs to and from the town once a day, so once Cindy gets there, she’s stuck.  She does manage to find Jeff and they get into an argument, where Cindy calls him cowardly for just not telling his parents he’d rather go to computer camp than sports camp.  They make up and decide to call their parents to pick them up.  All ends up well with Jeff’s family.

Meanwhile, Cindy has been suffering writer’s block for a creative writing competition.  The night she gets back from finding Jeff, she manages to write an essay quickly, and is embarrassed to hand in her hand-written entry, when Brandy’s has been professionally typed. The last day of school looms, and the band is playing for and end of year assembly.  Cindy wins the creative writing contest on her essay about finding Jeff.  Then she goes out for an ice cream with Garth and he kisses her!  And he tells her he’s sure she’ll be first chair sax next year.  Say it with me.  Awwww….

  • Cindy inherits a desk from her dead Grandmother.  It’s a Duncan Phyfe.  Once when I was like twelve, I was watching Jeopardy! with my parents and there was a question about a 19th century furniture maker, and I guessed Duncan Phyfe and my parents thought I was a fucking GENIUS when it was right.  I think it was the fictional Sookie Stackhouse who admitted she obtained most of her knowledge from reading genre fiction.  Me too.
  • So at the end, Cindy and Becca are back to being besties.  But they’ve also added Margo and Becca’s new friend Helen to their group.
  • Unlike Margaret Simon, Cindy resists all attempts to get her into a bra.
  • When Cindy is trying out for band, Andrea gives her some shoe polish.  She tells Cindy that black people have more rhythm, then she laughs heartily.  And I’m like, shouldn’t a black character….I don’t know….not encourage white people to perform in blackface?
  • Oh, also Brandy is racist.  Brandy and Andrea are the seventh grade Homecoming princesses and Brandy tells Andrea that being a princess is good for “her people.”
  • And for real, Brandy Wine.  WTF.

*I was a Band Geek.  Go clarinets!


About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
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9 Responses to “No harnesses until absolutely necessary!” Or Middle School Blues

  1. Charli says:

    I did not remember anything else about this book but Brandy Wine. What a bitch!

    And hell yeah! I played clarinet too! I still have mine!

  2. redcrow says:

    >>>Her parents are rich, so I assume they don’t want her to grow up to be a porn star. But really. Brandy Wine?

    Maybe they were Tolkien’s fans. Brandywine is a hobbits’ name for the river Baranduin. (No one said that tolkienists can’t be bad parents and/or have nasty children. Unfortunately.)

  3. Carin S. says:

    Me too! I recognized it instantly but had no real recollection beyond that. After your review, I remembered the auditioning for the band, and the new group of friends forming at the end, but that’s about it. Bummer. Becuase I know I read it a bunch of times when I was 12-ish.

  4. rachierach says:

    You’ve GOT to review: ‘How Do You Lose The Ninth Grade Blues?” by Barthe DeClements. 80s goodness!!!

  5. Sarah says:

    Huh. I rescued this book from my parents basement a few years ago and KNOW I read it more than once. However, no memory of it whatsoever. I think I get it confused with ‘Dear Mom, You’re Ruining My Life’ and ‘A Really Popular Girl’.

  6. Am I the only one who thinks of Garth for Wayne’s World?

  7. bibberly says:

    One of my favorites in middle school. I mentally group this together with Just As Long As We’re Together by Judy Blume and The Trouble With Thirteen by Betty Miles. Coincidentally, all three had yellow covers (at least in the versions that I owned).

  8. Shawnie says:

    Ok, I never read this, but I did LOVE a book where a chubby girl named Margo lost weight, became a cheerleader, and had a huge rivalry with one Brandy Wine. I never would have remembered the title or the author without this blog post! It was called Secret Wishes, and I highly recommend it, if you ever manage to find it at Goodwill.

  9. I’m I the only one who think she looks like Mary Anne Speir?

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