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.

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