“OK. Give her a chance,” Or The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

Many times, I re-read these books and am pleasantly surprised by how well they hold up. This is not one of those times. And I really wanted it to be. I loved this book when I was a kid.

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Marcy Lewis is in ninth grade in Junior High. Her life isn’t easy. She’s overweight (she calls herself a blimp), clumsy, shy, and her father has a mean temper. She also has only one friend, Nancy. Nancy is pretty and popular, and Marcy is sure that they are only friends because Nancy’s mother forces it.

All this changes when Ms. Finney becomes their English teacher. She’s an awesome teacher with some non-traditional methods that include a lot of fun group-work. Ms. Finney is a bit of a hippie, which we know because a huge deal is made out of her being called Ms., rather than Miss.

Marcy really grows and develops in Ms. Finney’s class. She begins to come out of her shell, and even talks to Joel, the smartest boy in class. Ms. Finney begins an afterschool club (called Smedley) for kids who need a place to go and talk and vent. Kind of a teenager support group. Marcy really loves it. And she begins to stick up to her dad, who is constantly putting her down about her weight.  Marcy’s mom is meek and won’t stick up to the asshole.

But one day the school principal, Mr. Stone, comes in to English class with a substitute and says that Ms. Finney is no longer teaching there. The students are outraged and a bunch of them meet at Nancy’s house to plan what to do.

Joel finds out from his father, who works for the Board of Education, that Ms. Finney was sacked for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. The kids who are meeting come up with a plan of attack, involving a petition and a sit-in during homeroom. Marcy, Joel, Nancy and another boy Robert (a class clown, but decent guy) are elected the leaders.

This leads to the four of them getting suspended for ten days when one of the students rats them out. Marcy’s dad is all up in arms, not about her getting suspended, but about her speaking her mind and falling for this women’s liberation (now called feminism) crap. He tells her it’s best to keep her head down and follow the rules. That’s how you get ahead in life. Marcy’s mom on the other hand, starts to speak up to her husband for the first time ever. Even though she still calls Marcy fat. Nice.

There’s going to be a Board of Education hearing about Ms. Finney and whether she can keep her job. But first! Nancy has a party and Joel asks Marcy to go with him. It’s very sweet. Marcy’s mom takes her out to get a new outfit, and Marcy picks up a sweet purple pants-suit. (I did a Google Image search on purple pants suits, and nothing good came up.) Beer is opened at Nancy’s party, which makes Joel and Marcy both uncomfortable so they leave. She hopes Joel kisses her goodnight, but he just gives her a little peck on the forehead.

Anyway, the night of the BOE meeting comes, and Marcy is all ready to go with her mom. Her dad refuses to come along, and even takes a piece of the engine out of the car to try and keep her mom from going. But they get a ride with Nancy’s mom. The Board agrees that Ms. Finney has shown excellent results as a teacher, then they meet privately to discuss her refusal to say the pledge. They come out and say that although they strongly disapprove of her refusal to say it, they have no legal grounds to fire her so she is reinstated. After the cheering dies down, Ms. Finney stands and thanks everyone for their support, but she knows she now would be ineffective as a teacher, and therefore resigns her post.

Joel and Marcy are super upset, but they go out for ice cream with Joel’s dad and Marcy’s mom and they talk things over. They remember how Ms. Finney taught them about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, and they realize how difficult a time Ms. Finney would have coming back to their school.

  • Adding Marcy’s dad to the Cunt Log. What a cunt. The words used to describe him are way to kind. “Old fashioned,” or “hot-tempered.” He was emotionally abusive. Period.
  • This book was published in 1974, and although some books from the 70’s have remained timeless (Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret comes to mind) this is not one of them. Not only are the references dated – push button phones, pants suits, women’s lib, smoking lounges at school, etc. But there is something about it that feels even more dated than it is. YA and juvenile lit have come a long way in the last forty years, and the simplistic style of writing wouldn’t fly at all with today’s teens. In fact, I think this book was written with 13-14 year olds in mind, but by today’s standards, it reads much more like a middle-reader book. In fact, I got this out of the juvenile books, not the YA books at the library. But the casualness of junior high kids smoking and drinking is so out of place for a middle-grade book.  Also, Joel’s parents are divorced and he lives with his dad, and a big deal is made of this. Joel doesn’t even want people to know.
  • The dialogue was incredibly stiff and uncomfortable as well with a lot of short choppy sentences. For example, when Marcy’s dad doesn’t like her going out with Joel her mom says, “Martin, please don’t start. Marcy is a good child. She’s just going out. All the girls do at her age. Why, lots of them have been going out longer. I’m sure that Joel is a nice boy.” The whole book is like that, and it’s vaguely Little Sister-esque.
  • Marcy has a younger four-year old brother (Stuart) who’s attached to a teddy bear named Wolf. Stuart heard somewhere that oranges are good for your health, and decided that he wanted to feed oranges to Wolf. Their mother convinced him that for bears, it’s the orange pits (seed, I guess?) that are healthy. Stuart has a lot of anxieties, especially where the cunt father is concerned, and has a soothing habit of stuffing orange pits into a hole in Wolf. That poor kid.
  • The fact that this book not only didn’t live up to my memory is kind of a bummer to me. I really don’t remember it being this poorly written and trite.
  • The title comes from the hilarious excuses Marcy gives to her gym teacher to get out of gym class. She’s failing gym, but no one cares. But her dad DOES care that she isn’t meek and obedient.
  • If Marcy is fourteen in this book, that would make her fifty-four today. Sigh.
  • She begins to lose weight at the end of the book. Mostly because learning to stand up for herself means she’s doing less stress-eating.
  • There are a lot of covers of this book. The one above is the one that I had and the only one in which Marcy is overweight on the cover. Here are some others. All images are from Goodreads.
This one is horrifying. Look at those bony arms!

This one is horrifying. Look at those bony arms!

This one is super 80's.

This one is super 80’s.

Kind of blurry. But you can tell she's still skinny.

Kind of blurry. But you can tell she’s still skinny.

I think this is the first edition. And I guess she is marginally chunky on this cover.

I think this is the first edition. And I guess she is marginally chunky on this cover.

  • Oh geez. I just Googled Paula Danziger and found out she’s been dead for ten years. 😦

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in ***CUNT LOG, Paula Danziger. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to “OK. Give her a chance,” Or The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

  1. Yeah, a lot of those books don’t age too well. I remember them fondly, but wouldn’t dream of suggesting them to kids today!

  2. Akilah says:

    I read this book and can never remember what happened in it. Even reading your in-depth review did nothing to jog my memory.

    • nikkihb says:

      I know. I had only vague memories of things. Like I kinda remembered all her gym excuses. And I kinda remembered Nancy’s party. But I didn’t even remember the ending to the book, so it’s definitely not one that stuck with me all these years.

  3. Lucy says:

    I was wondering if I’d read this because it seemed vaguely familiar, then came the purple pants-suit. I have an abiding memory of her saying she looked like a grape – which somehow pops into my mind every time I wear purple.

  4. Annie says:

    Have you ever read the sequel? It’s called “there’s a bat in bunk five.” Marcy goes to summer camp and becomes a counselor. And she’s skinny. I remember liking it a lot better than the first one. I think because the father isn’t around.

    • nikkihb says:

      I didn’t even know there was a sequel until I was looking for the covers for this post. It wasn’t in my library, but if I can find it at a used book store, I might review it.

      • Bunny says:

        No need for the library or the used bookstore, a lot of these books are free on openlibrary. I just read TCAMG and TABIBF on there. If you don’t mind reading on your computer/tablet from Pdf files or EPub you can get access to a ton of older books.

  5. AN says:

    I remember this book and really liked it, but maybe I just liked the title. I always thought the stuffing-the-teddy-bear-with-orange-pits was weird, and I felt sorry for the little brother.

  6. Terri says:

    I remember loving this book as a teen. I read the one with the super 80’s cover. A few years ago, I saw that my library had it as an audiobook. I eagerly downloaded it and like you, was disappointed. The worst part was at the end, they said it was dedicated to the memory of Paula Danziger . I didn’t even know she had died. I don’t think I will reread any of her other books. I loved them as a teen and don’t want to ruin the memory.

    • nikkihb says:

      I feel your pain. It’s not even like the BSC, which I can still love in a somewhat non-ironic way because they were so central to my childhood. Danziger wasn’t, but it’s so painful to read these and get NO enjoyment from them.

  7. Sara says:

    I HATED MARCY’S DAD. I also hated the “school and parents throw a tantrum over a teacher who ~oh noes does things differently~” plot, which I get was standard for the time period but it still sucked. I ordered a copy of this book for like 4 bucks online and kinda wish I’d just checked it out from the library.

    I guess I liked Marcy coming into her own at the end, though. And the purple pants suit. And the group dynamic. But overall this one didn’t hold up as well as I thought it would.

  8. miss amy says:

    When I was a little girl, I was terrified of the dark, so I slept with Christmas lights on and a cassette tape playing. And it was always, always, either this book or The Chocolate Touch, both of which my parents taped off library book-on-tape copies for me. I remember reading it in book form when I was in middle school and being shocked at the chapter where they go to the party–that wasn’t in my book on tape, as far as I know!

    Anyway, all that to say that I loved this book, and I’m sorry to hear it doesn’t hold up so well. I also never realized it was from 1974, wow.

  9. Pingback: “This is time to be his friend,” or Remember Me to Harold Square | Are You There Youth? It's Me, Nikki

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  11. Lisa says:

    In TCAMG, Stuart is 4 years old. In the sequel, he’s 8. Only a year has passed between both books. How did the kid leap 4 years while Marcy only aged one year? Talk about a goof-up.

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