Babyface by Norma Fox Mazer
originally published 1990
Harcourt, 1st printing, 2007
Genre: Young adult, juvanalia
Book Report: Toni and Julie have been best friends forever. They’ve lived next door to one another since before they were born a week apart, and though their families couldn’t be more different, they get along great. The girls themselves also couldn’t be more different: Julie is a tall blonde extrovert/drama queen, and Toni is a shy petite brunette. Regardless, they are inseparable, spending all their free time together and celebrating birthdays together.
Then, the summer they turn fourteen, Julie’s parents decide they need something different. Her father takes off for Alaska, and rather than be left behind wondering, Julie’s mom takes her two daughters to San Francisco for the summer. Toni is all alone for the first time in her life, and when her father has a heart attack, she feels even more bereft. While staying with her estranged older sister for a few days, Toni discovers a disturbing secret about her family, one that she just can’t get over, not by herself. When school starts up again in the fall and Julie still hasn’t returned, Toni handles it with the help of Julie’s old crush. But when Julie comes back, will she see it as an innocent friendship? Or is it something more?
Norma Fox Mazer was Some Big Deal in YA during the years I was a young adult (and before and after them, too). I remember seeing her name on books at the library on in book orders, but for whatever reason, I never really read any. Except for Silver, which I read in one afternoon when I was trapped in an afterschool program in sixth grade. And I think that’s unfortunate, because what’s I’ve read so far has been excellent. I randomly picked Babyface and Taking Terri Mueller out from the MCL’s catalog, inspired by my inability to recall Norma Klein’s name while looking for books related to the Shelf Discovery Challenge. How fortunate for me.
Babyface isn’t flashy, and there aren’t a lot of dramatic events. It’s quiet, and follows Toni’s internal struggle for autonomy and self-knowledge instead of relying on exciting plot devices. Even the secret Toni discovers—SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER that her father hit her mother once, and they only stayed together because they found out she was pregnant with Toni—seems pretty tame when compared to some melodramatic YA titles or television. But the hurt Toni experiences is very real, and she, along with her sister, must learn to deal with her pain, resentment, and sense of betrayal. Toni has to learn about forgiveness and acceptance, and how to let things go, and that life isn’t always black and white. Enough adults have trouble with those issues that perhaps reading Norma Fox Mazer ought to be required for them, too.
It was personal for me, too, because of my own history. I am not a person who has an easy time letting go of a grudge, especially when it’s not on my own behalf. And a parent who hurts another parent or a sibling, well, even just knowing that it happened can cause anguish. My parents divorced when I was two, because my father had Issues, which were taken out on my eldest sister–and in other ways. As I grew up, I began harboring a deep resentment for him, angry at him for splitting my family unit into parts (though if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have my beloved younger sister, so there’s more than one side to that), and for what happened as a result of that. And it’s still a deep anger that I have to deal with as an adult. My own experiences let me recognize how believable and unflinchingly honest Mazer’s work was.
I’m going to go hunting for more of these at the MCL—though their YA is suspiciously lacking in some authors—but if you’re not already familiar with her oeuvre, check it out.
Cover: Umm, okay, not only is it butt ugly, but it looks like some kind of heroin chic jailbait American Apparel porn. This is not how you cover a Newberry Honor-Winning Author, Harcourt.
What was Martine getting at? What things wouldn’t Toni know about her parents? Nothing, she told herself. As for them hugging, she wanted to spit out her answer; “They hug all the time, for your information!” But it wasn’t true, and when she tried to remember the last time she’d seen them even touching hands, she couldn’t. And for some odd reason her heart began to thud under her ribs.
Martine was talking again, in a low voice, almost as if to herself. “When I was your age, I could hardly wait to get away from home. It was so awful. I thought everything would be terrific if I could just get away from them.” She was bent over her upraised knees. “And then, when I did get away, when I went to college, it wasn’t terrific there, either.” She spoke so softly, Toni had to turn to hear her. “I didn’t have anyone to depend on, no one but me,” Martine said. “And that’s the way it’s been. No one but me … I did everything for myself. It’s hard. It’s hard being alone, knowing there’s nobody you can turn to.”