“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.
Posted in Angst, Lois Lowry | 1 Comment

“This is time to be his friend,” or Remember Me to Harold Square

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

After re-reading (and not liking at all) The Cat Ate my Gym Suit, I was a little nervous to read another Paula Danziger book. But I shouldn’t have been. While it’s not great literature, Remember Me to Harold Square is a perfectly fine book, for a book written for twelve year olds in 1987.

Kendra Kaye lives in New York City with her parents and brother, Oscar (Nicknamed OK.) She’s fifteen years old and is going in to tenth grade. She’s super bummed because all of her friends are going to be out of the city for the whole summer. And she envisions months on end of hanging out with ten year old OK.

But that doesn’t happen. Because her parents have friends who are going to Europe for the whole summer, and they’re leaving their fifteen year old son, Frank, to stay with the Kayes. Frank lives on a cattle farm in Wisconsin, and Kendra is super nervous about having a boy living in her house for the summer.

To keep the kids from getting bored, Kendra’s parents create a NYC-based scavenger hunt for Kendra, Frank, and OK. They have a huge list of things that have to see and do over the summer. That’s what most of the book is, these three kids going from place to place in New York, and Kendra being really grateful her parents chose to raise her there.

And Kendra has a little crush on Frank. But he has a girlfriend back in Wisconsin, Mary Alice. Part way through the summer, Frank gets a break-up letter (pre-cell phone, pre-email days) from Mary Alice and he is super bummed. Kendra decides to hang up her crush and just be a good friend to Frank.

Frank eventually gets over Mary Alice, then at a Mets game he pulls Kendra aside and kisses her. And it’s sweet and those two really dig each other. But the of course he goes back to Wisconsin at the end of the summer.

  • Really. Both of Kendra’s parents work and they’re just fine with their fifteen year old daughter spending so much alone time with a sixteen year old boy.
  • This scavenger hunt is HUGE. The kids have to do about three things a day every day in the summer. There are museums, neighborhoods, restaurants, churches, and attractions. The parents had a little account for them to use to go to everything.
  • It’s clear that Paula Danziger loves New York and wrote the book as a sort of love letter to the city.  This book is responsible for eleven year old me dreaming of leaving my small town and living in a city. (It didn’t quite work. I left the small town for a large suburb. But I’m at least a quick subway ride to a city.)
  • While I did like this book more than The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, it had the same problem with terrible dialogue. Really stiff and unbelievable. Also, with both of these books, it’s easy to see the upward trajectory of YA lit in the last twenty or thirty years. Because the writing is very juvenile for a twelve-ish year old today. The prose reads very much like things that my eight year old is reading. Any twelve year old who’s already read Harry Potter or The Hunger Games isn’t going to like this.
  • Kendra hates how over-protective her mom is. And she says it’s because her mom was raised by parents who survived the Holocaust. Which that may be, but considering there are a lot of overprotective parents out there, I’m not sure about that link.
  • I think the real reason Danziger made Kendra’s grandparents survivors though, is that it made for a more emotional visit to the  Jewish Museum.
  • Kendra loves puns. Which is terrible, but Frank loves it so I guess that means they’re made for each other. Because no one else would put up with that shit.
  • So the reason Frank’s parents didn’t take him to Europe: They’d been having marital problems for a few years. Then Frank’s dad got cancer. With the parents busy with his dad’s treatment and running the farm, they had very little time to spend with Frank. So Frank started acting up, doing poorly in school, and dating an older girl (the aforementioned Mary Alice). Things were tense and they decided to let Frank have some time away from them and get to see a new city.
  • Still, it’s totally effed up to go to Europe and not take your sixteen year old.
  • I had a lot of other thoughts about this book, but I let about a month go by between reading it and actually writing this post.
  • Oh, but check out that amazing 80’s-tastic book cover. Kendra’s clothes and her hair. Nice. Also, my husband looked at the cover and saw the rainbow behind Danziger’s name and wanted to know why there was a pride flag on the book.
Posted in Paula Danziger | 4 Comments

Books read: 2014

I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling last night with just a couple hours left in the new year!

As always, books read for the blog are asterisked* and books I highly recommend are bolded.

1. Wonder When You’ll Miss Me; Amanda Davis
2. The Art of Fielding; Chad Harbach
3. She-Hulk, Vol 6: Jaded; Peter David, et al
4. Eleanor & Park; Rainbow Rowell
5. Growing Up Brady: Barry Williams
6.Hyperbole & a Half: Allie Brosh
7. Boxers; Gene Luen Yang
8. Saints; Gene Luen Yang
9. What if They Knew; Patricia Hermes*
10. The Reece Malcolm List; Amy Spalding
11. Ramona & Her Mother; Beverly Cleary*
12. Kristy’s Great Idea (The graphic novel); Ann M. Martin & Raina Telgemeier
13. Wonder Woman, The New 52; Brian Azzarello, et al
14. Wonder Woman, The New 52 Vol. 2; Brian Azzarello, et al
15. Who’s Reading Darci’s Diary?; Martha Tolles*
16. Last Call in the City of Bridges; Savatore Pane
17. Hollow City; Ransom Riggs
18. Sex, Drugs, & Cocoa Puffs; Chuck Klosterman
19. When Zachary Beaver Came to Town; Kimberly Willis Holt
20. Orphan Train; Christina Baker Kline
21. A Long Way Down; Nick Hornby
22. It’s Not What You Expect; Norma Klein*
23. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life; Bryan Lee O’Malley
24. Wonder Woman, the New 52, Vol.3; Brian Azzarello, et al
25. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; Bryan Lee O’Malley
25. Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness; Bryan Lee O’Malley
26. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together; Bryan Lee O’Malley
27. Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe; Bryan Lee O’Malley
28. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour; Bryan Lee O’Malley
29. Brains; Robin Becker
30. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit; Paula Danziger*
31. More Than This; Patrick Ness
32. Wonder Woman, the New 52, Vol. 4; Brian Azzarello, et al
33. Notes from an Accidental Band Geek; Erin Dionne
34. Darkfever; Karen Marie Moning
35. Someone to Love; Norma Fox Mazer*
36. Attachments; Rainbow Rowell
37. No Place for Me; Barthe DeClements
38. Sisters; Raina Telgemeier
39. Youth in Revolt; C.D. Payne
40. The Complete Deadpool, Vol 1; Daniel Way, et al
41. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol 1; Brian Michael Bendis, et al
42. Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol 2; Brian Michael Bendis, et al
43. Band Geek Love; Josie Bloss
44. Under Twelve Not Allowed; Page McBrier*
45. Sisterhood Everlasting; Ann Brashares
46. The Magician’s Land; Lev Grossman
47. Seconds; Bryan Lee O’Malley
48. Landline; Rainbow Rowell
49. Bone; Jeff Smith
50. Ten Kids, Not Pets; Ann M. Martin*
51. Lumberjanes, Vol 1-8; Noelle Stevenson, et al
52. Weetzie Bat; Francesca Lia Block*
53. Bone, Vol 2; Jeff Smith
54. Hero; Perry Moore
55. The Cuckoo’s Calling; Robert Galbraith

Posted in general | 5 Comments

“Now we can duck hunt together,” or, Weetzie Bat

Screenshot 2014-12-28 at 19.27.52

Image courtesy of Goodreads

I don’t know what to even think of this book.

On one hand, I read it quickly and didn’t seem to enjoy it much while I was reading. But on the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about it so it must have had some effect on me, even if I can’t quite define what that effect is.

Weetzie Bat is a girl of an undefined age (but I’m thinking seventeen or eighteen) who befriends Dirk. They are inseparable best friends and they spend their days hooking up with various guys who they call ducks.

Dirk’s grandma loves Weetzie and gives her an old lamp, out of which a genie pops and gives Weetzie three wishes. She wishes for guys for herself and Dirk and for a house for them to all live in. Then Grandma Fifi dies and leaves her house to Dirk and Weetzie. They live there, and Dirk falls in love with Duck (see, because Weetzie asked for a Duck for Dirk.)

Eventually a filmmaker called My Secret Agent Lover Man (named for the same reason as Duck) falls in love with Weetzie and they four of them live together.

Then Weetzie wants a baby, but My Secret Agent Lover Man doesn’t. So Weetzie sleeps with Dirk and Duck (and of course with My Secret Agent Lover Man) and becomes pregnant and they all raise the baby together. They have a girl, who is named Cherokee Bat.

My Secret Agent Lover Man is unhappy with the situation and leaves Weetzie, but he eventually comes back. Several months later, a baby is left on their doorstep, the product of a fling My Secret Agent Lover Man had while he was gone. They decide to raise this girl as a sister for Cherokee. They want to call her Lily, but she ends up being called Witch-Baby, because her mom was a witch.

Also, Weetzie’s dad Charlie Bat dies, and one of Duck’s friends dies of AIDS, but they never mention the word AIDS which is weird.

I don’t know. I really don’t. The book is short and it took me about an hour to read the whole thing. The language is super simple and there is little in the way of emotional development or descriptors. And it’s really weirdly hipster-y and we’re supposed to love that Weetzie wears Native American headdresses (ugh) and they call their car Jerry and the dog Slinkster.

But….but. I don’t know. I keep thinking about it. And maybe even though there wasn’t a lot of emotional pull to the characters while reading it, something must have been there because I’m still hoping that Weetzie and Dirk and the gang are OK. (There are sequels, but I probably will never get around to reading them.)

Also, I’m drunk -posting right now.

Posted in francesca lia block, teen sex | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

“What the junk?” Or, Lumberjanes

I’m giving you guys an early Christmas present. (If you celebrate Christmas, that is. Otherwise, it’s just a year-end gift.) Here’s the present: A recommendation to read Lumberjanes.

Image courtesy of Boom Studio.

Image courtesy of Boom Studio.

Image courtesy of Boom Studios.

Image courtesy of Boom Studios.

Lumberjanes is an 8-part comic series from Boom Studios, and it. Is. Amazing.

Lumberjanes follows the adventures of the five girls (Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley & April) of Roanoke Cabin at Camp Lumberjanes. They’re best friends and they take their friendship very seriously. Like, to the max seriously. They  have a lot of creepy adventures at camp involving scary supernatural foxes and yetis and a bear-woman and all kinds of monsters that their counselor (the ever-suffering Jen) can’t believe actually exist.

There’s a lot of ass-kicking and a lot of teamwork and a ton of strong female friendship. There was a description of this as Buffy meets Gravity Falls, and I can’t think of any way to put it that’s more apt. It’s got the ass-kickiness and sassiness of any episode of Buffy, inside a plot that is Gravity Falls-esque.

The writing is fun, the art is adorable, the characters are spunky, the plot quirky but surprisingly deep. What’s not to love about this series? It’s a never-ending delight.

In great Lumberjanes news, Boom has announced that the series was recently upgraded from being an eight-issue run to an ongoing series. Lumberjanes could go on forever!

And listen. It wasn’t just that I loved it, my husband read it and loved it, and my eight year old son read it (he read all eight issues in one day) and loved it. AND he read it just days after he told me, “I don’t like books with girl characters so much.”

So. Merry Christmas. You’re welcome.

Posted in comics | Tagged , | 4 Comments

“They’re just as I imagined,” Or The Animal, The Vegetable & John D. Jones

Before I begin, look at this cover. My three year old son looked at it and asked if the kid sitting down in Harry Potter. Dark hair, round glasses ….. I can see it.

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Image courtesy of Goodreads

I’ve mentioned before that Betsy Byars sure can write a melancholy kids book. She has a tendency to write kids who just aren’t happy. Not that they’re always in dire situations (though some are in The Pinballs) but the kids in her books are vaguely depressed. The three protagonists in this book, sisters Deanie and Clara, and John D. Jones are slightly happier, kind of, than most other Byars’ protagonists.

Deanie and Clara are spending two weeks at the beach with their father, when he drops a bomb that his girlfriend, Delores (whom the girls have never met) and her son, John D are going to spend the vacation with them. Neither Deanie nor Clara are happy about this news, and they make no promises to be kind to John D or Delores.

John D is just as unhappy. John D is never really happy, actually. Or maybe he is – we never know because he thinks emotions are for weaklings. John D is so much like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. In fact, I assume John D is somewhere on the autism spectrum, but this book was published in 1984 when the spectrum wasn’t really a thing yet. John D is writing a book called “You are Smarter Than Your Teachers,” and it’s full of hints about how to get your own way. Including not showing emotion, always keeping a calm voice.

The way he’s described is a little chilling, almost sociopathic.

In the past year, John D had discovered his power over his mother. All he had to do was speak firmly and quietly and he got his way. He was amazed at how simple it was. All those years he had spent…kicking and screaming….His whining alone, he figured had taken up countless hours of his valuable life.

And this:

John D had never been bored in his life. This was because he had the constant companionship of the most intelligent, witty, and creative person in the world – himself.

The only person John D cares about ever meeting is his father. Delores is a widow – her husband, John D’s father, was killed in a plane crash a half hour before John D was born. Delores clearly has her hands full.

Deanie and Clara are more typical teenagers. They are sisters who constantly pick on and tease each other. Deanie is older and is popular and is the one doing most of the teasing. Clara is sulky and sarcastic and never gets her own way.

The result of putting three unhappy teenagers together is (predictably) awful. John D and the girls do not get along. Though throughout the book, you see John D have moments of understanding of Clara, which he is quick to dismiss and get back to his usual emotional detachment.

One day, after several miserable days, Clara takes a plastic raft into the ocean. Deanie is on the beach practicing her cheerleading moves, and John D is on the front porch writing his book. Their dad and mom have gone out. Clara falls asleep on the raft and gets pulled out beyond the waves and swells and out to sea.

John D is the first one to notice it, and gets Deanie’s attention. They find a way into town to their parents. The coast guard is contacted and they begin an extensive search – where they end up finding the raft with no Clara on it.  The search is called off, and it’s assumed she’s dead.

Clara, however, had been rescued moments earlier by a fishing boat. The boat’s radio had stopped working so no one knew she was rescued until they got back to shore. The boat brings her into the coast guard office, where she has a tearful reunion with her dad and Deanie, and even with Delores. John D manages a smile.

While Clara had been missing, Deanie is upset at how much she’d picked on Clara, but a lot of the focus is on John D and how he’s feeling. Despite himself, John D sort of liked Clara’s sarcastic nature, and he is shocked to find how deeply frightened and upset he is over her disappearance.

She (Clara) was back, safe and unharmed, shaken – and yet somehow she seemed more secure. He, on the other hand, was not. His emotions, new and crude and oversize as the beginning of a carving, made a lump in his chest.

He could have written a chapter about it, he thought. “Ways to Avoid Misery.” And for the first rule be “Don’t care about anybody.” But for some reason, his book no longer seemed important. He doubted he would finish it.

Posted in Betsy Byars, dead parents, Sibling Rivalry | 1 Comment