The Pistachio Prescription by Paula Danziger
Dell, 3rd printing, 1979
Genre: Young adult
Synopsis & Review: Thirteen-year-old Cassie Stephens is about to start fresh in high school, but she’s not too sure how she feels about it. She feels ugly, like an alien in her own family of beautiful blondes and redheads; she’s self-conscious about her asthma and height; she’s worried about her best friend Vicki’s plan to overthrow the established cliques in student government at their new school; she’s worried about her parents, who never stop fighting. And she also wonders about Vicki’s new neighbor Bernie, and what he could possibly see in her.
Despite being convinced that death by some exotic ailment–or even just asthma–is imminent, Cassie moves forward. She takes on new responsibilities, such as being the nominee for class president, learns what having a boyfriend is like, and tries to deal with her hateful older sister and parental dysfunction. As long as she’s got her pistachios, Cassie figures she’ll make it.
I know I was no older than nine when I first read The Pistachio Prescription, because it’s got a library stamp from my second elementary school, Mililani Waena (no worries, it has a Cancelled stamp, too). It belongs to the first phase of Danziger’s writing, a grittier, angrier, and decidedly less fanciful phase than later works such as Remember Me to Harold Square and This Place Has No Atmosphere, and frankly, I think that era includes Danziger’s best work. Parents don’t understand, teachers are jerks, and the world simply has little to no consideration for kids.
If you’re looking for a happy ending, you won’t find one. Not a perfectly happy ending, at least. SPOILER: Cassie’s parents don’t stay together, Cassie’s relationship with Bernie isn’t perfectly smooth, and being freshman class president is tougher than she thought. But she does discover that her sister Steffy isn’t just human, but possibly even a good, caring person. Cassie also becomes more self-reliant; she grows, she learns, and she changes, which is what good YA fiction is all about. There are even a couple of fun outfits, which reminds me …
Though it’s thirty years later, most of the novel doesn’t feel dated, other than a few references, like one “slacks” (whoever said that, anyway?) and some women’s lib t-shirts Vicki wears. Ms Larsen is a bit of a hippy-trippy teacher, but I had one of those in the Nineties, so they’re still out there, still trying hard to engage their students in literature, arts, history, whatever. God bless ’em.
Excellent for pre-teens wanting something deeper than–wait, what do they read instead of BSC these days? Cassie is bright, sensitive, and amusing–like her, I sometimes found myself responding to drippy assignments with sarcasm (I wrote a similar essay on HH Holmes)–and Danziger’s voice through her is authentic and enjoyable.
Read also: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger, Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClements, Libby on Wednesday by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Cover: I love classic Seventies covers like this; they create such an enjoyable sensation of nostalgia for me though they were old and dated even when i read the books. This one finds Cassie in her brown ensemble, pensively sitting in a window. You know she’s going to be sensitive and artistic, and probably a little unhappy.
I personally think all math teachers buy their clothes with the chalk dust already on them. Either that or they buy them clean and immediately step up against a blackboard, like the way lots of kids step all over brand-new sneakers to get them to look old. I personally think that math stinks. I can’t do it. Artists shouldn’t have to take it if they don’t want to. Meyerson the Messy is too fast. If I ever need to know anything about the dumb subject, I can use a calculator or hire someone.
In history class, we have to write about “The American Who Means the Most to Me Historically.” Definitely one of the dippiest assignments I’ve ever gotten. I write about Lizzie Borden.