Archive | May 2014

This week in Reading

This week there is great joy and great sadness in the world of reading.  There is so much more that I can talk about, but I’ll stick to the two things that have touched me the most–the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou and the Reading Rainbow Kickstarter.

RIP Dr. Maya Angelou

 

This week we lost one of the greats.  Dr. Maya Angelou will ever be remembered as one of the most noteworthy writers and poets of the 20th century.

I once had the pleasure to meet Dr. Angelou, and I’d like to share that story with you.

The Boston University Barnes & Noble is a five story building in the middle of Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts (USA).  The news that Dr. Maya Angelou would be stopping there on her book tour for Even The Stars Look Lonesome was met with great anticipation.  I was a 19 year old college freshman, and I stood in line to buy my copy of the book.  I followed directions to join the line and was dismayed to find that while Dr. Angelou would be signing on the fifth floor, I was sitting on the floor of the third in what felt like an endless line.  I didn’t know that I should have showed up hours earlier.

I wasn’t the last person in line, but my heart was heavy when the B&N employees started to warn us that Dr. Angelou would only be signing for two hours, and the likelihood of our meeting her was next to nil.  However, if we wished to spend hours waiting in a line to accomplish nothing, we were welcome to do so.  Two hours came and went, and I held my breath, certain that we would be summarily dismissed.  I had made it to the fourth floor, but the floor between myself and Dr. Angelou might well have been miles.

Dr. Angelou had decided to sign for a little longer.  It had been three hours since she started signing and four since I’d started waiting in the line from hell.  (I hadn’t been to a Harry Potter Midnight release at that point–I had no idea what a long line really looked like.)  I don’t know why I persisted, but my stubborn side kicked in and I waited, and inched forward.

I reached the fifth floor and could see the woman I’d first seen in Roots, when we were shown the miniseries in seventh grade, the poet I’d watched at the first Presidential inauguration I’d ever seen–Bill Clinton in January of 1993, the author and rape survivor whose book I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings had been required reading at my high school.  I saw one of the few women I looked up to as a role model.  A few steps more and I began to hear her distinctive, beautiful voice.

By the time I reached the front of the line, Dr. Angelou had been signing for more than twice as long as she had scheduled.  She must have been exhausted.  I’m sure her hand was cramped from who knows how many sharpies exhausted by signatures.  Yet she still spoke to each and every person as if we mattered to her–as if we were doing her a favor, rather than the other way around.  She signed my book with my name, the word “joy!” and her signature.

I don’t remember what I said to her, but what she said to me was seared into my brain and my heart.  She told me that every day the slate is wiped clean and we are given a fresh start.

People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”–Maya Angelou.  I know that I am one of a thunderous chorus of people singing her praises.  But she was a woman who deserved every last drop of praise and kindness and love we felt for her, and more.  I don’t know that before or since that cold day in 1997 have I met someone as gracious as Dr. Angelou.

Dr. Angelou reads my favorite poem of hers “Phenomenal Woman.”

A few more links for you

 

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

 

The other big news in the world of reading this week was the launch of the Reading Rainbow kickstarter.  For those of you who have never had the pleasure, Reading Rainbow was a television show hosted by Levar Burton, which launched in 1983.  I was five when it began, and although I was already a reader, it grabbed my attention and helped create a lifelong reader.  Some of the books on the girl’s shelves are books I first encountered on Reading Rainbow.  Elanor, now the same age I was when it first aired, is also a fan.  (I won’t tell you that can bittorrent the entire series because that would be wrong)  Many episodes and segments are available on youtube as well.

A few years ago, Reading Rainbow launched an app.  My husband (who was seven when RR launched–and is a fan, but not nearly as big a fan as I am/was) and I were bitterly disappointed that it was exclusive for iPads.  Last year, an android version launched–but again, was linked to a specific tablet rather than the platform as a whole.  So we have not been able to get Elanor (and Rhi) the app even though we have been eagerly waiting for the chance to throw mon
ey their way for years.

Well, now we can.  Reading Rainbow has launched a kickstarter to get Reading Rainbow onto the web and make it  available to schools.  We have already donated.  I think you should too, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

They met their initial goal of 1 million dollars and at the time of writing this are at 2.6 million USD with 33 days left to go.  But just because they’ve reached their goal is no reason to not donate.

 

I’d like to think that Dr. Angelou would be proud of how people have stepped up to help Reading Rainbow.

Snarking Nostaligic: Prom Dress by Lael Littke

I delayed posting this in hopes that I could find the fraction of a story I wrote in 1994 called “The Curse of the Silver Teddy Bear” about a cursed necklace with a teddy bear charm.  I’m pretty sure I was ripping off Prom Dress, “Friday the 13th: The Series,” and all the other cursed item media I consumed in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Sadly, while I know it still exists, I have not been able to locate it.  I do promise, though, that I will share it in all its terrible glory one day.

prom dressProm Dress by Lael Littke

Originally Published 1989

Robin is too poor to buy a new dress for the prom.  Then she finds a perfect, beautiful dress in the attic of her mysterious employer’s house.  She “borrows” it to wear to the prom…and dances into her worst nightmare.

Then Felicia finds the dress.  The price she pays for wearing it is more than any girl should pay…

But Nicole is too smart to be caught by the dress.  Isn’t she?  Poor Nicole!

And then there’s Gabrielle, Robin’s little sister.  Did she find the dress?  Or did the dress find Gabrielle?

Can anyone stop the fatal attraction of the…Prom Dress?

OHMIGOD you guys—could this book BE any better?  Maybe, but only if it were longer.  I LOVED it.  So much love I can’t stop with the CAPSLOCK.!!!!111!!!!111!!!!1!!

I hope you guys were all fans of soap operas back in the day because this plot has a lot of run-on explanations that only work if you’re willing to pretend we’re in Salem/Pine Valley/Port Charles.

Robin is a new-to-town gold digging social climber dating the hottest/richest boy in school–Tyler.  Tyler drives a red Trans Am, which I think is supposed to compensate for him saying things like “Between your dancing and your working, I hardly get to see you.  Where do I rate on your list of priorities?”

Alas, Robin must work because Daddy’s dead and college tuition doesn’t grow on trees.  Apparently, though, new houses DO grow on trees.  Right around when Robin’s Dad died, her mother inherited a house from a family member who also died at the same time which is great because they couldn’t afford the mortage on the old house they’d lived in with her dad, and so they moved because this house was free because there are no inheritance or property taxes and who the hell knows—just go with it.  Dad died, they moved, they’re broke–but they live in a mansion next to an even bigger mansion.

gold diggerHe’s talking about you, Robin

How very lucky for all of us that Tyler ‘s girlfriend needn’t slum it at McDonalds.  In the mysterious mansion next door lives Miss Catherine.  She’s an elderly recluse with a scarred cheek from when her twin sister Rowena threw acid on Catherine’s face because Rowena was jealous of Catherine’s hot boyfriend Michael who never looked at Rowena even though Rowena had all kinds of lustful thoughts for him.  Robin is Miss Catherine’s lackey, and her job duties seem to consist of keeping Miss Catherine company and talking about how hot Miss Catherine used to be before “the accident.”

One day Miss Catherine and Robin get to talking about how Robin is going to be in some dance show doing the Charleston and there might be college scouts there to give out college scholarships.  She has to find her own costume–and Miss Catherine has the perfect dress.  All Robin has to do is go upstairs, find the secret closet, and take out the flapper dresses—being certain to NOT TOUCH the white prom dress that JUST HAPPENS to be the only other thing in that closet.  Don’t even LOOK at it, Robin.

Duh, of course Robin looks at it, and instantly wants it. She’s going to be Tyler’s prom date and if she shows up in anything less than the perfect dress, he’ll dump her because she won’t be worthy of being seen with him or something.

The dress was made of deep scallops of creamy lace.  It had long sleeves and a high lace collar.  Like the flame colored dress, it had a dropped waistline, but the two dresses were worlds apart.  While the red one called out blatantly for excitement and dancing the braying of horns, the lace one spoke softly of elegance and muted music and romance.

puffed sleevesWhat girl wouldn’t want to sport this while dancing to Milli Vanilla and New Kids on the block ?

She asks Miss Catherine if she can borrow the Prom Dress.  HELLZ NO, Miss Catherine says.  She got the scar on her cheek while wearing that dress–it’s BAD.    Robin decides that the ends will justify the means and when she borrows the flapper dress, she “borrows” the prom dress.  Did she see a shadow on her cheek when she took it?  Nah, it was just a trick of the light.

Apparently Robin looks smokin’ in the red flapper dress at the Charleston contest.  Tyler tells her that his dad thought Robin was so hot that he’s sending them to a top shelf restaurant before prom, and is going to throw a limo their way.  Robin says she could get used to this lifestyle, and I contemplate that she’s chasing the wrong man–it’s Tyler’s dad who controls the purse strings.

They go to Prom—many more mentions of how the dress is so gorgeous that every girl there is jealous of it and that Robin is so bodacious–and are crowned Prom King and Queen.  But just as Robin is about to take her throne and accept the pinnacle of high school success, the stairs crumble and she falls.  The throne she was about to sit on falls too and lands on her legs and feet, crushing them.

No more dancing for Robin.

Robin is taken to a hospital, where her nurse is a woman named Felicia.  Felicia is a reformed slut who is now in love with a divinity student named Mark.  She wants to grow up and be Mrs. Mark, future minister’s wife.  The first major hurdle in reaching her goal is impressing Dean Goudy at a special dinner he throws for his divinity students.  Apparently the dean evaluates all potential spouses, and if the spouse doesn’t measure up the marriage isn’t going to happen and the student will be penalized for even thinking about dating such an unworthy candidate.  No pressure.

If only Felicia had the right dress…

It was to be a dress-up affair, and the only fancy dresses she owned were bare backed or off the shoulder or spaghetti-strapped.  What she needed was something sweet and demure.

Something like Robin Wilson’s dress.

slutty nun dressSadly, this little number will need to stay in Felicia’s closet.

Felicia asks Robin if she can borrow the dress.  Robin says no.  But during a drugged out dream, Robin’s eyes flicker open and she sees Felicia holding the dress up to herself.

Felicia is looking in the mirror–and thinks she sees a smudge on her cheek.  Gee–is it shadowing or FOREshadowing?  Felicia steals the dress.

Felicia goes to the dinner and is all demure and shit.  But the dress keeps feeling tighter and tighter.  So tight she can’t breathe.  But when she looks in the mirror, the dress looks just like it did–it’s not too tight at all.  But she can’t breathe.  Finally, she excuses herself and goes upstairs to the “bathroom.”  Felicia goes into the Dean’s bedroom and rips the dress off her body.

Oh noes!  Now she’s in her underwear and the dress HAS to get back to Robin tonight because otherwise she’d be a bad person or something.  So instead she steals some clothes from Mrs. Goudy to wear.  But why stop there?  She steals a bag to carry the dress back to Robin.  She tries to sneak out, but Mrs. Goudy shouts that someone is fleeing the house with her BLUE BAG!

Felicia runs for the bus stop and the RIGHT bus just HAPPENS by at the RIGHT MOMENT.  What luck!  She hops on the bus and feels so lost and upset.  Now what can she do?  Telling the truth is clearly out of the questions–it is a FAR better solution to change back into the dress, sneak back into the house, and go back downstairs saying that she had glimpsed a man running off with a blue bag.  NO!  NO!  What she should REALLY do is go to the hospital and return the dress and throw out the clothes and….I don’t know, say that God had taken her from the house to the hospital because she was more needed at the hospital?

Before she can get off the bus, Felicia needs her shoes.  She reaches into the bag for her shoes…and discovers a velvet bag with pearls in it.  I know I leave my expensive jewels in a random bag in my closet instead of a jewelry box or a safe.  Oh NOES!!!

People get onto the bus–and it’s Mark and another guy from the party.  Rather than confess and do penance or say some hail marys or whatever, she says

“Mark.  The man with the cap….  He took it.  He made me take the dress off at the house and he put it in a blue bag that he found in a closet….  He got off a few stops back.  ….  He made me come with him.  He said he’d hurt me if I didn’t come.  He threatened all sorts of awful things.  I didn’t dare call out or anything.  I just did what he said.  I’m sorry he got away.  But I was afraid.  See, I’m still shaking.”

Mark is incredibly dumb and believes her.  He escorts her from the bus, while she plays sad maiden.

The bag is left on the bus.

No more integrity for Felicia.

Nicole is a genius.  Her high school academic decathalon team is taking the exact same city bus to a rival high school for a major competition.  Her foot bumps something under the seat, and she finds THE BLUE BAG.  Inside is the dress and some gorgeous pearls.  It’s just what she needs for the dance that night.  Maybe then her teacher will notice her and become her boy toy and they’ll live happily ever after.

snapeI will open to page 394 any day of the week, Professor Snape….

That night she goes to the dance, and she looks totally gnarly.  She thinks she sees a shadow on her cheek momentarily, and only the dullest reader can’t see what kind of karma is heading her way.

Mr. Waring asks her to dance and they flirt.

School would be out soon; that would end the student-teacher track they were stuck in right now, which of course would never allow dating.  Mr. Waring’s strong code of ethics would never allow it.  But, after graduation, they’d be free to date.  Nicole could help him get over the terrible pain of losing his wife and child, and they could be married.  She wondered if he’d mind if she went to college after their marriage.  Very likely he’d insist on it.  Maybe he’d go back for more graduate work.  Maybe they’d both go to college.

Nicole was thinking happily of a wedding gown very much like the dress she was wearing.

Just then, Nicole sees her frenemy talking to someone and pointing at her.  Proving she’s the Girl Computer with the giant brain, she makes the obvious intellectual leap that the cops must be here for her.  They must have figured out….somehow…that the dress and jewelery weren’t hers.  She runs away and bumps into a very tall pedestal.  The bust of Einstein falls off and smacks her in the head.

Poor Nicole, no more brains–it’s amnesia town for you.

Luckily for Felicia, Nicole is brought to her hospital.  She’s able to put the dress back into Robin’s closet.  She confesses everything to Mark and surrenders the jewelry back to Mrs. Goudy.  Mark dumps her lying ass.

Felicia and Robin have a heart to heart about the evil of the dress.  Felicia thinks they should destroy it–her first smart choice of the book.  Robin persists in being a moron and says it must go back to Miss Catherine.

Robin tells her little sister Gabrielle to take the dress back to Miss Catherine.

Did I mention that Gabrielle thinks that Tyler is totally choice?  Gabrielle loves to play piano and Tyler sometimes accompanies her when he’s waiting around for Robin.  So she jumps at the chance to get a ride home from him, and asks him to come play piano with her.  They could even do a duet FOR ROBIN when she finally comes home.

sister's boyfriendThat boy is mine, yo

Robin finally comes home and it’s so sweet how Gabrielle and Tyler have clearly practiced playing together over and over and over and over.  In fact, they’ve gotten so used to playing together that they’re going to do a paid job playing together.  Playing PIANO—stop with your filthy minds.

Robin takes the garment bag with the dress inside it back to Miss Catherine and confesses.  Miss Catherine begins to laugh hysterically and confesses that it was her evil plan all along!  BWAHAHA–she’s not even Miss Catherine….she’s ROWENA.

“I cursed every stitch of that dress.  I started it for myself, you know.  I thought Michael was going to ask me to the prom.  But I had the birthmark, you see, and Catherine was the beauty.  That was the most important thing in the world to her, just as Michael was to me.  I saw them sneak around together, and when he asked her to the prom I finished up the dress for her, because I knew it was the last time she would ever be beautiful.”

Rowena jiggled up and down.  “When they came home, I threw acid on her face.  But not on the dress.  I didn’t want to ruin the dress.  She was wearing a cloak, so it didn’t get on the dress.  I didn’t want to hurt the dress.  I did it right there, in the foyer, on our little stage,” Rowena gave her a mirthless laugh.  “And after that she was even uglier than I was.”

And just look–there goes Gabrielle to her job, with Robin’s boyfriend….WEARING THE DRESS!!!  Rowena taunts Robin to just let her go, that the dress will punish her sister just as it did Rowena’s so long ago.

Robin suddenly develops a backbone and ethics and struggles to her feet, even though they’re both in casts and she’s supposed to be in a wheelchair, and even standing hurts with the fury of a thousand suns she struggles to the door, screaming even though Gabrielle and Tyler can’t hear her.  As she gets to the door, throws it open, and screams her sister’s name one last time just as Gabrielle is about to get into the Trans Am, and passes out from the sheer pain of it all.

She wakes up in the hospital—her fall stopped whatever tragedy was about to befall Gabrielle.

Rowena was taken away and the full story comes out.  After her stay in a mental hospital post-acid throwing, she was released into Catherine’s custody.  The two women went away and were recluses.  “Rowena” died in a fire, tragically.  “Catherine” came back to the hometown and the old house.  But “Catherine” was really “Rowena”–and the scar was from her gouging out her own birthmark so that it would scar and look like the acid burn.  She was the EVIL TWIN!

evil twinEVIL TWINS….EVIL TWINS EVERYWHERE.

The book closes with an epilogue all in italics.  A woman buys the dresses for her second hand store.  A girl named Natalie goes shopping at said store, and sees the dress.  She’s an aspiring actress and it’s perfect for the upcoming audition.  But it costs too much.  So she slips it into her bag and steals it.

Tomorrow she would wear the dress!

The book ends, and I stand up and applaud.

This.

Was.

AWESOME.

 

Next week we’re back to Stoneybrook.  It’s time for Mary Anne’s book….I wonder if we’ll hear about how her mother is dead?

Travel Guides–Physical versus E-Book

On my recent trip to Cambodia, I took both physical and electronic travel guides.  Here is a short pro/con list I made up for each format.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 1.01.18 AM

E-books

 

PRO

  • It doesn’t take up any additional weight in your luggage.  This wasn’t a concern for me on the way to Cambodia, but I could’ve lived without the kg’s on the return trip.
  • You can highlight parts/do a search making it easier to locate specific things within the book.  This made it quite easy when I was reading up on locations during breakfast.

CON

  • In the bright light of day (or a low battery) it becomes an issue to work with an e-book as you have to push your screen brightness to the max (especially somewhere like Cambodia–less a concern in other spots around the globe)

Paper Books

PRO

  • Not battery dependent, will not disappear the second your phone/tablet dies
  • You can mark it up and bend the pages to quickly find what you’re looking for (or my personal favorite–use post-its)

CON

  • It’s additional weight not just in your luggage but to carry around during the day.  If you’re spending the day hiking, it can be terrible.

 

In the end, I didn’t have much use for the physical books once I left the hotel, and I only tended to read my e-book at breakfast, during lunch, and sometimes during the drive from one place to another.  I think for my next trip I might prefer an e-book, but I’m likely to get a copy of both or two different books, one in each format as I feel like I’m still beta-testing the idea of not using a physical book

What about you guys?  Prefer one format over the other?  Think I’m really old fashioned for reading guidebooks at all when the internet is there?

Snarking Nostalgic: The Baby-sitters Club #3 The Truth About Stacey

Thank god it’s a BSC week.  I need to get the taste of that horrible Sweet Valley book out of my mouth.  Say what you will about the BSC (and we can and will say plenty) at least there was never this horrible level of fat shaming and manipulation that we saw in SVH.

the truth about staceyThe Truth About Stacey

Ann M. Martin

Originally Published December 1986

After being super pregnant for two books, Mrs. Newton is about to pop.  Kristy, being the forward thinker that she is, assumes that Mrs. Newton has no plans for Jamie when she goes into labor.  Obviously, the baby will be born during sanctioned sitting hours so they can ride to the rescue.  Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the phone call where Kristy tells Mrs. Newton all of this because Janine bursts in, and is all a-tizzy.  This is out of character, but I think this is supposed to be an extension of her and Claudia’s bonding moment in book 2.  Janine found a flyer for the “The Baby-sitters Agency.” OH NOES! Their sitters are age 13 and up and can babysit MUCH later than the BSC girls can!

Kristy converts the BSC meeting to an EMERGENCY meeting (they have a lot of emergency meetings in these early books—If I recall that slows down pretty quickly-maybe because soon we have Dawn’s California zen attitude calming them down…or the reefer fumes coming off her hippie clothes do).

Who ARE these Baby-sitters Agency girls?

“Those two aren’t babysitters any more than I’m the Queen of France. … They have smart mouths, they sass the teachers, they hate school, they hang around at the mall. You know, that kind of kid.”

I’m impressed that Claudia managed to effectively slutshame them without ever actually mentioning boys. These are BAD GIRLS. You just know how this is going to go down.

Kristy calls the BSA, pretending to be a seventh grader named Candy Kane, who needs a sitter for her little brother Harry because she has a date with her boyfriend Winston Churchill. She’s offered three sitters, one of whom is a HIGH SCHOOL GIRL.  I’m dying of laughter over here.

 

bsc logo meme

Kristy is like the Don Corleone of Stoneybook. This second babysitting organization can’t be allowed to survive. After all there’s only like 10 families with kids (apparently) and the nearest town next to Stoneybrook is 20 miles away. Clearly, there isn’t enough business to go around.

Stacey goes home and feels depressed. To pass the time, she gives a lengthy exposition about the last year of her life. How her diabetes was discovered, what diabetes is, and how it wrecked her life.

Before diabetes, Stacey lived on the Upper West Side of NYC with a view of Central Park from her bedroom. I hate to bring realism into this, but her parents have to be millionaires for that to be true (especially as she also attended a private school—which is good for 30+K USD a year on its own). I think Martin just wanted to paint all of us the ideal NYC life—because she knows that just like Mary Anne, we’re all dreaming of living in NYC. I’d love to know what a real New Yorker thought of the huge disconnect between Stacey’s NYC life and real NYC life—or if they just shrugged it off because it’s fiction?

After the diagnosis (which came after several embarrassing things, including wetting the bed at a sleepover—which would absolutely be mortifying for a tweenager), her parents morph into psychotic helicopter parents. At first Stacey doesn’t necessarily manage the diabetes well, fainting at school and getting hospitalized a few times. They also don’t want anyone to know that Stacey has diabetes. The way they handle this makes me think they’d be best buddies with Elsa and Anna’s parents.

(watch all the way, including past the credits)

Stacey and her bff go from friends to enemies overnight. In part, obviously because Stacey has cut her out and is lying. Stacey was thrilled to move to CT and get a fresh start. Now she has friends because of the BSC and she’ll be damned if she loses them because of a competing babysitting agency. Which is incredibly flawed logic from the 35 year old perspective, but makes sense from a 12 year old.

The next day there is yet another emergency BSC meeting.  This is the first appearance of Kristy in the chair with the visor and clipboard that becomes iconic within the series.  However, Kristy is uncharacteristically hysterical and says they should do free housework, drop their rates and bring kid-kits to every appointment.  AND they will hire some older kids, too.  The only idea any of them like is the kid-kits (which also become iconic), but they reluctantly agree to bring in older kids.

Stacey babysits Charlotte Johanssen.  On the way to the playground, they stop at a candy store.  In what I think is a really wonderful and genuine moment, Stacey is tempted to buy some.  Her diabetes is new, after all, and she remembers candy vividly.  As they’re walking, they run into Liz Lewis who hands them a balloon advertising The Baby-sitters Agency.

balloonsevil incarnate

Kristy was worried.  She took the balloons as a personal insult.  It turned out that she’d run into Liz that afternoon herself.  Only Kristy had had the nerve to tell Liz who she was–president of the Baby-sitters Club, and therefore Liz’s number one rival.

Upon reading this, I hope against hope that Kristy is about to break out the Jets jackets and Liz the Sharks and that they’ll break into some kind of snazzy dance based gang fight.  JAZZ HANDS!

One day after school Kristy and Stacey go to Kristy’s house to find Jamie Newton eating cookies with Mrs. Thomas.  Mrs. Newton had a game plan!  Score one for responsible adults!  This of course leads to discussions about how long babies take to be born and what time each of the BSC girls were born.  We get the reminder that Mary Anne’s mom is dead dead dead.  Thus she can’t find out what time she was born because obviously her dad wouldn’t know?  (Luckily Mimi knows and tells her, circumventing her having a conversation with her father.)

Jamie feels a sense of camaraderie with Honest Toddler, and is pissed off that his parents have afflicted him with Infant Sibling Disease.  Kristy decides to throw him a big brother party and invite neighborhood kids.  We get our first appearance of Mallory Pike, who can’t seem to decide if she belongs with the little kids or the baby-sitters because she is destined to spend the series not fitting in with either.  Mrs. Newton calls during the festivities to tell them it’s a girl.  Jamie is not whelmed.

But it isn’t just the appearance of a baby sister that has Jamie Newton upset.

“Something else will be different.  There will be lots of changes.”

“What else will be different?” I asked.

“Kristy can’t baby-sit me anymore.”

“What do you mean?”  That cold feeling crept into my stomach again.

“Mommy called a girl and said ‘We need an older sitter for the new baby.'”

Look, I’m all for 13 year old sitters for my 2 and 5 year olds, but a newborn?  Nope, you’re going to have to be 17/18 at the very youngest and 22+ by preference.  How much you want to bet this entirely rational, responsible, good choice is going to blow up in Mrs. Newton’s face?  Any takers?

Stacey tells Kristy what Jamie had said.  Kristy narrows her eyes and says “this means war.”

this means war

At school they see the BSA girls handing out flyers and they snag one from a boy (because boys don’t babysit, duh).  Kristy calls a triple-emergency meeting at her house after school because it’s her day with David Michael.  For now–what if her mom turns traitor like Mrs. Newton?  It’s TOO RISKY to talk about things at school.  Kristy would make a great drug kingpin.  Queenpin.  Whatever.

Stacey’s parents are going to take her to go see some new holistic new-agey doctor who will cure her diabetes through nonsense.  She tries to tell her parents she thinks the idea is full of shit and gets a stonewall of “we’re your parents and we want what’s best for you.”  Stacey is rightfully skeptical of this, and asks Charlotte’s mom about this Dr. Barnes character and has her worst fears confirmed–Her idiot parents are taking her to a quack.

If the BSA is going to use flyers to advertise for new members, then the BSC members are going to wear sandwich boards to advertise for new members.  As they do, they learn that they are the only baby-sitters worth a damn in the town.  Everyone else watches tv and is horrified at interacting with children.  UGH, children.  Everyone but Kristy fails…but she has two new members.

That these two new members are pals of Liz?  No problem!  They had a falling out!  THIS IS NOT SUSPICIOUS AT ALL.

But before the next BSC meeting, the girls go over to visit the Newtons.  They all have presents for the baby and Jamie.  However, Kristy uses this as an excuse to call out Mrs. Newton for being a traitor.  Mrs. Newton gives a reasonable explanation for why this is her choice for now.  She’ll get hers.

At the BSC meeting, the two new girls get assigned jobs for that weekend.

what could possibly go wrong

Shocking news.  The new girls don’t show up to the meeting on Monday.  Kristy gets irate phone calls to ask why the hell the girls didn’t show up at their jobs.  Kristy decides to confront the girls at school the next day–and gets upset when they laugh in her face.  I never saw that coming.

A few days later Stacey sees Jamie Newton and he’s mopey.  His sitters neglect him and worse.

Jamie nodded.  “With a–a cigarette.”  He said “cigarette” as if it were a dirty word.  Neither of his parents is a smoker.

“Gosh,” I said.  “Anything else?”

“Sometimes they talk on the phone.  They talk longer than Mommy and Daddy do…Stacey?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s a boyfriend?”

Ann M. Martin left no bad babysitter stereotype untouched, did she?  There are NO sitters worth a damn in Stoneybrook except the BSC.  (And maybe Kathy, if she’s still watching David Michael two days a week…unless she turned traitor and joined the BSA?  This is never addressed.  I don’t know if we ever see Kathy again.)

Then Stacey babysits Charlotte and finds out that she’s been getting babysat by bad girls too.  Who only babysit her for the money!  Stacey is indignant at the idea, forgetting that she babysits in part to buy clothes.  With cuddles and kisses, apparently because stores don’t take money.  While Dr. Johanssen is a traitor who hires BSA girls, she does come through for Stacey with a letter for her parents.

What (Stacey) told us got the club ready for the final battle in the war against the Baby-sitters Agency (entry in BSC notebook by Mary Anne)

The BSC girls are walking home and find Jamie Newton on the sidewalk outside his house with no coat and no supervision.  The girls tell him to go back inside and only play in the fenced in backyard, and to wear his coat and mittens. See, I told you Mrs. Newton would get what was coming to her.

When Mrs. Newton comes home, they go over and tell her what happened.  They’re scared of being seen as tattletales, but are relieved when Mrs. Newton believes them.

“Mrs. Newton,” Kristy said suddenly, “I know you’ll want to call Cathy about this afternoon yourself, but could you let us talk to Liz and Michelle?  We have a score to settle with them.”

sharks and jetsLike this, PLEASE!!!!!

I’m so disappointed to tell you that there is no dance fighting.  The girls defeat the BSA with trivia.  What’s Jamie Newton’s favorite sandwich?  What’s Charlotte Johanssen’s favorite game?  What does it mean when Nina Marshall rubs her ears?  What is Nina allergic to?  SEE?  They’re better babysitters and now Liz knows it, too.

Stacey and her parents leave for New York.  Oh noes!  They’re going to stay with Laine’s family.  Stacey will have to face off against her frenemy.

Stace has to go to the witch doctor and get endless, expensive tests.  After a day of this, she sits her parents down and introduces them to reality.  She likes real doctors and has made her own appointment with the help of Dr. Johanssen.  Her parents agree to meet with him, who explains to them that Stacey already has good doctors and is doing a great job of managing her diabetes.  Her biggest problem is her parents (revisit the “How Frozen Should Have Ended” video above again).  At least they agree to back off.

Stacey, flush with triumph at taking control of her health issues confronts Laine.  Laine didn’t know what was going on, was upset at being blocked out, and when another kid suggested Stacey was contagious she believed him.  Stacey explains that she almost had to stay back and that the attention she was getting wasn’t exactly positive.  They make up and all is right with the world.

However, in obsessing over her relationship with Laine, Stacey never once talks to Claudia as a BFF.  This is particularly interesting as it is a HUGE plot point throughout the books that Stacey and Claudia are best friends.  This strikes me as weird.

Once back in Stoneybrook, Stacey learns that the parents have taken down the BSA.  Apparently they had this crazy idea of asking their kids about what the new sitters were like, and once they found out, they started calling one another.  Everyone, mark it on your calendar–this may be one of the only moments adults in Stoneybrook act like adults.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 7.18.50 PMKristy decides to let them live since they’re no longer competing with HER.

I’m torn on this book.  The BSA/BSC war is hilarious.  The way that Stacey’s parents treat diabetes like HIV is just stupid.  However, the way that Stacey advocates for herself is really admirable, and I think that’s what a lot of people respond to.  On one hand, this article discusses this book as an important part of the author’s journey of acceptance with his own diabetes.  On the other, I asked my friend S, who is also a type 1 diabetic about the book and she said “However my vague recollection is of scary view of diabetes that would freak me out if I read it again now and based on those memories the girls won’t be reading them.”  You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Next week: Prom Dress by Lael Littke.

Snarking Nostalgic: Sweet Valley High #4 Power Play

Hi Guys–Sorry the only pic is the book cover.  I’m on vacation and the internet is unreliable and slow.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 3.27.16 PMSweet Valley High #4: Power Play

All SVH were written by ghostwriters.

Alternate Title–Why bullying fat women is totally a good thing to do

Hate does not begin to describe the level of contempt I have for Sweet Valley High #4: Power Play.  I don’t suppose a series where ghostwriters seem to have been contractually obligated to mention the twins “perfect size six” bodies in every book was ever going to be sympathetic to a fat girl, but this book is deplorable. (Side note—they’ve since redone SVH to be all hip and modern, which fails about as hard as the BSC updates—and the twins are now described as slender or slim, because a size six is now a heifer in Francine Pascal’s world.)

I read a few SVH book blogs because you couldn’t pay me to go back and read #1-3 to find where Robin is first mentioned, and they say she gets a brief nod in book 3 to set up for book 4. This is Robin. She’s smart, funny, and fat. So fat. Horribly fat. And she wants to be BFF’s with Jessica.

Robin is apparently the new girl in school. She believes Jessica is her BFF, but isn’t happy. Which we learn through the most bizarre conversation between her mother and Elizabeth. Mrs. Wilson says that having the Wakefield twins as her BFF’s is the best thing to happen to Robin since the move to SV, but then immediately flips it around and says that Robin is thinking of quitting school! Why?  Because she’s fat, and because she’s fat no one likes her (even though she’s smart and funny and kind).

Drinking Game I should’ve played to make the book more palatable–drink every time my blood pressure goes up a point.

Robin arrives with Jessica’s dry cleaning. Friendship is Robin running errands for Jessica! Apparently while she’s one of the smartest girls at Sweet Valley, she doesn’t know the difference between friendship and being someone’s servant.

Robin plopped down on the sofa, rummaged around in her purse for something, and finally came up with a large chocolate bar. She unwrapped it and hungrily started munching. (DRINK)

‘You’re really lucky, Liz, having a terrific sister like Jessica.’ The chocolate bar was disappearing fast.  (DRINK)

‘That’s me, all right, lucky Liz,’ she replied dryly, hypnotized by Robin’s rhythmic chewing.  (DRINK)

‘Robin, doesn’t eating that make you’—don’t say ‘fat,’ she warned herself—‘break out?’  (DRINK)

‘Oh, no,’ said Robin, licking her sticky fingers. ‘I never get zits, just pounds. But I just wasn’t meant to be slim like you and Jessica. It’s got something to do with my bones—or is it my metabolism? Anyway, it’s just my sad fate.’

Elizabeth looked at Robin dubiously. She was convinced Robin’s heaviness was due to the way she ate—especially if this was typical.  (DRINK)

Though Elizabeth and Jessica certainly didn’t have Robin’s figure problems, they still watched their diets carefully.

Elizabeth is a concern troll. She doesn’t really give a damn about Robin, but she enjoys patronizing her and the feeling of superiority she gets from being so “nice.” I hate her.

Robin begs Liz to remind Jessica to let her pledge the sorority. Liz decides to help her even though she’s “a lot overweight.” (DRINK) Robin is thrilled and practically dances out the door as Jessica arrives (although god knows the ghostwriter would probably call it shaking the house with each footstep).

Why was that fat wimp pawing at me and gushing all over the place?” Jessica demanded.

Jessica is a sociopath. First she plans to just “forget” to nominate Robin for membership. When Liz nominates her instead, Jessica is furious. She reminds Liz that the pledges must complete certain tasks before they can become members, and immediately sets out to come up with the most humiliating ones possible so that Robin will drop out and she can still look pure as virgin snow. (DRINK.  Forget it–just chug the damn bottle and go buy another one.  This is multi bottle book.)

After Jessica goes over to tell Robin that she’s going to be a pledge, she immediate goes home and, in the best sentence in the entire book, “Jessica was wearing leotards and exercising with Jane Fonda via video cassette.”  She’s scared that she might catch fat from Robin?

Task #1–Run (although it’s described as “lumbering”) around the track five times a day for one week.

Task #2–Robin has to go to the beach in a bikini and play volleyball. Robin doesn’t have a bikini but “it’s a two-piece suit that’s too small, so it looks like a bikini, kind of.” Liz says Robin can play on her team. On Saturday “Elizabeth knew it was going to be a difficult day for Robin—and her” (emphasis mine) because she thinks, just as Jessica does, that it’s embarrassing to be seen with the fat girl.  But she’s a concern troll and a martyr, so she’ll suck it up and be seen with the chubby girl.

Task #3—Robin has to get Bruce Patman to take her to the Discomarathon on Saturday night. Liz bribes Bruce to accept when Robin asks him by promising him an article in the newspaper. “All right. I’ll take her. But I want my picture in, see! A big one. And tell how I whipped that guy at Palisades.” (Is Bruce a small time gangster in a 40’s noir film?) Bruce brings her to the dance (she’s wearing a tent dress, if you were curious), but ditches her loudly in the middle of the floor, saying “Ok, that’s it. I brought you to the dance, Tubby. I’ve got better things to do now. Hey! Anybody want to steer the Queen Mary around the floor tonight? She’s all yours!

Robin leaves the dance humiliated and has a run in with a nerd named Allen Waters. He seems like a decent guy, who saw that she was upset and wanted to see if she was okay. Robin is hysterical, saying “I am a total outcast! I’m ruined!”  Allen convinces her to go back to the gym, and Jessica sweeps over and notes that PBA pledges shouldn’t be seen with their social inferiors. But they still dance (although, since he’s a certified nerd, he can’t really dance) and then he takes her home.

Furious that her scheme to get Robin to drop out of the pledging process failed, Jessica moves onto her plan B. There is a convenient loophole she can take advantage of—during the vote on pledges, if a single person puts in a black stone, she can’t join. All the PBA’s are too scared of Jessica to blackball someone she is “friends” with.  Yet a black stone appears—Jessica had to do it herself.  Jessica decides that this is all Liz’s fault because Liz was the one to nominate Robin in the first place

“It’s a secret vote—and nobody can challenge a blackball. It’s just one of those unfortunate things.” (SOCIOPATH)

Robin disappears for a week.  When she comes back she avoids the twins like the plague, although of course Liz tries to go and concern troll her some more. Liz watches her from afar, and notices that Robin is starting to run on the track every day, and that she’s starting to eat salads.

One day a week or two later Elizabeth almost bumped into her coming down the stairs—and was astonished to realize the transformation that was occurring. The excess pounds were going rapidly, and the Robin who was emerging seemed like an entirely different girl.

Well of course she’s a different girl. Thin girls can have personalities apart from pathetic, desperate to be loved fatty.

“I hope you’re doing it the right way, Robin.”

Robin fixed her penetrating eyes on Elizabeth. “Liz, I may have been stupid about almost everything—the Pi Betas, Jessica, and maybe even you. But if you’re asking me if I’m starving myself to death, I wouldn’t give any of the PBAs the satisfaction.”

Apparently something like 3 weeks after the blackball, there are mid-term cheerleader tryouts, and Robin is trying out. She not only makes the team, but is immediately made co-captain with Jessica.

What the Pi Betas had unintentionally done for Robin certainly was remarkable, Elizabeth had to admit. She had not simply avenged herself by losing weight. Robin had gone through a complete transformation. The old tent dresses had slowly disappeared, replaced with flattering and stylish outfits. The pale face had taken on a healthy glow, and all in all a totally new Robin Wilson was dazzling Sweet Valley Nigh. There were many kids, in fact, who swore she’d just moved to town. They’d never even noticed her before.  (BOOK I HATE YOU.  IF I HAD A PHYSICAL COPY I WOULD BURN YOU.  GHOSTWRITER AND FP YOU HAVE JUST TOTALLY EXCUSED AND LEGITIMIZED JESSICA BULLYING AND HUMILIATING A FAT GIRL.  FUCK YOU.)

There’s still book left to go, but this is the moral of the story. Bullying is good because it’s a motivational tool. Also, losing weight will give you a tan.

Elizabeth goes up to congratulate Robin a few days later and they have a talk. Robin calls it like it is—that Jessica is an awful person. Liz, of course, defends Jessica, even though she knows better than most what a conniving witch she really is.

“You just don’t want to face up to what kind of person Jessica is. She and I were never really friends. I used to pretend to myself that we were because I wanted to believe it was really true. It must have given Jessica a few good laughs.”

Welcome to reality, Robin. Nice of you to join us.

Bruce is panting after the new cheerleader. However, he has no clue that it’s the same girl he was an evil bastard to as the dance. It’s a good thing he’s rich because he’s a moron.  (Sidenote: he’s also a rapist)

The final showdown between Robin and Jessica is yet to come, though. Both go out for Miss Sweet Valley High, and it quickly becomes a two woman race that divides the high school. It even divides the football team!!!!

“The Gladiators’ offensive line and backfield paraded through the lunchroom carrying a big banner: Jessica is Just Right!”

Then the defensive line came through the auditorium with a huge placard: Robin Has Us Throbbin’”

Robin has us throbbin’ has me rolling with laughter. (You know, like us fat girls do—we roll, we laugh.)

At the homecoming game—Robin wins!

It seemed to everyone that Robin had achieved absolute top status at Sweet Valley. She was the football queen, and now she would take her triumphal tour in Bruce Patman’s black Porche.

At least she gives Bruce the metaphorical middle finger and is escorted by Allen Waters.  The Pi Betas invite her to join the sorority and she tells them to fuck off.

The end.

While I appreciate that Robin doesn’t become one of Jessica’s prettier lackeys, I found the book reprehensible. Robin could and should have learned those lessons without becoming the homecoming queen. But somehow, the external transformation of weight loss is what legitimizes her internal transformation. Which is a terrible message.

Yet this is the key message of the multi-billion dollar (annually) industry of weight loss. Losing weight will make you thin, pretty, and popular. You will be deserving of love then. You will be a more confident and BETTER person.  I’ve been to a Weight Watchers meeting–and this is the message they sell, too.

The truth is that fat to thin, thin to fat…you are still you. If you hated yourself fat, you will still have emotional drama and poor self image thin (truth—many women have body dysmorphia). If you had issues with your husband or parents before you lost weight, losing it won’t fix those.

Any girl who thinks about reading this should be handed a copy of Two Whole Cakes by Leslie Kinzel instead.

Next week we return to the warm embrace of Stoneybrook with “The Truth About Stacey”

Kid Book Review: The Monster at the End of this Book reviewed by Rhiannon

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.50.51 AM

They say that kids and pets are the two most frustrating creatures to work with.  I think we’re giving pets a bad rap.  This is the closest I could get to an interview with either of my kids this past week.

Rhi is “reviewing” one of her favorite books.  According to my mom, I was a huge fan of it as a little child as well.  As a parent, I find it a tough read–it only works if you can get yourself into hyper dramatic read aloud place.  There are days I’m just too tired.

The plot–Grover is scared of the monster, and begs you/tries to stop you from turning the page.  But of course you do.  And Grover discovers that the only monster there is him!  It’s….okay.  It’s a damn sight better than the retread they did in the last decade called the “OTHER” monster at the end of the book, starring Elmo (one of the least necessary books ever published).  At least neither of them rhymes.

If your kid likes Sesame Street and you’re good with voices, it can be a winner.  If they’re not, or you’re not–give it a pass.

Book Review: The Good Women of China by Xinrin

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 11.49.29 AMThe Good Women of China by Xinran

Rating 4/5 stars

I read a different book by Xinran earlier this year–Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother–that ripped my heart out and left me sobbing at various points.  I approached this book with caution because of that.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother tells one woman’s story per chapter.  Eventually, so does The Good Women of China.  However, the start is much slower, and less engaging.  I picked up and put this one down a few times, easily distracted by other books.  However, once I got to roughly 1/3 of the way through the book, I was sucked in and found myself crying time and time again.

Xinran was, for a time, a presenter of a highly popular radio show in China in the 80’s and early 90’s called “Whispers on the Night Breeze” which focused on the stories of everyday women (or rather, that is what it evolved into).  This is the source material for this book and others.  The stories she shares are most often those of her generation and that of her mothers–the generation that were children during the cultural revolution, and that of the mothers of those children.

My bachelor’s degree is in History.  I have a deep attachment to learning about race, class and gender history.  The thing about studying women’s history, though, is that for every fascinating and empowering story about women, there is often a much larger number of truly depressing stories.

One of the most common experiences that occurs in women’s history, and in this book, is that of rape.  To the point where I would firmly caution that this book needs a trigger warning for rape.  Girls are raped by their fathers.  Girls are raped in the cause of “re-educating” them during the Cultural Revolution.  Girls are raped in the chaos after an earthquake.  Girls who wish for death after rape, who are institutionalized, whose mothers commit suicide after they are raped. 

It is also the story of how a moment of deep change–the Cultural Revolution–impacted not just the wealthy or the well born, but the every day woman as well.  These are stories we almost never hear.  The Japanese expatriate who was in China to teach at a university, and is jailed as a counter-revolutionary.  The daughter of wealthy capitalists who gets to her family’s home too late–they have fled to Taiwan–and has to pose as the illegitimate daughter of her aunt, hoping that the truth will never be revealed.  The women who began an orphanage after their own children were killed by an earthquake–an earthquake the government didn’t find out about for weeks because there was no modern means of communication in the impoverished mountain villages.  A woman who was separated from her love by duty to the party, only to find him again 40 years later—and that he’d married after being told that she was dead.  Weaved throughout the other stories is Xinran’s.  Her parents were accused of being counter-revolutionary, and she and her brother were brought up by the party.  Peasant children were taught to insult them, and treat them as subhuman.  Her deeply complicated relationship with her parents, and with her own past is shown as the book progresses.

We also see Xinran’s growing dissatisfaction with trying to toe the party line as a media representative.  Stories must be edited, others not told (no need to embarrass the party with a story about highly educated women being given to party elite as new wives, or the village wives they left behind).

As an American, I learned very little modern era Asian History in any of my classes.  I was vaguely aware of how Mao had gained power, but I had no context for what that looked like for a woman living in China.  Xinran lends us those voices, which when paired with other resources can help paint a more complete pictures of the experience.

If you have an interest in Asian History, in women’s history, or in women’s studies, this book is definitely one you should make time to read.  But allow yourself to read as fast (can’t put it down) or as slow (too emotional, need a break) as you need.  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an easy read.