“How could you? Isn’t one enough?” Or, Superfudge

The cover I had as a kid

The cover I had as a kid

The cover my kids have now

The cover my kids have now

This is kind of a cool post for me. My eight year old is a really enthusiastic reader and a total bookworm. But this past summer, I realized he hasn’t been reading any chapter books. He’s mostly stuck to comic books, and books with a lot of pictures (i.e. Big Nate or the Wimpy Kid series), which is fine. Except that I think he was intimidated by chapter books with little to no pictures in them. I didn’t want to force anything on him, so I decided to read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing out loud to him. And it worked. He was so anxious to know what happened, that even though I was reading them out loud to him (and my four year old, who surprisingly followed along and enjoyed it as much as his big brother), he’d take the books to bed with him and read ahead every night.

So this review isn’t just me having re-read the book to myself, I got to experience all four Fudge books (yes, two more have been published since I reached adulthood) through the eyes of my kids.

Peter’s life is going along great, even though his brother Fudge is still a pain in the ass. The Hatcher parents decide to throw a wrench into Peter’s life when they announce that they’re having another baby. When the baby is born, she is almost immediately nicknamed Tootsie, and Peter’s the only one who realizes how ridiculous it is. Fudge goes through a bout of sibling rivalry, but Peter adjusts easily to another baby, and then the parents have yet another big announcement. They’re moving to Princeton, NJ for a year. Mr. Hatchter is taking a year off from his job to write a book about advertising and they want to use that time to see how they like living outside the city.

Peter wants to run away, but has no where to go. So, it’s off to Princeton for the Hatchers. Even though Fudge is only four, he’s very smart for his age, so he starts Kindergarten the same year Peter starts sixth grade, making them both in the elementary school. Having Fudge in school with him is…interesting. Peter gets pulled out of class when Fudge can’t get along with his teacher, and when Fudge gets a pet myna bird, Peter gets to go to Fudge’s class when the bird (Uncle Feather) is there for show and tell.

Peter makes a new friend, Alex, and they dig for worms for a neighbor. No one knows why this woman is so interested in worms, but Alex thinks she eats them. Fudge, being Fudge, comes right out and asks if her cookies have worms in them. This woman’s daughter runs an art gallery in town and is a big fan of Frank Fargo, the father of Peter’s best friend in NYC, Jimmy Fargo.

Fudge continues to cause all sorts of adorable trouble. Falling off his bicycle a million times, pretending to believe in Santa, finding out how babies are made and telling everyone, calling his teacher Rat Face, meeting his favorite author and accidentally insulting his principal in public, running away because he’s not allowed to go on a picnic with Peter and Alex. You know, typical Fudge stuff.

Peter fits in fine and likes Princeton. He has friends and a mild crush on a girl in his class. But still, when their year is up, the family all unanimously decide they’d like to return to the city. The book ends with Tootsie even agreeing. Her first word, ‘yuck,’ becomes ‘Nu Yuck.’

  • Despite the fact that Fudge is who makes these books so memorable, I have a real soft spot for Peter. He’s very realistic, and is a worrier in the same way I was when I was eleven. He worries that the new baby will turn out like Fudge. He worries when he gets called to the Principal’s office. He worries that Fudge will be smarter than him when Fudge tests into Kindergarten early. He worries that his mom is giving up on her dream of being an art historian by putting off college and going back to work as a dental hygienist. When Fudge runs away, Peter’s mind immediately decides he’s been run over by a car.
  • Even though Jimmy Fargo isn’t in the book much, I adore that Judy Blume has given him a story line – he’s acting out because his mom moved out and his parent’s divorced.
  • Hey here’s an idea. Fudge is a brat because his parents never try to make him not be a brat. He takes Tootsie out of her crib and hides her in the closet. He calls his Kindergarten teacher ‘Rat Face,’ and Peter’s the only one who bothers to tell him that’s a shitty thing to do. He whines and cries that he wants Peter and Alex to take him to school, and Mrs. Hatcher gives in to it. When Peter and his friends go to see Superman, Mrs. Hatcher forces him to take Fudge and his friend Daniel along. And of course Fudge sneaks behind Peter and dumps his ice on him. And no one does anything about it. The only time he’s ever disciplined is when he covers Tootsie with trading stamps. And maybe I’m crazy, but I’d be way more pissed at my four year old taking my one month old out of her crib and hiding her in a closet than in covering her with trading stamps.
  • Hands down, Uncle Feather is my kids’ favorite part of this book. My four year old keeps walking around saying “Bonjour, stupid!”
  • All in all, this is a book that stands the test of time ridiculously well.
Posted in Judy Blume | 1 Comment

What if the BSC were on Wet Hot American Summer?

Sorry (no I’m not). You know I’ve spent way too much of my life reading and re-reading Babysitters Club books. And I’ve spend the last few weeks watching and rewatching Wet Hot American Summer.  This is the stupid result.

Kristy Thomas is Susie

Image courtesy Summercampculture.com

Image courtesy Summercampculture.com

“I got a call from Mrs. Newton and she said Jamie and Lucy went down for bed forty five minutes late the other night, Claudia. We are BABYSITTERS, god damn it, and children are our future. So you stop SUCKING DICK at babysitting and get out there and be the best god damn babysitters I know you can be.” (*Throws clipboard*)

Stacey McGill is Abby

Screenshot 2015-08-17 at 09.08.14

Abby went from being a camper singing “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider” to playing seven minutes in heaven in one day. Then by the end of summer was making out with counselors and was going to take Victor Pulak’s virginity. So, Stacey.

Claudia Kishi is Lindsay

image from vulture.com

image from vulture.com

Replace Rock & Roll journalist with fashion blogger. And replace the ribs with ring-dings, and we have the same person who knows the transformative power of a hair clip.

Mary Anne Spier is Beth

Screenshot 2015-08-14 at 05.17.19


Besides her ability to fall into hysterical hysterics, don’t tell me Mary Anne won’t eventually end up with a guy like Associate Professor Henry Newman.

Dawn Schafer is Donna Berman



Dawn wasn’t in the first few BSC books, Donna wasn’t in the WHAS film. But really, it’s Donna’s new-agey bullshit that makes her and Dawn the same person. You know Dawn communicates with people about her energy feathers and skips lunch because of ersatz food.

Jessi Ramsey is Rhonda

Screenshot 2015-08-17 at 09.25.15

Just look at the shirt.

Mallory Pike is Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg

image courtesy of listencoop on wordpress

image courtesy of listencoop on wordpress

Coop’s a nice enough guy and everyone likes him. But Donna or Katie don’t like him LIKE THAT. You see where I’m going with this?

BONUS: Obviously Jeff Schafer and Byron Pike are Ben and McKinley. (Aged up several years, you creeps).

Image courtesy of fanpop

Image courtesy of fanpop

Adorable as fuck, those two.

Posted in BSC, general, movies, non-book review, Wet Hot American Summer, Wet Hot American Summer | 1 Comment

“A California Girl belongs in California”, or Dawn on the Coast

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Can we talk about this cover for a minute? I always loved this cover, because Dawn is the same size as Jeff while she’s on her knees and Jeff is standing. Who knew Dawn is an eight foot giantess? Also, while search for cover images, I’m lucky enough to sometimes come across covers I haven’t seen before.

Also from Goodreads

Also from Goodreads

This is the Italian version. And it’s even more puzzling than Giant Dawn on the U.S. version. Because for some reason there is a bottle of blue nail polish with an arrow pointing at Dawn’s scalp. Um. She’s on an airplane, which is a scene in the book. And in the book, there is blue nail polish, but it’s at a We Heart Kids Club meeting. And it doesn’t go on her head. So…..I don’t even know. Also, like we’ve never heard of Dawn being a giant, we’ve also never heard of her having terribly misshapen hands like on this cover.

Anyway, spring break is coming up at Stoneybrook Middle School and these lucky assholes get TWO WEEKS off for spring break. Dawn is going to spend the whole time seeing her dad and Jeff in California. In a weird break for the BSC, Dawn spends the first chapter, not the second, giving us a rundown on who’s who in the BSC. Before Dawn leaves, the BSC of course has to have a slumber party in her honor. They have pizza and Dawn insists on having broccoli on her part because she’s starting to be insufferable about health food at this point. You know who else is insufferable? Karen Brewer, who insists on being part of the action at a party for thirteen year olds.

Dawn, though excited, is nervous about leaving her mother alone for two whole weeks. What if her mom gets too close to the Trip-Man? They have a nice good bye dinner, at Cabbages & Kings, natch. There is a cuh-razy pre-9/11 drop off scene at the airport. Dawn’s mom gets to the airport minutes before the plane takes off, and she goes with Dawn to the gate, and Dawn has to request a no-smoking seat. Also Dawn’s stewardess looks like a Kewpie Doll and spends the flight ignoring Dawn and paying attention to her handsome seatmate. And she gives Dawn’s pre-ordered vegetarian meal away to another passenger.

Still, she makes it to California and immediately begins having a good time. Her dad takes her and Jeff to Disneyland. And best of all, Sunny (who’s also on a whopping two week long spring break) has started her own babysitting club, The We Heart Kids Club, which is run like the BSC, but way more laid back. And they serve health foods like guacamole and apple slices at meetings. Jill Henderson and Maggie Blume are both in the club, and it’s really interesting to read this after reading California Diaries. Jill isn’t a pariah yet, and Maggie isn’t anorexic.

Dawn’s having such a good time, getting along with Jeff, hanging out with Sunny, eating health foods, enjoying a clean house, and babysitting her old charges (the hippie-ly monikered Clover and Daffodil), that she starts to think that maybe she, too, would like to live in California like Jeff does.

She has a lot of thinking to do, does it, and eventually decides to return to Connecticut, though she knows that she’ll always have two homes. One in Stoneybrook and one in California.

  • The worst shit about this book is that all the Dawn goodness is interspersed with not one, not two, but THREE random unnecessary babysitting chapters. While Dawn is pondering a move to California, we have to suffer through chapters with Claudia/Mary Anne sitting for the Newtons and their terrible cousins, Jessi sitting for the Thomas -Brewer kids, and Kristy/Mallory sitting for the Pikes.
  • I have a soft spot for the Pikes, but really. Sometimes they are shit parents. Vanessa talks about how she does all the ironing for her mother (Vanessa’s nine you piece of crap, Dee), and they let the kids dip paintbrushes directly into a milk jug to make invisible ink. Kristy seems shocked that they’re letting Claire hang out in pajamas all day, but my kids enjoy pajama days on occasion so no judgment here.
  • Jeff Schafer is one of my all-time favorite BSC characters (along with Byron and Nicky Pike, Janine Kishi, and Alan Gray), and this book is part of why. He’s just freaking adorable in this book. He’s really unabashedly happy to see his sister again. But he’s also sarcastic and teasing toward her and her friends, getting grossed out by them in bikinis (ooooh…..that’s where we start to slash Jeff), and throwing sand crabs at them. He’s also just hyper and nearly out of control at Disneyland, just like you’d expect a REAL (i.e. non-BSC kid) to be. But Jeff is also realistically moody. We know he had behavior problems when he was unhappy in Stoneybrook, and when Dawn announces she won’t be moving to CA after all, he goes into a funk.
  • When Dawn first starting thinking about moving to CA, she made a pros and cons list. For some reason, I think this isn’t the first time Ann M used the pro and con list as a plot point.
  • I think one of the reasons I like this book so much is that it kind of includes all of what’s best about the BSC. Beyond a lot of Jeff Schafer, it had the girls all being really kind and supportive of each other. Jessi sends Dawn a very sweet letter while she’s in CA talking about how they’d gone to Oakley for a couple days and Jessi started realizing that even though Stoneybrook was home, part of her would always belong to Oakley. Jessi thought that Dawn just might need to hear something like that. Also, Dawn gets a letter from Nicky Pike who wants to go hunting for old coins in her secret passage when she gets home. Those two letters help Dawn make the decision to come back to Stoneybrook.
  • Since becoming an adult, it’s always bugged me that Sharon moves her kids three thousand miles away from their father after the divorce. This isn’t something that really ever entered my mind as a kid, because hey, I saw kids move in and out of my school all the time. But now as an adult, and especially as a parent, I think it was absolutely the wrong decision to move Dawn and Jeff so far away from their father and the only place they’d ever known in the midst of dealing with a divorce, no less. In fact, a lot of divorce/custody agreements today include protections for parents from taking their kids far from the other parent. It’d be one thing if Jack had been abusive. And while Jack has a tendency to be a dick sometimes, Sharon certainly wouldn’t have let Jeff move back with him had he been abusive.
  • That said, when Dawn calls her mom before coming back to Stoneybrook, she admits to her that she’d been thinking of moving back. Sharon cries and is clearly upset, but is also supportive of any decision Dawn makes. Still, Dawn’s main reason for returning to Stoneybrook isn’t the BSC, it’s that she doesn’t want to leave her mother alone, and that type of pressure isn’t fair to put on a thirteen year old.
  • I think the Trip-man is even more conservative that Richard Spier. He takes Sharon to a chamber music concert and to a lecture on humor. Not to see a stand-up comedian. To hear some ding-dong give a LECTURE about HUMOR. I think after the free-wheeling Jack Schafer, Sharon was going out of her way to date the anti-Jack.
  • Just an FYI, Dawn. Carrot cake isn’t a health food.
  • Jack Schafer’s handwriting is identical to Mary Anne’s. It was a confusing first chapter for me, not realizing who was writing initially.
  • I had no idea what a Kewpie Doll was when I read this as a kid, and Google didn’t exist back then for me to figure it out. If you’re wondering, this is a Kewpie Doll:

    Creepy as fuck

    Creepy as fuck

Posted in Ann M. Martin, BSC, California Diaries | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

“Why had she buried the doll?” Or, The Doll in the Garden

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Ten (Almost eleven) year old Ashley and her mom are moving from Baltimore to the small town of Monkton Mills, Maryland for a fresh start following Ashley’s father’s death. They are renting an apartment that’s on the top floor of a large house owned by the elderly Miss Cooper. Ashley gets on Miss Cooper’s bad side immediately because she takes a disliking to Ashley’s cat, Oscar. It wouldn’t have been difficult to get on Miss Cooper’s bad side anyway, she’s an old grump and bad is the only side she has.

Miss Cooper’s backyard is large and well-tended except for a garden that is an overgrown mess. That garden sits on the border of Miss Cooper’s yard and the neighbors, The Smiths. Kristi Smith is a little younger than Ashley, but they become friends anyway. There are no neighbors on the other side, just an empty lot. Ashley is warned by Miss Cooper to stay out of the garden.

Ashley and Kristi don’t listen to Miss Cooper and they play in the garden anyway. Kristi says the garden is haunted, that there is a ghost cat who hangs around and people hear a child crying at night. Ashley doesn’t believe her, until she sees the cat and hears the sounds at night. Curiosity gets the best of her and she and Kristi explore the garden. They do see the cat, who isn’t a ghost at all, but is corporeal and has a nametag which says Snowball. They also find a doll buried in the garden. The doll’s name is Anna Maria, and there is an apology note to Louisa Perkins from Carrie in the doll’s box.

Kristi is terrified of the doll, but Ashley wants to save it, so she sneaks it out of the garden and hides it in her room. Kristi and Ashley fight the next day over who should keep the doll. Ashley keeps seeing Snowball hanging around the yard and hearing the child cry. One day, Ashley follows Snowball to the other side of the yard and through a hole in the hedge to the empty lot next door.

Only, it’s not an empty lot anymore. There’s an old house with a little girl sitting on the front porch. Ashley talks to the little girl who has a terrible cough. The little girl is named Louisa Perkins and she has consumption and is terribly upset because her best friend Carrie took her favorite doll and won’t bring her back. Ashley promises she will bring Anna Maria back to her.

That evening, Miss Cooper arrives on Ashley’s doorstep, telling her that she knows Ashley stole her doll and demands it back. Ashley realizes that Miss Cooper is Carrie, and refuses to give the doll back, telling her that it’s Louisa’s. Miss Cooper is shocked Ashley knows who Louisa is. Ashley’s mom forces her to give the doll back to Miss Cooper.

The next day Ashley, accompanied by Kristi, follow Snowball to the empty lot, which magically transforms and timehops to Louisa’s house. They tell her they weren’t able to get Anna Maria. Louisa is upset because she knows she’s dying. Kristi and Ashley come to believe that if they get the doll back from Miss Cooper, they will give it to Louisa and her life will be saved because her mood will lift and her cough will get better.

But that means confronting Miss Cooper. It takes a lot, but finally Ashley convinces the cranky old lady to follow the cat next door. As they crawl through the hedge, Miss Cooper ages back to however old she was when she stole Anna Maria from Louisa. Ashley and Kristi follow the now-young Miss Cooper into the house and listen at Louisa’s door. Carrie apologizes for taking the doll and Louisa forgives her.

As they head back next door and into the present, Ashley and Kristi immediately run to the cemetery, convinced that they just saved Louisa’s life. But they’re heartbroken to see her gravestone with the same date on it. Miss Cooper makes them cookies and lemonade and they all become friendly. Miss Cooper and Ashley has similar dreams. Miss Cooper dreams that Louisa is forgiving her and telling her to be happy, while Ashley dreams that her father is forgiving her for being angry with him for dying and asking her to be happy.

While I didn’t get into it much, there is, underneath the main story of ghosts, the very sad story of a little girl who is grieving her lost father. At the end, Ashley and her mother end up having a very sweet heart to heart about how much they miss him.

This book was published in 1989, and while I know I read this one, I was twelve when it came out, which is really just a little too old to really enjoy this. This book wasn’t nearly as scary as Wait Til Helen Comes, nor was it as emotionally on-point as Daphne’s Book. Still, it was a fine story, and would definitely make good starter material for an eight or nine year old just getting interested in ghost stories, but for whom Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark might be a little too much.

Posted in Mary Downing Hahn, paranormal | 2 Comments

On Anxiety. Or, Horton Hears a Who

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

I was a weird kid with a lot of anxieties and fears.

Most kids would fear things like a boogeyman or stranger danger. Maybe they’d be afraid of being left alone, forgotten by their parents. Or they’d sneak in a scary movie and suddenly be afraid of werewolves and vampires and ghosts.

Not me. My biggest fear was the Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hears a Who.

Though we owned many Dr. Seuss books, we didn’t own that one. So my first experience with the book was when it was read to me at school in the first grade.

If you aren’t familiar with this particular book, here’s a brief synopsis. Horton the Elephant is splashing in a pool one day when he hears a noise coming from a speck of dust. It turns out there is an entire tiny world living inside that speck of dust (The Whos, from Whoville) and Horton decides he needs to protect that world at all cost.

Horton is then teased and persecuted by a lot of other animals who think he’s crazy. But Horton stands his ground and keeps Whoville on a clover and goes out of his way to protect it. Finally, with all the Whos shouting, and with help from a very little Who named Jojo, who plays with a Yoyo, they are able to be loud enough that all the animals can hear them. And no one thinks Horton is crazy anymore, and everyone helps him protect Whoville.

So what’s so scary about that? There are no bad guys (except maybe that awful bullying Kangaroo and her Joey), and nothing that frightening happens.

And maybe it wasn’t that the book scared me so much, as it caused me a lot of anxiety. Because I was suddenly terrified that all the specks of dust being sucked up in our vacuum cleaner were actually tiny little perfectly formed worlds full of sentient beings who we were killing by our vicious cleaning.

I remember pulling dust bunnies out from under my bed and leaning my ear in real close to try and hear some Whos. I would go out at recess at school and look for specks of dust on the clover. I would be afraid to blow away my eraser dust after making a mistake on a paper because what if a whole world was in that bit of eraser dust????

My stomach was in knots with worry. But I was only six years old and I didn’t have the capacity to explain to anyone exactly how much this was affecting me. I told my mom, but she thought I was being adorable. But this was real and I was having trouble eating I was so upset.

One night I was lying in bed, not yet asleep when a thought occurred to me. What if, while I’d been sitting here worrying about worlds in specks of dust, we were just a world inside a speck of dust? What if we were the Whos? And out there, in some much larger world, we were at the mercy of an elephant who was being bullied by a Kangaroo? What if our elephant wasn’t as strong as Horton and the Kangaroo got his way and drowned us all in a pool?

I learned early that if you’re anxious about something, the worst thing to do to get a good night’s sleep is double-down on that anxiety. Even though I no longer believe every speck of dust has a world in it, I still sometimes get a little anxious thinking about the vastness of the universe and how we aren’t much more than a speck of dust in the grand scheme of things. But mostly, I’m comfortable with it now.

Posted in Dr. Seuss, General nostalgia | 6 Comments

“I want him to think I’m pretty,” Or, I’ll Be Seeing You

image courtesy of Goodreads

image courtesy of Goodreads

I didn’t read this book as a teenager. It was published in 1996 when I was in college. But I saw this in the used bookstore and took one look at this amazing cover and I knew this was a Lurlene McDaniel book I had to have.

Carley Mattea is sixteen years old and she’s in the hospital. A rollerblading accident left her with a broken leg, which wasn’t healing because her leg got infected, so she’s in for leg surgery plus IV antibiotics. It’s not life-threatening, but Carley is no stranger to hospital stays. Four years earlier she’d had a cancerous tumor removed from her left nasal passage. While she’s now considered cured from the cancer, that surgery left her with major facial deformities.

Carley and her hospital pal, Reba (who has Spina Bifida and is in the hospital for abdominal surgery) are excited when a new boy is admitted to their floor. Carley can’t sleep one night and walks into his room and notices his eyes are bandaged. The boy is Kyle Westin and he had a chemistry accident (he and his friends were fucking around and making their own rocket fuel when it exploded in his face) which injured his eyes. It’s unknown whether or not he will ever regain his vision.

Carley and Kyle hit it off, but Carley doesn’t want him to know she has a deformed face. So when Kyle’s therapist recommends “seeing” with his eyes, she won’t let him touch her face, instead telling him that she knows he’s going to get his vision back and she wants him to ‘see’ her for the first time when he’s got it back. They spend their days chatting and dealing with being sick and being in the hospital. Kyle doesn’t know how Carley can understand what he’s going through so well. After all, she’s only there with a broken leg. Carley doesn’t tell him about the cancer.

Carley’s sister, Janelle, has a boyfriend who Carley hates. It turns out she’d overheard Jon talking shit about her face once. So one day when Kyle’s friends come to see him in the hospital, he wants Carley to come in the room to meet them. Carley convinces Janelle to do go in her place (by guilt-tripping Janelle’s boyfriend into convincing her it’s a good idea). Kyle wouldn’t know because he can’t see, and his friends can be impressed by the good-looking Janelle and won’t tell him about her face. Janelle is appalled, but is convinced. Reba is beside herself with disgust at this lie to Kyle.

They manage to pull it off, and Carley only feels worse about herself when Kyle tells her that his friends thought she was pretty. Carley gets released from the hospital and makes a decision not to think about Kyle any more. But Kyle calls her a few times. And when he has the good news that his vision is returning, he wants to see her. Carley chickens out and says that she has a boyfriend and can’t see him. Though she makes another convoluted plan involving Janelle and her boyfriend (which Janelle doesn’t even know about) so he can at least ‘see’ what ‘Carley’ looks like.

It seems to work, but one day Kyle stops by the bookstore that Carley’s parents own while she’s working there and the whole truth comes out. Kyle is angry at her lies, and Carley refuses to see that that is why he’s angry. She believes he is deep-down disgusted by her face. They get into a big fight and he stalks off. But a few weeks later is Valentine’s Day and there is a big ruckus at school, because some guy is flying a small plane over their school with a banner that says ‘Carley, Be Mine. K.W.’ So, you know, maybe he likes her for her after all.

  • HOLY SHIT A LURLENE MCDANIEL BOOK WHERE NO ONE DIES. I thought for sure Reba was going to die in surgery. What are you playing at Lurlene? I read your book expecting…nay, DEMANDING young dead people. I’ve called your books Death Porn for Teens for so long and you’re just making a liar out of me.
  • Most L McD books are flat out terrible. This one was terrible, but underneath the layer of terribleness, I feel like there was a good story hiding there. Somewhere. Maybe.
  • Janelle’s boyfriend Jon is fucking terrible, but not because he made fun of Carley once. He’s terrible because he’s possessive of Janelle to a point that is dangerous and creepy. But it’s only because he loooooves her so much, so it’s totally OK and the womenz are only property anyway. Lurlene is not only not a feminist, she’s actively anti-feminist.
  • Oh, ugh. The Lurlene-errific dialogue. When Jon apologizes to Carley he says, “I was smarting off for the guys. Acting like a big shot.” Because that’s completely how eighteen year old guys talk.
  • Carley uses humor as a defense mechanism. Well, she uses a special Lurlene-ified brand of ‘humor.’ When Reba says maybe Kyle would like Carley in spite of her appearance, Carley says, “Sure…and if cows could fly, we’d all be wearing football helmets.” HAHAHAHAHA. *wipes eyes*
  • “Reba, get a grip. In the years between twelve and twenty, guys don’t think with their brains or see with their eyes, They see through the eyes of all their friends.”  I actually thought Lurlene was going to make a dick joke there.
  • Carley is shocked when she finds out Reba has a boyfriend. The boyfriend has cerebral palsy and he comes over to Reba’s house to watch videos. They go to the same special ed school. But Reba has Spina Bifida, which hasn’t affected her mind at all. And this guy has CP, which I know CAN affect the mind, but if he’s at school with Reba we can assume his hasn’t. So, why are they in special ed school? If their handicaps are only physical in nature, they should be in regular classes, right?
  • This book was published in 1996, and in the back there’s an ad for LurleneMcDaniel.com. I’m actually sort of impressed that she had an internet presence that early. The website is still in existence.
  • Also at the end of the book Carley goes to see a plastic surgeon who will be able to help her face. But the important thing is that Kyle didn’t even know about the plastic surgery when he flew that plane. So, you know, good for Kyle.
Posted in Angst, Lurlene McDaniel | 4 Comments

“Commencement means beginning….” Or Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye

Screenshot 2015-02-13 at 20.00.47

This book is almost as old as I am – I was born in ’77 and it was published in ’78.  I’d like to think that I’ve aged better than this book has. It’s not really Lois Lowry’s fault – the whole way we search for people has changed in the last thirty blah-blah years.

Natalie Armstrong is seventeen years old and is graduating high school. She has two amazing parents and a sixteen year old sister, Nancy who she is very close to. The only thing is that Natalie is adopted. And no matter how much she loves her parents and her sister, she never stops thinking about her birth mother. Her parents know about her desire to find her birth mother, and at first they are a little hurt. But eventually they understand that Natalie wanting to find her isn’t really about them. So their graduation present to her is their help in finding her birth mother.

Natalie’s adoption was not through an agency, it was a private adoption. The only person who knows both the identity of the birth mother as well as the identity of the adoptive parents is the lawyer who facilitated the adoption. That lawyer is Natalie’s starting point.

Natalie’s first stop is Simmons Mill, a small Maine town where the lawyer practiced. The town is so small there are no motels, and Natalie stays a few nights at the house of an older woman who runs a boarding house. The old woman knows everyone, and gives Natalie the news that the lawyer she’s looking for has been dead for a decade. Natalie asks after the Doctor who delivered her, Dr. Therrian, and she’s told that he’s in the hospital being treated for cancer. And that both his wife and his only son pre-deceased him.

Natalie pays a visit to old Doc Therrian, who is very clearly not doing well. But he sees Natalie and believes she is someone called Julie. Though he is sickly, Natalie manages to have a nice conversation with him, and he tells her he remembers her birth very well – and he gives her the name of her birth mother, Julie Jeffries. The only thing that shocks Natalie is that Julie Jeffries was only fifteen when she had Natalie. This news is shocking for Natalie, whose first instinct is to be little Miss Slut-shaming McJudge-a-lot toward her birth mother. Though she gets over it quickly(ish).

Natalie goes to the Simmons Mill public library and looks through old newspapers and high school yearbooks for Julie Jeffries. It appears that Julie spent only one year, her Sophomore, at Simmons Mill High School. And she’s shocked to see her in the year book, because Julie looks exactly like Natalie.

Unfortunately, there is no information about Julie’s whereabouts after she left in her sophomore year. And this is all the information she goes back to Bar Harbor with. It’s Natalie’s boyfriend, Paul, who has the idea of calling the Paper Mill to find out where Julie’s dad (Clement, an executive at the Mill)  went after leaving Simmons Mill. Natalie calls and finds out from personnel that Clement Jeffries transferred to Philadelphia after leaving Maine.

Natalie gets back from Simmons Mill, but before she can do anything the family gets news that Natalie’s grandmother, Tallie (for whom Natalie is named) has gotten sick and is in the hospital.  Natalie’s mother goes to stay with the grandmother for a little bit, leaving Natalie in charge at home. Natalie begins to appreciate all that her mother does for them.

While their mother is gone, Natalie continues her search. She calls the mill in Philadelphia and learns that Clement died in 1974. She happened to talk to someone who remembered the Jeffries because their daughter went to the same boarding school as Julie – Miss Sheridan’s in Connecticut. And she knew that Mrs. Jeffries moved to Detroit from a Philadlephia suburb called Glen Severn after Clement’s death.

A call to Miss Sheridan’s had no forwarding address for Julie. And information had no information for Clement Jeffries in Detroit. It seemed like Natalie’s search had come to an end. But then she remembered how her boyfriend joked that her birth parents, because they were rich, were probably Episcopalian. On a whim, she called the only Episcopalian church in Glen Severn, PA and talked to a secretary who happened to have stayed in touch with Margaret Jeffries, Julie’s mother. She gave Natalie Margaret’s contact info, and Julie called her birth grandmother pretending to be an old school mate of Julie’s from Miss Sheridan’s.

She learned that Julie became a model and lives in New York City with her husband and two sons, ages six and four. Natalie can’t wait, and she heads off to New York.

New York is different than small-town Maine, obviously. Julie is clearly wealthy and lives in a beautiful building. Natalie thinks she can’t just go in there, so she leaves a note with the doorman for Julie explaining who she is and asking her to call her at her hotel. Barely any time passes and Julie calls.

They meet the next day at the Russian Tea Room. Natalie is overwhelmed because Julie is beautiful. She turns heads, and as a model is dressed impeccably. But they don’t bond immediately. Julie is distant and ignores Natalie when she says she wants to be a doctor and tries to convince her to go into modeling. The whole meal is weird. And the next day, Natalie goes to Julie’s apartment and meets Julie’s sons, who are whisked away by their nanny.

Here’s the kicker. Julie gives Natalie the diary that she kept during her pregnancy, and Natalie learns that her biological father is Doc Therrian’s son. Doc Therrian was the only person who showed Julie any kindness while she was young and pregnant. Natalie knows that Doc is dying – and has maybe even died already. She leaves New York and goes back to Simmons Mill one more time to visit Doc before he dies. He is very close to death, and Natalie isn’t sure that he can hear her, but she thanks him for the kindness he showed to Julie. And to assure him that she has a wonderful life.

So at the end, Natalie feels whole. Like she’s completed her own puzzle and she doesn’t feel compelled to maintain a relationship with Julie. She loves her parents and she looks forward to starting college in a few weeks.

  • So, yeah. This reads almost like a historical document in how to find people in the pre-internet age. It’s actually kind of interesting, all the avenues she has to go down instead of sitting down in front of Google.
  • This is the book that Claudia read in Claudia and the Great Search when she was convinced she was adopted. Claudia is not as good a detective as Natalie.
  • You gotta be careful, meeting bio parents. When I was in college, I worked with a woman in her early-20’s who was adopted and chose to locate her biological family and met them and it turns out they were giant assholes and kept trying to get money out of her. She said finding them was the worst decision ever.
  • Adoption fact: adoptions are more and more likely to be open adoptions nowadays. Where the adopted parents keep in contact with the biological mother (and father in some cases) with pictures and updates. Open adoptions are actually considered more successful.
  • Natalie’s mom and grandmother are both artists, which in early Y.A. lit means they are WACKY. But their wackiness is lame. Natalie’s dad is a logical doctor, and he is so good-natured about his wife and mother-in-law’s crazy artistic antics. It’s all very stereotypical.
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