Friday, May 8, 2015

Sixth Grade Secrets (1987) by Louis Sachar

Laura Sibbie's father made a deal with her when she was four years old. She wouldn't have to get a haircut as long as she never told another lie. Laura, who admires George Washington, is now in sixth grade and has kept up her part of the deal so far. Laura aspires to be the country's first female president. She's sure she'll be president someday, but she's worried that another woman will beat her to it first.
Laura and her friends Tiffany and Allison are shopping at a garage sale one day when Laura finds an old baseball cap with the words "Pig City" printed on it. She promptly buys the hat, and the girls have fun guessing what Pig City means. 
Laura wears the hat all the time and she and the two others create a secret club called (what else?) Pig City. Laura is president, of course. The club meets in a large shed/clubhouse in Laura's backyard, completely furnished by garage sale purchases. (It seems Laura is a bit spoiled, but prefers vintage items). Laura, Tiffany and Allison each bring something embarrassing to put up as collateral in the event that one of them should squeal about the club. Allison brings a naked baby picture, Tiffany a fake article from a carnival about how ticklish she is, and Laura presents a written declaration of love for their teacher, Mr. Doyle.
The girls invite Kristin, a girl with large red glasses, into the club next, but not before Laura narrowly misses having to copy a dictionary page for writing "Pigs Rule" on the blackboard. (Copying dictionary pages is Mr. Doyle's unique form of punishment). Gabriel, a boy who secretly likes Laura, overhears Kristin's invitation to the club and Laura's strange request that she bring an extra pair of underwear. (The underwear is Kristin's insurance that she won't tell about the club). 
Gabriel, hoping to get into Laura's good graces, writes her a letter telling her he knows about Pig City but promises not to tell anyone. Frizzy-haired Sheila, our villain, sits behind Gabriel and witnesses his note writing. Jealous of Laura's hair and Gabriel's crush on her, she changes the note to say that Laura has ugly hair and if she doesn't kiss Gabriel he will tell everyone. Laura reads the altered note and after debating what to do, writes Gabriel back a scathing note saying she will only kiss him to save Pig City. Mr. Doyle intercepts before Gabriel can read it, however, and both he and Laura have to copy dictionary pages for passing notes. In detention, Laura invites Gabriel to her house after dinner. Gabriel is thrilled, not realizing that Laura just wants to get kissing him over with.
Pig City invites another girl, Debbie, into the club. Debbie's initiation is to call up a nerdy boy, Howard, and tell him she loves him. Debbie disguises her voice and Laura tape records the whole thing. Debbie says in her normal voice at the end of the recording that she loves Howard and everyone laughs. I can't help but think that some parts of this book are kind of mean.
Gabriel is grounded because of his detention at school and isn't allowed to come over to Laura's house. Laura asks him over the phone if he'd like to join Pig City, as long as it meant she wouldn't have to "do anything else." Not understanding the last part, Gabriel quickly agrees. Laura is strangely disappointed that he gave up his demand for her to kiss him.
The girls add yet another member to their group, a shy girl named Yolanda. She is forced to choose a boy to write a love letter to. To everyone's surprise, she automatically chooses Jonathan, the most handsome boy in the class.
Laura broaches the subject of inviting boys to join Pig City with Tiffany and Allison. She suggests that they each choose one boy. At first the girls are hesitant, but Tiffany eventually chooses Nathan and Allison picks Aaron. Each girl seems to have a crush on their respective choices. As it was her plan all along, Laura names Gabriel as her choice. Tiffany and Allison are shocked because they thought Laura hated Gabriel, but it seems as though Laura is coming around.
The girls have trouble coming up with insurance for the boys, but finally settle on having Nathan write a nasty note to Mr. Doyle, making Aaron sing a silly song into a tape recorder, and forcing Gabriel to wear a dress. Nathan and Aaron dutifully perform their tasks and become members.
Laura has the dress and camera all ready when Gabriel comes over, but instead of telling him what his insurance really is, she tells him he has to kiss her. Gabriel jumps up, ready to complete his initiation, when Laura mentions the note he supposedly wrote her blackmailing her into kissing him. Gabriel is flabbergasted at this accusation and calls Laura a liar. Fighting words for her. Not having told Gabriel about the dress, Laura yells out in anger, "And you're too ugly to wear a dress!" Gabriel snaps back, "Yeah well, you're too ugly to wear a suit and tie!" Funny stuff.
Laura has been continuing to write messages on the blackboard all this time. Mr. Doyle has been keeping count of how many there are so when he catches the culprit they'll know how many dictionary pages are due. Gabriel enjoys watching Laura squirm as he almost tells on her time and again. And even though Gabriel has a reputation for not being a tattletale, Laura is frightened that he will tell about Pig City. One day Laura's daily message is changed to Pigs Stink. Everyone is a suspect, including Mr. Doyle. 
Yolanda tells her best friend Karen about Pig City and her love note to Jonathan is delivered to him in retaliation. Yolanda is devastated at first, but the citizens of Pig City later spy her and Jonathan walking together holding hands.
Tiffany tells Laura that she and Nathan kissed and Laura gets all bent out of shape because she's prettier than Tiffany and hasn't kissed a boy yet. Laura cheers up when she receives another phone call. This time the caller disguises their voice and says, "Monkey Town will turn Pig City into bacon and eggs!" Laura seems to be the kind of person who thrives on drama, so this kind of declaration is exciting for her. 
As you've probably guessed, Gabriel formed a rival club called Monkey Town with the leftover kids who weren't invited to join Pig City. This includes Howard, Karen, Yolanda, Jonathan, and even Sheila. Monkey Town writes a "Monkeys Rule" type message on the blackboard, which Laura changes to "Monkeys are Mustard"...they're yellow, they're cowards, get it? Each Pig City member finds a hard boiled egg in their desk. The monkeys sing a song about how they are the best and Pig City is nothing but bacon and eggs. More shenanigans ensue, culminating in Pig City turning every Monkey Town member's desk upside down and writing (upside down) "Monkeys Kiss Donkeys" on the board.
I like this cover too, even though it is a newer one.

Monkey Town gets back at them by spraying them with Laura's mother's sprinkler while they are having a meeting in the clubhouse. This event causes Laura to uncharacteristically admit it's time for Pig City to surrender. However, Laura has no intention of surrendering. Her plan is to divide and conquer the citizens of Monkey Town. She starts by sending a fake letter of surrender to Jonathan. She feigns surprise that Jonathan isn't the president of Monkey Town when he tells her it's actually Gabriel (Laura already knows this). She builds Jonathan's ego by telling him it's ridiculous that Gabriel is president instead of him and that he should form his own club.
When this gets back to Gabriel, he isn't fooled and calls Laura a liar again. Laura's plan does seem to work on Jonathan, who leaves Pig City to form a club called Eagle's Nest. Poor Howard is ousted from Monkey Town for being unable to choose which side he is loyal to.
Sheila becomes obsessed with cutting off Laura's hair. This is thanks in part to the new Pig City song, which Kristin wrote. (To the tune of Yankee Doodle: "Laura Sibbie went to class, Her hair was long and pretty, Stuck a feather in her cap, And called it Pig City.") The other members of Monkey Town think Sheila is taking this too far and Gabriel says the hair cutting idea "isn't nice."
Pig City comes over to Gabriel's house and Laura shows him the original note she received in the beginning of the book to prove she isn't a liar. This solves nothing, as Gabriel is sure she is the one who changed the message. Then Pig City clobbers Gabriel with two large jars of mustard.
Gabriel skips school one day and sneaks into Laura's clubhouse to steal the box with all the embarrassing things in it that were collected for collateral for the club. Gabriel makes Laura eat a raw egg in order to get the treasures back.
Mr. Doyle tricks Laura into admitting that she was the one writing the messages on the blackboard throughout the story. He pretends he suspects the class goody-goody, Linzy, of writing the messages and Laura feels guilty and admits that she was the one doing it. She must copy seventeen dictionary pages before she is allowed to graduate. All of Pig City is aghast at Mr. Doyle's clever but questionable method. They compare Laura's nobleness to George Washington and MLK and they all promise to copy her dictionary pages for her.
That is until Gabriel breaks his word and brings Pig City's treasure box to school and shows everyone. Aaron's song is blared from Gabriel's stereo, Kristin's panties are thrown around, and everyone tries to tickle Tiffany. They immediately turn on Laura. She feels awful and calls herself Richard Nixon. Mr. Doyle collects the items and calls each student up to his desk in turn. He is so flattered by Laura's declaration of love that he offers to drop her dictionary page count down to seven. Laura refuses, stating that she doesn't love Mr. Doyle anymore.
Sheila gets Howard to get Gabriel's signature on a piece of paper. She follows Laura home from school and hides behind a brick wall Laura is sitting on. Sheila whacks off Laura's long hair and leaves a note with Gabriel's signature with a note saying "Pigs are bald."
Sheila and Howard laughingly tell Gabriel what happened. Sheila even brings up Gabriel's first note to Laura and tells him how she reworded it. Though most of the plot twists in this book are extremely clever, this part seems a little convenient. Anyway, Gabriel punches both Howard and Sheila.
Laura's parents take her to an expensive beauty salon where she gets a fancy perm. The description of Laura's new hairstyle sounds very 80's and not very flattering, though I think we are supposed to think it is pretty. Laura isn't impressed with it either. She goes through an emotional transformation of sorts, realizing that all her games and silliness were just as bad as telling lies. "George Washington wouldn't have made someone give him her underpants!"
Gabriel comes over with flowers to apologize to Laura and explain everything that had happened. All the kids except Sheila and Howard have a dictionary page copying party and complete Laura's seventeen pages. Laura and Gabriel finally get together. On the last day of sixth grade, Mr. Doyle gives Laura the Pig City salute. 
Laura is such a strong, unforgettable character and Gabriel is a worthy match for her. This book has so many laugh out loud moments and is a fun, fast read as everyone tries to outsmart each other. The characters might have been a little more fleshed out, but with such a large cast of characters that might have been too confusing. Louis Sachar is also the author of the Sideways Stories From Wayside School books, and the same whacky humor he used in them is prevalent in this book. 

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