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Problematic Harry Potter

A friend and I were recently talking about Harry Potter. She, like me, is reading book one to her almost seven year old. I’m also reading book five with my almost ten year old.

Harry Potter is twenty years old. And in some ways, it’s showing its age.

There is a ton of fatphobia that might or might not be okay today. I say might or might not as fat phobia is alive and well today. What do I mean by fat phobia? Many of the villainous people in the books are described as fat as shorthand for lazy, greedy, mean, and evil. The Dursleys, Aunt Petunia, and Delores Umbridge are some of the characters described this way.

The racial representation is…not good. You have the Patels, Lee Jordan, Cho Chang, and a few other background characters are people of color. Ron, Harry, and Hermione are all white, canonically. Yes, a black actress played Hermione in Cursed Child, but that’s colorblind casting, not a sudden reversal of cannon. The movies are even worse, as you can see below. Just over six minutes of speaking time for people of color in eight movies.

Hermione is a white savior. She never asks or listens to the House Elves. She just decides she knows what’s best, and starts S.P.E.W., or the Society for the Prevention of Elvish Welfare. In book five, she even leaves hats and socks around the Gryffindor common room so that an elf might pick it up and be freed. The Hogwarts House Elves are, in fact, so angry about this that they refuse to clean the common room, and the only reason that it gets cleaned is because Dobby does it out of love for Harry Potter. Yes, there is abuse–Dobby and Kreacher are both victims of abuse. But it’s problematic when someone decides that they know what’s best for a class of people without consulting them–sort of what men are doing to women’s reproductive health.

Hermione does so much emotional labor for Harry and Ron. For the love of god, boys, do your own fucking homework for a change, for one. Y’all would be dead without Hermione.

There is still a LOT of good in the HP books, and I identify as a Ravenclaw. But it’s inappropriate to give something a pass just because you like it.

Review– Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

Buy Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry

4/5*

Published August 2018

 

Michael’s family just moved for his dad’s work. Again. After his dad promised that the last move was going to be the final move. Worse, atheist Michael is being sent to Catholic School, with its stupid uniforms and religion and rules. He’s sure he’s not going to make any friends and will be trapped in his own perception of hell (assuming he believed in hell, which he doesn’t) for the next two years until he graduates. Then, in Theology class, a girl starts arguing with the nun over saints. Here, Michael realizes, is someone he can be friends with. He chases the girl down after class and Lucy invites Michael to sit with her friends.

Eventually he is asked to join their secret club, Heretics Anonymous. Lucy is actually Catholic, and believes in it, except for the part where women can’t hold any real power. She’d want to be a priest, but it will never happen, and she’s upset over it. Avi is Jewish and gay. Eden is the youngest in a very Catholic family, but is a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist Polytheist. Max is a Unitarian who loves cloaks and hates the dress code.

At first all H.A. does is sit around and discuss what’s wrong with the school. Then Michael suggests that they start doing things. Things like subverting the dress code by leaving pairs of neon shoelaces around the school. Or when they print a paper to counter the overly censored school paper.

But is H.A. making the school better? Or worse?

But one day Michael takes it all too far.

I thought that the book was really well written. The story was engaging with really good pacing. I didn’t realize how long I’d read for, and I immediately wanted to go back to reading it. I wish there was already a sequel! (On the other hand, no sequel because it’s perfect as it is.) It was highlighted in Buzzfeed’s YA books to read this summer and it’s easy to see why.

The evolution of Michael’s relationships, including his romance with Lucy were engaging and, again, well paced. Avi is distrustful of him at first, and doesn’t want Lucy to invite Michael to join H.A. Lucy falls for him, but slowly. Michael is closer to some members than others, and he never hangs out with Eden alone, for example, but she’s a friend in his circle. So it’s more realistic than if they were all the bestest buddies ever.

I don’t think the reader will find any shocking reveals, but even if they’re predictable, they’re well done.

I really liked that the characters were quite diverse. There are Latinas, Asians, and Black students, and it’s nice to see that their race is not a defining characteristic a la The Baby-Sitters Club where Jessi was Black and did ballet and that was all of her character development. Avi being gay is also not a defining characteristic but when it’s used, it’s used well.

Henry does a good job of presenting what’s wrong with that sort of school environment, including the abstinence assembly and the teacher’s morality clauses and how they’re enforced. But through Michael’s eyes, we also see a softening toward the church and things that are good within it. Both believers and non-believers can enjoy the book.

I thought that the “villain” of the story–Theresa, a soldier of Christ with no ability to see beyond that into the gray areas–is something of a cardboard cutout. I sort of get why she cares so much, but she’s still a flimsy villain. I wish she were a little more developed and three dimensional. Some of the secondary characters, like almost all of the teachers are also less defined than they could be.

Overall, a great book if you like realistic fiction and YA.

Book Review-Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

autoboyography

Buy Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

5/5*

Published September 2017

Tanner is a bisexual teenage boy. This was not a big deal in Palo Alto, California, where he used to live. But in Mormon Provo, Utah, it is his family’s secret. He’s made it to his final semester of senior year, and is looking to the future when he can leave Utah for a more liberal and accepting environment. Then he signs up for The Seminar–a challenge to write a book in a year–and everything changes. The Seminar’s TA is Sebastian Brother, a freshman at BYU, and the most famous graduate of The Seminar whose book has been sold and is being published very soon from the start of the book.

Sebastian is everything Tanner should stay away from–handsome, straight (right?), and Mormon. But when Fujita, The Seminar’s teacher assigns Sebastian to help Tanner, something begins to bloom between them. Something deep, and forbidden.

I loved this book. The language and descriptions are so beautiful that they just transport you to the world of the book.

As he faces the class from the front now, his eyes flash when they meet mine–for a tine flicker of a second, and then again, like a prism catching light, because he does a double take. That fraction of a heartbeat is long enough for him to register my immediate infatuation. Holy shit, how quickly he recognizes it. This must happen to him all the time–an adoring gaze from across the room–but to me, being so instantly infatuated is entirely foreign. Inside my chest, my lungs are wild animals, clawing at the cage.

Tanner is a very likeable character. Your hearts bleeds with him, and breaks for him, and rejoices with his because you become so emotionally invested in the book. He is still three dimensional with faults and blindspots, though. Sebastian is an equally engaging and complex character–to the point where I would buy the same book written from his point of view and I always scorn those as cheap cash grabs (coughGREYcough). He is the Bishop’s son, expected to leave for his mission right after his book tour, with the expectation that he’ll return in two years to finish up at BYU and get married to a woman and start having kids.

That Tanner’s mom is a former Mormon only adds depth to the story. She left after her parents kicked her sister out of the house for being gay. So when her son falls for a Mormon boy, her own wounds re-open and she is scared for him.

The author clearly researched Mormonism. I used to be close with a Mormon family, and even investigated joining the church and this feels very honest.

I feel like this is one of a growing trend of YA books that is creating queer love stories in a mainstream environment. Romance publishing isn’t that progressive unless you go to the smaller houses. Adult fiction in general doesn’t have a lot of queer representation. So congrats to YA for moving that ball forward. And this isn’t just a YA book–I think the adult market would emotionally engage with the book. (The person who recommended the book as well as I are both around 40, for example.)

I honestly struggle to find a fault or area of improvement for this book, so it’s getting a rare 5* review from me.

 

 

 

Review–Must Love Black by Kelly McClymer

Click here to buy Must Love Black

Rating 4/5*

Published January 2011

Philippa’s father just remarried, years after her mother died in a tragic car wreck. So she’s relieved to have a summer job to escape to. She’s to nanny ten year old twin girls at a mansion (turned spa) on the cliffs of Bar Harbor, Maine. The ad specified must love black, but that’s no problem for Philippa, who lives in black.

The mansion (spa) is not quite what it seems. Philippa is confined to the “domain” of the twins, with a rigorous schedule that includes mandatory “fun” time. However, fun must never bring them into contact with the guests. They almost never see the twins’ father, and when they do, it’s almost never without his business partner, Lady Buena Verde who seems intent on keeping the dad away from his daughter. More, did Philippa really see a ghost? Are the mysterious goings on a ghost or just Philippa’s overactive imagination, spurred on by the gothic novel her mother wrote?

McClymer uses snippets from Manor of Dark Dreams, the book by Philippa’s mother at the start of each chapter to help set the tone and act as meta commentary. It’s a device used to good advantage, and the snippets are tantalizing enough to want to read it (or you can read Jane Eyre, which Manor of Dark Dreams is clearly modeled after).

The characters are mostly well done. The twins are generally treated as a singular unit until the introduction of the pet goat, Misty Gale. I wish we could’ve seen more differentiation between the two. Mr. Pertweath evolves over the course of the book. Philippa’s character arc is more about bringing the girls and their father together than making her more interested in or sympathetic toward her father or interested in giving her stepmother a chance–but I think that’s pretty true to form for a sixteen year old.

The supernatural elements of the book are much more subtle than I had expected, given the flap copy, but are present. But if you are looking for a full blown ghost story, this isn’t it–the supernatural is more of a secondary or tertiary storyline.

It’s a fun, easy read for YA readers.

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?

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”

This week in the world of reading

Every so often, I’m going to want to highlight various news articles I find about various literacy related interests from who’s banning what book to where I bought a cute book-themed t-shirt for the girls.

Things making me very happy this week

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(US) Harper Lee has given her approval to e-publish “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is one of my all time favorite books.  Expected publication is July 2014.  Read more here.

(International) The extended trailer for “The Fault in Our Stars” is out.  The movie is being released, and in the face of all the disappointing movie adaptations that have come before it, I am STILL very excited to see this.

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(USA) Free comic book day is May 3d!  Don’t forget to take your kids to the comic book store and help them get hooked.  Dear parents who get their underwear in a twist over comic books–your kid is reading.  Full stop.  Read more here.

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(FRANCE) Mo Willems is writing in Paris.  Or at least sketching the passersby of the cafe in which he’s writing.  He is one of the household’s favorite author.  If not for the article–watch the video (or BOTH).  He wants you to know that being a child sucks.  Here

 

Things infuriating me this week

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(USA) Parents successfully banned “The absolutely true diary of a part time Indian” (one of the most banned books in the US currently–and on my reading list) in a school district in Idaho for, among other things “unChristian content.”  Students at the school organized a petition fighting the ban.  People in Washington raised money and donated 350 copies of the book to a local bookstore to hand out to teens who wanted to read it.  A parent called the cops to arrest (?) the people handing out the free books.  Read more about it here.

 

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(CANADA) Someone (a “patron” or “a father’s rights group” depending on your source) attempted to have Hop on Pop banned in Toronto libraries because it advocates violence against fathers.  It was unsuccessful.  Read more here

 

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(UK) There are both international and local efforts forming to ask the British government to reconsider its ban on sending prisoners books.  Read more here and here.

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 9.47.53 PM(CHINA) China has started arresting male/male slash fanfic writers.  Most of them are young women. (slash–homosexual pairings in fan fiction like Kirk & Spock)  Read more here.