Sunday, January 25, 2015

Class Pictures (1980) by Marilyn Sachs

In this short novel, Pat looks back on her friendship with a girl named Lolly by going through their class pictures.
these are just some unrelated pics I got from Google to spice up the post
When they meet in kindergarten, Lolly arrives new to school and the class popular girl Pat bites her cheek. When Pat later takes up for Lolly after she wets her pants, their friendship begins.
In first grade Pat saves Lolly's birthday party when the other kids refuse to come by telling them that anyone not at Lolly's party won't be invited to hers. At the time, Lolly was overweight and a big crier, so she wasn't the most popular student in the class. Pat lives with her single waitress mother, two little brothers and cranky grandmother, who weren't planning on throwing Pat a party in the first place. They do scrape together a party, and although it isn't as grand as Lolly's had been, the kids have a good time.
In second grade, Pat's and Lolly's class differences come to surface. Lolly's fussy, overprotective mother tries to encourage Lolly to play with girls from their own neighborhood, although these kids dislike Lolly. What's more, Lolly's mother inadvertently opens a can of worms when she tells Pat, during a conversation about genetics, that her father had to have brown hair and eyes like she does. It turns out that the blonde-haired man Pat thought was her father (who died in a car accident) was really her stepfather - her mother confesses she had been married before.
The third grade chapter is mostly filler, with Pat and Lolly looking at Grandma's old pictures and making paper dolls.
Fourth grade finds Pat in the gifted class, separated from Lolly. Being placed in the special class brings a newfound respect from Lolly's mother, but Pat is miserable and complains so much she's assigned to a regular class the next year.
In the fifth grade, Pat and Lolly endure chicken pox together and exchange valentines. Pat is still one of the most popular kids in the class, receiving 26 valentines to Lolly's five.
In sixth grade, the class has a picnic to commemorate the end of elementary school, Grandma starts dating a widower friend, and Pat says goodbye to a favorite teacher (who affectionately calls her "ugly duckling"). Pat's mother seems tired all the time now, but she makes it to Pat's graduation at the last minute.
In seventh grade, Grandma gets married (although she still calls her husband "Mr. Nagel") and Pat feels left out and finds it difficult to adjust to her absence. Her favorite teacher from elementary school, Mr. Evans, lets her conduct science experiments in his basement which definitely sounds a little iffy to twenty first century ears. Pat feels there is something different about Lolly this year and it isn't until she looks at their class picture that she realizes it is that she has become beautiful.

The world shifts in eighth grade, with Lolly becoming the popular one. She is the hit of every party and even convinces the shop teacher to allow Pat to take his class using her feminine charms. Pat can't help but feel a little jealous, especially when the boy she likes shows an interest in Lolly.
the president's class picture. can you find him?
When Pat is in ninth grade, her mother goes nuts and says some hateful things to her. Pat finds out that her mother lied about being married to her birth father and that she actually has no idea who he is. Lolly's family invites Pat on their ski trip, also renting ski equipment for her since her mother couldn't afford it. Pat and Lolly get into a deep discussion and both admit they have been jealous of each other at times.
In tenth grade, Pat continues to suffer the pains of being the less attractive friend. On a double date Lolly sets up for the two of them, both boys hang all over Lolly and ignore Pat.
Junior year, Pat wins an award for one of her experiments and Lolly leads an environmental club. Pat has guilt-ridden daydreams about Mr. Evan's wife dropping dead so she can have him to herself, all the while beginning her first romance with a boy her own age.
Senior year, Pat gets in trouble at an Anti-Nuke protest Lolly has orchestrated but is not allowed to attend. Pat and her boyfriend break up before prom, which upsets her mother. Pat finally confesses her love to Mr. Evans (whom she still calls Mr. Evans).
Mr. Evans later sends Pat a postcard signed "love, Jason" which probably isn't a good idea, and Pat tells Lolly about her feelings for him. Pat is going away to college and Lolly is moving out on her own with a roommate. Pat frets that the new girl will replace her as Lolly's best friend. The girls decide that things may change, but sometimes change has to happen for things to get better.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kitty in the Middle (1979) by Judy Delton

Best known for the Pee Wee Scouts book series, Judy Delton first wrote Kitty in the Middle. I'm not sure whether the stories are based on Ms. Delton's childhood, but the novel feels autobiographical in tone. Set in the early 40's, the book covers the fourth grade year of Kitty's time in Catholic school with her two best friends, one shy and cautious, the other loud and mischievous. Except for the WWII mentions, the book could probably have taken place during any recent time period. Each chapter acts as a vignette, detailing a different adventure.
In chapter 1, the girls are assigned the meanest nun in the school as a teacher.
In chapter 2, Kitty gives away her favorite rosary for a paper doll.

In chapter 3, Sister Ursuline asks the class to name their bad habits. Unable to come up with one, Kitty lies and says she bites her nails. Feeling guilty about the fib, she really begins biting her nails. Her parents buy her a ring as a reward for breaking this habit.

In chapter 4, Kitty and friends crash a stranger's wedding   
Chapter 5 tells about Kitty's first crush, on a new boy in class. The school puts a ban on Valentine's Day, but Kitty manages to receive a Valentine from her crush anyway. At the end of the day, though, she's heartbroken to learn that he gave every girl in class the same Valentine.
In chapter 6 Kitty has problems in music class.
Chapter 7 is pretty standard for a book like this. The girls dare each other to visit a supposedly haunted house, but find out it is inhabited by an eccentric old lady.
In chapter 8, the old lady gives Margaret Mary a dress to wear to the school's May Day ceremony and the girls wax nostalgic about their friendship as the school year comes to a close.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Mystery of Sara Beth (1981) by Polly Putnam

A new girl, Sara Beth, arrives at school. She is unresponsive when the other children try to befriend her.
Becky decides there must be something more to the situation than Sara Beth simply being shy. She begins to look for clues.
Becky checks out Sara Beth's shabby clothes, her schoolwork, her tendency to take home items she's not supposed to. But the biggest clue comes when Becky observes that Sara Beth loves taking care of the class guinea pigs one day and is deathly scared of them the next.
There could be only one explanation: Sara Beth is actually twins named Sara and Beth who take turns coming to school. Why, you ask? The parents could only afford one winter coat and thought this was the best solution.
The girls tell the teacher, and learn that there is a whole stash of winter clothing stored away for just such a purpose. The end.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Deenie (1973) by Judy Blume

Deenie is a beautiful, if somewhat vain twelve year old whose mother desperately wants to become a model. The agents Deenie is sent to note she is a pretty girl, but there is something strange in the way she walks. She also isn't picked for the school cheerleading squad which really meant a lot more to her than modeling.
Deenie has a rather snotty attitude in the beginning of the book. She avoids looking at anyone who isn't beautiful, snubs a classmate who has an annoying girl crush on her, steers clear of a neighbor who was in a wreck which left her handicapped and doesn't want to hold hands with her gym partner who has eczema.  
Her mother is downright horrible. Besides pressuring Deenie into a modeling career, she has decided, from birth, that Deenie is the beautiful one and Deenie's older sister Helen is the smart one and treats them both accordingly. A huge disservice to both girls. Deenie isn't expected to make good grades like Helen and thinks being a model or a homemaker are her only career options.
Everything changes when the gym teacher notices Deenie has a problem with her posture. She calls her in for a scoliosis test (they didn't do this routinely for all the girls back in the 70's?). Deenie is sent to specialists who confirm the diagnosis. The mom, as you've probably guessed, acts like a total drama queen about the situation, and Deenie is upset to overhear her parents arguing about her condition.
There is a really weird segue where, distressed at hearing her parents fighting, Deenie runs up to her room and starts masturbating. Because this is a Judy Blume book, if you are reading this as a twelve year old there is going to be something you've never heard of before, such as periods or wet dreams. In Deenie, it's masturbation.
Deenie decides that having an operation to treat her scoliosis is the lesser of two evils, but her doctor recommends that she wear a Milwaukee brace for four years, until she's stopped growing. Ms. Blume must have done her research, because we get to see exactly what it's like to be fitted for a scoliosis brace.
a brace similar to one Deenie would have worn
While waiting for her brace to be made, Deenie works up the courage to send an anonymous question to the gym teacher about whether or not it's okay for her to masturbate. We get a very positive and open response with the teacher telling the girls that it's normal and not to worry about the strange superstitions they've heard about the subject (making you go blind, break out in pimples, going deformed). Deenie is relieved to know masturbation is not the cause of her scoliosis. 
The moment of truth arrives and Deenie receives her back brace. When she gets home, in a fit of hysteria, Deenie hacks off all her hair like her namesake in Splendor in the Grass. Reactions at school range from those who look at her pityingly and ask if she's been in an accident to those who can't even look at her at all. Deenie's crush, Buddy, is amazingly supportive for an adolescent boy and the brace doesn't stop Susan from copying her.
The book's conclusion finds Deenie a more mature, compassionate person. She makes friends with the girl with eczema and stops judging people based on their appearances. Deenie begs her father to let her go without her brace for her friend's party, but in the end she realizes that he was right and she should wear it all the time. There is a minor subplot involving Deenie's sister falling in love with their father's employee and their mother standing in the way of that. The mother doesn't really change much.