There’s a Bat in Bunk Five by Paula Danziger
originally published 1980
Dell Yearling, 1st printing, 1988
Genre: Young adult, juvenalia
Synopsis & Review: Marcy Lewis, known to readers from The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, is back and on her way to summer camp. Her beloved Ms Finney is running a summer camp devoted to the creative arts, and Marcy will be a counselor-in-training (CIT) specializing in creative writing. Not only will Marcy be with Ms Finney and out from under her father’s repressive thumb, but she’s a year older and several pounds lighter. Her senior counselor Corrine is nice, and there are some very cute boys–what could go wrong?
For starters, there’s Ginger, a return camper who was so unpleasant that she was kicked out of one bunk and into Marcy’s. And Marcy discovers that her idol Ms Finney isn’t perfect. And then there are the first thrills of romance.
I can say without a doubt that this was the first Danziger book I ever read. It even has a price tag on it dated June 1988, which leads me to suspect that my stepmother gave it to me to read on a camping trip. (I was always so envious of all those East Coast kids in books, with their fancy summer camps. The closest I got to a summer camp was a few nights at Camp Erdman in elementary school.) Too bad Marcy kind of sucks a little bit now. It’s unfortunate, but There’s a Bat in Bunk Five doesn’t hold up as well as its predecessor The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. Instead of angry, Marcy’s now kind of whiny and mewling. Yes, it does address the problems one can have with adjusting to changes, particularly overcoming low self-esteem and wanting to fit in, but it lacks pizazz. I feel like I’m being too harsh, because I did enjoy the book enormously when I was younger, re-reading it many times, but as an adult, it hold less appeal than Danziger’s other books. Actually, when I typed out the excerpt below just now, I saw some of what I enjoyed about the novel, notably Marcy’s voice and her very realistic concerns. After all, adolescence is all about constant reinvention as people try to figure themselves out, and that’s one of Marcy’s major concerns. Danziger’s gift was to write about the problems of young people with sympathy and respect, and without being patronizing, and to do it in a way that feels like it could be you or your friend talking.
Perhaps I’ve been unreasonable, and it makes sense that Marcy–with a somewhat improved life–would be less angry and sardonic. And that this book would also be less angry and sardonic. It’s time to move on, Schatzi, my girl.
One contrast between this and the others I’ve re-read recently, is that there is a lot less punny banter between characters. It’s still there, but is lesser amounts, especially compared to the later books (This Place Has No Atmosphere, Remember Me to Harold Square). Instead, there are some very silly bad jokes (ones that I told and retold as a kid after reading this). There’s also a lot of emphasis on Marcy’s developing romance with Ted, and how she deals with her first relationship. Danziger wisely shows the fun and the hard parts; Marcy has to struggle and work hard sometimes, and the future isn’t rosily painted. And the friendships Marcy develops with Corrine and other campers are well, if lightly, done. And Marcy still has an authentic, honest voice. So there’s that in its favor.
But is also sometimes feels tremendously dated (especially the trip to Woodstock, it always embarrassed me, but then, hippies embarrassed my non-generation. And pre-teens are notoriously easy to mortify.) and less powerful or interesting than TCAMG. Unless you’re really into summer camp books. There are some sweet, sensitive moments, but overall it’s only good, really good at times, but may be a disappointing sequel for some.
Read also: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger, Confessions of a Teenage TV Addict by Ellen Leroe, Glass Slippers Give You Blisters by Mary Jane Auch, Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby by Jane O’Connor, The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Wolff
Cover: Nostalgia gets me every time. I love, loooove the late-Seventies/early-Eighties looks these kids are rocking. And it really looks like a scene out of the book, unlike the stock photo artwork that’s so popular these days. Though, the insanely long leg of that blonde in the back always bugged me. What is wrong with her?! The new cover is kinda cute, though. I can see that young girls would like it.
I look over at Jimmy.
He winks at me.
Carl points to someone else and everyone make comments.
He points to me and people say things, all nice. About my writing, my personality, and my sense of humor. What a relief.
No one knows what I was like before. I can be what I want to be, not what people expect or think they know. I always worry that people expect me to be something I’m not when I’m not even sure of what I am.