the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Ann M. Martin

Ten Kids, No Pets is a book that I had high hopes for. It is the only one out of these books that Scholastic has chosen to bring back into print (well, ebook form). They released it last April, so I figure that this spoke to its a)demand and b)quality.

Did it live up to the hype I created in my own mind? Well, no. I felt like it had some major weaknesses.

This book, I think, was solely written to satisfy one’s of Ann’s major obsessions/fascinations, which is big families. (Do you think Ann watches repeats of 19 Kids and Counting whenever they’re on?) Like the Pikes, the Rossos are a “stair-step” family: with the exception of a pair of twins, each kid was born one year after the other. This happened because Mrs. Rosso wanted ten kids and she wanted them all born a year apart. Which, what. I guess the Pikes felt the same way, but it seems like a pretty strange thing to want. Big families, okay, but to be continuously be pregnant while your two kids before that aren’t even really out of diaper or doing things for themselves seems a little nuts. What also seems nuts is the way that she has decided to NAME her kids. It is far worse than the “J” naming scheme the Duggars have going for them, even if they ended up with a Joy-Anna and a Johannah, not to mention a Jinger.

Her method is to take the first name in the “A” section of the baby name book, the second name in the “B” section, and so on. So she has Abbie, Bainbridge, Calandra (Candy), Dagwood (Woody), Eberhard (Hardy, because he loves the Hardy Boys), Faustine, Gardenia (Dinnie), Hannah, Ira and Janthina (Jan). Now, this is a fine way to go about naming, if you’re naming hamsters. But for a human? You can stick to the alphabet thing to be cute, but don’t saddle your kid with a name for life to satisfy some weird organizational impulse.

I also think the book suffers because of Ann’s decision to have each chapter be told from the perspective of one kid, and they each have only one. So you only get a short chapter to learn their story, and then they become a background character. For instance, Abbie’s chapter is the first one, and it’s about moving from New York and it is kind of boring. It would have been better to go with one Rosso kid and tell a cohesive story from their perspective, rather than jumping around so much. Plus, the wide variety of ages in the book makes it hard to figure out who the book is aimed toward. You have kids from 8-14 telling their stories, and that’s a big gap. I am not entirely opposed to books constructed in vignettes rather than one large story with a plot and subplots–Astrid Lindgren’s The Children of Noisy Village, Eleanor Estes’ Moffats books, and other childhood favorites are constructed this way–but the individual stories in this book are just not strong enough to make it work, I think. Like, if the major conflict was them adjusting to rural life, rather than just getting a freaking pet, I think it would have worked better.

I can see this book being enjoyable and fun for kids, especially kids who feel deeply about animals, or who would very much like to find a secret room in their house and are just generally interested in rural adventures. As an adult reading it, I think it suffers from jumping around so much, with the only real connection between the stories being animals and the fact that all of the kids are in the same family. I just don’t get a good sense of any of the characters, and I think it would have been a stronger story if it had focused on, say, Hannah feeling like she lacked a best friend in the family. The main conflict at the foundation of the book is that Mrs. Rosso is anti-pet, and that just doesn’t do much for me.

Random thoughts:

  • I wonder if Woody Jefferson‘s real name is also Dagwood.
  • Candy finds a secret room off the linen closet. It has a window to the outside that she said that they saw on the outside, but couldn’t find it any of the rooms in the house. Wouldn’t something like this have come up during the inspection when they were buying the house?
  • I know they move to the country for a reason, but ten kids in Manhattan is something I can’t even imagine.
  • Mr. Rosso is an advertising executive, or basically the only non-lawyer job parents have in Ann’s world.

    External links:
    The Dairi Burger liked this book.
    Secrets and Sharing Soda also thinks Mrs. Rosso is nuts.
    BSC Chronologically recapped it.
    In 1988, Kirkus Reviews felt much the same I do.

    Next week, I am going to read Yours Turly, Shirley.

  • I think that good way to examine about this book is to compare it to Maggie: Diary Three. Yes, Jeanne Betancourt actually wrote that one and not Ann, but Ann presumably had a hand in it.

    M:D3 is about what happens when you’re the girlfriend of a teen idol. Just a Summer Romance is the story of how an ordinary girl becomes the girlfriend of a teen idol, and for half the book she doesn’t even know that’s what she is. Thus, it is monumentally less interesting and unique, and reads more like a basic first boyfriend story.

    Melanie Braderman, Bronxville resident, spends the summer on Davis Park on Fire Island, just like Stacey. Stacey’s evil shy twin, Lacey, who is also sophisticated, from New York City, blonde and fashionable, lives next door and is Melanie’s summertime best friend. While on Fire Island, Melanie meets a totally cute boy named Justin after her little brother hits him with a frisbee. After literally grabbing a pair of binoculars and stalking the poor guy, they start dating.

    They have a fine time on Fire Island together, only once it’s near the end of summer, Justin starts acting totally weird, and says that he wants it to be “just a summer romance,” because they’re young and going to meet a lot of people. He doesn’t even give Mel his phone number, even though he takes Mel’s.

    At this point, I think we have to let poor Mel into a little secret:

    And she does move on, kind of, accepting a date from a perfectly nice guy named PJ, who is not as cute, but he IS taller than her. (I can feel you rolling your eyes.) As it turns out, however, Justin had been lying by omission the whole time. He kept on having to go and “work,” and Melanie never bothered to find out what exactly this fifteen-year-old boy does for a job. He is, in fact, the star of a new sitcom, and by the time she gets back to Bronxville, a.k.a. civilization apparently, since no one was reading People or TV Guide on Fire Island, he is all over the damn place. Melanie feels like an idiot for not knowing she was dating a STAR that whole time.

    Melanie gets Justin back the same way she got him in the first place: by stalking! She finds out from a copy of Variety left in the Bloomingdales’ ladies’ room that Justin just happens to be appearing at a meet and greet at Lincoln Center that very day she is in New York City visiting Lacey. So she and Lacey go, she sees him and hands him a napkin and a pen, and he writes “I LOVE YOU” and his phone number on it. It’s that easy!

    While I commend Melanie here for taking the bull by the horns and making her move, I’m still like, what. The dude dissed you. He had your phone number. He could have called you. He later explains this by saying that he had wanted to play the field, but then realized that no one was as great as Melanie because she stalked him without knowing he was famous:

    “Mel,” Justin said seriously, “anyone who tails me on the beach and lies in the sand dunes spying on me with binoculars because I’m Justin Hart, not Zack Brody, is not ordinary, and is much more my type – and means much more to me – than a million Tanias or Merediths. And now I have a question for you…Would you come into the city some Saturday and spend the day with me?”

    Mel, however, was not tailing on the beach and lying in sand dunes spying on him with binoculars because he was Justin Hart. She did that because he was hot, which I don’t think is really any different from doing that because he’s a celebrity. But no matter! They get back together. Justin gives her some sand. The end.

    Now, dating a celebrity must be very difficult, especially when you’re a freshman in high school. I think that makes for a much more interesting story, so if you want to read something along those lines, I’d go for M:D3 anyway. Just a Summer Romance is much more about Melanie swanning about with her crush on Justin and then taking it pretty well that he hasn’t contacted her and never told her about his celebrity. There isn’t even very much interesting that happens at school in regards to people finding out she dated the #1 Hot Teen Idol of the Moment.

    I also think that this book was kind of spoiled for me because I read alula_auburn’s excellent snark of it fairly recently. Perhaps the book is more effective if you don’t know who Justin is until it’s revealed in the book, which is more than halfway through. Alula has some great thoughts on the writing quality, etc. of this book, so I highly recommend checking out the snark.

    Random thoughts:

  • This book also features lipsticking. I feel like every early Ann book I have read so far except for Inside Out and the Stage Fright ones has mentioned it. I can’t believe I can use it as a verb and feel like you guys will understand what the hell I’m talking about. I am now SHOCKED that it did not come up in BSC until Dawn: Diary Three. I think it can officially join I Love Lucy and The Wizard of Oz on Ann’s list of obsessions.
  • Mel’s mom, on the other hand, is obsessed with how chocolate/junk food will ruin Mel’s complexion. Like the girl wants some damn peanut M&Ms and her mom freaks out.
  • Lacey’s older sister is named Jeanmarie, and I am sorry, someone who names their kid “Lacey” in the 70s was not going to also name a kid “Jeanmarie.” “Crystal” or something would have been appropriate.
  • Once again, Ann makes New York City suburbs sound very far away when they are not. Bronxville is extremely close to NYC, and it should be no problem for Lacey and Mel to maintain their best friendship between Manhattan and Bronxville. Just get on the damn Metro-North, Mel.
  • Davis Park apparently did not change between the writing of this book and Stacey’s Lie. Ann even talks about “Bedside Manor.”
  • When Mel is caught spying with binoculars, she tries to cover her ass and say she was birdwatching, but then she says she saw a flamingo, and I am pretty sure there are no flamingos on Fire Island.
  • Before Mel and Justin actually meet and she is just stalking him, she sees him at the ice cream parlor and changes her ice cream order to his because, I guess, if he sees that both of them are eating Fudge Ripple, he will understand that it is destiny.
  • Lacey’s family has 2 girls and 1 boy the exact same ages as the 2 girls and 1 boy in Melanie’s family.
  • Justin makes an Auntie Mame reference. This is totally a reference that a fifteen-year-old boy would make.
  • Apparently these two make an appearance in Eleven Kids, One Summer somehow. I will confirm this when I get to that book.

    External links:
    BSC Chronologically‘s review

    I put up this post early because it has been very hot here and my brain is fried. Next week: Ten Kids, No Pets.

  • Confession time: I have always wanted to read Slam Book. It has an intriguing title. What is even more intriguing is that it is missing from Ann’s Wikipedia page. Having now read the book, it’s really not surprising that this is a book Ann would rather you forget she wrote. While it is now available as an official ebook, it is definitely not a book I can see getting a rerelease from Scholastic. The overall message of the book is very out of step with contemporary attitudes toward bullying.

    At the center of the book is, of course, the titular Slam Book. Anna is introduced to them by her cousin, and decides that, as a freshman seeking popularity, it is her ticket to achieving that goal. So she begins one, and she and her friends–Paige, the troubled rich girl whose parents are never around; Randy, her black friend who is feeling confused after a stint in Chicago because everything is okay when you’re the only black kid in an all-white town apparently; and Jessie, who has a drug-addicted brother and parents who fight all the time–start a Slam Book.

    Obviously, this does not end well at all. It ends even far darker than you would imagine from a book by Ann. There is this whole thing where Paige uses the slam book to get her crush to break up with his girlfriend, but Gooz (that is his name, not even joking) likes Anna instead, and they start going out. Obviously, Anna and Paige stop being friends at this point, and Anna decides to make Paige’s life miserable by using the slam book to make Cheryl Sutphin, an unpopular and poor girl in their grade, think that Paige wants to be her friend. Cheryl Sutphin’s life is just sad all around, and she kills herself. Paige spirals into alcohol use, and calls Anna to tell her that she is drunk and has taken half a bottle of Valium in a suicide attempt.

    My issue with the book, though, isn’t even that it is so dramatic. It may be the worst possible outcome for a slam book incident, but it does happen. What bothered me about the book was mainly Anna’s parents. Their reaction to their daughter having an instrumental role in two suicide attempts, one successful, is this:

    Anna dissolved into tears again, but quite unexpectedly her mother took her firmly by the shoulders and shook her once to get her attention. “I want you to understand something, young lady,” she said. “What you did was wrong. It was unforgivable. But you did not kill Cheryl, and you did not force Paige to swallow vodka and Valium this afternoon. Both of those girls were very troubled to begin with, or they wouldn’t have reacted the way they did. Do you really think that if you had pulled the dating trick on Randy, that she would have slit her wrists?”

    Now, in a way, this is true. Most people would not kill themselves over something like that. But this fact does not absolve Anna of guilt and blame. I don’t even know what you would say to your teenage kid, though, whose actions have such consequences. What do you do when your kid is basically Rhoda from The Bad Seed?

    Apparently, it’s make some vague noises about making her see a counselor, because they would be an “unbiased” adult.

    Paige freaks out when Cheryl kills herself and goes into a downward spiral and also attempts suicide. This is an understandable, human response to having played a role in such a tragic event. And this is how Anna comforts her when she goes to visit Paige in the hospital:

    “Look,” Anna said finally. “I came over here to tell you what happened. I wanted you to know about Cheryl, and I don’t think either of us is to blame. I shouldn’t have played the joke on her, and you shouldn’t have yelled at her, but we didn’t kill her. I’ve played jokes on plenty of people who haven’t committed suicide, and I bet you’ve yelled at plenty of people who haven’t committed suicide.”

    So the lesson here, for Anna, seems to be, you know, don’t play mean awful jokes on people and yell at them unless they can take it and won’t commit suicide. It’s hard to know what we’re supposed to get out of this book. Can we take it as the early years of a boy-and-popularity-obsessed sociopath? Should we read it as a treatise on how to raise a terrible child? Or did Ann believe the things she wrote above, that Anna isn’t a terrible person who should shoulder the blame for Cheryl’s suicide? The way Anna used Cheryl as a pawn in her game was actually confusing to me as I was reading it, because she is just so heartless. I didn’t even understand at first that the whole thing was to humiliate Paige. Like, I thought she was writing in the slam book that a boy liked Cheryl in a misguided attempt to raise Cheryl’s self-esteem, like Stacey’s fake letters to Claudia that she wrote pretending to be a Jason Priestley lookalike in Claudia and the Perfect Boy. It was as if she had no idea that Cheryl was a person with feelings that would end up hurt at the end of all this.

    This book also got me thinking about how this would work in today’s society, and how the Internet and social media seems to be just one giant slam book. People can write things on instagram and and wherever (apparently Facebook isn’t cool among teens), and it works in much the same way. Here’s a recent article on a slam book-type app. Also, what makes it all worse is that with the ubiquity of it all and with constant connection to one another via cell phones, home is not an escape–you can always be reached.

    I actually wish this book ended up with some kind of moral. Anna ends up with the guy she likes and writes for the school newspaper and has “calmed down.” Her older sister has a baby and names it Anna, and Anna daydreams about introducing her to books like Charlotte’s Web and Doctor Doolittle, because slam books are a Pandora’s box and those books are safe. Okay. It also helps when you’re not a terrible person.

    Random thoughts:

  • Jessie’s brother alludes to smoking crack. I believe this is the first, and only, mention of “crack” in Ann’s work. From his actions, though, he seems more like he’s on speed or meth.
  • Anna’s mother warns them to stay out of the arcade, but in the world of this book, video games are so passé.
  • Once again, freshmen are lipsticked on the first day of school (you know, like in Dawn, Diary One where the upperclassmen write an “8″ in lipstick on people’s foreheads). I guess this happened at Ann’s school.
  • The school hottie’s name is Griswald Drumfield, aka “Gooz”. Worst name for a crush object in all of YA y/n? It sounds like a name spammers use.
  • Lanz nightgown alert! I don’t know what Ann’s obsession with these things is.
  • Ann uses her accent/dialetic transcription skills in this book for drunk speak.
  • Cheryl Sutphin is made fun of for buying her clothes at the Salvation Army. When I was in high school, this was a cool thing to do, but perhaps it’s only cool if it’s not out of necessity. Like, Cheryl would rather wear an altered old housecoat of her deceased mother than something from a thrift store it’s so verboten in this town.
  • Gooz and Anna have to do a history report together, and Anna rejects doing it on concentration camps because that’s too cliché. Without reading the rest of the book, I think this tells you everything you need to know about Anna.
  • She is also shocked that Jessie has been melancholy ever since her mother deserted the family.
  • There is a Marx Brothers festival at the library, which I believe also happened in a BSC book.
  • There is a group called PT and the Uptown Boys, and they have released a five-record album.
  • Sign this book is old: when Anna and her parents go to the hospital to see Paige and ask for her at the desk, the woman on duty says, “Oh, the overdose.” No HIPAA laws!
  • This book has basically everything except sexual assault/violence: divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction, race issues, class issues, bullying, suicide… Ann really packed it all in.

    External links:
    Kirkus Reviews from October 15th, 1987
    Are You There, Youth? It’s Me, Nikki‘s review
    Why the BSC Never Made It to High School: A Recap of Slam Book on BSC Snark by alula_auburn

    Next week is Just a Summer Romance. I have read a snark of it, so I know it’s terrible, but in a way that does not involve anyone dying, so I am looking forward to it.

  • Before we start discussing Missing Since Monday, I’d like to direct your attention to someone’s school project. They made a film version of the book. If you don’t feel like reading it, you can just watch this.

    Missing Since Monday, as you may have guessed, is a book about what happens when a child goes missing. It came out in 1986. This movie starring Pam Grier was apparently based on it. (I would be interested in the thoughts of anyone who has both seen this movie and read the book.) I am not sure how to handle this post, since it is a mystery, basically, and I would feel bad about spoiling it, even though my general policy would be that once something has been out for twenty or thirty years, “spoiling” isn’t really a thing. I do think, however, that going through the plot is perhaps not the most interesting way to discuss this book, and I’d rather talk about the things that bugged me. This is basically just going to be compilation of random thoughts.

    Okay, so sixteen-year-old Maggie and seventeen-year-old Mike are left in charge of their four-year-old sister, Courtie, while their father and stepmother go on their long-delayed honeymoon. Things go well until Courtie doesn’t come home from school one day, and they find out that she went missing.

    First, Courtenay goes missing when she is snatched in between getting off the van at preschool (and I’m sorry, a bunch of three- and four-year-olds in a van without car seats? VERY DANGEROUS. I am only four years older than Courtie would have been, and we had booster seats in the car until at least kindergarten) and making it into her classroom. At the end of the book, the preschool says that they will now have the teachers supervise pick up and drop off. What the fuck. Why weren’t they ALREADY doing that?

    Second, once again, everyone in this book, like in most Ann books, is loaded, but insists they’re not real, live millionaires. When the detectives bring up kidnapping-for-money, Maggie’s dad says that they’re not rich. Nope, they’re not rich at all. He is just the publisher of the “hardcover children’s book division” of a major publishing house who just got off the PRIVATE PLANE from his St. Bart’s honeymoon that was cut short. Also, when the police suggest a reward, the dad immediately goes, “$25,000,” which is around $50,000 dollars in today’s money, so basically, more than the median income for a family of four.

    At least Ann finally set a book in Princeton. I am sure that the properitors of PJ’s Pancake House are super glad that the Creepy Guy is a busboy at their establishment. The places in this book are all real, I think, and it includes familiar names like Rosedale Road and Mr. Fiske. Yay, Ann.

    The Creepy Guy is Brad, who is more or less David from Dazed and Confused. Only creepier.
    He spies on Maggie and calls her “Baby” and makes obscene phone calls to her house. He also is creepy around Courtie, and ugh, eww. He is older brother of some of Maggie and Mike’s friends, and I understand that he was in the book to be there as a potential suspect, but he is just so gross. Oh, and Maggie doesn’t bother to tell anyone about these creepy calls until way late in the game, even after HER SISTER GOES MISSING. Very reminiscent of the BSC not bothering to tell their parents when completely panic-inducing things happen to them.

    This is really random, but it stuck out to me. Maggie mentions that Leigh, her stepmother, who is an illustrator, has a studio in their house that is in what used to be “the sewing room.” Now, I understand that Ann would totally have a sewing room. Mrs. Towne, I can buy it. Future Mary Anne? Sure. But why do sewing rooms seem to be such a common room to have in books by Ann? The Arnolds had one until Marilyn turned it into her bedroom. And now these people have one, but WHY. Was there ever a time when a sewing room was a common use for a extra bedroom after the advent of mass-produced fashion? Hell, I think that even back when people bought fabric and made clothes for their families more often than not, I think only the very wealthy would be able to dedicate a whole room to it, and then those people would probably buy their clothes in town anyway. I don’t think that big shot publisher dad, nor the OG Mom who lost custody were doing much sewing.

    Another thing that bothered me about the book, one that I think is going to be familiar to BSC readers, is that the conflict between Maggie and her stepmother centers around the fact that Maggie thinks she knows more about raising Leigh’s daughter than Leigh does. Leigh doesn’t want Courtie to have candy, and wants her to go to bed at the same time every night. Maggie constantly tries to undermine Leigh’s authority. I’m sorry, but when it’s not your kid, even when it’s your sister, you roll with the parents’ decision, unless they’re legitimately hurting the kid. And then Ann basically justifies Maggie’s behavior at the end. Totally shades of the BSC thinking they’re the best parents in Stoneybrook.

    Overall, the most interesting thing about this book, if you’ve never read it before and are a BSC fan, are all of the things that jump out as being “BSC!” to you. (Courtie is afraid of an imaginary red mitten that snores under her bed!) If you want to read a book about a missing child, however, I’d probably go with the Face on the Milk Carton series instead. Judging by the number of external links I found, and all of the things I found from schools who still use this book, it still seems to be more popular than some of Ann’s other books from this era.

    External links:
    Are You There, Youth? It’s Me, Nikki on Missing Since Monday
    Kirkus Review (apparently With You and Without You was published first, oops)
    Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989
    Red House Books

    Next week, With You and Without You. I am probably going to pull a Mary Anne and cry the whole time I’m reading it.

    As I mentioned in my last post, I actually don’t have Stage Fright yet, so we’re skipping it this week. Which is a shame, since Me and Katie is a sequel of sorts to Stage Fright

    Wendy White’s little sister, Katie, is very talented and wins lots of awards for piano and art. Wendy is athletic and is ten to Katie’s eight. She also has friends, like Sara from Stage Fright. Wendy starts taking riding lessons and Katie does too, killing Wendy’s vibe. That’s basically the book.

    This book was the last one Ann wrote before the BSC started, and although I can’t speak about Stage Fright, it definitely has more of a BSC feel, albeit it seems intended for a slightly younger audience. It even opens with Lerangis-style onomatopoeia! The older/younger sister dynamic is also a common plot point in Ann’s books (Janine and Claudia, obviously, and Pearl and Lexie from Ten Rules for Living with My Sister). Ann herself, of course, has a sister named Jane. She based Claudia and Janine’s sisterly dynamic off her own (Ann was the Janine of the two), and I would guess that there is a lot from her life in this book as well.

    Even as someone who took riding lessons as a kid, I found a lot of this book boring. Basically, Wendy is jealous and Katie just wants to be her friend. There is a lot of horse stuff. Although it’s not explicitly mentioned, the Whites are well-off–they have a housekeeper, and when Wendy wants to take riding lessons, her parents agree immediately. Here, though, the MOM is a lawyer, which is a nice change from every dad in Stoneybrook being a lawyer.

    What kind of brings the sisters together is when Wendy’s favorite horse at the barn is injured, and he is going to be given away as a pet. Wendy, of course, wants to convert their garage into a stable, and Katie tries to help Wendy convince their parents to take on the horse. This does not work, and their parents end up giving them a cocker spaniel instead. There is also a horse show for their class, and surprisingly, Wendy does not win first (she has to ride a difficult horse), but she seems pretty happy with third place and gets her name in the newspaper. So, happy ending, even though it will probably be many years until the sisters actually become friends. Oh, Wendy also ends up in the Guinness Book of World Records, for the Barbie-and-Ken saga she and her friends composed.

    I would say this book is only really worth reading for an Ann completist, and I can’t even think of much to analyze here. I guess it’s interesting to see how she gets closer to BSC style.

    Stray Thoughts:

  • The book is dedicated to Myriah Leigh Perkins and Gabrielle Ann Perkins.
  • Sir Alec Guinness makes an adorable cameo appearance.
  • Ann gave Wendy the middle name of Matthews, which is also Ann’s middle name.
  • Wendy and her friends believe a horse can be bought for fifty bucks.

    No external links this week. This book, sorry to say, is slightly too boring to warrant interesting blog posts.

  • I’d like to preface this by saying that I don’t know much about autism, so please let me know if anything is inaccurate so I can fix it.

    Inside Out is a book that I ended up liking a lot more than I thought I would. It becomes pretty clear early on, if you’ve read Kristy and the Secret of Susan, what this book is going to be about. Jonathan “Jonno” Peterson is an eleven-year-old boy with a nine-year-old sister, Lizzie, and a four-year-old brother, James. James is autistic, and his autism appears to have much in common with Susan Felder’s. James “shut down” at about the same age as Susan did, and also doesn’t really communicate or do much by himself. The Peterson family is able to start James at a special school, where he will be worked with intensely so that the family can possibly avoid Susan’s fate of being sent away, as this book bluntly puts it, to an institution.

    In order to help the family afford this schooling, both Jonno and Lizzie find ways to earn money. Jonno also, with the help of a Kristy-esque friend, puts on a neighborhood carnival, and donates the money to the school that James attends. He gets a newspaper article written about him, which earns him the adulation of his classmates. This is another theme in the book: not being one of “cool” kids. Throughout the book, Jonno and his friends struggle with the “cool” kids in their class, especially when a child named Edward, or “Edweird,” joins their class.

    The only thing we know about Edward is that this is his first year in a mainstream classroom, and he seems to dress in costumes and speak formally. I don’t know if we are supposed to understand that is he is on the autism spectrum. It’s never really explained. Jonno at first makes fun of Edward to fit in, but then stands up for both himself and Edward at the carnival. I do feel like more could have been done with this part of the story. I do think that, surprisingly, Ann was able to write from the perspective of an eleven-year-old boy. The characters in this book are more realistic and flawed than you might expect from her. Writing from a male perspective also I think tempered some of her “Ann-ness;” i.e., there is nary an I Love Lucy reference to be found. It makes me wish for more Ann books from unusual perspectives.

    If you compare this book to Secret of Susan, at first glance, the Peterson family seems much more loving and involved in James’s life. But I think we have to keep a few things in mind. First, Secret is told from the perspective of someone outside the family. Kristy doesn’t know the heartache that led the Felders to conclude that Susan would be better off with professional care. Second, Susan is three years older than James, and it is hinted that Susan’s fate is still a very real possibility for James. I think that, like one of the posters on the BSC Boards said, if Hope Felder had been the older sibling and the narrator of Secret, we would have ended up with a very similar book.

    Stray thoughts:

  • Okay, this is basically something that the book ignores, but to me is a Chekhov’s gun. Lizzie is mentioned as often spending time with a 15-year-old neighbor boy, Wendell. What 15-year-old boy is spending time with a nine-year-old girl, catching minnows?! It is treated as a positive thing at the end that Lizzie is spending less time with Wendell, and this makes it sound even more shady to me.
  • I thought it was interesting how Termite, one of Jonno’s friends, doesn’t like being around James, and he is not regarded as a bad person for this, but rather with understanding.

  • Has anybody read A Corner of the Universe? How does the treatment of autism in that book compare? (If you are reading this later on and you’ve read Rain Reign, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that as well.)
  • James’s school uses hugs as a reward, which contradicts the little I know about autism and even what we later learn from Susan Felder, when she uses the hug machine in European Adventure.

    External links:
    Are You There, Youth? It’s Me, Nikki on Inside Out

  • I’m not sure what format will work best for this, so bear with me.

    Bummer Summer is Ann’s first book, published in 1983. It is about Kammie Whitlock, a twelve-year-old girl whose widower father (sound familiar?) marries Kate, a college professor (who is 25 or 26 and lacks a doctorate, and oh god I’m older than the stepmom is this book). Kate has a three-year-old daughter named Melissa, or “Muffin,” and a two-month-old unnamed baby boy from her first marriage.

    This book proves that the fact that the adults in Stoneybrook seem to get divorced and remarried at lightning-fast speed is not a fluke of the time warp. Kammie is introduced to her dad’s new girlfriend at Thanksgiving, and they’re married by summer vacation.

    My whole perception of this book was colored by how terrible Kate and her father are. Basically, Kammie, like any normal adolescent would, has trouble adjusting to the fact that her dad, the only parent she has, has remarried and is feeling replaced, plus she has siblings for the first time in her life. So what the adults in this situation do? Instead of trying to understand what Kammie is going to, they ship her off to camp. WTF. Way to make your daughter feel even more abandoned/replaced.

    So anyway, Kammie goes to camp. She is there on a trial basis–she has to go for two weeks, and if she doesn’t like it, she can come home. Kammie seems immature for twelve, but honestly, that probably means she is written realistically, and not as a mini-adult like the BSC. She makes bad decisions and gets in trouble and acts kind of bratty sometimes. Kammie has some trouble adjusting to camp, and especially doesn’t like changing in front of the other girls or having to serve food (afraid to spill something/be in front of everyone else), and I thought these were pretty realistic for the age.

    As she is at camp, her stepmother writes her letters and this seems to help with their relationship. (It also would have helped if they had let the kid stay at home and adjust to her new family.) By the time Visiting Day rolls around (this camp has them every two weeks; is that normal?), everything is hunky-dory, both with the family and with her time at camp. She is enjoying herself, the baby gets a name, everyone is happy.

    This book has been mentioned by several people as being one that they liked a lot out of Ann’s early books. This does not bode well for the rest of the Readalong, since I found myself rushing through this one. I think Kammie was perhaps more multi-dimensional than we often see in BSC, and more imperfect, but I think my enjoyment of this book was spoiled by the fact that I didn’t read it as a child. I think that when you’re a kid, you don’t usually question the decisions of parents and other adults in books, unless the author gives you clues that these adults are supposed to understood as villains. Kammie’s dad and stepmom’s decision to send her off during a time of turmoil when Kammie has a lot of feelings of jealousy and abandonment is surely something that Kammie ended up discussing with a therapist.

    Stray thoughts:

  • Kammie and Kate go shopping at the Quakerbridge Mall, but they’re supposed to be living somewhere in New England, not New Jersey. Quakerbridge doesn’t even make sense as the name of a road in New England, since Quakers were not welcomed there! They were persecuted! She should have really just set her books in New Jersey and specifically in the Princeton area if she wanted to write what she knew, and didn’t feel like doing research about the locales she was writing about.
  • As someone who has been very resistant to preppiness her whole life, I very much appreciated the “Save an alligator, eat a preppy” shirt, even if “preppy” meant more modern Abercrombie&Fitch than the Abercrombie&Fitch from The Official Preppy Handbook by the time I got to middle school.
  • Camp Arrowhead has a lot of features in common with Camp Mohawk, such as the curtain around the counselor’s bed. Also there is a festival with a name that no one can remember, just like Lake Dekanawida and all of the jokes about its name.
  • The plot with Susie reminded me of Mallory’s problems with Alexis at Riverbend. New girl comes, everyone likes her, girl who has been rejected by her peers acts out by destroying something important of new girl’s (Mallory: collage from BSC; Kammie: quilt she’s making for Baby Boy). Mallory is nicer to Alexis than Kammie is to Susie, though.
  • The Whitlocks are LOADED. Kammie’s mom had ceramic placecards for dinner parties, and their house is mentioned as having three floors plus an attic like it is nothing. Kammie is also taken on a Lacoste shopping spree at the aforementioned Quakerbridge Mall, making her t-shirt all the more ironic. Lacoste is basically just a really big deal in this book. Susie also has a Lacoste towel.
  • Who doesn’t name a baby for months and months?

    External Links:
    Are You There Youth? It’s Me, Nikki on Bummer Summer
    Review from 1983 in Kirkus Reviews

  • One thing that may surprise some of you is that I have never read Ann’s pre-BSC books. I think they were already out of print by the time I started reading BSC, and for some reason, I never got them out of the library. So I’ve decided that I’m going to sit down and read the ones I have–I have all but Slam Book. I’ve decided to do it readalong style, which means that I’ll let everyone know what I’ll be reading that week, and then a post will go up on Monday with my thoughts on the book. So if you’d like, you can read with me and then come and discuss it in the comments on Monday, or on a thread I made on the BSC Boards.

    The first post will go up next Monday, and it will be on Bummer Summer.

    Happy reading!

    Not long ago, there was a post on the BSC Snark livejournal comparing the TV actresses to the movie ones. Veteran BSC snarker 3-foot-6 mentioned that she felt that the tv show did a better job capturing the feelings of the books because the books were really more of a late 80s/mid 90s thing, whereas the movies came out in 1995. She says,

    I recently decided the reason the movie sucks is that it was just made too late. The whole movie is so quintessentially 1995 – baby doll dresses! Girl power soundtrack! – and the books are so rooted in the late 80s and early 90s. The whole fashion/slang/culture aesthetic is off just enough that it doesn’t feel familiar to fans. Whereas the TV show is right there in the horrible fashion and shitty dialogue wheelhouse of the books.

    This is an interesting point, because, as someone who started reading in 1993, the books that I read when they were new, which probably began around the 70s or so, are the ones that feel the most BSC to me. I understand that this is a blasphemy for many in the BSC fandom, since by this time, the quality had dropped down considerably and Ann was only writing outlines by this point. But like I have said before, BSC has never been something that I’ve read for the quality in the first place; it’s something I’ve always read for a feeling, for a fantasy. The books that came out in the mid-90s and later are the ones that conicide with my own childhood. They are the ones that didn’t already seem kind of outdated when I read them the first time around. Kristy’s Great Idea already felt a little old when I read it the first time at the end of first grade.

    I’m not sure, actually, why so many people consider the BSC to be an 80s series in the first place. Yes, it started in 1986, but sales-wise, the series peaked in around 1992. Mary Anne and Dawn’s parents hadn’t even gotten married yet by the end of the 1980s. Only 29 regular series books, three Super Specials, and six Little Sister books had come out by December 1989. Going by numbers, the BSC is really more of a 90s phenomenon, in my opinion.

    Perhaps I feel this way because I only became aware of the BSC series when I started school, and barely remember the late 80s. To me, the BSC is rooted in my childhood, which 1995 would probably be considered the apex of, and long-time readers of this blog or people who have interacted with me on various fora know that I make no bones about much preferring the ghostwritten books, ones that focus more on interesting topics such as boy drama and malling-used-as-a-verb.

    I do realize that this is an unpopular opinion, though. Agree? Disagree? Should we do a final four bracket of the various BSC ghostwriters and Ann, ending in a Peter Lerangis vs Ann M. Martin smackdown? OMG I might actually do this.

    Recently, there was a post in the BSC Snark livejournal community where a member had just seen Sixteen Candles for the first time and had the same reaction I did all those years ago, when I first saw that movie: how the hell is this Mary Anne’s favorite movie? It includes such topics as underage drinking, date rape, and people paying money to see a girl’s underwear.

    Obviously, it was just a movie that was popular at the time the book was written–I believe it’s in The Ghost at Dawn’s House–and Ann was like, “Oh, family forgets sixteen-year-old’s birthday, but she ends up with the school hottie! Perfect for Mary Anne!” Actually, this is really strange, but I just tried looking up Sixteen Candles in the Complete Guide and it’s NOT THERE. Obviously, someone at Scholastic realized that this wasn’t an appropriate movie for their target audience to want to watch. Luckily, we do NOT censor the wiki and it’s in there.

    It’s not uncommon for authors to stick a bit of themselves and their interests into the things they write. Sometimes, this works out fine. I am a huge fan of Meg Cabot, and Mia, in The Princess Diaries, is a character who has obviously inherited a lot of Meg’s interests. Mia sits around watching Buffy and Lifetime movies and makes references to topical pop culture events all the time. If you read Meg’s blog, as I do, you’d know that these are things that Meg is really into as well. And that’s ok, because these interests are pretty believable for a teenage girl. (I would personally LOVE to sit around and discuss TV and celebrities with Meg!)

    Ann, however, as all fans of the BSC know well, is into, well, I Love Lucy and Wizard of OZ. Now, I would say it would be OK for one or two of the characters to be into these things. When I was a teenager, I watched a lot of old tv–I was even weirdly obsessed with this programming block on GSN they showed at like, 3 in the morning that was game shows from the 50s and 60s. I’ve Got a Secret/What’s My Line/To Tell the Truth, etc. But I was a weirdo who had few friends! EVERYONE in Stoneybrook, it seems, is well-acquinated with the plot of every Lucy episode and has seen OZ too many times to count. When Ann does try to insert references to current trends, like with Mary Anne loving Sixteen Candles, it often is a strange choice or inappropriate because Ann truly does not to get out much. Recall, if you will, Ann’s biography, where she recalled a “wild night with the girls” in college–EATING A TON OF ICE CREAM. Which is totally fine! There is not wrong with being pop culture illiterate, or a homebody. I think that in Main Street, where Ann makes zero pop culture references and writes about a bunch of kind-of-nerdy girls, plays to her strengths well, and uses her hobbies and interests in a way that doesn’t seem anachronistic for the age she is writing about.

    This is one of the things that actually IMPROVED with the ghostwriters, I think. I trust Peter Lerangis to be pretty up on pop culture–I got into a twitter discussion with him a while ago about SOPA, and he knew who Louis CK was. (So do my parents, I guess–both my mom and my dad love his show. But still. I don’t think Ann would be familiar.) But anyway, once you get past the books where Ann was the actual author and no one was thanked for their help with the manuscript, you start getting references to things that were popular at the time, like 90210 and grunge and Hanson. There is a little less Lucy and a little more “I’ve been told I look like Jason Priestley.”

    There is a downside to this, however. Like how many references in The Princess Diaries will be totally confusing to kids in ten years or so (Who is Jason Alexander and why did Britney Spears marry him?, they will ask), the references in the later BSC books very firmly place them in their years of publication. Whereas the endless old-stuff references just seem a little strange in the early books, but I don’t see that many things that really clearly mark them as late 80s/early 90s the way the later books are so clearly 90s.

    So, you know, often I think the best thing is to just make up your own pop culture. Let U4Me go on tour with Spider and the Insects.

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