Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (1962) by Charlotte Zolotow

Since I have a scanner now, I thought I'd profile some picture books (although truthfully I do not own many). I thought this book about a little girl searching for just the right present for her mother would be nice in honor of the upcoming Mother's Day.
The little girl (as she is referred to throughout the book) has a problem. A little girl sized problem. Her mother's birthday is coming up and she is trying to think of a good present. She enlists the help of an enormous personified bunny named Mr. Rabbit. At first all we have to go on is that the nameless child's mother likes the color red. Mr. Rabbit suggests items such as red underwear and fire engines, all of which are inappropriate.  
Finally, Mr. Rabbit comes up with the idea of giving the mother an apple. The little girl agrees, but knowing this is a cheapo gift, she decides she should give her something else to go with it. Back to square one.
this dialogue is repeated for every color featured in the book
The little girl informs the rabbit that her mother also likes the color yellow. Again, Mr. Rabbit comes up with ridiculous ideas ("But I can't give her the sun," said the little girl, "though I would if I could")until settling on a banana. Bartlett pears (?) are quickly decided on to represent the mother's affinity for the color green and blue grapes for blue.
Then the two realize that though they have come up with a very sweet, colorfully eclectic gift for the mother, they need something to present the bunch of fruit in. The little girl produces a basket and arranges the fruit in it. She bids her large rabbit friend goodbye and goes off to find her mother.
Maurice Sendak did these lovely illustrations. I remember this book well from childhood. It's such a nice way to introduce colors to young children as well as the joy of giving. Happy Mother's Day to all.

Someday Angeline (1983) by Louis Sachar

Yippee! I can scan pictures now!

I just bought a printer/scanner for work so now I'll be scanning my own covers and adding in some pages of text or additional illustrations.

I think this is one of Sachar's lesser known books, but like most of his writing from this era, it is still a fast, funny and even touching read. Angeline has it tough. Her mother died when she was three and she lives with her garbage truck driver father (though she loves the garbage truck and wants to ride on one). What's worse, she is a genius. She remembers things that happened before she was born and at eight years old, knows more than her sixth grade teacher. The teacher, Mrs. Hardlick, and her classmates resent her intelligence and make fun of her for things like sucking her thumb and crying too much.

Angeline meets a boy at recess who is also an outcast at school. His name is Gary, though the other kids call him Goon. Gary has a habit of making corny jokes, which Angeline always calls the funniest she's ever heard (she also laughs too much). 

Gary, unlike Angeline, has a good teacher, Miss Turbone, whom he calls Mr. Bone (because the names sound the same - I didn't get it at first). Miss Turbone invites Gary and Angeline to set up her classroom aquariums, and they all get to be friends.

Angeline has a strained relationship with her father because he finds it difficult to talk to her. He wants Angeline to grow up to become a doctor or lawyer or something else important so he brings her home large informational books meant for adults. Angeline just wants a book with a good story and some jokes in it. Angeline is elected Secretary of Trash at school and is expected to clean up after everyone at recess. Even though Angeline vied for this position, her father blows a gasket and forces her to resign.

Mrs. Hardlick doesn't pay attention the next day as Angeline is trying to tell her what her father has decided. Angeline stays in at recess like always, but this time instead of cleaning up, she trashes the whole room. Mrs. Hardlick sends Angeline away on the city bus home with a note to her father to be signed. Angeline tears up the note and visits the city aquarium instead of going home.

Angeline at the aquarium
Angeline stops going to school and goes to the aquarium instead for about a week. Gary tells Miss Turbone what's going on and she drops by Angeline's house to investigate. When Angeline's father receives word that the teacher is going to pay a visit, he cleans up and puts on a shirt and tie, even though he thinks he's going to be meeting a teacher named Mr. Bone. Of course, when she gets to the Persopolis apartment, there are signs that Miss Turbone and Angeline's father will end up together. Also predictably enough, Miss Turbone suggests that Angeline leave Mrs. Hardlick's class and become her student, even though it would mean going back a grade. 

Angeline has to spend a few days in Mrs. Hardlick's class, though, while the adults cut through some red tape to make the switch happen. Angeline finds out that Mrs. Hardlick actually likes when kids get the wrong answer because it makes her feel smarter, so although she doesn't enjoy doing it, she continually gives wrong, wacky answers to simple questions and suddenly the teacher and kids like her better. Mrs. Hardlick likes her so much, in fact, that she offers to talk the principal out of switching Angeline to Miss Turbone's class. Angeline rushes out of the school and takes a bus out to the is this kid getting away with all this traveling by herself?

Angeline and Cool Breezer

Angeline plays in the water for a little while and then wanders off and meets a drunk fisherman with a foot fetish named Cool Breezer in a scene I'm not sure would work in this day and age. "He thought she had the prettiest feet he'd ever seen." Angeline walks to the other side of the pier and inexplicably jumps in and starts to drown. Cool Breezer jumps in and saves her.  

Abel (the father) prepares to go on a date with Melissa (Miss Turbone) and realizes he can't find Angeline. He thinks she's just hiding and goes about looking for her way longer than necessary. His friend and work partner, Gus, comes along to babysit Angeline and they look some more. The same occurs when Melissa arrives to pick up Abel for their date. They call Angeline's only friend Gary (instead of the police!) and he comes over as well.

Just then, Abel gets a phone call that Angeline was involved in an accident at Mitchell Beach and is now in the hospital. Angeline's mother drowned at Mitchell Beach when Angeline was three. Angeline has always wanted to go to the beach and has a weird habit throughout the book of drinking saltwater like it was Kool-Aid. Her father has never let her go to the beach, however, and he never explained why.

Everyone rushes to the hospital where Angeline is unconscious. Everyone is very somber and emotional until Gary tearfully gives Angeline the set up to a new joke "Why doesn't an elephant need a suitcase?" (You'd think a genius girl like Angeline would be able to get that one easily.) But Angeline whispers "why?" Everyone cheers as she regains consciousness. Cool Breezer kisses both her feet (barf) and Angeline witnesses her father and Miss Turbone kissing for the first time

A kid's book report I found in the pages of my copy of the book.

The book ends with the gang all taking a ride in Abel's and Gus's garbage truck, another of Angeline's wishes fulfilled.

I have to say that Sacher was able to make Angeline a very likable character, despite her purported high IQ and general bratty behavior throughout the book. This is not a good as some of his others, but was still a nice time-waster and as Angeline would say "a good story with lots of funny jokes."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Confession of a Storyteller (1981) by Hila Colman

my copy of the book

I'm back with another Hila Colman book. It's about a girl who is upset that her teacher is in a relationship so she allows a false rumor of inappropriate behavior go uncorrected. When I first read the description before buying the book, I assumed this would be a male teacher. But, no, Miss Jones is the object of our protag's affections. Could she be gay? Let's see how Colman handles this topic...

Annie is frustrated because she is nine months younger than her classmates because she skipped a grade or something. The pain of being smart. You wouldn't think nine months was such a big deal, but Annie insists there is a huge difference between twelve and thirteen. Annie isn't interested in boys like her former best friend Caroline. She would rather tool around in her garden than go to make-out parties. 

The school year starts and Annie meets her new music teacher, Miss Jones. She is immediately smitten. The word "crush" is thrown around by both Annie's mother and Caroline. Annie sees Miss Jones as being a spiritual being rather than a physical one. She begins taking private piano lessons from her.

Miss Jones meets Mr. (Jason) Pascal at a wood stove store when she and Annie stop in to see about a new stove for Miss Jones. Annie sees there might be something there and takes an immediate dislike toward the man.

Annie mentions her absentee father as an afterthought. Her father works a lot out of town and when he is home he and Annie's mother don't have much to talk about. Annie has heard her mother crying at night. I have a feeling this situation with her parents is supposed to be a big factor in the way Annie behaves toward her teacher and her feelings toward relationships.

Annie has a sort-of boyfriend, Brian, a geeky kid a year older than she is. They make out one day and when he leaves Annie feels guilty, remembering the way Miss Jones had talked about monks and nuns having the best kind of life because they aren't burdened down by relationships.   

Annie asks Miss Jones how she can stop having "bad thoughts" i.e. about Brian, though she doesn't mention that her thoughts are sexual. Miss Jones comes over to Annie's for dinner and her father (who has leered at the teacher all night) says he's surprised she's not married yet. Annie goes into a spiel about how Miss Jones is above all that because she's a spiritual and ethereal creature and Annie is going to be the same way. (Okay, I'm getting bored with this book. This kid isn't gay; she just has some weird ideas about things.)

On her next piano lesson, Annie finds out that Miss Jones is living with Jason. Annie takes this as a personal insult and cries in the bathroom. Miss Jones guesses Annie's feelings and tries to comfort her, but Annie is inconsolable. Brian finds her and reveals that he likes her but Annie pushes him away too. 

Annie suffers through the next few months and then it's Miss Jones' birthday. Annie has been invited to have cake with her and Jason. Miss Jones and Jason have to leave early before Annie's mom comes to pick her up and Annie drinks all the leftover martinis the adults had with their cake.

Annie is a little tipsy and her mother is furious. She calls a neighborhood meeting and the school board is notified. They also make an issue of the fact that Miss Jones is living with Jason without being married...a sign of the times. Annie has plenty of chances to reveal the truth (although yes, it was pretty stupid to leave a teenager with alcohol on the table and trust they aren't going to sample it,but she didn't GIVE the martinis to Annie like she's being accused of.) 

Annie feels guilty but confesses eventually at a school board meeting. She goes on a date with Brian. (I kind of skimmed the end of the book.) Annie isn't the most likeable character I've ever met, though it would be hard to empathize with someone who acted the way she did. The book is kind of a letdown because I thought the vicious rumor would be juicier, and that Annie would have more motivation for her strange behavior.  

P.S. Would be nice if I got a comment on one of my posts (don't care which). Come on, it's been two years and I've only gotten one comment!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Up in Seth's Room (1979) by Norma Fox Mazer

Norma Fox Mazer was one of my favorite young adult authors. So much so that I've read almost everything she wrote in her career, which sadly ended with her death in 2009. [Also just found out that her husband and writing partner, Harry Mazer, died a couple of days before I posted this.] I first read After the Rain as a teenager and I felt I could relate to that character so much more so than other characters I had read about. Rachel (in After the Rain) was a youngest child like I was at the time with much older siblings (though mine were all halves) and she felt isolated due to her social awkwardness, though this wasn't played to the extreme nor was it the focus of the story.

Up in Seth's Room was the second Norma Fox Mazer book I read. I held off a long time reading another one of her books because I was sure I wouldn't like it as much as After the Rain. But, though the story is kind of silly (about a girl hanging on to her technical virginity), I grew to love Finn, the protagonist of this novel even more than Rachel. Finn is also slightly awkward (like most teenagers), but she doesn't back down from her beliefs or let anyone push her around. So even if you don't agree with her stance on not going all the way sexually, you have to admire her grit and determination.

The book opens with Finn on her way to visit her older sister Maggie, who has been disowned by their parents because she has moved in with her boyfriend without getting married first. Remember when that was a big sin? Me neither, really, but apparently living together before marriage was as much of a deal breaker for some of the older generation back then as a child coming out as gay is today.

Finn is hoping to have a talk with Maggie alone like they used to before Maggie moved out, but Maggie has friends there: her boyfriend, Jim's, brother Seth and a girl named Toby who appears to consider herself Seth's girlfriend, though he doesn't act all that into her. Finn is immediately attracted to Seth, though she considers him "tooo, tooo, too good-looking." Finn gets into an argument with Maggie when they discuss their parents and Seth seems to enjoy watching this for some reason.

That night, Finn goes to a New Year's Eve party with her best friend Vida, who tries to set her up with Jerry, a flirtatious boy from school. Jerry is kind of a creepy guy in training. He makes everything he says sound suggestive. Finn isn't into him, but she's feeling high off the spiked punch, so there are some amusing scenes where she is giggly and in a haze, going along with Jerry's advances.

The next day, Maggie invites Finn to go with her to watch Jim and Seth do the New Year's Polar Bear Jump thing. Jim turns out to be kind of a jerk, criticizing Seth about his jobs and the trouble he's been in with their father. Finn learns that Seth wants to be a farmer someday and the two later bond over a checker game.

In school, Finn builds up her relationship with Seth to Vida, who is disappointed Finn didn't fall for Jerry. A girl called Nancy overhears all this. Nancy's a little weird and not all that believable as a character. She seems to be jealous of Finn and floats around her with silly comments and criticism. After school, Finn sees Seth driving by in Maggie's green Volkswagon and impulsively jumps in front of the car and demands he drive her home. Seth seems really distant and Finn thinks he's trying to remember her name. In reality, he's been applying for jobs and is depressed about being rejected. Embarrassed, Finn stumbles out of the car leaving a bewildered Seth in her wake.

A couple of weeks later Finn is studying at the library, daydreaming about Seth, when, like often happens in a YA book but not in real life, he suddenly appears. Finn learns there's more to Seth than just his good looks. He's looking for something to read. They talk for a while about some book I've never heard of that "everyone knows about" and Finn's mind is reeling adorably...she goes back and forth between being snippy with him to being dazzled by him...when somehow it gets through to her that he's just asked her out to the movies Friday. 

Finn does a lot of extra chores to prepare to ask her mother's permission to go on the movie date. (If she really wanted to go why is she asking? It's pretty obvious the answer will be no.) She ends up asking her mother as they are driving home in the snow from buying her mother platform shoes in the worst possible way, mentioning his age, his being Jim's brother and his status as a high school drop out. The mother swerves the car and we find out Finn is short for "Finnis." Finn goes to the Apple Cafeteria where Seth works to tell him she can't go and for the first time Seth learns that Finn is only fifteen.

I can only assume this is the 80s cover version
Finn gets so upset over the incident that she makes herself sick enough to stay home from school. She is partially miffed that Seth balked at the idea of dating a fifteen year old. Maybe he was worried about the statutory rape charges? Which is a weird thought considering what comes later in the book.

The toilet overflows while Finn's home alone and she calls for Maggie to come fix it (she has a habit of running to Maggie or someone when there's a problem). Maggie and Jim come over and fix the toilet when (surprise surprise) the mother comes home early from work and catches them. At first she acts cold toward the pair, but (as she is the softer of the parents on this issue) she eventually invites them to sit down and eat cheese and crackers.

There's a Fleetwood Forest (Fleetwood Mac?) concert coming up at the Syracuse War Memorial and Vida encourages Finn and Jerry (who is still trying to get into Finn's pants) to go with her and her boyfriend Paul. Jerry can't go because he has a basketball game that night, and Finn's not that disappointed because she is still mooning over Seth. At the concert, it is announced that Fleetwood Forest couldn't make it because of the blizzard that's currently going on.

Finn goes to look for her friends who've gotten away from her, when, in a slightly too convenient coincidence (there are thousands of people at the concert), she runs into Seth. Finn is still pissed at Seth for some reason and he apologizes even though he really didn't do anything wrong (yet). Finn uses a payphone to call her mother to come pick her up and Seth asks to stay with her until she arrives.

Seth tells Finn that he admires her fierce attitude and how well she puts up a fight - which is something he won't like so much later in the book. He talks a bit about his father and how he won't fight no matter how mad he gets. Finn and Seth have their first kiss right as Finn's mother pulls up and Finn thinks to herself that she's in love.

Finn's parents once again forbid her to see Seth and hang up the phone when Seth tries to call but Finn decides she's not going to listen. We also hear again about how Finn has vowed not to have intercourse until she's older. She's learned in a Family Life class at school that sex isn't just intercourse, but that there are other things that can be done...she reasons that her mother waited to have sex and her parents have a good marriage.

Finn skips school to visit Seth at his job, which irritates his boss. They also meet at the movie theater, with Finn using Vida as her alibi. Jerry comes to Finn's house unexpectedly and tries to force her to date him again. Maggie tries to get on her mother's good side by refusing to help Finn see Seth. She dismisses Finn's feelings as being a mere crush and unimportant. Once again we are reminded of the agony of being fifteen and not having anyone take you seriously.

Finn and Seth sneak off to the Historical Society to be alone, and here is where we come to the main conflict of the story. Seth wants Finn to take off her shirt in the secluded room, but she is uncomfortable doing so. Seth is visibly frustrated with only seeing Finn in the Apple a few times a week, although Finn is satisfied with the intensity of the relationship. Seth broaches the topic of sex quite bluntly, and Finn makes her decision on the subject very clear. "Girls always say no at first," he says. Finn retorts, "I'm not 'girls'! I'm me."

Another day the pair sneak in Jim's and Maggie's apartment where some slightly R rated stuff occurs. Jim comes in (what was the point of them going there if he didn't) and reprimands Seth for quitting his job and bringing an underage girl into the apartment. Seth storms off, and when Finn goes after him he tells her to "bug off." It's hilarious, because she reacts just as strongly as if he'd said "fuck off."

A couple of days pass before they get together again and Seth reveals that he has a new job at a potato chip factory and has rented the attic room that inspired the title of the book. They go to the room and right away Seth is wanting Finn to get in the bed with him. She is hesitant, but finally gives in. She jerks him off in the bed (Mazer uses more eloquent prose) and is very contented with this level of intimacy.

Finn gets home from Seth's hours later than she was supposed to, and her angry parents are waiting for her.  They grill her about where she was and she admits readily that she was with Seth. Her father flies off the handle and hits her in the face. Finn wonders if her father is going to start beating her to keep her from seeing Seth. There was no indication before that the father was violent, and you might think the book is flying off into a different direction, but it actually goes together with what happens later in the book. "It was the most horrible thing in the world to force someone else with physical strength." Finn tells her father that even if he hits her again, she won't be kept from Seth. Finn runs into Maggie in town and they make amends, although Maggie warns her that Seth isn't as nice as he seems at first.

Finn makes up with her parents. It's not an unrealistic scene, it's just kind of unbelievable that they would change their minds about Seth just because Finn cries and tells them she loves them. But they do relent, and Finn goes to visit Seth. That's where things get ugly. The two have their clothes off and are kissing when Seth becomes too forceful and nearly rapes her. When Finn doesn't give in, Seth resorts to emotional abuse, calling the intimate moment they shared before as "shoot[ing] off into the wall." Finn has to fight her way out of the room and runs off.

So I read some reviews on Good Reads and a lot of people really hate this book because of this scene and the fact that (spoilers) she eventually takes him back. I totally understand that. When I was a tween in the early 90s I was a big General Hospital and Luke and Laura fan. I already wrote about this, but in 1979 Luke rapes Laura at the campus disco and that's how their relationship began. When I found out about the rape (it had aired a few months before I was born so I didn't know about it), I immediately stopped shipping Luke and Laura. It just seemed ludicrous to me that someone would marry their rapist and that audiences would go along with that. Yet I don't hate the character of Seth. Maybe it's because I had already grown to like him or because I feel he learned something by the end of the book. Maybe it's also because Mazer makes Finn's near rape look like a bad, ugly thing, while Laura's rape on GH was slightly romanticized. From the same month and year that Up in Seth's Room was first published, check it out:

Luke's declaration of love for Laura just before raping her seems to me like some sort of sick fantasy or twisted way of thinking the writers had. Seth's actions were definitely not motivated by love, and that's made clear. As Finn flees Seth's attic room, she sees everything she thought was beautiful before as ugly. She smells cat pee on the stairs and has noticed that Seth's feet are ugly.

Finn spends the next week or so brooding and being depressed over the situation. Then she goes to visit Seth as he is leaving work at the potato chip factory. It turns out Seth has felt the same way and has written to some friends about a farming job in Vermont. He apologizes to Finn because he had "came on like gangbusters." But then he does partially blame Finn for his actions because she was naked in his bed and let him do other stuff to her. They fight some more and decide to continue on with the relationship.

Maggie has a party to celebrate the year she and Jim have known each other and Finn and Seth have another talk there. This time he opens up a bit more and seems more genuine about his regret of his treatment of Finn. Seth concludes that "there are other things to do that'll make us both feel good."

The final chapter skips ahead a couple of months. Seth comes to pick up Finn from school and takes her to a field on the edge of town. He explains that he's come to say goodbye because he's leaving a month earlier than planned to go work on the farm in Vermont. Finn is predictably upset with this news, even though she knew he was leaving eventually. After a while they take off all their clothes and do something or other...the book uses some corny prose here and doesn't exactly explain what's going on (sorry kids), and Seth drops Finn home and drives off. Before doing so, Finn acknowledges that she'll have other boyfriends...just not for a long time. (So we know she won't turn into a slut like Vida). But...they totally get back together least in my head canon.  

Further Book Notes 

  • Finn's favorite singer is Joni Mitchell. The song Carey is quoted quite often. I actually started listening to Joni's music because of this book. 
  • Mazer could be very good with realistic dialogue, but then she comes out with background characters now and then who speak in ways no one would, especially a teenage boy. A boy Finn talks to at the New Year's Eve party smokes a pipe and tells her she's "looking charming." At a later party a guy tells her she has a "smashing laugh."
  • This was Norma Fox Mazer's response to the Judy Blume novel of a few years before, Forever, in which an eighteen year old girl loses her virginity and then abruptly dumps the guy at the end of the book. Mazer believed that teens should be free to explore their sexuality but that penetration should wait for later years after the adolescent hormones and emotions have died down. Finn is a little younger than Katherine, the protagonist of Forever, so I would agree that it would be best to wait. But teens tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to the future...would Finn really have held out so strongly against Seth? And would his leaving have been any harder had they had actual penis-in-vagina sex?  
  • The ending seems a bit tacked on and rushed, as if Mazer didn't want to end with them together and the reason why wasn't really important. And what about their compromised version of sex. It was uncertain in the next-to-last paragraph if it was going to work out, and the final chapter never really answers that. Also, it's going to be pretty awkward for Seth and Finn if Maggie and Jim stay together and get married. They'll be in-laws and have to see each other at Thanksgiving and stuff. The book never really goes into that either. 
  • Norma Fox Mazer slipped in her old characters into some of her newer books at times, but as far as I know, she never did that for any character in this book, though with the ending the way it was it would've been nice to see what happened.
  • Finn and Vida have a long-standing argument about sex, with Finn being on the side of waiting until she is older. A smart decision, I agree, but again I wonder if her view as a teenager in love would be all that realistic. She and her family don't appear to be religious, this was before the AIDS epidemic (although there was still VD), after free love and easily attainable birth control, and Finn appears to be well-adjusted and affectionate. I just have my doubts that she would have resisted Seth so strongly. It's almost as if the message is that girls don't really want sex and just have to battle against guys who are obsessed with it. Though the bottom line is that no one should be made to do anything they don't want to do, and I think that was communicated successfully in this book.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What's the Matter With the Dobsons? (1980) by Hila Colman

I became interested in this book after reading about it on Awful Library Books. (Apparently, I *love* awful books). The Dobsons are a family divided. Mr. Dobson openly favors younger daughter Lisa, who is a goody-goody suck up. Thirteen year old Amanda is left out in the cold. Mrs. Dobson comes off much better than her husband. Rather than seeming to favor Amanda, she is merely compensating for the lack of attention the older girl receives from her father.

The book opens with Amanda hopefully presenting a dollhouse she has made to her father, who is an architect. Instead of encouraging his child, Mr. Dobson picks apart every little thing he finds wrong with the house. Mr. Dobson later invites Amanda to come with him for his working vacation weekend in Boston and when she does not immediately accept, he turns around and invites Lisa instead...(Mrs. Dobson later admits that she doesn't think her husband even considered taking her, which is kind of creepy). Lisa meets a boy while in Boston and when Mr. Dobson balks at the idea of her dating (which is kind of understandable...she's 11), his wife accuses him of being *jealous* of the boy(!) 

Meanwhile, Amanda has a crush on a boy she hears likes her back but thinks she is stuck up. Poor Amanda has the idea that men just don't like her because of her complex resulting from her creepy father. Amanda has a school dance coming up where she'll get the chance to hang out with Randy, her crush. Her parents are going out the same evening and Lisa doesn't want to be left alone, although she had no problem wandering the streets of Boston by herself. The dad makes the ludicrous suggestion that Amanda stay home from her dance to stay with Lisa, though she had made the plans long in advance.

my copy of the book
 Here's where my loyalties in the book begin to shift a bit. Amanda wants to come home from the party early so she gets in a car with Randy, who doesn't have a license. A cop pulls over the underage boy and takes the kids to the police station. Amanda and her mother think Amanda shouldn't be punished for her poor choice and when the father grounds her for the next Saturday, Amanda acts disrespectful and hides out in her room. Lisa sneaks her up some food.

The next Saturday, Amanda predictably sneaks out to her St. Patrick's Day party, arguing hilariously that she may never be invited to a St. Patrick's Day party again...(seriously, is this kind of thing that endears teens to these kinds of characters? I was not a typical teen). She is found out, her father loses her temper and (as typically happens in these kinds of books) he slaps her.

The parents argue some more and the father moves out, promising Lisa that they would talk about her coming to stay with him, which sounds like a mistake to me. Lisa does go stay with Mark (the father) at his hotel room while Amanda stays back with their mother. Amanda admits to a friend that sometimes she picks fights on purpose with her father just to see if she can win. This doesn't sound altogether like realistic dialogue, because what kid would do that and then admit to it? Amanda visits her father one night when Lisa isn't around and he tells her that he is so hard on her because she has an analytical mind while Lisa has an intuitive mind or some such nonsense. It still sounds like Lisa comes out the winner. 

Mark's mother gets married towards the end of the book and he and Kate (the kids' mother) get back together during the reception held at their house. Each parent does something to provide an example of how they have changed during the book in dealing with their respective favorite child. 

Further Book Notes

  • Rather than casting Lisa (the less relatable girl) as the villain, Colman alternates between Lisa and Amanda's points of view. She also less successfully tries out the parents points of view.
  • Amanda (13) and Lisa (11) are only two years apart, yet Mr. Dobson acts as if Amanda is nearly grown and should be able to withstand his criticism while Lisa is a little kid who doesn't know any better. This is why studies show that the oldest child in the family is generally the smartest...more is expected of him/her. This coming from someone who was a youngest child until age seventeen, so don't kill the messenger.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Lack of Updates

Been busy with a new job so I haven't had time to update this page. It's also hard to be motivated to do so when other, newer blogs just like this one get more comments than I do views, but that's what it's like any time I try to write a blog. [insert violin music and balloons for my pity party] I encourage you to look at the blogs I've linked to at the right. Hopefully soon I will find time to read a good, nostalgic 70s or 80s juvenile fiction novel. Getting lost in the plot of such books helps me to escape the larger problems of real life. Thanks for viewing this blog and hope to make another, real post for you (or myself to look at later when I'm bored) soon.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It's About Time (1984) by Bernal C. Payne, Jr

Thanks to the popular Back To the Future movies, there was no shortage of time travel fantasy books in the 80s. This book's plot, where a pair of siblings travel back in time to the 50s and meet their parents as teenagers, is actually even closer to the first movie than other copycat books coat tailing on Back To the Future's popularity. However, since the first movie came out in 1985 and this book was first published in 1984, could the screenwriter actually have been inspired by this little known YA book? Judge for yourself.

The protagonist, sixteen year old Chris Davenport, begins the story by telling us all about his family. What they look like, his parents' occupations, how his father's parents died in a car accident when Chris was a baby and the fact that his parents met as teenagers. His reports are conversational in tone, as if we are there to see everything. 

Chris tells of how he and his sister Gail were rummaging around through their parents' old stuff in the attic on Christmas Eve 1983. They read their mother's old diary entry for the day when she had her first date with their father on Christmas Eve 1955. The two had bumped into each other while shopping and George (the father) invited Liz (the mother) to his family's home that night to decorate their Christmas tree.

Gail says how she wishes she knew more about their meeting and she can't just ask her parents about it because this wouldn't be much of a book that way. Chris tells her about an article he read in which a psychic was able to visit her dead husband by staring at an old photo of him and going back in time. So the two stare very hard at the Christmas Eve 1955 photo of their parents and wish themselves into the past.

Chris and Gail find themselves in their attic in 1955. In a too-good-to-be-true coincidence, the 1955 owners are in Florida on vacation. The twosome marvel at their retro surroundings and debate the merits of panicking (Chris) or going on to watch their parents' meeting (Gail). They decide to go exploring in the neighborhood. They look at the current newspaper and find that they've missed their wished-for date by only one day. It is December 23, 1955. They buy some burgers and fries with their modern money (wouldn't the money have a 1980s date on it?) for only a dollar and two cents.

Next the kids head over to the high school, where they see their teenage father, who went by the name Sonny, showing off in his red hot rod. A girl named Becky gets in the car with them, and they realize it is Gail's future English teacher. They overhear another girl call their father a fathead and turn to see that she is their mother. Liz drives off with another guy, whom Chris and Gail are also familiar with. It's a young version of their good family doctor friend who delivered Chris and Gail, Dr. John Bennett.

what Sonny's 1930 Plymouth hot rod might have looked like
It's a stereotypical 1950s afternoon. Everyone heads to the same hamburger joint after school. Sonny is heckled by two tough guys who want to drag race with him. One of them asks, "You callin' me chicken, Sonny boy?" when Sonny insults him and turns him down. Eventually Sonny and Wild Bill do race, and goody-goody Liz is the only one to not come out and congratulate Sonny when he wins. 

Chris and Gail then become curious to see their father's parents, the ones who died in an accident when they were babies. They walk to their father's old house and make up an excuse to talk to their grandparents, becoming emotional when they have to leave. 

Thinking about how worried their parents must be in 1983, the kids try to make it back to their own time. For some reason, the 1955 picture and Liz's diary time traveled with them - so there are two copies of Liz's diary in 1955? - but then they realize that they need a modern picture to get back to modern times. Luckily, like all teenage boys, Chris happens to have a current picture of his parents in his wallet. Unluckily, no amount of staring at the photograph spurs any time traveling. Chris decides that they just aren't ready mentally to return to their own time yet. The two decide to watch some television and try to sleep.

Next day, the two head down to the shopping center where their parents ran into each other and began dating. They see Sonny and Liz headed towards each other and Gail (why does the girl always have to screw things up?) accidentally runs into Sonny instead. Thus the conflict of the story is established. Were Chris and Gail ever born? They decide they must stay in 1955 and try to get their parents together some other way.

Predictably, Sonny goes off with Becky and Liz with John. After some spying, Chris and Gail find the whole gang down at the ice skating pond. Chris comes up with the idea of wrapping scarves around their faces so no one will remember their 1955 meeting with them in 1983. Which seems pretty conceited. I mean, who remembers some random kids they met a couple of times twenty eight years ago?

Gail meets Sonny's younger sister, her aunt Alice, and pumps her for information regarding Sonny, Liz and their respective dates. The author throws in a mild incest joke when Alice suggests that Sonny might ask Gail on a date. Gail declines. We do find out that Sonny is no more of a fan of Liz's than she is of him. Chris decides to get out on the ice and try to knock the two of them together. This maneuver doesn't spark a friendship, as Liz totally blames Sonny for the incident because he was showing off on the ice. Sonny accuses Liz and John of skating like senior citizens. Still, amid the argument there is an obvious spark between the two of them. 

Gail then says that they need God's help in this matter (it's not really a Christian novel) and they head toward their church. There's a different priest there than the one they're used to in the 80s, Father Dooley. While praying, Chris and Gail begin to disappear, which causes Gail to faint. Gail's fainting catches Father Dooley's attention and they privately tell him the whole story.

At first Father Dooley thinks they are pulling a practical joke on him, possibly orchestrated by Sonny. Not even the 1983 Polaroid budges his stance. Then Chris shows him his digital watch with built-in calculator that he purchased at Target. Father Dooley begins asking a lot of questions about the future. He is flabbergasted that Ronald Reagan is president in 1983 and horrified to realize that he himself is long dead. The priest is still set on the whole thing being an elaborate prank, causing Gail to wail that their 1983 priest would have believed them. Father Dooley is in shock, because Father Ryan has just landed a job in the parish and no one knew about him yet. He tells the kids to come back the next day. Chris decides that their parents' must have been thinking negative thoughts about each other to cause their disappearing act, and changed their mind to bring them back again. (And Chris is always right, if you haven't noticed. He's a boy.)

Back at the house, the kids notice that both their mom's diary and the 1955 photo have gone blank. They attend mass the next day and notice Sonny and Liz casting furtive glances at each other all during the service. They meet up with Father Dooley again, who gives them another round of questions about the world of 1983. Finally he admits that he believes their story and agrees to help them.

Father Dooley's plan is to invite both Sonny and Liz to participate in putting on a Christmas charity dinner for some old folks. Other teenagers join the group, including Chris and Gail (so that Chris can continue narrating the story). One girl openly flirts with Sonny, but he mostly ignores her. Liz snips at Sonny about his hot rod. When it's time to load the food in the vehicles, Father Dooley's car breaks down, throwing a wrench in the plan to force Sonny and Liz to carpool together alone. Chris and Gail tag along with them, again so that Chris can continue to tell his point of view of the story.

Sonny and Liz argue and Sonny misses a stop sign and gets pulled over by a cop. For some reason, Liz abruptly has a change of heart and explains that she was browbeating Sonny at the time of the incident. The cop lets him off and Sonny and Liz warm to each other. 

Everyone arrives at the nursing home in good spirits, but then Becky shows up to spoil things. Becky quickly assesses the situation and decides she doesn't stand much of a chance. She tells everyone how Sonny will not be graduating this year because he is flunking too many classes. This is actually good news for Chris and Gail, as their mother is a grade below their father and will have him to herself, without Becky, for a year. Becky finally storms out and slinks down on a chair in despair, making sure that Sonny can see her.

Liz offers to tutor Sonny (whom she calls George) in his problem subjects. She also admits to liking him. Before Sonny can respond, a woman from the nursing home comes up and begs Liz to play for them on the piano. Just when it looks like Chris and Gail are out of the woods, they spy Sonny leaving with Becky. When Liz sees this, she begins beating out angry songs...but then Sonny comes back alone in his father's car. It turned out he didn't want to take finicky Liz home in his hot rod for fear of another verbal spanking. 

Chris and Gail say goodbye to Father Dooley. They go back to the house, having decided it was time to go back to 1983. Before they leave, they notice that the 1955 photograph is no longer blank. It is a picture of teenage Sonny and Liz standing in front of a mantel with a winking Father Dooley. When they arrive home, they find that no time had passed.

Further Book Notes:

  • The Davenports are a little too perfect to be believable. Chris raves about how good-looking his middle aged parents are, cares about his family history and never fights with his sister.
  • Seriously, they never fight. It almost feels incestuous, especially when Chris narrates stuff like, "She slid her big green eyes over in my direction." I dunno. Just sounds unnatural to me. 
  • The way in which Chris and Gail time travel is pretty lame. Wishing on a picture? No time machines or magic portals? No mad scientists or deLoreans? It's too easy. Even Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time had to try several times before his astral projection worked.
  • The author (and not coincidentally, Chris) seems fascinated with classic cars. There are pages of descriptions of the cars that were driven in 1955, many from the 30s and 40s.
  • Chris is sure that none of the teenagers in 1955 have ever even heard of or care about drugs. That sounds like how most of us look at the past through rose-colored glasses most of the time. Though I can't imagine anyone in 2015 claiming that no one in 1987 did drugs, so maybe it's true. The author does seem to have a keen understanding of the time period.
  • Not only are the 1950s idealized, but the 1980s are made out to seem a lot more dangerous than they were. "These people could walk outside at night without any fear of being mugged before they got to the end of the block." Somehow I made it from 1980 to the present day without ever being mugged. I'm also sure there was plenty of crime back in the 1950s, just as there has been since the beginning of time.
  • Gail is only one year younger than Chris, and it comes off kind of sexist that she seems so much less intelligent and more dependent than he does. (Getting in the way of their parents' meeting, fainting, looking to Chris to come up with all the ideas, etc.) 
  • The dialogue throughout the book is fairly realistic-sounding without going over the top with it, e.g. there's no "Sit on it!" or "Hot dog, daddio!" every other line just to show how endearing the 50s were.  
  • Teenage Liz is rather unlikable. She is described as thinking she is above everyone else and takes every opportunity to cut Sonny down. When she and Sonny finally get together, you get the feeling she will keep his balls stored in her purse and that he will have to change quite a bit to keep her. Of what little we get to see of 1983 Liz, there is nothing to show that she still has this personality or what happened to change it. 
  • While doing a little research on the book, I found a post by someone claiming to have had Bernal C. Payne, Jr as their fifth grade teacher. (The back book flap does say that he was a teacher.) The person said that Mr. Payne was convinced that Steven Spielberg had ripped him off with BTTF and had looked into a lawsuit that apparently never went anywhere. Though the similarities are not as compelling as Margaret Peterson Haddix's Running Out of Time and the movie The Village (now THAT was a disgustingly obvious rip-off), I guess I could see where he might have had a case.  
  • The author didn't write any more books of this nature. It's too bad, too. I know I snarked on this novel a little, but it really was a fun, fast read. How about a sequel featuring Chris's children (assuming he didn't marry Gail) and what they think of the 80s? Or maybe 1983 Chris and Gail could time travel to 2015?