Missing Pieces by Norma Fox Mazer
originally published 1995
Harcourt, 1st edition, 2007
Genre: YA fiction, juvanalia
Jacket copy: Jessie Wells doesn’t know her father. He left one day, saying he’d be back in a few hours. But he never came back. Curious about her father, she decides to do some investigating. But she may not be prepared for what she discovers …
Book report: The jacket copy makes it all sound so much more scandalous and interesting than it really was. I mean, those ellipsis, they suggest something nefarious or ominous … and there really isn’t anything of the sort. Jessie’s dad just got bored of having a family, and he wasn’t much interested in his child. Not that it’s a bad book, or anything, but it’s not suspense. It’s about a teenage girl who wants to know where she came from, who doesn’t know anything about her father but that he was handsome and he left her and her mother and never came back. Though she’s always wondered about him, things finally come to a head when a school assignment sends her looking for her family history. But her mother was orphaned young, cared for by an elderly aunt, and Jessie’s father is AWOL–so she decides she must find out anything she can about him.
Along the way we see the difficulties she and her mother have caring for their aging Aunt Zis, who is more and more prone to forgetting where she is and what she’s doing. And Jessie tries to make her two best friends befriend each other, while one BFF’s family falls apart. And she navigates the tricky waters of coming to like her BFF’s crush–and finding out that he likes her, too. And she finds out that the handsome hero her mother married is only one layer of the father she never knew. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Not the End of the World by Judy Blume
originally published 1972
Atheneum Books, 25th printing, 2001
Jacket copy: Karen couldn’t tell Mrs Singer why she had to have her Viking diorama out of the sixth-grade showcase. She felt like yelling, To keep my parents from getting divorced. But she couldn’t say it, and the whole class was looking at her anyway.
Karen’s world was ending. Her father had moved out of the house weeks before; now he was going to Las Vegas to get divorced and her mother was pleased! She had only a few days to get the two of them together in the same room. Maybe, if she could, they would just forget about the divorce. Then the Newman family could be its old self again–maybe. But Karen knew something she didn’t know last winter: that sometimes people who shouldn’t be apart are impossible together.
So she felt like yelling at Mrs Singer. And then Mrs Singer did something surprising …
Book Report: What a difference a generation makes. When Judy Blume first published It’s Not the End of the World, the world was a very different place, and divorce was not unheard of, but still unusual. Second wave feminism had hit, and starting in the late Sixties, the no-fault divorce revolution was causing sweeping changes in American families. To me growing up in the Eighties, divorce was no big deal–my parents had been divorced throughout my entire conscious life, and lots of my peers had divorced parents. But for Karen, it’s a very BFD indeed, the biggest one she’s faced. I’m sure it was very helpful reading for lots of kids back in the day–and that it still is–though my monstrous and savage little self would have wondered what all the fuss was about. So while I intellectually understood that it’s a big deal for some people to go through a divorce, my understanding has been tempered by what I read, including Blume’s treatment of the matter in INtEotW and other novels, especially Just as Long as We’re Together. Read the rest of this entry »
Shanny on Her Own by Lael Littke
originally published 1985
Archway, 2nd printing, 1988
Genre: Young adult
Synopsis & Review: Fifteen-year-old Shanny has been sent to stay in rural Idaho with her great-aunt Adabelle for six weeks of her summer, ostensibly to help Aunt Adabelle prepare for her move off her ranch and into a nursing home, but also to keep Shanny out of trouble after the Great Dog Food Caper. As her mother puts it, Shanny is “finding herself,” which means she looks nothing like her peers in Wolf Creek, Idaho, from her purple-dyed rat tail haircut to her go-go boots. And Shanny is fine with that, sure that the local yokels have nothing to offer. That is, until she meets Thor. Thor has Sex Appeal, and lots of it, and he’s a sweetheart to boot. Dazed by Thor’s looks and charm, Shanny becomes involved with Wolf Creek’s Pioneer Days road show project, a one night musical program. She also befriends Bucky, Thor’s little brother, who is devoted to Shanny and Aunt Aunt Adabelle’s old bronco, Blastoff.
Though some people look at her funny, most people in Wolf Creek seem willing to like and accept Shanny—until she puts her foot in her mouth. And then she has to worry about Aunt Aunt Adabelle, who talks to dead Uncle Vic sometimes. And then there’s the beautiful and perfect Twyla, who clings to Thor, unobtrusively but nicely driving off all competition. But Shanny sticks it out, trying to do right and make amends when necessary, and along the way keeps a careful record of what she’s learning.
On our many camping trips in the West and Canada, I would always put my book down and observe when as we drove through some tiny town in Eastern Oregon or the Idaho Panhandle. I was fascinated by the small communities, often placed in the middle of enormous landscapes, and enjoyed imagining myself a member of one, knowing the same people through elementary school and as adults, sharing a history. The longest I spent in any one house as a child was five years, and even then I attended two different elementary schools. I envied the apparent simplicity of more permanent situations, particularly in their apparent epitome, the tiny rural town. (To be honest, I still fantasize about moving to one.) Even ghost towns, particularly the profoundly sad dying towns, filled me with such envy. Lael Littke’s Wolf Creek is one such town, and one of the charms Shanny on Her Own has held for me throughout the years. Read the rest of this entry »
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
originally published 1903
Watermill Classics, 1st printing, 1981
Genre: Children’s literature
Synopsis & Review: Eleven-year-old Rebecca Rowena Randall sets off on a journey, leaving her beloved Sunnybrook Farm, mother, and siblings behind so that her maiden aunts Miranda and Jane Sawyer of Riverboro might “make something of her.” For the next several years, her Sawyer aunts will clothe, feed, shelter, and educate Rebecca, but in turn, she will also teach them about love and the child’s place in the home.
Her time with the Sawyers is not untroubled; Rebecca gets into scrapes due to her impulsive nature, ruining a new dress, being accused of swearing, and clogging up the well. But she also performs well in school and becomes a popular figure among the Riverboro small fry. She charms adults and children alike, soon enslaving the blacksmith’s daughter Emma Jane, who will remain her best friend until the novel’s end, and also enchanting the Cobbs and her teacher. Rebecca also gains her own personal genie in the form of Mr Alan Ladd, a rich bachelor who takes an interest in the delightful child, sponsoring her whenever possible. Only Aunt Miranda resists Rebecca’s charms.
Before there was Anne Shirley, there was Rebecca Rowena Randall, an early example of the literate, articulate, and lively little girl that would become so popular in early twentieth century children’s fiction. These girls were irrepressibly joyful and romantic, readers and writers both. But Rebecca was caught between this new style of girl and a nineteenth century model of perfection and womanly virtues. And it shows. Read the rest of this entry »
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?
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. Read the rest of this entry »