Patricia Hermes writes decent books about pre-teen friendships. This one is not an exception.
Jeremy Martin is almost eleven years old. Much to my dismay, she is a girl with a boy’s name (one of my pet-peeves.) She was named after her grandfather, which is completely unimportant to the story, but important to me, because wasn’t her grandmother someone worthy of being named after? Why do men get all the namesakes?
She’s spending the summer with her grandparents because her parents have business to attend to in London. (The business is never explained. But what IS explained is that it’s for the dad’s business. So why the mom can’t be there with Jeremy is anyone’s guess.) At the end of the summer, the business is mysteriously not taken care of, and Jeremy will have to begin school in her grandparent’s Brooklyn neighborhood, rather than her own Long Island neighborhood.
At first she doesn’t like the idea, but it grows on her because she’s made two really good friends in Brooklyn, Mimi & Libby, who are identical twins. Mimi is kind of a brat, who makes Jeremy feel bad about herself for being overly-cautious, and Libby is the quieter more sensitive of the two. They also have to deal with Carrie, another girl in their same class, who is a pain in the ass and who follows Jeremy around everywhere.
Jeremy is afraid that Mimi and Libby will find out that she has epilepsy and won’t like her anymore. She goes to great lengths to keep anyone from finding it out. One day at school, Carrie tells Jeremy that she stole one of her (Jeremy’s) epilepsy pills that she found and had a pharmacist look at it. And she knows it’s a tranquilizer and tells Jeremy that she’s going to tell everyone that she’s on drugs if Jeremy won’t be her friend.
All the girls in the class hate Carrie. She’s basically tattle-taled on all of them at some point, so they make a plan to get back at her. They find dead mice that they are going to plant in her pencil box, and her desk, and (best of all) inside the folder where Carrie’s speech for Parent’s Night is kept.
As they are decorating the gym for Parent’s Night, Jeremy’s worst nightmare comes true and she has a seizure in front of her friends, Carrie, the teacher and the principal. Everyone is really scared, but Carrie’s a total bitch, announcing that “My mother says people with epilepsy are retarded,” and “I think that when people have a disease like that, they should tell other people. I think you should tell everybody in school so they’ll know what’s wrong with you.” She’s a real sweetheart, Carrie. Mimi and Libby, on the other hand, are great and worried at first, but sympathetic also.
So they pull the mouse prank on Carrie, and even though she’s a bitch, Jeremy does feel pretty guilty about it. Carrie runs from school and refuses to do her big speech at Parent’s Night, so the principal chooses Jeremy to do it. She talks a little about her new friends, and she makes a little concession to Carrie, that a friend can even be someone who’s mean to you sometimes.
- For whatever reason, when I thought about this book, I remembered it being so much more about epilepsy. But Jeremy’s epilepsy really is just almost an afterthought. It’s more about Jeremy’s new friendships with Mimi & Libby and having to deal with Carrie.
- Carrie’s a bitch, no doubt. But Mimi and Libby haven’t exactly been kind to her. They tricked her into getting stuck in a dumbwaiter, and they tease her constantly because she’s short. Like that’s something to tease someone about.
- There’s a kid in their class named Andrew, who has something wrong with him. It’s never named, but I assume it’s cerebral palsy. Jeremy has a moment when she first meets him where she’s upset to see him like that. But she becomes more sympathetic to him as the book goes on. He’s a sweet kid, and when she gives her speech, she looks at him when she talks about friends not caring if you’re a little different.
- Poor Carrie. It sounds like her mother’s a piece of work and that’s probably why she’s such a bitch. Telling her that people with epilepsy are retarded, and that Jeremy should be watched because she’s probably on drugs.
- So was epilepsy a big deal back in 1980 (when the book was copyrighted?) I mean, I know it’s a big deal for epileptics, and obviously no one wants to have seizures. But is this something that people got made fun of for? I seem to recall there was an episode of Diff’rent Strokes where a character got teased for having epilepsy. I went to a school that probably had an average amount of bullying going on, and I honestly can’t imagine ANYONE, even the assholiest of bullies, teasing someone for having a neurological disorder that causes seizures.
- Here’s one way things are different now. After Jeremy had her seizure, the Principal didn’t even call Jeremy’s grandparents to come pick her up. They just sent her on her way home. The principal did, at least, insist she take a cab rather than walk the three blocks home. That would never ever happen now. (And honestly, if one of my kids had a seizure at school – even if it wasn’t a terribly uncommon occurrence, I’d want to be notified.)
- Weirdly enough, the word seizure is never used. Jeremy says she “got sick,” or “had epilepsy.” The word ‘fit’ is used at one point, which I’m pretty sure is a no-no now.
- I feel like the copy of the book I had when I was a kid had resources where you could learn more about epilepsy, but this copy doesn’t have it. So maybe I imagined it.