Remember Me to Harold Square by Paula Danziger
Dell, 6th printing, 1988
Genre: Young adult, juvenalia
Synopsis & Review: Kendra Kaye is not looking forward to her fourteenth summer. All of her friends will be out of town, doing fun, exciting things, and she’ll be stuck in New York City with her parents and annoying little brother, Oscar. Then her parents drop a bombshell on her: she’ll also have to keep company with some strange boy from Wisconsin named Frank Lee for six weeks. As a project to entertain and keep the kids busy busy, Kendra’s parents have a scavenger hunt planned for the trio, who will be called the Serendipities. The scavenger hunt will take them all over NYC, exploring museums, landmarks, cuisines, and culture.
Instead of being doofy, Frank is not only pretty cool, but cute as well. He’s got a girlfriend back home, so he and Kendra begin getting to know each other as friends. Even Oscar turns out to be a lot of fun as the summer and the scavenger hunt progress. By summer’s end, all the Serendipities will have experienced some serendipity.
Boy, Paula Danziger sure loves the word and the concept “serendipity.” I can’t recall whether it was in The Pistachio Prescription, but I know it popped up in This Place Has No Atmosphere, and in There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, Marcy goes to Camp Serendipity. IS SHE TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING?
Remember Me to Harold Square always kind of reminds me of a more intelligent BSC, one of the ones in which they visit New York. Kendra has a couple of bitchin’ outfit descriptions a la Claudia; Oscar is like a babysittee; there’s a lot of fun, interesting information about NYC a la Mary Ann’s touristyness; the largely absent parents … but there’s more!
One of RMtHS’s strongest points is the developing relationship between Kendra and Frank. It’s not a typical, straight romance; instead, they begin as friends because he’s already involved. But his relationship is more complicated than it seems: his girlfriend is a few years older (and in high school, too, where the difference is major) and on her way to college, plus his parents want him out of it, but they also made him promise not to get involved with Kendra (as a rebound). Essentially, romance is discouraged, but for a lot of sensible reasons. And even when Kendra and Frank realize that they do feel more for each other than just friendship, they decide to take things slow because they value their friendship more than they do a romance that could end up tearing them apart. This caution and tenderness always sticks out for me on re-reads.
It’s largely a fun romp, a celebration of NYC, but RMtHS also touches on serious issues. Frank’s parents are going away to try to save their marriage; Kendra is less well-off than many of her friends; Kendra’s mother has some hangups left over from her Holocaust survivor parents; Frank’s troubled relationship with his girlfriend; and the difficulties and rewards pf first romances. As is often the case with Danziger, there isn’t a lot of preaching or dwelling, but readers will understand and sympathize with the problems experienced by her characters. Kendra is a bright and bubbly girl, but also empathetic and generous–though never unrealistically. She loves eating at Tavern on the Green because it’s sparkly and glamorous and she’s got a friend who is a little more mature than the rest of their group. Overall, Kendra’s voice is genuine and convincing. She doesn’t understand boys, and she’s not sure she ever will, and having a strange one come live with her is a monumental deal. Another one of Danziger’s strong points is the way her protagonists observe the world around them; these quiet observations, while somewhat adult, create a convincing pre-adolescent world of rituals and experiments. Throughout the novel, Kendra et alia have fun exploring, acting independently of their parents, and perhaps learning that it’s okay to mature in fits and starts, rather than simply forging on ahead.
A fun one for pre-teen readers, especially those moving on from BSC and Sleepover Friends. I never knew there was a sequel (Thames Doesn’t Rhyme with James), and I am going to be sure to check it out. (Also, sorry Ms Ogino, I seem to have er, liberated my copy from your classroom.)
Read also: This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger, Baby-Sitters Club Super Special: New York, New York! by Ann M. Martin,The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright, Hangin’ Out with Cici by Francine Pascal
Cover: Danziger always got good cover. Might I mention yet again how much I miss covers actually created for books, covers that depict somehting from the book? This one has Kendra, Frank, and Oscar with some of their scavenger hunt paraphernalia. They’re all pretty cute.
I sneak a look at Frank, who looks no more excited by their conversation than I feel.
He looks in my direction.
I stare up at the part of the ceiling where it comes down a little and it is painted with birds and flowers. With the way that it’s positioned above the tables, it looks like the birds could drop something on the tables.
Then I look outside into the open garden, where there is a real possibility that a pigeon could do that.
26 September – 27 September