the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in Non-BSC

I completely missed that this book was coming out. I guess there has been so much focus on Rain Reign that this book kind of slipped through the cracks. It is the last book in the Family Tree series, and since it also serves as a wrap-up of the entire series, its format is a bit different. Instead of just talking about Georgia, the main character in the book, it also focuses on the other three protagonists from the series, kind of like a Super Special.

Out of all the books, this was probably my second favorite. I think Abby’s book was the most interesting. Also, one of the major issues with these books, especially since a fair amount of time passed from the time I’d read one to the time I’d read the next, is that I kept on forgetting things. Like I don’t really remember what the relationship was between Francie and George in the book before this one. I think these books could have benefited from a Chapter Two, or a literal family tree at the beginning that briefly explained things.

Actually, I think the best way to read these books might be as one long novel. That way, you could remember the progression of the characters’ lives better. It really is one long story anyway.

Overall, I thought this book was a satisfying end to the series, even if the kids in this book, whose childhood was the 2000s, got very, very excited at the prospect of watching an I Love Lucy marathon.

So I said I wouldn’t read it because I hate Sad Dog Books, but I broke down and got it anyway, since the reviews have been so positive.

Rain Reign is a book about Rose, a kid on the autism spectrum who loves homophones. But the book keeps on calling them homoNYMs, and I’m going to put on my Karen Brewer hat and admit that this bothered me. Homonyms have the same pronunciation AND spelling, and homophones just have the same pronunciation. Rose actually goes into this the beginning, and says that her teacher says that homonym is used colloquially for homophone. This is true, but since Ann is writing an entire book on the topic, she could have used this as a springboard to correct this colloquial use that still makes probably even sociolinguists a little bit twitchy. Also, since Rose is very into following rules and not following rules is something that really upsets her, it seems odd to me that she has come to terms with this colloquial misuse of the term.

Okay. That aside, it’s a decent book overall. I like how the dad was portrayed in a nuanced way, instead of just straight up as a villain. You understand that he wants to do his best for Rose, even though he really just can’t. For those of you with the same fears I have, I would say that this book ranks about 5/10 on the Sad Dog Scale. There is a happy ending for the dog, even though Rose is sad. But it’s not like this book, which destroyed me the only time I read it.

Autism is a topic that Ann has centered a book around several times: Inside Out, which I think is excellent; Kristy and the Secret of Susan, one of the most maligned BSC books out of all of them; and a A Corner of the Universe, which I have not read, but received a Newbery Honor Medal. Considering the reviews for this one, I could see a Newbery Honor in its future as well. This book differs from all of those because Ann is actually writing in the first person from the point of view of a person on the spectrum, and not from the point of view of a family member or a baby-sitter. I think she did a good job, but it’s hard for me to judge, since I don’t have much personal experience myself.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts if you’ve read it. Would I say that it’s a must for BSC fans? No. If you’re interested in well-written middle-grade/YA books on serious topics, then I’d suggest it to you. It has less “Ann quirks” than even Family Tree has (i.e., mention of certain things you’ll recognize from Ann’s likes/biography). I’m now thinking that it’s time for me to check out her other well-regarded books like Corner and Belle Teal. Ann is a much better writer than she was in her 80s days, and now that she can take her time with her books, unlike when she was working on BSC, she can come out with some really excellent fiction.

If you’re at all interested in children’s literature, and have a special spot in your heart for children’s literature aimed at girls written in the ’80s and ’90s, then you’ve probably already read the interview with Lois Lowry on the New York website.

The Anastasia I grew up with, as pictured in a random eBay auction

The Anastasia books are getting rereleased, and as they normally do nowadays when they rerelease books, some changes are being made. The one that is the most odious to me is that the title of Anastasia, Ask Your Analyst is being changed to Anastasia Off Her Rocker, which sounds dumb to me. The publishers didn’t think that the original title would be appealing to kids now, but frankly, I don’t see how it was any more appealing back in my day–by then, they didn’t call psychiatrists/therapists/psychologists “analysts” anymore. Kids read the book because they loved Anastasia. But I digress.

On the one hand, I’m really excited to see the books in print again. I’m also excited at the prospect of Lois Lowry finishing the tenth Anastasia book she started after Anastasia Absolutely came out, and the publishers said Anastasia books weren’t selling well enough to keep publishing them. (Boo, publishers!) But on the other hand, it does raise some interesting questions, the first being–why do we have to edit books for the current generation? Sometimes I can understand it, like if there is content that is now offensive, like how the original scene in Mary Poppins where they went and visited peoples of the woirld was later revised to have them visit animals instead.

But things like exchanging Margaret’s pad belt for adhesive with wings rub me the wrong way. Yes, it confused me when I was younger, and when we got the Internet, it was probably one of the first things I looked up, since it had confused me so much. And I suppose that today’s kids’ parents are of a generation that never had to deal with sanitary pad belts, so kids can’t ask their parents. But to me, things like this help retain the flavor of the period the books were written in. Anastasia is an interesting case though, because she was based on Amy Carter and ended during the Clinton administration. So her period stretches for a fairly long time.

But that period has definitely passed. I feel like there is a huge difference in the way my generation lived as children without the Internet and how children now live. So many plots would be ruined by cell phones. I don’t even think that the Baby-Sitters Club would be possible now. There’d be no reason to have meetings, probably, and kids wouldn’t be allowed at 11, 12, 13 to go sit at the houses of people their parents don’t know. I think it’s telling that Scholastic switched from releasing edited paperback versions of the books to simply releasing them as ebooks as-is. I don’t think the market for the BSC is there for kids now, at least not enough to warrant the cost of editing, all-new cover art, and printing, but there is a market for people to buy them for nostalgia purposes, or for a handful of kids to want to download them to their iPad or Kindle after being introduced to them by their parents.

I’m definitely going to check out the Anastasia books for comparison purposes, even if it’s just to help encourage Lois Lowry’s publishers to have her complete that last book. Do you think publishers should update books for new generations, or do you prefer a period feel?

The Rosso family is back. This time it’s summer, which they’re spending in Fire Island. First off, I have to ask why Fire Island. No such explanation was needed in Just a Summer Romance, because Fire Island is a reasonable place for a New York City-area family to own a beach house. This time, however, the Rossos are going there for the first time, and they will be going for the entire summer, and Mr. Rosso will have live with relatives in NYC for the week, since the commute is too far. Now, considering the Rossos live in New Jersey, which has many fine beach towns within commuting distance of New York City, this decision is just baffling to me. Also, I can only imagine how expensive it is to rent a house with seven bedrooms for an entire summer.

The house, by the way, is named Sandpiper House. Stacey and her father stayed in “the Sandpiper” during their trip to Fire Island. I am not sure if it is the same house, but I like to imagine it is, but I don’t know why Mr. McGill would rent a house with so many bedrooms. Perhaps he was anticipating the entire BSC coming. I did look to see if the Sandpiper is a real house in Davis Park. I did not find a house called that, but there is a street called Sandpiper Way, AND there was a club open from 1965-1979 in Fire Island Pines called The Sandpiper that was apparently the birthplace of disco. If Ann was hanging out in gay nightclubs in the 70s, she is much more interesting than any of us could have ever imagined.

Anyway, like Ten Kids, No Pets, each chapter of the book is about a different Rosso kid. Once again, I think the book would have been improved if it were just about one of them, or if it were like a Super Special and each child had several chapters. For most of their stories, we just don’t have enough time to care. The only story where it feels like it has some resolution is Candy’s, where she thinks the house next door is haunted, because Hardy’s chapter of the book also focuses on this. Once again, Abbie’s chapter is at the beginning, and she meets Justin Hart, Melanie, and Lacey. She becomes friends with them, but because it’s at the beginning of the book, we don’t really know all that much about it, only snippets here and there from other characters. Bainbridge’s chapter, conversely, is at the end, and he apparently had a girlfriend all summer whom we didn’t hear about at all, and now her grandfather is sick and she has to leave. But we don’t really care, because we haven’t been following their story all along.

I can see why these two books in particular have retained more popularity over the years than Ann’s other early books, but I find them almost frustrating to read as an adult. The chapters are just not long enough for us to really care about the characters and what’s happening to them. (I suppose if Ann were a master of the short story, she could do it, but, well, Cheever she ain’t.)

Random thoughts:

  • Faustine: children’s literature’s first vegan?
  • Hannah is a little sociopath. She takes great joy in seriously scaring her sister Candy and ruining Abbie’s social life (by telling Justin Hart that Abbie has a crush on him). For these transgressions, Hannah gets punishments like “no allowance for a week” or “grounded for a day,” and never has to actually apologize to her sisters. Another Karen Brewer.
  • If you are a pain in the ass on a movie set, you get a bit part instead of just being an extra. Thanks for the lesson, Dinnie!
  • Lyme Disease is very easily cured. (Do not read Ira’s chapter if you have a phobia of clowns.)

    External links:
    Kirkus Reviews came to the same conclusion I did.
    BSC Chronologically‘s take.

    This was the last book in the Readalong. Thanks to everyone who read along and commented! I will post a wrap-up post on my overall thoughts about the books, and then for the rest of the summer, I’ll stick to the Monday blog post/Friday BSC link post schedule I mentioned in a previous post. I’ll also be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, as I mentioned before, and I’ll be posting what I write on Babysitters100 (livejournal/dreamwidth). I have started a private cabin on there for BSC fanfic, so if you want to spend July working on a BSC fanfic, just let me know your screenname there in the comments and I will add you.

  • After last week’s mess, this book was a welcome respite. Ma and Pa Dracula seems to be on the same grade level as, or one above, Little Sister. It even has pictures! There are no chances for an important issue to be glossed over or handled clumsily.

    I’d like to address one thing, though, Over on the Boards, where I’m also writing about these books every week, there was a remark to the effect that it seems like I’m not enjoying these books. I will write more in depth about this in my wrap-up post, but I am enjoying myself. It’s not just not the same as reading these books when you’re a kid, I guess, or even as an adult who read them as a kid and has some feelings of nostalgia. Also, since I’m blogging about them, I am looking at them with a critical eye. This is fun for me because I am a nerd.

    OK, onto the book. The book is about a boy named Jonathan. He lives with her parents and his tutor/governor, Mr. Saginaw, and he knows no other people. His family sleeps during the day and is active at night. Jonathan has been isolated his whole life, and believes that the things that he has read about in books, like TV, are imaginary. His family also moves around a lot. One day, while his parents are sleeping, he sneaks out of the house and meets a girl named Tobi, and he discovers that his parents have been lying to him and everyone else is awake during the day.

    His parents, despite raising him in such an odd, isolating way, are pretty easygoing and agree to let him go to regular school. They also reveal that they are vampires, and instead of going to work, they turn into bats and seek out blood banks. That is why they move so much–once a blood bank starts getting suspicious, or the supply runs low, they have to move on.

    Honestly, I don’t have any major complaints about this book. I thought it was cute. I liked Tobi, who is a tomboy in the grand tradition of Harriet M. Welsch. There are parts, such as his adjustment to school, that could have been done with more depth, but since this is a book for younger kids, I think that it’s fine the way it is. I also like the ending–the blood bank runs low, and Jonathan realizes that even though he likes his school and his friends, he has to move on. I thought that was a better ending than Jonathan being happy at his school and staying forever.

    Random thoughts:

  • The only thing that really bugged me is that once again, Ann just did not bother to bust out the Wikipedia page.

    “Think about our names,” said Pa. “They tell part of the story. For instance, our last name is an anagram. Switch around the letters in ‘Primave’ and you get ‘vampire.’ And my first name,” Pa went on proudly, “is Vladimir. I named myself for Vlad the Impaler, a horrible Romanian ruler of the fifteenth century. His father was Vlad the Devil. ‘Devil’ can be translated into the word ‘Dracul.’”

    Or perhaps it’s because Pa named himself before encyclopedia were around. Vlad the Impaler’s name was not “Vladimir.” In Romanian, “Vlad” alone is a name, and he was “Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia.” He also often signed his name as “Wladislaus Dragwlya, vaivoda partium Transalpinarum.” So you can MAYBE make a case for “Vladislav,” but not “Vladimir.”

  • At the beginning, Jonathan speaks without contractions. I was afraid it was going to be like Little Sister. But no, it was just a way to signify how formal he was compared to a regular kid who was not raised by vampires.

    External links:
    I didn’t find any this week. If you’ve blogged about it, let me know in the comments.

    Next week, I will read Eleven Kids, One Summer, and this experiment will be over. I do have something else planned for July, though, so stay tuned.

  • Ugh. This BOOK. Just WHY.

    One thing a fiction writer should do is research the hell out of what they’re writing about. Perhaps we should blame Ann’s grueling BSC schedule for the fact that she did not research adoption like, at all. The lucky Basini kids in this book, however, got an entire month to adjust to the reality of a new adopted Vietnamese sister coming, unlike the Thomas-Brewers. But of course, they were preparing for a toddler boy and ended up with an eight-year-old girl because the agency messed up, and the Basinis were like, “Whatever, that’s cool. Oh, and her name is too hard for us to pronounce or even acknowledge, so we’re just gonna have our nine-year-old daughter name her.”

    There are literally NO REFERENCES to what Jackie’s life was like in a Vietnamese orphanage. Her birth name and her prior life are not mentioned at all. She basically did not exist before she landed in America and met her adopted family, and pretty much has no issues and everything is great. What bugs me about this book is that the whole adoption plotline was pretty unnecessary. You could have had the same basic story about two sisters, one dyslexic and the other advanced for her age, without adding in the adoption part. You could have had stepsisters, if you wanted them to be new siblings. If you don’t want to do the research to do justice to your plotline, then don’t use that particular plot.

    Perhaps the most offensive part of the whole thing is Ann’s worst use of dialect transcription ever. Logan’s “Southern drawl” is eyeroll worthy, yes. But at least it’s the right language. Jackie’s “accent” consists of mixing up “l” and “r.” Now, the 80s are the decade that brought us Long Duk Dong, so perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. But there is nothing on the Wikipedia entry on the subject about Vietnamese native speakers mixing up “l” and “r” in English. This is something commonly associated with Japanese, which is not related to Vietnamese at all. Asia=Not one giant country.

    Shirley’s dyslexia isn’t dealt with all that well either. Her Resource Room teacher gets her to learn how to enjoy reading using the magic of Beverly Cleary. The end.

    It does have a nice ending, where Shirley feels fulfilled through art and writes a really nice essay about her family and gets a prize. She also stands up for Jackie. But ugh, Ann should just have never started with the whole Vietnamese adoption thing, either here or in BSC. I think they did a slightly better job with Emily Michelle, which tells you how clumsily and offensively it’s handled in this book.

    Random thoughts:

  • Dad is an English professor, not a lawyer. I was shocked too. But the best English professor dad of all time is Myron Krupnik.
  • Older brother goes to a really good school that is never named. Five bucks says Ann had Princeton in mind.

    External links:
    Kirkus was much more gentle in their review.

  • 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.

  • I read the latest Family Tree immediately after completing this one, so if I am a little mixed up, that’s why.

    I was not looking forward to reading this book. I feared that it would be Sunny, Diary Three, which is a book that brings out the Mary Anne lurking deep inside all of us. But I had a Readalong to complete, so read I did.

    Now, this book does not require as many boxes of Kleenex as Diary Three. Twelve-year-old Liza’s father is diagnosed with heart disease and given six months to a year to live. As you might be able to tell from the title, no miracles happen, and he passes away shortly after the six month mark. The rest of the book is about how Liza and her family adjust to life after her father.

    A warning: there is a tragic pet death as well. So if you have a hard time with that in fiction (I certainly do), you may want to skip this one.

    One of the things that struck me about this book was very much influenced by the fact that I read Ann’s most recent book immediately after finishing this one. It is very obvious that Ann has had nearly 30 years to grow as a writer. With the Family Tree books, for the most part, I don’t feel like they are superficial. With the books I’ve read so far for the Readalong, I do feel like they don’t go deep enough and somehow, psychologically, just aren’t there quite yet. The main character in Missing Since Monday seems rather matter-of-fact about the whole thing. In this book, I feel like for the most part, Liza’s family just gets on with their lives. Even Abby’s Portrait is a far deeper portrayal of the pain someone goes through when they lose a parent young. Liza is sad, and feels guilty about doing things she enjoys, and the rest of her family just kind of gets on with things. The book ends with Liza getting the boy she wants, and her brother getting into Princeton, and Liza adjusting enough to be able to go to the cemetery. The message seems to be, well, life goes on.

    Random thoughts:

  • The town is called “Neuport.” Which just looks really weird to me. Spell it “Newport.” Are there any cities with French names in Connecticut?
  • Liza is described as being tall, which makes me think of Liza Shore in Claudia and the Perfect Boy. Perhaps “Liza” is Ann’s default “Tall Girl” name.
  • Liza and her friend once broke into her parents’ liquor cabinet and got drunk. Strangely, this is presented in a neutral way, with no judgment. Considering that girls who chew gum in the BSC are villified, this is quite strange. Perhaps the ice cream story in Ann’s biography and her and her friends in college getting crazy and ordering using a taxi was really a case of beer.
  • Liza’s dad is an advertising executive and her mom was head of the English Department of a neighboring school system. A big deal is made out of the fact that Liza’s mom actually works. Was this so shocking in 1986?

    External links:

  • Kirkus Review on With You and Without You
  • Are You There, Youth? It’s me, Nikki

    Next week I read Slam Book. Looking forward to this one…

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