the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in readalong

Now that I’ve read all of Ann’s non-BSC books from the early part of her career, it’s time to reflect on what I thought about them. Since I did not review most of them very positively, it may seem like I did not enjoy doing this. I did actually enjoy it, but the books themselves I probably would have enjoyed more if I were coming across them for the first time while still in the age group they were intended for, or if I were reading them with nostalgia. As far as quality goes, if these were classics of children’s literature, they’d still be in print, or would have at least been in print during my 90s childhood. So even if I have liked the post-BSC Ann books I’ve read, and can tell that there’s been a HUGE leap forward in quality, I couldn’t really expect these books to be any better than any other more-or-less forgotten 1980s children’s books.

My main issue with these books is that I felt that these books sometimes took on too many serious issues at once, and didn’t get deep enough, psychologically. I suppose it’s hard to do that in the space allotted to a children’s book, and for the level you’re writing for, but I feel like people Lois Lowry and Judy Blume can deliver that. Obviously, not many children’s authors reach their levels, but still. They show it’s possible. I haven’t read A Corner of the Universe or any other of Ann’s Very Serious more recent books, unless you count The Family Tree series, but from what I have read, I haven’t had the same feeling of the stories being a very shallow portrayal of the issue she’s writing about. Perhaps it’s because Ann tackled issues that are SO serious, like suicide and missing children and losing a parent, before she was an author who was experienced enough to handle them, that makes these books read that way. Like, at this point of her career, she should have stuck to plots on a Stage Fright level, and not tried to tackle things that were so heavy.

Another thing I noticed was that everybody in these books is wealthy, except for maybe the parents in Inside Out. Like, think of how many kids you knew growing up who had houses with a third floor. I mean, if you’re in an area with a lot of Victorian houses, it’ll be more common, but it seemed like half of the kids in these books had these humongous houses and their parents were all advertising executives or whatever and jetting off to St. Barths for their honeymoons. None of the main characters were treated as being from wealthy families, even though they obviously were. I suppose it’s not that different from Stoneybrook, with everyone’s dad being a lawyer and Stacey’s dad’s glamorous life, but the houses weren’t quite noticeably as extragavant. It is very noticeable in these books, and seems kind of tone deaf. I can’t say if a child reading it would notice all of the clues sprinkled in them about mega-wealth, though.

The biggest surprise, though, was that the books I enjoyed the most–Inside Out and Ma and Pa Dracula–were books featuring male protagonists. I had always asusmed that Ann wouldn’t be very good at writing from a male perspective, but I think it actually forced her to stretch a little more and go outside of herself and she ended up with two books that were a lot better than the rest.

These are the major conclusions I came to during this Readalong. If you’ve read them, what do you think of Ann’s early work as a whole?

(Camp NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow! If you want to join my BSC cabin, email me at or leave a comment below.)

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…

  • 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.

    Stage Fright was actually published before Me and Katie (The Pest), but due to issues with access to the book, I only read it this week.

    Anyway, Stage Fright is a story about Sara, Wendy’s best friend in Me and Katie. As you may have guessed from the title, this book deals mainly with Sara’s experience with stage fright. Her class is putting on a play, and her teacher is making everyone participate, whether they want to or not.

    I had a lot of issues with two adults in particular in this book: Sara’s mother and Sara’s teacher. Throughout the book, Sara’s mother is constantly pressuring her to be someone totally different, someone who loves the limelight and loves socializing. Basically, she is setting Sara up to have very low self esteem and to feel like the way she is naturally isn’t ever going to be good enough. This also causes constant friction between her parents, and I can easily see it leading to even divorce. It’s not enough that Sara has two good friends, because, as Sara’s mom says, one is her cousin and one (Wendy) might move soon. Sara should socialize and react to social situations the way her mother wants.

    This all comes to a head with the play, because the teacher is insistent that everyone play a role, even though she has kids literally crying at the thought of having to perform on stage. Sara’s mom overhears Sara saying that she didn’t try her best at the auditions because she didn’t want a big part, and her mom yells at her. Sara’s teacher also gives Sara a kind of big part, even though Sara had spoken to her–privately and politely–about her qualms about performing. Sara’s teacher makes a point about performing on stage being a good experience to have, to which I say “Bullshit.” It is not a requirement for life, and there are many, many jobs and ways to live where one would never, ever have to go on stage. I absolutely do not see why the teacher insisted that everyone act, and if you have kids crying and freaking out and coming to you privately, let some of them just stand around on the stage without any lines. Let them be a tree or a bush.

    Sara’s mom not only sees being able to perform on stage as a requirement for a successful life, but also she thinks that Sara needs to enjoy parties. This is also not a requirement for living. There is nothing wrong with only having a small group of close friends, and not enjoying hanging out in large groups. At the end of the book, Sara’s mom tells her that she only acts this way because she cares, and wants Sara to be happy. The way she goes about it, however, would most likely have the opposite effect, and would result in Sara feeling like her nature and her personality are wrong, and not good enough. It would be far more effective if Sara’s mother acted like Sara’s father, who accepts Sara for who she is and does not think that she needs to change to be happy.

    I think a good contrast to Sara and her mother would be Richard and Mary Anne’s relationship, where Richard is, for the most part, except for not really realizing that Mary Anne is twelve and not six, supportive of Mary Anne and her nature, and doesn’t try to force her into situations she doesn’t want to be in, and listens to her needs. (Perhaps this is because Richard is also a quiet sort of person who enjoys sitting around and listening to jazz and not going to wild parties.) Over the course of the series, we see Mary Anne come out of her shell a little bit, and I think that her ability to do this on her own is partially because she has such a supportive parent in her corner. I feel sad for Sara because I don’t see things with her mother getting better, or her mother ever realizing that some people are shy, and that’s totally okay and a valid way to live your life. Sara does get a little more assertive over the course of book, and yells a little bit at Wendy, who is Kristy-esque, but I don’t see it as being a lasting change in her life. Soon she will be a teenager, and her mother will bug her about not going on dates, and Sara will continue to feel like there is something wrong with the way she is.

    Stray thoughts:

  • The candy store in the book is called “Jugtown.”
  • Ann finally set a book in New Jersey. Yay!
  • The subplot about Wendy potentially moving is not set up very well, and is resolved in an anti-climatic way. It would have been more dramatic if Wendy did move, but I guess Ann wanted to write the next book. This whole subplot could have been left out and it wouldn’t have really made much a difference.

    External links:
    BSC Snark of Stage Fright

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