the best friends you’ll never have

Browsing in readalong

On Monday, I’ll be posting about Stage Fright. I am only halfway through and my god, there is some terrible parenting going on.

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 had said I was going to do Stage Fright for Monday, but I just realized I don’t have it. I will only be able to read it on Tuesday when the ebook is released, so for Monday, I will be reading Me and Katie (The Pest). Stage Fright will be the week after. Yes, this disregard for chronological order would elicit a complaint from Karen Brewer, but I want to keep posting these on Mondays, and I also like to take a few days to think about the book before I write a post.

    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

  • As I discovered thanks to an astute poster on the BSC Boards, all of the books I’ll be reading for the Readalong are being released as ebooks on the 22nd of April by a company called Open Road Integrated Media (not Scholastic as I originally thought). This includes Slam Book, which I thought I was going to have to exclude from the Readalong because I don’t have it. Here are the links on Amazon:

    Bummer Summer
    Inside Out
    Stage Fright
    Me and Katie (the Pest)
    Missing Since Monday

    Slam Book
    Yours Turly, Shirley
    Ma and Pa Dracula
    Ten Kids, No Pets was released by Scholastic a year ago, and on the 30th, they are releasing Eleven Kids, One Summer.

    In news that is perhaps even more exciting, the company that is releasing all of Ann’s early books ALREADY released all of the California Diaries! You can buy them as five-in-ones (i.e., everyone’s first, second or third diaries) for ten dollars or individually for $4.79.

    So basically, it’s Christmas in April for BSC fans! I was wondering if the CA Diaries were going to be included, and how far Scholastic was going to go with the series rereleases–so far, we have the regular series, Super Special and Mysteries (Super Mysteries are coming out in May!) but I don’t know how far they’ll go in the regular series, and whether they’re going to do Portrait Collections or Readers’ Requests. I think we can safely assume that the CA Diaries are not on the table, since they let this other company publish them, but who cares, we already have them now!

    If you’re reading along with me, on Monday I am going to post about Inside Out. Tomorrow I will be doing a post on the fortuitous rerelease of Ann’s early books by Scholastic that is happening on April 22nd, so be on the lookout for that as well.

    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!

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