Just Agree to the Arranged Marriage Already … or, Canby Hall #19, One Boy Too Many

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Canby Hall #19 - One Boy Too Many

 

 

Almost a year between posts. That has to be a new low in my already sorry record. But oh ye blog gods, please don’t flog me for my horrible attention to this project, for I am self-flagellating as we speak. Also, I sort of have a good excuse. While I was away, I popped out another baby human! He has been taking up the majority of my time (babies are so selfish) and I am just now re-emerging into the world of outside interests. I’m sure my posting frequency won’t noticeably improve from here on out, but I sure hope repeat childbirth won’t be the reason each time. Anyway, how are you guys? Good? You’ll be glad to know that our Canby Hall friends have waited patiently for us in all their eighties glory, not experiencing one bit of character development in the interim. Let’s get to it.

So the second book in the Andy-Jane-Toby half of this series captures them at an interesting point in their life cycle together. They’re still a little stiff and prickly with each other, don’t yet know each other all that well, and have not settled into the easy comfortable rhythm all good friends have (and which they clearly have by later in the series.) As much as I hate to give credit to this imbecilic motley crew of writers, I’m a little impressed that they managed to get that depiction across despite a different person writing each book. Less impressive? This series’ continued hero-worship of the original three roommates. We’ll get to that.

First, the cover. Cary Slade is always described as a rebellious rock-star type with “long hair and a single gold earring” as if that is the height of societal mutiny, yet the covers never — I mean, never — portray him that way. I mean, could the dude look more clean-cut? Just to be clear, I have nothing against clean-cut. In fact, it’s vastly my preference. It’s just that it’s not accurate. Would the parents of teenage girls in the 1980s have refused to purchase books with a long-haired guy on the cover under the assumption that they were clearly smut? I think I’ve said this before, but … I kind of miss those more innocent times. Anyway, then there’s Jane, who looks more like someone whose fortieth birthday is in their rearview mirror rather than someone who turned fifteen literally weeks before. And of course, our Texas caricature Toby. Are we to believe that Toby parades around this small Massachusetts town wearing a cowboy hat all day and night? To add insult to the required suspension of disbelief, that’s not even a cowboy hat in that picture. That’s a top hat. Maybe she has a magic wand she uses to conjure up good writers. (Tobes, it’s obviously not working.)

So the premise of this book is that Jane is juggling her longtime boyfriend Neal and her new rocker boyfriend Cary, and hasn’t told them about each other. For once in this series, everyone else actually thinks dishonesty is wrong (I’ll enjoy it now, I doubt it ever happens again) and they’re constantly on her back for it. Next-door dorm neighbour Dee, especially, is particularly harsh to Jane whenever she gets a chance to be. However, this has to be the one time the sinner probably could have been cut a little slack. After much pressure from her dormmates, Jane writes a break-up letter to Neal. He promptly informs both sets of parents. Both moms get involved. I actually feel a little sorry for Jane. “Our folks really expect us to be married some day,” she tells Andy, by way of explaining why it took her so long to come clean. Andy: “That kind of thing is ancient history. People don’t do that anymore.” How culturally uneducated you are, Andrea! Neal sends flower delivery after flower delivery to Jane.

Meanwhile, Toby decides to get into tennis in order to have something more in common with her sloppy seconds crush Randy. She practices at the expense of all else, leading to her grades slipping and a warning from housemother Alison. Gigi Norton is also a tennis player and makes various embarrassing wisecracks about Toby’s performance. As an aside, why does Toby keep saying she didn’t have any friends back home just because she lived on a ranch? She did go to school. I went to a magnet school as a kid, which meant that none of my classmates lived near me, and they were far closer friends to me than my neighbours. Also, all these stereotypes about Texas are even more absurd now that I’m older and know so many people from Texas. Exactly none of them are ranchers, uncomfortable around other people, or users of lingo such as “hunkering” and “I’m gonna head them off at the pass.”

Over in Andy’s world, she is nervous about auditioning for the school’s latest musical. She calls home for reassurance, during prime collect call rates and during her parents’ restaurant’s lunch rush, and then feels all bad about doing so. Man, how tough life was before cell phones! And why is she so crushingly nervous if she’s had all this prior dance experience? Of note, she mentions that she hasn’t been to Oakley Prep yet. What about that dance she went to with Jane in the last book, where Jane was taking notes? @#!*% you, continuity!

Although Jane helps Andy and Toby with their tennis/dance worries, Andy has less sympathy for Jane’s two-boy problem because Jane brought it on herself. They bicker. Again. “She’s not our mother, you know,” says Toby about Jane. “I’ve got a mother,” snaps Andy. Kind of insensitive, considering Toby doesn’t.

Remember their next-door neighbour Maggie, sister of the impossibly stylish former Canby girl Dana? It was constantly beaten over our heads how fashionable and sophisticated Dana was, since her mom was a department store buyer and all. Well, said mom’s other daughter is described as wearing owl glasses, a crazy jean jacket with slogans down the sleeves, and a giant muffler hanging to her knees. I guess if you have to wear glasses, you might as well just give up entirely. Anyway, Maggie is excited to the level of urinary incontinence that former 407-girl Faith is presenting in a photography exhibition in Boston and may stop by the Canby Hall campus for like two minutes. The three new roommates are basically like, Who cares? and I agree.

Andy’s audition process for the musical is really intense. The prospective cast members are expected to learn ballet choreography on the spot and perform it as a group, including lifts and everything. Are there that many trained dancers in a non-performing arts high school that you can actually weed them out? I figured you’d have to cast the two people who had actually taken dance lessons and hope for the best. Anyway, Andy is picked for the chorus but doesn’t get the lead role, and immediately decides it’s because she’s black, and becomes sullen and withdrawn.

In order to escape the meadow of flowers that her room has become, Jane goes to hang out with Cary at the diner. Gigi and her friends come in and accidentally-on-purpose happen to mention that Jane’s been getting multiple bouquets from her Boston boyfriend. Cary is peeved.

As mentioned above, Jane’s mom calls and is upset that Jane sent a break-up letter to Neal. Despite my excellent background in reading comprehension (as evidenced by my choice of reading material, obviously) I don’t really get the point she was trying to make. Mama Barrett says Neal is probably interested in other girls too, but he doesn’t write to JANE about THEM. “You cannot disrupt a friendship of such long standing because of a girlish crush.” So … what, Jane should just mess around on the side and not tell Neal? Then Neal’s mom calls Jane and says Neal is coming to Canby Hall for the weekend, and she shouldn’t let him disrupt her plans, but hopefully she’ll have some time to spend with him. He was going to call her himself, but his mom said she would go ahead and do it because she wanted to say hello to Jane anyway. Uh, manipulative much? Normally I have no sympathy for the absurd boy situations these Canby girls get themselves into, but here I’m actually softening. We have now entered crazy town. Clearly aware of this, Jane wishes through the whole book that she could ask her older sister Charlotte for advice, but she never actually writes her a letter or leaves a message when she calls her. Dude, how hard are you trying? It wasn’t THAT hard to get a hold of someone in the ’80s.

Neal’s self-invited visit is to be the same day as the Oakley Prep dance to which Cary has invited Jane. Jane decides to plan a really full day of activities so she and Neal will have no time alone together. Yes, that will definitely work. Also, since writing the letter to Neal obviously didn’t fix the situation, Jane decides to go try and talk to Cary at the diner. He refuses to speak to her.

Then Cary comes to campus. Toby, loyal to Jane, is less than friendly to him. He and Jane finally talk. He complains, “Flowers every ten minutes? How can I compete with that?” Hello? Isn’t Cary a rich Boston blue-blood too? And wouldn’t that also mean he’d understand how involved their families are? He says he isn’t sure how Jane really feels about Neal deep down. He suggests she get a date for Neal for the dance that Saturday and then they can double-date. 

Toby reluctantly volunteers to play tennis with Jane and Neal on the upcoming Saturday, but refuses to be said date. Andy similarly refuses, as she is sure Neal won’t want to be seen fraternizing with a person of colour, given how racist she knows everyone around her is.

The day of Neal’s and Faith’s anticipated visits, Maggie barges into 407 with the following statements:

  1. “I’ll just simply die if I don’t get to see Faith today.”
  2. “Faith is simply the most wonderful, beautiful, wise, talented person you’ll ever know, after my sister Dana, of course.”
  3. “Will everyone tell Faith I’m coming and not to leave until I see her?” Toby, muttering: “Everyone will tell her that.” Andy, from bed with her eyes closed: “Two or three times. Now go!” My feelings exactly. I am really starting to hate the former 407 girls, and I know it only gets worse in future books.

So Neal arrives, and the point of this self-imposed visit is totally unclear. Since he wasn’t taking Jane’s no for an answer and was sending her enough flowers to bury her alive, I assumed he was coming to lay claim to his territory, so to speak. But instead he greets her with “Relax, Janie. This is not the end of the world. The end of the world would come if we blew this many years of friendship.” He’s a perfect gentleman the entire time. (Jane wouldn’t let Neal open doors for her in the last book because she was a feminist, but she seems to have forgotten that in this one.) He doesn’t even blink when it turns out Jane has arranged a date for him while she goes to the dance with Cary. What in the world was the point of all this drama if Neal’s going to back down this easily? Why did he get their parents involved? Why was he singlehandedly supporting the Boston floral industry?

Toby is super-nervous about doing well in their friendly tennis game, and even more so when she finds out the fourth in their pairs match is Randy. (How does Jane even know Randy well enough to invite him?) Randy, Neal and Jane are all impressed with how well Toby can play after just a few weeks of lessons. Neal and Toby, of all people, notice each other. In a moment of weakness, Toby tells Jane she’ll be Neal’s date for that night after all. Now Toby is even more nervous, as she’s never been on a date before and has nothing girly to wear. I guess her top hat was at the cleaners’. Anyway, she conveniently remembers that she does have one Neiman-Marcus dress her aunt bought her, which fits her beautifully and turns her into a supermodel. I gotta start shopping there.

Andy is alone in 407 when the sainted Faith finally stops by. Andy takes her to meet up with Maggie, and along the way talks about how racially discriminated against she is, and Faith, truly shocked, tells Andy she must be mistaken and that there is no prejudice in the Garden of Eden that is Canby Hall. Faith knows this for sure because she is also modern and urban (read: African-American, or as they call it, black.) Andy is offended but later thinks about it and realizes that the girl who got the lead really was better than her. Geez, all of that stomping around for nothing? Faith has literally a four-minute encounter with Maggie before heading back to Boston. Not sure how worth it that was. Also, she doesn’t have any other friends on this campus to visit? She’s only been gone like 5 months.

So Toby + Neal, and Jane + Cary, go to the dance, where Cary’s band Ambulance is playing. Toby is now all discombobulated because the only dancing she knows how to do is square dancing, and there is surprisingly little of that going on tonight. She sits out while Jane and Neal dance to every song, exhibiting their perfect upper-class dance training. I don’t know about you, but while there wasn’t a lot of square dancing going on at my high school dances, there also wasn’t a lot of ballroom dancing. But that’s just me. Cary gets jealous and again isn’t speaking to Jane, so she arranges a taxi ride home. Neal is as nice as can be about everything, and she wonders why she’s so hung up on rude, immature Cary when Neal is so thoughtful and gentlemanly. (You and me both, Toots.) Later, Jane’s mother writes that Neal was very taken with Toby and that Jane should bring Toby home so Jane’s parents can meet her. Just like that, Jane’s mother’s dreams of her daughter’s marriage to Neal are over? I just don’t get these people. 

When Jane gets home, she goes up to see Alison, and smells popcorn coming from Dee’s room. Using a hot plate or popcorn maker is strictly forbidden in the dorms due to the old wiring. Alison also smells the popcorn and, thinking it’s coming from the kitchen, suggests they invite themselves over. Jane realizes that Dee is about to get in big trouble (well, as big as trouble gets at Canby Hall, which I think we’ve established is not very.) The following is a transcript of Jane’s tortured thoughts:

“Dee wasn’t bad, she was just restless. The possible punishments Dee could get tumbled through Jane’s head. [Note from me: Punishments such as ... what, exactly? A snide remark from PA? A stern glance?] It wasn’t right. Dee couldn’t help being herself and she shouldn’t have to get in real trouble over it!” That is the biggest stretch of a justification I’ve ever heard. Risking a fire that could actually maim or kill a bunch of other students is just “being herself”? Man, O.J. really was framed!

Jane becomes a whirling dervish as she tries to prevent Alison from coming downstairs while simultaneously getting the congregated girls to move their party from the forbidden dorm room to the allowed kitchen, finishing up her frantic machinations by spraying perfume all over the hallway to mask the popcorn smell. Toby goes upstairs to stall Alison by suggesting she bring her cat to the popcorn party. Alison: “Toby, you are not yourself tonight.” Toby, wilting: “I guess I’m not. It’s been a really strange evening. You do realize that was my first date. And my first dance.” Alison: “Just because you had a strange evening, you think I should have one too?”

Now that Andy has realized the world is not against her and the chip on her shoulder has gone back to its Pringles can, she’s dancing like an angel at every practice. She gets applause every time she rehearses her solo (members of the chorus have solos?), and the clapping starts up in the rafters. She soon realizes that it’s coming from the lighting guy, an Oakley Prep boy named Matt.

Randy tells Toby he thinks she should try out for the tennis team. Not that he thinks she’ll make it, but it’ll introduce her to the other players, who will want to play with her, which will make her better in time for next year’s tryouts. His plan works to a tee and there’s really nothing else to say about that.

The day of the dress rehearsal, someone sends Andy expensive French chocolates addressed “To the secret star.” The dress rehearsal, which everyone but Toby attends, is a smashing success (which back in my drama club days was a bad omen, but nonetheless) and Andy is the breakout star. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the French-chocolate sender was Matt. Even more unsurprisingly, Matt has “glowing dark skin.” Whew, we are once again safe from the threat of interracial romance! He walks her home. Love will soon bloom!

Even Cary attends the dress rehearsal, having had sense talked into him by Dee, who realized that Jane was a good person when she saved Dee’s skin even though Dee had been beating up on her throughout the book for her waffling over the titular Two-Boy situation. (Got that?) He and Jane talk, and he says he realizes Neal would be a jerk not to fight for a girl as great as her (but Neal isn’t fighting for her, he’s moved on to Toby, hasn’t he?) and that he, Cary, would fight for her too. But they don’t really clear up what their status is now. Whatever, we’re supposed to understand they’re together again, OK?

When everyone gets back to the dorm after the performance, it turns out that the reason Toby couldn’t attend was not because she was catching up on all the work she neglected during her tennis frenzy, but because she was planning her own surprise party. At least, it was a surprise for everyone else, since no one knew it was her birthday that day. The book ends in this entirely un-cringeworthy way:

“Happy birthday, October,” Andy said.

“Happy birthday, Toby,” Jane said.

“Happy birthday to friendship,” Toby whispered.

(If I roll my eyes any harder I’m going to rupture something.)

The only funny random line I want to include, said by Andy after Jane the slob entered their room and dropped Cary’s coat on the floor: “For anyone else, dropping that jacket might have significance. For Jane, it means she got warm. The audience needs clearer signals to understand how 407’s private soap opera is progressing.” Count me in on that audience, Andrea. Count me in.

Remember how YA series always had Super Specials, extra books that were kind of separate from the series’ regular story arc, were longer than usual, and usually centred around some special event? Well buckle your seatbelts, friends, because next up is Canby Hall’s very first (of two) Super Editions. Alison’s getting hitched, y’all! See you there!

 

Opposites Attract, Sort Of … or, Canby Hall #18, Making Friends

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Canby Hall #18 - Making Friends

At last we have entered the era of my much-preferred trio of roommates! This book was so much easier to swallow and so much less snarkable than previous ones that I had to make a mental note of the ghostwriter. Carol Stanley, here’s looking at you, kid. Cheers for writing a story that was minimally cheesy, often amusing, and which largely just made sense. You’re in the minority here.

Our latest Canby adventure opens with red-headed October Houston waking up after her last night in Texas, which she spent sleeping out under the stars on her ranch. She’s dreading her trip to school in Massachusetts that day, which is happening because her dad is sending her to boarding school in order to learn to get along with people. Seems Toby (I always loved that Toby was a nickname for October) is too solitary and prefers horses to people.

Meanwhile, Andrea Cord is arriving at Canby from Chicago. In her case, it was her idea to go to boarding school so she could get a little space from her suffocatingly loving family. She’s doing fine, but her family is having a collective breakdown over it. But as her best friend said, “What you need is to go Cord-less for awhile.” Andy is the new Faith, which is to say, Andy is black.

Oblivious to the above, Jane Barrett, who we met at the end of the last book, is busy painting 407, her new single room. She is a preppy Boston blueblood who was at Canby the year before, rooming with one Gigi Norton, affectionately known as The Worst Person In the World (and who is the new Pamela.) That experience is what made her determined to get a single.

As an aside, what I love about this new group is that while some old characters have direct new incarnations (Gigi as Pamela, soon Merry as Alison), the three new roommates are not just cookie-cutter replicas of the three old roommates. Superficially, Andy is the new Faith because they’re both the token women of colour, Toby is the new Shelley because they’re both from the country, and Jane is the new Dana by process of elimination. But Andy is way happier and less dismally practical than Faith and is also a ballerina, Toby is a cowgirl and not a total hick like weirdo Shelley, and Jane is more conservative than Dana and comes from an old wealthy family instead of a modern divorced one. Toby is the one with the deceased parent like Faith, as her mother died three years ago. In the world of YA fiction, it’s rather refreshing to see characters treated at least occasionally as individuals instead of templates.

So anyway, when Andy arrives at 407, Jane is so shocked to find out she’s been assigned roommates when she thought she was going to have a single room that she acts like a total snob. (Andy introduces herself, and Jane, not realizing they’re going to be roommates, thinks So? Why tell me? Way to be friendly there Janie! And when Andy shows her the computer printout of roommate assignments, a copy of which has somehow not reached Jane, and asks “Are you or October or Jane?”, the latter gives her a frosty look and says “My family wouldn’t consider October an acceptable name. I’m not sure it even is a name.”) Actually, I was surprised to see how snobbish she was throughout this book when I remember her as a generally likeable character. Guess this goes to show how much personal growth she experienced over her memorable Canby years.

Jane is, unsurprisingly, ticked that she has not one but two roommates, especially when she specifically requested a single, and especially given that she’s one of the famous Boston Barretts. Her grandfather donated the money to build Barrett Hall at Canby. So surely there’s some mistake. She goes to see Alison, who tells her enrollment was unexpectedly high this term and therefore no single rooms will be available. Alison tries to cheer up Jane and get her to look on the bright side, but Jane informs her she’s going to go see headmistress PA herself. After all, if Jane’s grandfather gave an entire building to the school, she ought to be able to get one room in return. Alison says to her, “You know it doesn’t work that way around here. Nobody has special clout at Canby Hall.” Jane and I don’t believe her.

So since Alison can’t help, Jane and Andy are forced to spend their first night in the room together. Jane bursts into tears at the sight of Andy unfolding an earth-tone striped rug and bedspread in her carefully planned Wedgwood blue room. (They always mention this dumb “Wedgwood blue” and, growing up, I never knew what the heck Wedgwood blue was. Here at last is a Google image putting my mind to rest:)

http://images.replacements.com/images/images5/china/W/wedgwood_cream_color_on_wedgwood_blue_jasperware_dinner_plate_P0000113856S0217T2.jpg

Isn’t that a little dark to be painting your walls? Anyway, I digress. They eat dinner separately and lie in their beds in silence, Jane having rebuffed all Andy’s friendly attempts at chatter. Jane is listening to Beethoven on her tape player and Andy is listening to Tina Turner. Neither of them wants to admit they really like the other’s music. I can’t imagine having both of those going at once with no headphones. Into this, Toby walks in after a long day of traveling across the country. Without a word or glance at anyone, she heads straight for the remaining bed and goes right to sleep in her jeans and fringed suede jacket. Jane thinks to herself, Great, a real live cowgirl. Andy thinks to herself, White girls sure are weird. I think to myself, Toby is a ridiculous representation of people from Texas. She can’t even acknowledge other human beings? She seems more like an undertreated Asperger’s patient than just someone who grew up on a ranch.

The next day is their first Canby Hall assembly. PA mentions that this year the administration became computerized. Yay 1986! Andy and Jane are sitting separately. Toby is not there at all because she’s escaped in search of wide open spaces, and has found one just outside of town. Her reverie in the Great Outdoors is interrupted, however, when a wild runaway horse comes galloping towards her, with its owner futilely chasing her on his own horse. Experienced rider and rancher Toby, without thinking, jumps right onto the runaway’s back and stops her. The owner is very impressed with her bravado and introduces himself as none other than Randy Crowell. Toby immediately develops a very severe crush. Ah, the return of the much-put-upon Randy! He is a significantly different character in this second half of the series. In the first half, it was he who pined after Dana. In the second half, he now has the power, as the object of Toby’s first, longstanding crush. He grows cold when he finds out Toby is a Canby student. He explains this by saying, “I used to know somebody there. It didn’t end up too well. I’ve sort of shied away from the place since then.” Uh, since May, when you attended Dana’s graduation? He also says he’s 20 and considers the Canby girls “babies,” which will be a major point of contention for 15-year-old Toby, and which leaves me scratching my head since I believe he was 18 during that same graduation 3 months ago. Ah, the miracles of time fluidity. Anyway, he lets Toby name the runaway horse, which his family has just acquired, and she names it Maxine after her horse back home named Max.

Meanwhile Jane is waiting outside the auditorium to waylay PA with her repeat request for a single room. She doesn’t need roommates in order to have friends. She already has all the friends she needs, girls from her old private school in Boston whose families have known each other forever. Interesting, because we don’t hear about a single one of these wonderful girls at any point in the rest of the series. Anyway, Jane is sure she has nothing in common with Andy and Toby even if she wanted to be their friends, which she doesn’t, especially since Toby in particular is so weird. This morning, without a word to anyone, Texas Toby taped a single teabag to the ceiling above her bed. No one has any idea what it’s supposed to mean. Ah, Toby’s teabag! One of the enduring mysteries of the Canby Hall series.

PA, however, is not impressed by Jane’s attempt to play the nepotism card in order to get her single room. She responds — awesomely, in my opinion — that Jane is right, and Barretts do deserve special treatment. For several generations the Barrett family has been very generous to Canby Hall, and PA is sure Jane’s parents would want her to be reminded of that spirit and to be more generous than anyone else. So if another late arrival shows up on campus, PA will plan to squeeze her into Jane’s room. I love this response, but it sucks that it would never happen in real life. I fear that in said real life, PA would be too afraid of the Barretts’ influence and financial support, and the Barretts would be too likely to back Jane up instead of the school, to do anything but give in. Sigh … if only life were fair! To add insult to injury, Jane then runs into her former roommate Gigi Norton, who happily informs her that, due to a computer glitch, Gigi actually did get a single room.

While this is going on, Andy bumps into Dee Adams in the dorm, a California surfer girl who turns out to be their next-door neighbour. Dee takes her back to her room, 409, to see her new decor (a wall full of surfing photos above a sand-coloured bedspread) and to meet her roommate, Maggie Morrison. Maggie is none other than the little sister of our dear departed Dana. And somehow, though it was always beaten over our heads that Dana was a sophisticated woman of the world because she was from Manhattan, the same is never said of Maggie. Of course, Maggie wears glasses, so that explains it. Anyway, it turns out Maggie and Dee lived together the year before, which must mean Dee was one of the set of string beans. But if that’s the case, why did Dee and Maggie switch dorms? Is it only room 407 that sucks its inhabitants into a 3-year “You May Never Move” contract? Maggie tells Andy that Jane sang in the chorale with Dana last year. (So why did Dana not know who Jane was when she showed up to check out 407 at the end of the last book?) Maggie also tells Andy that Jane’s from a really big-shot Boston family and will probably turn out to be a slob like all the rich girls around there who are used to their maids picking up after them. Our friend Maggie, being a fountain of wisdom on this particular day, also tells Andy that Dana had big-time roommate problems when she first got to Canby too, and she and Faith and Shelley worked it out and became the best of friends. Andy is all like Yeah, OK dude, but Maggie promises to write to Dana in Hawaii and ask for her advice. (Remember having to write a letter, put it in the mail, wait for it to arrive, and then wait for the reply? And now we just … text.) Maggie also promises to try to work on Jane, and Dee will try to help with Toby.

The next day Toby, who gets up at the butt-crack of dawn every day so is usually the first in the cafeteria, meets Dee, who works as the doughnut maker. Dee makes her first doughnut for Toby but sprinkles black pepper on it instead of confectioner’s sugar. At that moment, the dietician stops by. In order to prevent Dee from getting into trouble, Toby claims that she asked for her doughnut that way because that’s how they eat them in Texas. The skeptical dietician says she loves seeing homesickness alleviated and therefore wants to watch Toby enjoy her supposed custom creation. Without missing a beat, Toby eats the whole thing and the dietician backs off, saving Dee’s job. Dee is grateful for Toby’s help, but Toby brushes it off. Dee tries to engage her in conversation about her roommates, but Toby notes that friendship with them isn’t required, says that silence doesn’t bother her, and cryptically mentions that she might not be around for long anyway. Dee gives up. But when Toby’s alone, our Texas cowgirl engages in some good old self-flagellation. Turns out Toby’s cool act is just a cover for being lonely and shy and unsure of how to make friends of the non-equine variety.

Back at 407, Andy is on the phone with her family, all of whom were apparently up until 3 AM the night before crying. She tells them she’s pretty sure the baby, at least, was just crying because she needed her diaper changed. She also promises to call them back soon, and negotiates waiting as long as till after lunch to do so. Seems that while many other new students are homesick, Andy’s family is Andy-sick. But she doesn’t want them to know how dismal things are in her room, or they’ll storm the place. She’s on her way to class when she decides to do a good turn and wake up the still-sleeping Jane. Jane freaks out about being late and not being able to get dressed in time, Andy makes a joke about that being because her side of the room is a mess, and Jane snaps, taking it way personally. Andy leaves in tears and Jane realizes that maybe she was too sensitive, but has missed her chance to apologize.

In Jane’s creative writing workshop, the assignment is to write about something that takes you out of your ordinary realm of experience. Gigi suggests that Jane go to the dance at Oakley Prep, the local boys’ boarding school and primary source of Canby Hall boyfriends, the following weekend to hear their resident rock band, Ambulance, play. Jane is horrified at the thought of being anywhere near such an event. (The girl has never been to a high school dance?) The teacher overhears her and pushes Jane to go. That night on the phone with her equally Boston-proper longtime boyfriend Neal (AKA Cornelius Worthington III), they have a good laugh at how ridiculous it will be. Neal can’t come because he has a sailing race, and to quote him, “sailing is life.”

Later, Jane picks up an incoming call and hears a large number of people sobbing and pleading for Andy. Alarmed, she finds Andy, thinking there’s some sort of family emergency. In fact, it’s just teatime. Jane is amazed at how attached the Cords are to Andy. She also apologizes for her behaviour that morning. A care package then shows up from Andy’s family, full of the things they think she’ll need in Massachusetts: thermal underwear, toilet paper and barbecue sauce. Jane is mystified by the barbecue sauce until Andy explains that her family owns one of the best steak-and-ribs restaurants in Chicago. Jane has never had ribs, only prime rib. Andy laughs at her. Jane is wounded. Andy realizes she’s being “smugly black in opposition to Jane being smugly upper-class.” In an effort to change the subject, she pokes fun at Toby’s teabag and Jane joins in. At that moment Toby enters, hearing everything. She doesn’t respond in any way when they try to apologize. Jane then says she’s going to go sunbathe, and Andy gets hurt that she wasn’t invited along. Jane didn’t realize black people sunbathed. Now none of the three of them are speaking again. I feel like these children are trying to have issues with each other.

Toby goes over to the Crowell ranch to ride Maxine. She and Randy hang out and Randy tells her about Dana, and again claims he hasn’t been on the Canby campus since they broke up. Inconsistency! Toby notes that Randy still sounds “kind of mad at this Dana,” which is news to me since they were supposedly such good friends, and he shuts her down by calling her a kid, which riles Toby up. Then, because she’s going to be late to Spanish class, he gives her a horseback ride to the building, which gives her quite the dramatic entrance. Dee, who’s in that class, has a present for her: foil-wrapped doughnuts. Toby is embarrassed to find tears in her eyes at the kindness.

Weeks go by and the roommates become entrenched in their own routines separate from each other. The entire dorm except Alison, who seems to be asleep on the housemother job, knows 407 is a roommate failure. Despite the gloom, Andy, the dancer, is excited about the upcoming Oakley Prep dance. Being a glutton for punishment, she asks the other two if they’d like to join her. Toby refuses. Jane admits that she was planning to go in order to write a paper on the experience, since the only dances she’s been to are cotillions at the Boat Club. She brandishes a spiral notebook. Andy is alarmed.

Jane does indeed spend most of the dance conspicuously standing on the sidelines taking notes. Andy is swept up in the dancing and Jane is impressed at her ability. She starts taking notes on the band players. The lead singer (who is a truly unique specimen given his long hair and single earring), notices, leans down from the stage, and tells her he’d like to read what she was writing about him. Offended at his nerve, Jane moves away and thinks to herself how nice it is that she has Neal and is all set, and doesn’t have to bother with social events like this one. During a break, the lead singer finds her and they start talking. Turns out that despite his appearance, he is actually a Boston blueblood himself. He and Jane were even in the same kiddie ballroom dancing class together. And this is our first introduction to Cary Slade. When a popular girl leads Cary away, Jane is surprised to find herself crying on the way home even though she thinks she doesn’t care an iota about him.

Jane’s boyfriend Neal comes to town for a visit the next day. (Of note, Jane considers herself a feminist and won’t let him open doors for her. And we wonder why chivalry is dead!) They head to the Greaf (the Greenleaf Diner, with a few letters burnt out on the sign), which is to this generation of Canby Hall girls what Pizza Pete’s and the Tutti Frutti were to the last. And who is behind the counter on this fine morning? None other than Cary Slade! Cary gives a knowing smile when he sees them, being very familiar with Neal’s type, but of course Neal has no idea who he is. Throughout their breakfast, Jane finds herself tuning out Neal and thinking about Cary. And when their bill comes, she finds Cary has written her a note: “I think we already know each other. And I think I’d like to get to know you even better.” Barely knowing what she’s doing, Jane gives him an imperceptible nod behind Neal’s back. Ah, two-timing, that grand old Canby Hall tradition, begins again! For the rest of the day Jane can’t stop thinking about Cary and realizing that she really thinks of Neal as more of a best friend.

When she gets back to her room after Neal leaves that night, she finds Andy agitated and Toby vainly trying to help with a cup of hot cocoa. (Which is more human interaction than we’ve seen out of her this entire book.) Turns out that despite all her protests, the Cords don’t believe Andy is really happy, and are taking a family caravan out to Canby Hall to see for themselves. Toby, in her first glimpse of insight, notes that Andy isn’t happy because of their roommate situation and her family has probably picked up on that. Jane and Toby, unbelievably, agree to put on a loving-roommate act and pretend they are the closest trio in history for the duration of her parents’ visit. As they begin plotting, Maggie stops by to say that Dana called from a WATS line (no idea what that is? Me either! Now we do) and that her advice for roommate bonding was to find a project they could work on together. Luckily, they already have.

Dorm life grows more exciting when Dee and Maggie throw a surfing party in the 4th-floor bathroom complete with heat lamps, spraying water and sand. Andy drags Toby (who is clad in her “school-issue, 1950s-style” swimsuit … my school most definitely did not issue swimsuits) to the party, where the latter ends up cheering up the depressed Dee, who is noticing that the party is not actually that similar to Laguna Beach, by promising to take her to that other ocean, the Atlantic, as soon as possible.

Meanwhile Maggie goes to find Jane, who’s working on her paper in her room rather than, you know, have fun at a party. At that moment Cary calls asking Jane to meet him for pizza, which she declines because he seems so sure of himself. The next thing they know, Oakley Prep’s resident rock star himself is serenading Jane from the lawn below her window with a personalized ditty. He’s gathering an audience and won’t stop until she agrees to go out with him. Out of humiliation and under duress, Jane agrees.

On their date Cary plays her some new music in an effort to get her closer to liking rock, saying that he’s always looking for converts. Then in a show of honesty totally unlike most 15-year-old boys, he admits that he actually wants her to like him. Later he admits that he doesn’t have a string of girls despite his rock-star image, and that he’s just playing a role onstage but gets shy when alone with one girl. Jane realizes that she hides behind an image too, that of the cool, proper, reserved Boston girl. Cary tells her he knows they’re kindred spirits. (A shout-out to one of my favourite series of all time!) This is apparently irrevocably proven by the fact that they also like the same pizza toppings.

Soon the weekend of the Cords’ visit arrives. Everyone has been working to make 407 seem like the coziest room ever. Alison has even agreed to let the girls cook dinner in her apartment. The Cords get there and it turns out Andy’s older brother Charlie is hot. He wonders if “there are a lot of cute black girls around here.” Yes, the interracial taboo is still alive and well! Andy’s younger brother Ted is into frogs, and is Toby’s responsibility. Her baby sister Nancy takes an immediate liking to Jane and adopts her for the rest of the weekend. The visit goes well, with the girls telling Andy’s parents that they have a nightly “Sharing Hour” in which they share their days’ joys and frustrations, along with other friendship-related whoppers. Toby takes the brothers riding at the Crowell ranch on two horses who the Crowells feel are city-slicker appropriate because “we haven’t seen them move in a few years. We think they might be dead. It’s hard to tell.” Andy’s father wanders over to the dining hall, is horrified at what he sees, and spends the afternoon conferencing with the dietician, leaving her with copies of his pamphlets entitled “Magic with Macaroni” and “First Aid for Hamburger.” Is anyone else dying to know what culinary gems are inside these publications? Andy goes shopping with her mother, who finally asks her how much work went into this performance. Turns out Mama Cord saw through the whole thing. But she’s not upset, because she thinks that although the show of friendship is fake, the spirit behind it must be real or the others wouldn’t have gone along with it. But as the three girls stand waving goodbye to the departing Cords, happy about their success, Andy accidentally manages to insult them both and, yet again, they’re not speaking to each other.

Toby finds herself in tears and running to the Crowell ranch, where she cries in a stable. Randy comforts her and she asks him out. He kindly says no and she runs away. Later, Dee receives a cryptic note from Toby asking her whether she’d like to see the BEST ocean tonight. While she puzzles over what the note means, Jane is trying to fix her slobby ways by cleaning up her part of the room. Andy is afraid to acknowledge her efforts for fear of being misunderstood again. They receive a call from Cary telling them that Toby is sitting at the train station across the street from the Greaf. Meanwhile Dee has received a call from Toby saying she’s running away. Only she can’t go back to her ranch because her dad will be mad, and she doesn’t have enough money for the full train fare back to Texas, so she’s going to “ride the rails” and wants to know if Dee wants to join her. Running away soon after arriving at Canby Hall? Sounds familiar!

Jane and Andy hem and haw about trying to stop Toby, saying maybe her leaving is for the best and that she probably wouldn’t listen to them anyway. Dee verbally slaps some sense into them. They realize they need to go, and ask Dee if they can go by themselves as a roommate-bonding type of thing. Seems like sort of a weird priority at a time like this, but OK. They tell Cary to stall Toby and call Randy to meet them there.

Of course, they catch Toby in time and have a heart-to-heart, airing out their differences. Unsurprisingly, they convince her to stay. At that moment Randy pulls up. He tells Toby he can’t date her because of their age difference, but he really cares about her. Then all three girls and Cary hide under the hay in Randy’s truck so he can take them back to school, which is now locked as they are past curfew. Under the hay, Jane and Cary have their first kiss. All I can think is, poor Neal! As the girls sneak back into Baker House, they are caught by Alison, but instead of the requisite floor time with PA that these escapades usually end in, Alison just says she will forget she ever saw them if they agree to be no trouble for the rest of the year.

The book ends with the girls musing that having roommate trouble at first must be a 407 tradition but now that’s way in their past, Jane stating that that night was the first time a Barrett had ever ridden in a hay truck, and Andy asking Toby what the teabag was about but Toby being fast asleep. And now our 407 girls have gotten through their requisite tough times and are ready to roll problem-free through their series. Until the next book that is!

If I’m Being Honest, My Thought is Good Riddance … or, Canby Hall #17, Graduation Day

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Hello fellow Canby Hall aficionados! You know, when I first started this project, I had grand plans to recap one book a week — fast-forward to now, and I’m lucky if I do four books a year. I think I’ll stop apologizing for the delay and just accept that this is the frequency my hectic life will allow. So let’s jump in, shall we? I must admit I’ve been looking forward to this one, the last of the Dana/Faith/Shelley era, because those three have really overstayed their welcome as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not alone, friends. This book, the sole one dedicated to their senior year, skips the entire first semester and begins after Christmas. Someone at the publishing house was eager to see these three ride off into the sunset too!

So the girls have returned to Canby Hall for their last semester and are rehashing their Christmas vacations. Dana went out with a short, fat, pimply guy over break that she actually liked. Needless to say, we never hear about him again. “I can’t see you with less than a borderline Adonis.” Faith says, and she “wasn’t trying to flatter Dana, she was just being honest.” Gag me! As an aside, Shelley’s traveling outfit is a red suit, which she sheds for jeans. Remember the glamorous pre-TSA days when people dressed up to fly? Me neither, but I’ve heard about them.

We are quickly introduced to the individual dilemmas eating away at our heroines during their last year of high school. We can be quite confident we will hear a lot of bellyaching about all of this over the next 170 pages.
– Dana’s problem: Her dad wants her to delay college and move out to Hawaii for a year after graduation to get to know her stepmother and new baby brother.
– Faith’s problem: She’s applied to the photography program at the University of Rochester, but she can’t go if she doesn’t get a scholarship. Question A: Why has she only applied to one college? Question/Comment B: This is why we Asians get pressured by our parents to go into medicine. Why on earth, when you’re strapped for money, would you waste what little you have on a useless major that ensures you will remain poor for the rest of your life? Major in something that will get you a decent job and take as many pictures as you want in your spare time, woman!
– Shelley’s problem: Should she go to college at the University of Iowa or move to New York and try to break into theatre?

The semester starts up and PA tells the seniors in assembly that they have a special responsibility not to break the rules because the younger students look up to them. Foreshadowing! But wouldn’t that authoritative tidbit be more appropriate at the beginning of the school year rather than the middle?

Meanwhile, plans are being made for Arch Day, a Canby Hall tradition wherein each class sings a song of their choosing and passes through an arch of flowers, with the senior class exiting off the stage and out of the school, symbolizing their departure into adulthood, or something. This is apparently a big freaking deal. The senior class spends an hour deciding what colour their robes will be, finally settling on “a cool shade of green.” Dana and Terry volunteer to write the class song. We are told this is all very exciting.

Shelley gets yet another part in yet another play (You Can’t Take It With You, an actually very funny play that I was in myself in high school, but I digress.) Faith is stressed out taking pictures for her college application (singular) and is being a killjoy to everyone. She and Dana are too busy to celebrate said part-acquisition with Shelley, so she sits in her room feeling sorry for herself, and Pamela oozes in to make her feel worse. However Faith and Dana have sent Casey to celebrate in their place, with Tom and Keith. Shelley has a great time, until the end of the evening when Tom starts talking about all their individual future plans and how glad he is to have gotten to know her these past few years. Shelley senses there’s something he’s trying to tell her, but doesn’t worry her vapid little head over it. When she gets back, Dana and Faith are both in bad moods. Dana is furious at Terry because they can’t agree on the senior song. She wants a Broadway tune, he wants a punk ditty. Faith is in the doldrums because she didn’t like her last roll of film. I am tempted to toss that girl into the campus pond, stupid camera and all.

Dana and Terry are bickering again the next day when Pamela intervenes and they suddenly develop a united front in hatred of her. They decide to get Alison, a neutral third party, involved. On their way upstairs about two seconds later, through a miracle of time travel and physics, they somehow run into Pamela again, now wearing a mud mask. She is apparently filled with humiliation and fury at being seen in such a state. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a boarding school. Based on my experiences with dorm life, we saw people in much worse states of being. I’m not sure a mud mask would be anything to write home about. Anyway, the saintly Alison suggests using a Gilbert and Sullivan tune as a compromise. Dana and Terry love this idea and hail her as a genius. I am dubious.

On the last day before the deadline for sending in her pictures, Faith gets the idea to finagle the groundskeeper into letting her on to a rooftop to take birds’-eye landscapes. He asks for a copy of one in return. She’s super-happy with the results and finally starts acting like a normal human being again. She meets up with Johnny at the Tutti-Frutti where she doesn’t want to talk about her college application because it makes her nervous and she doesn’t want to talk about his post-high-school plans because she hates that he’s going to become a cop, so they talk about how they met at that very spot, and then it suddenly occurs to Johnny FOR THE FIRST TIME that they’ll be separated at the end of the semester. Sniffles all around (myself excluded.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch campus, the star of the play, a new student named Diana, is a great actress but undisciplined and believes she doesn’t need to know her lines. Tom is not too sympathetic when Shelley complains. Why not? Because … dunh dunh dunh … Tom has a thing for Diana! Shelley is furious and rushes back to the dorm to vent, and Faith, in an idiotic attempt to make her feel better, says that she saw Tom with a different girl at the movies the weekend before, so it’s not like he’s concentrating on just one “other” woman. Oh, OK, in that case, no need to feel bad at all! Then she says Shelley doesn’t have any right to be so upset given that she also has her hometown boyfriend Paul, so she and Tom are nothing like Faith and Johnny. This doesn’t go over well, shockingly. Dana decides to change the subject by sharing the lyrics she and Terry have written for the Arch Day song. The reader is meant to think they’re clever and amusing, but the first word that came to my mind was “inane,” if you want the truth. Dana gets ticked that Shelley and Faith aren’t interested and storms off. She calls Randy and lets him ramble on while she cools down, then shuts him down completely when he ventures to say that he’s sorry they never worked out. Nice! Then she returns to the room, where Casey, Faith and Shelley surprise her by performing her song. They liked it after all. All together now: Aww! Turns out Casey has worse problems than anyone — her rich art-collector parents aren’t going to bother to come to graduation at all.

Faith presents the groundskeeper with prints of the pics she took on the roof with him. He tells her they’re the best present he’s ever had. Touching.

To combat the March blahs, the Baker House boys throw a mid-winter luau. Everyone’s excited. Dana gets Randy to donate some straw, and Shelley starts making matching grass skirts. Faith makes paper flowers for their hair. Dana teaches them a Polynesian dance using a Hawaiian tape her father sent her. They’re the sensation of the party, natch, and win the hula dance contest. (The guidance counselor and housemother are there serving drinks and food, including faux poi: baked beans with brown sugar and ketchup. Yum-O!)

But the glow of the party quickly wears off as the next morning they’re back to fighting. Faith is stressed again because any day now she should be finding out whether she got into Rochester. Dana and Shelley are as sick as I am of hearing about it. (And shouldn’t they also be waiting for college acceptances?) They don’t speak for the next couple of days until the fateful letter finally arrives. (Why do I feel like they’re always waiting for Momentous Photographic News to come for Faith?) Turns out she got accepted but only got a partial scholarship, so she’s sure she can’t go. Dana and Shelley suggest that she talk to her mom about it, but Faith snaps that her mom’s got enough problems and Dana and Shelley don’t understand what it’s like to be strapped for money. All three remain mad at each other. Faith does call her mom who insists she will find a way. Now, instead of worry, Faith is gloomy with guilt. One’s as good as the other!

The 407 girls continue to fight. Someone leaves Faith’s mustard jar on the radiator, ruining it. Shelley annoys Dana and Faith by practicing her lines in the room. Dana freaks out because her new running suit is missing and Faith and Shelley both saw her sister Maggie borrow it. Dana goes to Maggie’s dorm ready to explode because Maggie took her clothes without asking, but it turns out Maggie and her roommates are going as string beans to a costume party and she wanted to see if the running suit would match theirs. Dana realizes it was no big deal, tells Maggie to keep it, and tries to calm down.

Casey, who’s been soaking up every last moment with Keith, finally notices the silent war in 407 when they refuse to go on a picnic with her and the guys. Pamela wanders in to borrow a book and provides a snide comment or two. Alison finds out and is determined to get them back on track again, giving them the choice of muddling through to the end of the year as they are, or repairing their friendship. Even as a kid first reading this, I thought their behaviour was immature. These are your best friends and you’re going to waste your last months together ignoring each other over stupid slights? So Alison gets each of them to agree to speak to her individually for half an hour, they all pour their hearts out, and she then gets the three of them to talk to each other with her as mediator. Unsurprisingly, they instantaneously forgive each other and come up with solutions to each of their problems. Faith will take a loan from her mother for college and insist on paying it back when she becomes a famous photographer (or hits her tenth anniversary of waitressing, is my guess.) Dana will take advantage of the opportunity her dad is giving her and go to Hawaii, since college will always be there the following year. Shelley is afraid to go to college in Iowa because Paul will think they’re exclusive again (again, WHY is no one considering more than one school?) but she realizes that going to New York without formal training would be a copout, so she decides to be honest with Paul and head to the University of Iowa. The girls then heap more praise on she-who-can-do-no-wrong, Alison. Alison mentions that she and PA were going over the next year’s rooming assignments and were using the three of them as a template for the ideal roommates. I feel like I’ve said this before, but foreshadowing!

Now that resident U.N. representative Alison has swooped in and fixed things, the girls are tighter than ever and finish up all their end-of-year activities. Casey’s problem is solved too, as her aunt is coming to graduation so she won’t feel like an orphan. After finals, the four of them, the 3 Baker boys, and Johnny decide to have a big celebration. They start by walking around campus enjoying all their favourite spots for one of the last times. Then, since 8 PM is apparently “too early for dinner”, they head to the latest Michael J. Fox movie in town. (Oh, Alex P. Keaton!) Next, since Shelley is faint with hunger, the boys pick her up and dump her in the bushes. This minor act causes a crowd of strangers to gather appreciatively, commenting that their antics are better than the movie. Oh puh-leeze. Then it’s on to Pizza Pete’s and the Tutti-Frutti, which are apparently the only eateries in town. They collectively realize that they’re not going to be able to get back in time for curfew if they stay out, but Casey convinces them that they can sneak in through the fire escape, so they decide to chance it. They make it safely back to their hall and are congratulating themselves on their escapade, when they find the door to 407 ajar and Pernicious Pamela waiting inside. Turns out she came to return that book, found them missing, and felt compelled, out of total concern for their safety of course, to tell Alison.

Alison is angry at their reckless lack of concern for rules, rounds them all up, and takes them to PA’s house in the middle of the night for their reckoning. They’re terrified. Is it me or has this happened like eighteen times before? (Four separate links there!) Why are they still so frightened of her? They go through PA’s interrogation and tell her they were all equally to blame. PA decides not to prevent them from graduating or ban them from Arch Day (the latter not being a sentence that sounds particularly bad to me, but they were petrified of it.) She decides they’ve been punished enough. So THEY GET NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. I am positive this has happened before. (See previous four links a few sentences back.) Is anybody on this campus listening to me? PA’s hard-as-nails reputation is total smoke and mirrors.

The 407 girls, Baker boys, and Casey decide, without consulting the rest of the senior class, to dedicate their senior song at Arch Day to PA (because these fools are the only members of their class who matter, obviously), “who knows why.” I can tell you, if I was a member of their class and heard that dedication at my graduation and I didn’t know why, I’d be more than a little ticked. But then I’d remember that I’m not Dana, Faith or Shelley, so who am I to have feelings? Arch Day ends up going off without a hitch. The junior class sings “We Are the World.” Oh, 1985! Dana and Terry’s lyrics inspire a standing ovation, naturally.

The day before graduation, we finally get a glimpse of what’s to come (and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) A visitor shows up to 407: a certain Jane Barrett. Yes, it is the first appearance of one of our new trio of roommates! She tells the old 407-ers that she’s getting the room as a single next year and she wanted to see what she could do with it. Dana, Faith and Shelley are offended when she doesn’t love their black walls. I realize that Jane is the first character in this series to display any actual taste.

Graduation goes well and, mercifully, quickly. All the girls’ families are there. They say goodbye to Randy, Tom, Johnny and even Bret Harper. Shelley magically and randomly realizes that she is totally over Tom, conveniently. The girls pack up, embrace, and leave Baker House. And I breathe a sigh of relief. The Dana/Faith/Shelley era, save a few cameos in the later books, is over. And not a moment too soon. Join me next time as we welcome a much more palatable set of roommates to 407. Or am I remembering them too generously? Follow along and let’s find out!

Mo’ Macs, Mo’ Problems … or, Canby Hall #16, Three of a Kind

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Canby Hall #16 - Three of a Kind

I love twins, have I ever mentioned that? I’m a Gemini, the sign of the twins, so maybe I’ll believe in astrology long enough to attribute my obsession to that, but more likely it’s merely due to my own feverish mind. But in any case, I just love twins. All multiple births, in fact, but especially identical twins. I’m convinced I was one. OK, now we’re getting into an area that’s probably best saved for a different type of blog. But the point is, if you’ve read this particular addition to the venerated Canby Hall canon, you might think that my deep affection for wombmates would lead me to also love this book, but … what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh that’s right. NO.

No place to start but the start. As usual Faith is killing herself taking pictures, this time in order to apply for an internship at the Washington Sentinel, a newspaper in her hometown that is not the Post and apparently has very stringent requirements for the kids who fetch coffee for them. Anyway, as the story opens, Pernicious Pamela, despite hating Faith and her friends, accosts Faith on campus and tells her, apropos of nothing, that she has finally truly fallen in love, that she now sees the world differently, and that she thinks she and Faith should be friends from now on. “When you love one person as deeply as I love — oh, I can’t share his name …” Pamela babbles as bystanders look around for her Haldol. Her reticence regarding Lover Boy’s name will turn out to be mighty convenient. I know, I’m a psychic.

As Faith tells her roommates about her odd encounter, we get the following statement:

“Now wait a minute,” Dana interrupted. “We’ve had more than our share of trouble with Pamela. You know what we’ve learned, right?” Shelley looked at Dana with admiration. Dana always was logical, as well as chic, gorgeous, and SO New York City.

You know, it must be just awesome to be Dana. No matter what you do, whether it’s clipping your toenails or climbing Mount Everest, you’re showered with adulation. Just remembering to breathe gets you voted Prom Queen. I mean honestly.

Anyway, the girls forget about Pamela. Randy’s ignoring Dana because it’s foaling season, so that conveniently gets him out of the way for the duration of this book. I guess now they’re not dating, so she’s not technically cheating on him this time, not that that ever stopped her before. So Dana mentions that she has to babysit for her Latin teacher’s terror of a son because she was late to class and missed a pop quiz. How on earth can that be compatible with school policy, for a student to go to a teacher’s house and provide involuntary labour? And why would any sane person want to leave their child with an unwilling, tardy teenager? These are questions whose answers we will never receive. In any case, Dana goes to babysit for 3-year-old Lester the Horrible. His dog gets tangled up in its leash so Dana begs the cute next-door neighbour to help. The neighbour, Mac McAllister, saves the dog, flirts with her, and asks for her number. Big surprise, since apparently everyone including the kitchen sink falls for Dana Morrison.

Dana goes home and blathers on to her roommates about Mac’s wonderful qualities, including his uneven eyebrow arch. Shelley decides they should all go as clowns to the upcoming costume dance to give her an opportunity to learn about costumes and makeup, important skills for a woman of the theat-ah such as herself. Dana and Shelley go shopping for supplies and run into Pamela, who tells them not to go to the department store because they have terrible selection, oh and also a gas leak. They ignore her and go anyway, where they encounter Mac, who doesn’t seem very interested in talking to Dana. Shelley agrees that Mac is hot.

Faith has like eighteen categories of photos she has to submit for this ridiculous newspaper internship application even though you and I know she’s going to spend the entire summer picking up the editors’ dry cleaning, so she offers to babysit Lester too in order to take pics of him. Meanwhile Dana is now babysitting Lester day and night, probably whether his parents need a sitter or not, just to run into Mac again. She actually asks the kid if he’s “going to be a brat” right in front of his parents. They are amazed at her excellent child-minding skills. Oh that Dana, capable at everything! Mac’s mom (who calls both her sons “Mac,” apparently) sends Mac over to borrow flour and eggs. Mac and Dana flirt inanely and he asks her out.

On date night, Mac has to pass inspection with housemother Alison before taking Dana out, so the two lovebirds start talking about what “nerds” parents become when a boy comes to pick up their daughter for a date. Yes, involved parents are so not with it! When they walk into a pizza parlour, they see Pamela, who turns white when she catches sight of them together, then comes over to tell Mac off and runs out in a huff. Dana is confused about what just happened. Any reader with an IQ over 2 is not.

Meanwhile Faith is obsessed with her dumb pictures and spreads them all over the room, including on Shelley’s mattress. Somehow Shelley is portrayed as being unsupportive for not being thrilled about this. The three roommates get into a really stupid fight about their individual obsessions (Faith’s photography, Shelley’s costume sewing, Dana’s writing in her diary about Mac. All equally important.) Shelley goes to Alison for advice and learns they all need to remember they’re a team, or something. I sneak in a nap.

While jogging, Dana runs into Mac and tells him she’s realized that she shouldn’t be mad at her roommates, and he met Shelley at the department store so he knows how sweet she is, right? Mac utters a non-committal, “Uh sure.” Dana doesn’t even notice.

By the day of their second date, Dana is already “in love.” When Mac shows up, he doesn’t seem to know what movie they had agreed to see. Again, Dana doesn’t notice. In the middle of the movie, Mac gets up and leaves, returning half an hour later with a lame excuse. When Dana gets home, Faith and Shelley tell her they saw Mac walking down the street when he was supposed to be with her; Dana decides he must have gone looking for a place where he could buy her fresh popcorn. I wish I lived in her alternate reality, where every sketchy action has a quick and flattering explanation.

The next morning Dana is surprised with an “Unbirthday Party” since her birthday is in August and can’t normally be celebrated at school. Pamela stops by to tell Dana that Mac called her the night before to ask her out, and that they’ll be “going out a great deal from now on.” Oh, and also to wish her many happy returns of the day. Dana knows Pamela is lying because Mac was with her the night before. Well, except for that pesky half hour he went missing from the theatre. Dunh-dunh-dun!

Faith babysits Lester while using him for her own professional advancement. “Be careful, won’t you?” she asks him. “I’m always careful, Faith,” he said in a tone that indicated surprise that she should even think to issue such a warning to one who, plainly, had survived for three full years. As the mother of a similarly-minded 3-year-old, this made me laugh out loud. She takes a boatload of Lester shots, but unfortunately it turns out that despite a lot of fancy photography-speak, Faith has not noticed that all her pictures have the next-door neighbours’ laundry in the background. She’ll need to babysit Lester again next weekend to retake all her pictures. Fortuitously, she decides to develop her spoiled pictures anyway and show them to her roomies. Shelley, after asking why the McAllisters don’t have an “automatic dryer machine”, and after a lot of comments about the manner in which Mac’s mom must be doing the wash (because why would an able-bodied young man, or his father, do it?) notices that there are two of each item of clothing on the clothesline. Finally putting two and two together, the girls realize that Mac must be twins. Twins who have been playing Dana and Pamela all along.

The girls start to formulate a plan of revenge, calling the twins Mach One and Mach Two because they change faster than the speed of sound. They couldn’t come up with nicknames a little more distinct from their actual names? And WHY are these twins so confused whenever one runs into the other’s latest conquest? If they’re actively switching places, don’t they exchange details beforehand?

Soon after, one of the Macs invites Dana to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She apparently has “very traditional” taste in music and doesn’t like much modern music at all. Does anyone else have trouble picturing a super-cool ’80s New York teenaged girl loving classical music and not rock? And finding a teenaged boy who feels the same? To test her theory, Dana starts telling whoppers, like that he stood up and took a bow during the movie they saw together, and that he sent her flowers, and he pretends he remembers doing those things, proving that there’s something fishy afoot. “You’ve brought me twice the happiness I’ve ever known,” Dana simpers. I know we’re supposed to be impressed by her clever double-meaning, but all I could think was, After two measly dates?

So Symphony Night arrives and Dana looks sensational, which is to say her usual self, in a silk sheath and a borrowed fox fur stole from Casey’s rich parents. Ah, the ’80s. Were they really all bad, sartorially speaking? (Don’t answer that.) One of the Macs picks her up, and, I quote, “Dana could tell that, whoever he was, he was thunderstruck by the way she looked.” Oh come on! I’m getting so tired of this Dana-worship. Mac/Mach One says he left the tickets at home, so they stop at his house and Dana waits in the car, and soon Mach Two returns. The twins have done their switcheroo for no discernible reason. At the symphony, among all the glamorous ladies, Mac Whoever says, “I’ve got to say, Dana, that you look every bit as much at home here as these other women, although I suspect most of them have to work far longer to be as beautiful as you are.” Dana: “Come on.” (My thoughts exactly!) Mac: “No, I mean it, and don’t dig for more compliments.” Whatta gem!

Dana lays the groundwork for their diabolical mediocre plan by saying that Pamela’s going to the costume dance as a clown, and then hinting around that she has more gossip about Pamela, which in my experience would not interest a teenage boy at all, but these Machs are no ordinary dudes, I guess, so he hangs on her every word until she tells him (while also randomly mentioning that she “really loves” rock music — boy, that was quick) that Pamela’s still into him and claims to still be dating him. Dana tells him he should DEFINITELY avoid the dance, where Dana DEFINITELY won’t be because she’ll be sitting for someone whose names she doesn’t remember, and did she mention Pamela will be dressed up as a clown? Somehow this idiocy tempts him and we all know that, despite claims to the contrary, the Big Macs will be heading to the dance.

Later, Alison hears the girls giggling at night and checks in, worrying that they’re up to no good. “Well somebody’s going to have some trouble, but it’s not one of us,” they tell her. “Of course,” Alison agrees sagely. “The only thing that’s important is yourselves. I sure hope you won’t waste any time thinking of anyone else.” Love that Alison! Then Pamela shows up and tells Dana that she’s sorry things won’t work out between Dana and Mac, but surely Dana will agree that the better girl won. At least we can’t accuse the chick of being subtle. Dana calls Mac to tell him yet again that she’s not going to the dance, yet again that Pamela is, yet again that Pamela will be dressed as a clown, and that Pamela conveniently has laryngitis and can’t talk. Laying it on thick and the moron doesn’t even notice.

(Incidentally, the girls find out the twins are really named Harold and Malcolm. Was anyone still named Harold by the ’80s?)

The night of the long-awaited dance, the 3 roommates dress up as clowns and are totally indistinguishable from each other. After spending every other book beating us over the head with the information that Faith is black, that fact seems to be suddenly forgotten. Anyway, they then embark on their very complicated, very boring scheme for revenge. All 3 of them are dressed up as clowns, pretending to be Pamela, and trying not to be seen at the same time. Both Macs show up dressed as magicians and somehow think no one will notice there are two of them. Casey’s dressed as a French artist and “accidentally” paints a yellow stripe onto one of the Macs so the girls can tell them apart. The girls switch places with each other and trade Macs a bunch of times for no clear reason, and the Macs are none the wiser. Dana slips out, changes out of costume and lures Pamela to the cafeteria (since when is the lunchroom in Baker House and not a separate dining hall?) while Faith and Shelley, the remaining clowns, bring the Macs there as well. The Macs are confronted with the real Pamela and the real Dana, and realize that they were fooled by three clowns instead of one, and that their twin switching has been found out. Pamela is furious and the Macs are not particularly repentant. Exit Macs, stage left.

Faith later publishes a bunch of trick photos of the Macs in the school paper, so that all the girls on campus will know they’re twins and won’t fall for their nonsense again. (I feel like there’s a journalistic ethical violation going on here somehow.) Randy Crowell calls Dana up again once foaling season is over. And Faith finds out (by telegram) that she got the Washington paper internship.

Minutiae:
– Faith buys a leather portfolio for her internship application. Leather for an application you’ll never see again? I’ve never been more grateful for e-mail.
– Dana calls herself “old girl” in her pep talks. She also wears Depends and donates to the AARP. It’s very New York.
– Shelley: “You can’t imagine how beautiful Iowa is at this time of year.” Dana: “You’re right about that!” Insulting middle America, yet again. I’m not from anywhere near there and I find myself wanting to punch Dana in her New York-perfect nose.
– Dana is apparently known as the best manicurist on campus. Being such a high-class city girl, wouldn’t she be used to getting manicures, not giving them? Guess she’s really slumming it over there at Canby.

And so, my friends, ends Room 407’s junior year. Next up: condensing all of senior year into one book! Someone at the publishing company must have been antsy to move on to a more interesting group of roommates. Join me next time for the Long Farewell to Dana, Faith and Shelley.

The Perils of Temporary Honesty … or, Canby Hall #15, To Tell the Truth

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Honestly, (to borrow this book’s theme), does anyone believe they are 100% truthful at all times? Apparently our naive little Canby Hall friends do! So let’s take a gander …

Housemother Alison’s cousin is a psych major at Boston University and wants, for her final project, to conduct an experiment in which all the Canby Hall students sign a Truth Pledge promising to tell nothing but the truth for 48 hours. Shelley’s attitude is indicative of everyone’s. “No problem. We happen to be very honest people to begin with.” Honey, don’t worry, I’m sure your self-assessment will not be altered in any way! Everyone is eager to sign except Casey and Pamela. Casey is embarrassed not to, so she goes ahead. Pamela doesn’t. (I hate to be a wet blanket here, but peer-pressuring minors into joining a psychological experiment without informed consent forms and without the permission of their parents cannot have been legal even in the ’80s. I refuse to believe it. I have spent way too much time fighting with IRBs for approval of research much less invasive than this to let it go. Deep breath.) During this meeting, Pamela vows to get back at Casey for a crack Casey made (which didn’t seem any worse than any other crack made by anyone else, but I suppose plot propulsion is necessary.) Casey is oddly frightened.

The first day of the Truth Pledge, the 407 girls are patting themselves on the back for being such honest people that the Pledge poses no risks to them or their friendship. As proof of their solid bond, Shelley insists the other two tell her something they don’t like about her. Not being total idiots, Dana and Faith refuse, but Shelley badgers the life out of them until they admit that she always uses their shampoo, to which, of course, Shelley promptly takes offense. Later, Pamela lords it over them that they’re under the Truth Pledge and she’s not, so to shut her up they start saying truthful things about her, including that Faith has seen her exact shade of hair in a Miss Clairol ad. Pamela flounces off, and “it was obvious they had struck a nerve, somehow.” By implying that she dyed her hair? Isn’t every blonde over the age of 12 an artificial one? Or is it that Miss Clairol is a drugstore brand? I’m confused.

Anyway, in their writing workshop, Terry presents a depressing science fiction story that Dana hates. He forces her to give her opinion on it in front of the class, which she has to do honestly, and he then gets angry when she does. While this is going on, we find out our smooth-talking friend Sheff has not given up on his Faith-seeking ways. He says to her regarding the Pledge, “I don’t tell too many lies anyway. I do like to tease my roommates, by telling them outrageous stories, but I’ll just forgo that for two days.” Faith: “Did you say you don’t tell many lies? That means you do tell some? That’s a shocking admission to make, Sheff.” Sheff: “Oh baby, don’t act so holier-than-thou.” Words out of my mouth, Sheffie. (Well, in a manner of speaking.) He then proceeds to “brush a wisp of hair from Faith’s forehead” and ask her out, which she declines due to a previous date with Johnny (you know, her boyfriend) but she suggests perhaps doing it another night. Sheff says he might be busy himself some other night and strolls away. Faith berates herself for being as fickle as Shelley. I join in.

Meanwhile, Pamela tells Mrs. Merriweather, the head cook, that the 407 girls have formed a “Food Grievance Committee” and want to tell her all about what they think of the Canby Hall food. Mrs. M is inexplicably thrilled and tells the girls she can’t wait to hear what they think of her meals, and that she’s already talked to the headmistress PA who agrees the girls should do this. Truth Pledge Dilemma Alert! But really, couldn’t they just tell the cook and PA that Pamela lied? Secondly, why would Mrs. M be excited to hear their opinions? The name of this fictional task force is the Food Grievance Committee. She even says she’s overheard the comments students make about her food, and if Canby Hall food has really been that legendarily bad for that many years she has to at least suspect it’s not popular. So why would she think the feedback they’d have for her would be positive? And Pamela tells Mrs. M the girls will want to give her their opinions by Saturday night at the latest (before the Truth Pledge ends and the 407 girls are no longer bound by honesty.) The cook knows nothing about the Pledge. The girls really can’t stall her past this arbitrary deadline?

As an aside, Keith asks Dana to help him become more “fashionably coordinated” so he can take Casey out for a nice birthday dinner. She agrees to secretly help him go shopping. I don’t think any misunderstandings will arise out of this arrangement.

Shelley, in an impulsive decision she will live to regret, is out taking a walk and decides to detour through PA’s private garden. There, she hears someone calling and finds PA collapsed on the ground. ** ELEVATED TRUTH PLEDGE DILEMMA ALERT ** PA has been having chest pain and needs to go to the hospital. However, she does not want anyone to know about it, so she will not allow Shelley to call the school nurse or 911. Her solution is that Shelley, who cannot lie about having a driver’s license, will drive her to the hospital. You kind of feel sorry for Shelley, who like all the students at Canby Hall is intimidated by their regal headmistress, and is forced to go along with PA’s commands. Anyway, she takes her to the ER. Eventually PA is admitted and Shelley is allowed in to see her. PA reiterates that she wants no one to know where she is. Conveniently, her secretary and housekeeper are both away and won’t miss her. She will leave her car keys with Shelley so Shelley can drive back and pick her up when she’s released. Shelley will be the only one who knows the headmistress is in the hospital.

The other girls have gathered in the lounge to head out on a group date. Randy and Dana are now just friends. Tom is wondering where Shelley is. Johnny says “Sounds like you’re in need of a good detective here.” Does anyone else find high schoolers who harp on their intended career obnoxious? Especially since the ones that do, invariably seem to end up doing something else? Pamela sweeps into the lounge and informs the waiting guys about the Truth Pledge, and that this is their big chance to ask the girls anything they want and get an honest answer, and that Johnny especially should take advantage of this since Sheff is still chasing Faith. Now, how can this be news? How did none of these girls happen to mention the ongoing experiment to any of their boyfriends? (Also, Pamela is a sociopath.)

Unsurprisingly, Johnny gets Faith alone and asks her to honestly tell him whether she has any interest in Sheff. When she stammers on about their similar career goals, Johnny concludes her mild interest in Sheff means she likes Sheff better than him and exits stage left. That’s just in time for Sheff, who has been eavesdropping on this convo, to emerge onto the scene and declare that Faith is “my chick from now on.” Sophisticated guy, my backside. Faith comes to her senses and tells Sheff to get lost.

Meanwhile, everyone is wondering where Shelley is. (Yet no one even mentions that this is particularly concerning given that one time she was, you know, kidnapped.) Then she is seen driving PA’s car alone into PA’s garage. Chaos ensues, but Shelley refuses to tell anyone a thing. She says she can’t say why she was driving PA’s car, and if she could she would, because she’s never kept secrets from them before, has she? Dana and Faith recall a couple of instances (and you can too, by spending two seconds scrolling through this blog) including that minor instance when Shelley was dating Dana’s boyfriend, which is now spun as having been a temporary problem between the two girls and “upsetting for the confused Randy, as well.” Way to excuse Randy of any responsibility there! How confusing is it? He’s dating two girls — one of them must be off-limits!

The whole dorm remains in an uproar about why Shelley was driving PA’s car. Shelley keeps repeating that they’ll just have to trust her. I sort of agree with her on this — she’s generally been a good kid, so why is everyone jumping to the conclusion that she’s committed a crime, instead of that she might have been helping PA in some way? Since no one can find PA to get her input, Alison has no choice but to ground Shelley, since Shelley admits to having driven PA’s car but will not say why. Alison says “Pamela went over to PA’s house but her house was dark.” Why didn’t Alison take that opportunity to tell Pamela to butt out of other people’s business? Shelley’s upset because now she’ll have to miss seeing a play with Tom, and he’s thinking about taking Elizabeth instead. Wow, he doesn’t waste any time! Nice relationship you have there, Shel.

Truth Pledge Dilemma #42: Casey finds out the old, beloved maple tree outside her window is about to be cut down, so she stages a protest. The groundskeeper holds off on the tree until he can find out from PA what he should do, but of course since PA is nowhere to be found, the protest gains traction. Soon half the school body is gathered around their tree, adoring Casey, their impromptu leader.

While this is going on, Dana goes to the library and, for apparently the first time in her worldly, literary, uber-sophisticated life, discovers that there’s an entire section on science fiction and that Terry is not its only fan on Planet Earth. Mind duly opened, she decides to apologize to Terry. By dressing up as Chewbacca the Wookiee. What is it with these girls and dressing up as hairy creatures? Anyway, she is successful, and all is forgiven and forgotten. Except by me. I never forget sins of lame humour, except my own. Later, Mrs. M corrals the girls to get their Food Grievance Committee report. She’s so excited to hear what they have to say that she’s actually dressed up for the occasion. The girls hem and haw, leading Mrs. M to believe her food is actually OK despite the rumours she’s heard, so Shelley finally grows a spine and tells her they actually do complain about the food but they know she’s doing the best she can. Mrs. M decides that maybe she should poll the students on what foods they’d like to see served, and then bustles off full of energy and enthusiasm over her new venture. (I don’t encounter that many people who’d be eager to take on more work at work, but maybe I need to seek employment at a fictional girls’ boarding school.) The girls pat themselves on the back for having effected change, outwitted Pamela, and stayed true to the Truth Pledge. Shelley sneaks some chop suey into a bag to take to Casey, who’s still sitting singing inspirational songs in the condemned maple tree. “You actually stole some of this chop glooey?” Dana asks incredulously. It makes them wonder whether Shelley has turned irrevocably to a life of crime.

Meanwhile the Save Our Tree participants have been wondering why PA hasn’t shown up to the scene of this campus ruckus. Someone comments that perhaps she has a hot and heavy date, since being MIA since the day before is kind of scandalous. Shelley overhears that and gives the gossiper a piece of her mind, saying they don’t know what they’re talking about. Dreamy guidance counselor Michael Frank just happens to be nearby for this exchange. (How much eavesdropping goes on at this school?) Alison then shows up and tells Casey that she has been informed (by Pernicious Pamela, naturally) that Casey has used the maple tree in question on numerous occasions to sneak out of the dorm after hours. Because of the Truth Pledge, Casey cannot lie about it. Once the gathered girls hear this, they are disillusioned by the fact that their cause is not so noble after all and rapidly disperse.

The 407 girls and Casey discuss their problems and realize that though it’s easy to blame Pamela, they were really responsible for most of them. How insightful! Shelley slips out to call the hospital, and although they confirm that PA is a patient, they say they can’t give out any information about her. Um, I think you just violated patient privacy anyway, Ms. Receptionist. Talk about an uneven application of HIPAA.

Truth Pledge Dilemma #87: Dana takes Keith shopping for new clothes. Beforehand, Keith wants to show Dana his nicest outfit, sent to him by his Aunt Sadie, who passes on to him clothes that his cousin Barney outgrows. The ensemble is an oversized shiny dark brown suit with a too-big blue shirt and a tie with green and mocha polka dots. Dana suggests that they go shopping immediately, because that outfit is just “too much like cousin Barney.”

“‘But you don’t even know my cousin Barney,’ said Keith, puzzled.
‘Oh yes,’ said Dana firmly. ‘I believe I do.'”

So they go downtown and she picks out new clothes for him. He then insists that she pick out a sweater for herself as a thank-you and a blouse for Casey’s birthday gift. It’s chilly, so she puts on the new sweater. Conveniently, the amazingly omnipresent Pamela happens to be walking by, sees them, and hurries to beat them back to school. Of course, when Dana and Keith get back, Casey is there waiting to accuse Dana of stealing her boyfriend. Dana cannot lie about having gone to town with Keith, but can’t say why she did either. Casey threatens to throw herself off a cliff, so Dana makes Keith reveal the birthday surprise. “Before we went shopping, he showed me some of his outfits, like this one, to see if they would be appropriate,” Dana says. “Naturally she told him this brown one was just the thing,” Faith says with a straight face.

All is well again with Casey and Keith. But soon after, Michael Frank shows up at the girls’ dorm room because an anonymous caller who he believes to be Pamela called him and told him Casey was suicidal and needed expert psychiatric help. WHY’D SHE CALL MICHAEL FRANK THEN? He’s no M.D.! Nevertheless, the girls start telling him about their Truth Pledge problems, except Shelley who continues to refuse to talk. Faith wants to send an apology note to Johnny, so Michael offers to deliver it for her on his way to visit a friend at the hospital (with a broken arm. The things you could get admitted to the hospital for, back in the day!) Shelley’s reaction is extreme. She tries to casually ask what floor his friend is on and Michael says the 2nd, watching her closely. PA is also on the 2nd floor. Shelley can’t figure out what Michael knows or has guessed.

Michael delivers the apology note to Johnny and then goes to the hospital and, on a hunch, asks to see PA. The receptionist says, “Oh yes. Room 233. But she’s not having visitors.” HIPAA, people, HIPAA!!!! So Michael realizes his guess about Shelley’s situation was right and heads straight to PA’s room, where she’s furious to see him. But he tells her all about what Shelley’s been suffering. PA is full of righteous indignation and vows to put this right. Michael thinks to himself that when all this is over he wants to have a talk with PA about a “certain troubled girl named Pamela Young.” Why, oh why, do you never get around to having this conversation before graduation, Michael??

So PA calls Alison and tells her the whole story. Shelley’s punishment is lifted. The girls go to dinner and find out that the student body has voted unanimously in Mrs. M’s poll for pizza, with the exception of Pamela Young, who voted for beef Wellington. Johnny has flowers delivered to Faith at the dining hall (how could he possibly have known she’d be there at that moment?) forgiving her. PA decides to excuse Casey and save the tree and just trim its branches instead.

Now that things are wrapping up nicely, the opportunity for revenge on Pamela without violation of the Truth Pledge falls conveniently, if utterly illogically, into Casey’s lap. As Casey tells Pamela, P’s California boyfriend Wilson Marchand III (“Willie” to Casey) called the dorm and Casey answered the phone. He was heading out on a college tour, so would be unreachable for the next couple of weeks (cell phones, what problems you have ended!) but wanted to know when he could come visit Pamela at Canby Hall. He had 3 dates available. One was the coming Friday, but Casey explained that there was a biology field trip that day. She did not explain that Pamela didn’t actually take biology. Another possible date was the following Monday, but Casey explained there was a test on Tuesday. She was thinking of the Presidential Fitness Test, which she figured Pamela would need to study for. And the last possibility was the next Wednesday at 9, but Casey assumed Willie meant California time, which would be midnight Massachusetts time, which would be past Canby Hall curfew. So no rendez-vous for Pammie and Willie this time. Retribution achieved.

At the book’s close, everyone gathers for their exit interview with Alison’s cousin. Their conclusions on what they learned from the experiment? They were shocked to find out that they do tell white lies, but maybe the white lies make them better people, and sometimes honesty is the best policy. Someone alert the media!

My favourite quote of the book, when Pamela is swinging her foot near the head of Keith, who is sitting on the floor:

Casey: “Pamela dear. Just a word to the wise. If your foot lands on Keith’s person in any way, you’re going to find out rather quickly what it’s like to be an amputee.”

Join me next time, when our newly enlightened friends get to go back to lying and deception. Canby Hall gets back to normal!

#firstworldproblems … or, Canby Hall #14, What’s a Girl To Do?

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I have at least one piece of good news: it seems that the last book’s purging of one Randy Crowell has stuck, at least for now. He was nowhere to be found throughout this book. I’m no fool, I know it doesn’t last, but I welcome the respite, and I’m sure his fictional character does too. He’s probably somewhere power-washing watercolours off his truck.

Back to the task at hand. I’m not really sure what the title of this gem refers to, since this book was about a collection of random and rather unrelated issues that our intrepid threesome was facing, but maybe it’s a philosophical question. When faced with the varied paths one’s young life might take, what’s a girl to do? When contemplating the deeper meanings of life, what’s a girl to do? When one has spent the entire weekend navel-gazing in despair, what’s a girl to do? And by girl, I mean reader. Seriously, what are we to do with this?

Well, in today’s episode, the girls have to sign up to be hospital volunteers for a social studies project. Call me gifted, but I’m making my prediction now: medical shenanigans will ensue! Dana is assigned to work with the hospital dietician, whose work is so complicated that she uses a computer. Seriously! Dana is inspired by her mentor and forces all her friends onto a health-food diet. (Aside: One of the patients is ornery because he had foot surgery two weeks ago and the doctor wants to keep him a few more days. 3 weeks for foot surgery? Today, he’d be in and out in a matter of hours! Ah, the old days.) Terry becomes a hypochondriac, exhibiting the symptoms of every patient he sees. Faith meets an attractive (black, naturally) doctor at the hospital that she starts crushing on, thus introducing one of the most skeevy storylines in Canby Hall history. First of all, the dude was not a doctor, he was a 4th-year med student. In what era were med students called “Doctor”? I’m really asking: did that ever happen? Because in my med school years, no med student would have dreamed of calling themselves that, since everyone else above you in the hierarchy would have taken you down a peg, and fast. You’re not a doctor till you have that M.D. in your flattering, attractive palms, buddy.

Meanwhile, Shelley is obsessed with thoughts of the new school play (it HAS been three hours since the last one, after all.) She’s positive she’ll get the lead, but she loses the part to an unknown freshman, Elizabeth. Shelley, even though she’s a junior, is cast as her understudy. Tom, Shelley’s local boyfriend (not to be confused with her long-distance BF, of course) dumps Shelley for Elizabeth. Shelley cries oceans of extremely annoying tears. Even the other characters started seeming a little homicidal after a few chapters of this. This girl is lucky that a) she wasn’t my roommate, and b) she doesn’t exist.

Dana, too, has her own problems outside the hospital. Her little sister Maggie may be coming to Canby Hall next year, and Dana’s not happy about it. She’s worried that she’ll be expected to revert back to the big-sister role and be responsible for her. Naturally Shelley’s microscopic brain cannot wrap itself around Dana’s feelings, and she persists in making Dana feel even worse. Flawless Faith, of course, is completely sympathetic.

With all these unconnected storylines, I’m not sure if this next one is the B-plot or the L-plot, but headmistress PA is also thinking about instituting uniforms. Instead of taking a vote, or even just making a unilateral decision about it, she comes up with some harebrained scheme wherein each dorm votes for a girl to model one of three possible uniforms for a month so all the other students can point and laugh make an informed decision. To stick it to Pernicious Pamela, Baker House votes her as their unwilling model. (However it’s later mentioned that Mary Beth is one of the other models, and she’s also a Baker resident, isn’t she? Continuity, people!) Really, how on earth would you enforce that a student has to be singled out to wear something against her will — especially when that student is Pamela? With all her powerful Mommy connections, why didn’t Pammy put up more of a fight?

Faith, though, is too consumed with her crush on Frank the “doctor” (the quotes are mine, unfortunately) to worry about these teenage trivialities. Fake Fhysician Frank asks Faith to take some pictures of him to send to his parents. In return, he’s going to take her out to dinner. She is unsure if it’s a date, but hopeful that it is. Really, Faith, are you serious? This dude is well into his twenties and you are sixteen!!! Also, there’s the minor issue of your boyfriend, but I realize in this series that is a very minor issue. Fake Fhysician Frank actually picks her up at her high school for their dinner — and gets lost first, so he hits not one, but two dorms looking for his teenage dinner partner. I am trying to think of another synonym for “creepy.” But really, “creepy” will do.

During their dinner Faith blurts out that she doesn’t want him to think of her as his little sister, but wants to be his girlfriend (nice going there Faith), and he does at last tell her she’s too young for him, so I guess we can hold off on that call to Child Protective Services. But he then goes on to say that in ten years she should look him up. He has her write her home address on the photos for future reference. Wow, life was hard back then. When someone moved away, you really basically never heard from them again. Fake Fhysician Frank also gets a lot of sympathy for the hard road ahead of him. A 1-year internship, then a 3-year surgical residency. And … that’s it. Um, most surgical residencies are 5-7 years, not including fellowship. But why am I quibbling. Here’s a snippet of dialogue from their date:

Fake Fhysician Frank: “Do you think you might have a little crush on me?”

Faith: “I think I might.”

FFF: “That’s nice.”

WHO IS THIS WEIRDO?

Faith may not feel much concern about going out with another man behind Johnny’s back, but Johnny sure seems upset when he sees them in town. However he is quickly comforted when Faith explains what’s really going on (which isn’t actually very clear to me, personally. As far as I can see, a grown man is taking a teenager out to dinner and sweet-talking her. Where is the comforting angle in this scenario?) Frank is very welcoming to Johnny, but “warns” him that in 10 years he’s going to give him a run for his money where Faith is concerned. They all laugh and think this is cute, but all I can think is that this 25-year-old is so taken by this random high school hospital volunteer that he can’t find one other woman to pursue? FFF then finishes his rotation at the Greenleaf Hospital and rides off into the sunset.

While all this was going on, Shelley was still blubbering her days away, but I can’t be bothered recapping all of that. Just trust me, she was singlehandedly supporting the Kleenex industry and solidifying herself as my least favourite character. Theatre star Elizabeth turns out to be a shrew who’s a prima donna and is rude to everyone, and Tom starts regretting his wayward ways. Shelley tries hard to be strong. The night of the play, Elizabeth gets stage fright and refuses to go on. This could be Shelley’s big chance to play the lead after all, but Shelley does the right thing and pep-talks/bullies the freshman into going on and doing a good job. Turns out Shelley did it because even though she was the understudy, she never bothered to learn any of the lines herself. Ha ha! So charming, Shelley! Tom and Shelley decide they’re going to start seeing each other again, but not exclusively. Yeah, that’ll go well.

As for Dana’s problem, housemother Alison suggests that Dana invite Maggie up for a weekend to discuss her conflicted feelings. So Dana does, and it turns out Maggie’s equally worried that if she comes to Canby Hall she’ll lose her own independence and have to answer to her big sister. Immensely relieved, the sisters agree to let each other live their own lives. Problem solved!

Oh, and the student body unanimously votes against uniforms. The end.

Next up: social experimentation on minors without informed consent? Bring it on!

Roosters in the Henhouse … or, Canby Hall #13, Here Come the Boys

Standard

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the writing in this one was actually not bad. I mean even by adult, I’m-not-mentally-ill standards. So it’s possible, ghostwriters. You really can churn out a semi-decent teen novel. And have it reflect well on me for ever liking this series in the first place. It’s a win-win!

So the girls return from their Fort Lauderdale shenanigans to find that out of the blue, Canby Hall has decided to let in boys. They’re starting with a trial of three boys for the spring term only. If it goes well, they’ll admit boys in full force next year. (Side note: as far as I can tell, this experiment did go well, since the boys end up staying through graduation, but no other males are ever admitted. These three remain the only boys the following year, and when the new class comes in around book #18 there are no boys then either. Did the school administration fear no others could ever live up to the three original superior specimens of teenage masculinity?) “Where are they putting these guys?” Dana wants to know. Responds Casey with a straight face, “Here. In 407.” See, in the ’80s, this was a joke. Today, that might be true.

Anyway, the whole dorm realizes things have definitely changed when they go down for Sunday brunch, and later for a fire drill,  looking like crap and the boys are there to witness it all. PA makes the official announcement once classes start back up, which is a little late on the uptake if you ask me. Why would there be no warning given to the students, and especially the parents, before such a major change in a 100-year-old boarding school? Can you imagine paying an arm and a leg for your daughter’s single-sex education and learning secondhand that the school changed it on a whim over Spring Break to make a few extra bucks? Sheesh.

In any case, the time has now come to introduce the new men on the scene. They are Terry, a writer whom Dana, of course, instantaneously falls head over heels for; Sheff, who is black so is obviously a new love interest for who else but Faith; and Keith, who is a nerd and the surprise object of affection for the anti-male Casey. Keith, though a stereotypical dork who accessorizes with calculators and pocket protectors even though I have never seen anyone dress this way even after spending years in academics, is the most lovable of the newcomers, if you ask me. He makes observations such as: “You girls seem to live on toast and black coffee. You ought to be starting the day with more protein. Not to mention riboflavin.” Ladies’ man Sheff takes the opportunity to suggest the girls sit down and have a few riboflavins with them.

Terry and Dana end up in the same writing class and begin exchanging their work for the other to critique. Naturally this convinces Dana they will get married. The campus adjusts to the awkwardness of having boys around and welcomes them. (But really, of all the hundreds of girls on campus, the boys didn’t even consider another clique besides our 407 vixens? Are they some kind of vortex, sucking every new person on campus into their midst?) Soon, the local boys (including the 407 girls’ boyfriends … yoo-hoo, remember us?) get jealous. Randy calls, and Dana blows him off because she wants to work on a poem to impress Terry in class the next day. Randy says he doesn’t think “taking a couple of hours off will set literature back in any heavy way.” She becomes deeply, mortally offended. You know, you’re right, Dana. Modern civilization will suffer terribly if we don’t all make time for your poetry. Right after this, Johnny runs into Randy and asks if he’s worried about the new guys at Canby Hall stealing their girls. Randy says “These guys have only been here one day, right? I don’t think even Dana can fall in love that fast.” Famous last words, Randster! (Why is this girl appealing again? Someone get back to me.)

Meanwhile, Sheff is super-cool and sophisticated, so Faith is tongue-tied around him. He’s an obsessed jazz musician, so she asks to hear him play the trumpet. He declines for the moment, but in the middle of the night plays a song for her under her window. He makes it clear he’s not into “preppies,” so Faith starts wondering if she’s too preppy. Poor Johnny Bates, Faith’s actual boyfriend, is suddenly referred to as an “RTB”: a Regular Teenage Boy. (In comparison to Sheff, who is super-cool and sophisticated, in case that hasn’t been mentioned already. Which it has.) Uh, isn’t this the same guy who singlehandedly talked down armed robbers?

At this point it was time for a quick break so things could devolve into cheesiness that seems better suited to one of the other books in this series. The Annual Pancake Breakfast takes place, which is when the girls invite local family and boyfriends over for pancakes in the maple grove. Afterwards, they put on an absurd, rather infantile Spring Concert that PA proudly claims is all her idea. (Patrice, I wouldn’t be too quick to take the blame credit for that if I were you.) Let me paint a picture: the choir members dress up in tulip dresses while other girls dress up as woodland creatures and weave in and out among them. Keith dresses up like a bee and buzzes around like what I can only presume is an imbecile. Shelley reads a poem about spring wearing a dress made of scarves. I’m embarrassed for them just writing this. Anyway, Randy shows up and Dana tries to subtly pretend she doesn’t know him so Terry won’t find out she has a boyfriend, without letting Randy notice. How twisted is that? That’s not cute, it’s messed up. Then Randy asks Dana to go riding with him, she turns him down saying she has plans with Faith, and then Terry comes up and asks if she’s ready to meet him in half an hour to work on their writing. Randy finally realizes he’s being played and huffs off on his horse.

This book — it took 12 books to get here, for crying out loud — is the first one to actually call the girls out on their ridiculously fickle behaviour, and to state that it is wrong for them to chase other guys while they have boyfriends (just to be clear, those are 8 separate links to their inanity), and to show consequences for doing so. How remarkably refreshing! Dana finally shows some insight and says she wants to go after Terry, but knows she should let go of Randy before she pursues someone else, but realizes she can’t seem to do that, and maybe it’s because she’s too scared to be without a boyfriend. But things don’t veer too far off the beaten path here — Dana shows insight, but that doesn’t mean she begins actually using it. So fear not, nothing’s changing too much here in Bizarro Land. Ignoring her relationship with Randy completely, she writes a bad poem asking Terry out and puts it in his mailbox. He never mentions it. (She muses that “one of the tough things about being a modern, independent girl was that some boys were still lagging a little behind the times, and got nervous when a girl asked them out.” Yeah, that’s it.) Later he tells her he loved the poem, confirming that he received it, but never says anything about going out on a date. Dana is confused as no fictional male character has ever been able to resist her before. Obviously she must need to try harder.

Lest you fear that Dana is the only one with a critical case of the crazies, don’t you worry — Faith is a fellow patient. In fact this must be the only book in which Shelley is the one largely spared from the boy drama. Faith is struggling with her crush on Sheff, a crush that is understandable when you consider the lines he feeds her, such as that she’s lucky she has Johnny because otherwise she’d fall too hard for him. Excuse me while I swoon. They all talk about how conceited Sheff is, and yet Faith seems to find it attractive. I completely fail to understand that about some women. Trust me, girls — there’s nothing hotter than a humble guy! Faith lies to Johnny about being sick and then goes behind his back to a dance at Oakley Prep (the boys’ school down the street, which has more dances than weeks in the school year, as far as I can tell) in the hopes of running into Sheff. (Because as per his roommate and resident nerd Keith, “There is a fifty-three percent probability of Sheff going to the mixer.”) She’s changed her hairstyle and her clothes to impress Sheff. There, Sheff and Faith dance, Shelley’s boyfriend Tom sees this and calls Johnny to tip him off, and Johnny shows up just in time to see Sheff and Faith kiss. Johnny punches Sheff and Sheff refuses to fight. OK, I will grudgingly spare an ounce of respect for our new friend Sheff.

In a nonsensical plot point, Faith and Dana decide that the logical answer to their troubles is to go to a fortune teller. (Sample exchange: during the palm reading, Madame Irene tells Dana she can see that Dana is a runner. Dana says, “Oh yes. And that’s in my palm too?” “No,” says Madame Irene. “I zee your Nike shoes. I think of getting pair myself.”) Madame Irene doesn’t see a dark-haired man in Dana’s life until far in the future (which is disappointing, since Terry is dark-haired) and she prophesies that Faith has already taken a photograph of her future husband but hasn’t met him yet, and that, as per Shakespeare, Faith should “To thine own self be true.” Looks like this lady earned her $10 apiece there.

Whether because of her brief exposure to Madame Irene’s infinite wisdom, I don’t know, but Dana finally grows a conscience and realizes she has to break up with Randy. She goes out to his farm and gets on a horse to go looking for him, but gets caught in a storm. Randy comes to her rescue. She still decides to lower the boom (no argument from me there), Randy gets mad and rides off, and she’s left to find her way home herself. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have just witnessed the long-overdue demise of this infernal relationship.

Faith comes to her senses and realizes she’s changing herself for Sheff and it exhausts her, but she hasn’t yet made up with Johnny. Casey bursts in with the news that the cafeteria has outdone itself — the word “Surprise” on the menu usually denotes a terrifying dish whose surprise is never revealed even after consumption, and today’s special is “Surprise Surprise.” Unable to face whatever horrible culinary concoction that might be, the girls of 407, Casey, and the Canby boys decide to go out for pizza. Dana mentions that she broke up with her boyfriend and that she and Terry should go out. Once again, Terry doesn’t take the bait. Dana is mystified. While they’re eating, the boyfriends (Tom, Randy and Johnny) happen to pass by on the street and see them. They get so mad they decide to destroy the Canby boys’ room. (Obviously security must be real tight at this place. What a comfort to the families around the world sending their young daughters here.) The Canby boys return home to find their room toilet-papered, sauerkraut and shaving cream everywhere, the beds short-sheeted, and a message in lipstick saying the stunt is from their 4 secret admirers. In the tradition of wacky ’80s humour and misunderstandings, the Canby boys think the 407 girls and Casey did it, so they decide to get back at them.

They deliver a gift-wrapped frog to Faith. They get Dana in trouble in her writing class. During play practice (another thing they have more of in this school system than weeks in the school year), every time Shelley tries to say her lines, a chicken’s clucking comes over the loudspeakers. (Uh, OK.) They put a fake hand in the dining hall’s beef stroganoff, intending to scare Casey as she goes through the line, but unfortunately PA chooses that moment to herd some important donors through the line, and a rich elderly VIP sees it first and goes into hysterics.

Really, PA is the weirdest headmistress ever. Her priorities are totally out of whack. She has no problem letting her teenage students gallivant off to a college Spring Break destination, but totally overreacts to a not-even-very-imaginative prank like this one. In true PA-fashion, she grounds the whole school until someone comes forward to take responsibility. Terry admits to Dana that they did it. Somehow during this conversation, he also admits that he has a long-term girlfriend who’s planning on coming to Canby next year. Dana had assumed “Chris” was his best friend. D’oh! Dana feels like an idiot but convinces him they need to turn themselves in. And she figures out their boyfriends were the ones who started the whole thing. So the boys confess to PA, who scares them by saying this makes her rethink whether boys should be part of Canby Hall at all. Yes, because your precious girls are so well-behaved. I mean really. So their response is to assemble a massive 10-foot bouquet on her front lawn, with garden hoses for stems, and a huge sign that says “PLEASE FORGIVE YOUR BAD BOYS.” When faced with this bizarre presentation, PA is so touched that she decides all is forgiven and no one is expelled. (The boys are sentenced to yardwork  for the rest of the Saturdays in the term, but I’m pretty sure we’ll never see them doing that.) I can’t decide whether their apology is weird, creepy or just incongruous. I mean, what does it have to do with anything? Most likely the ghostwriter was just fast approaching her deadline by this point.

But before it’s over, Faith makes up with Johnny. And is the first to finally tell Dana that her habit of collecting guys is not healthy. Faith’s theory is that Dana’s dad leaving has left Dana insecure, so that now she approaches every new guy as some kind of test of whether she can make him fall for her. “I think something’s out of whack when you’ve had half a dozen boyfriends and not one boy friend,” Faith says. Someone give this girl a prize! Dana is properly chastened, but still, I think we can be sure her commitment to singleness won’t last long, no matter how much we will it. The book ends with the group of 7 (the Canby boys, the 407 girls, and Casey) plotting to paint the boyfriends’ cars with watercolours in good-natured revenge.

 

Humorous honorary mentions:

- Dana walks down the hall and notes that “Mary Ann Olsen and Sara Smith were playing Lionel Richie records. Mary Ann and Sara were always playing Lionel Richie records. Whoever was married to Lionel Richie didn’t hear more of him than Mary Ann and Sara did.” Ah, back in the day when you couldn’t just Google to find out who was married to whatever celebrity popped into your head! What? You don’t do that? Oh, uh, never mind. Neither do I.

- This exchange: Casey admits to Dana that she’s in love with Keith, which still shocks her even though everyone around them has known for ages. To paraphrase:

“He’s not really all that nerdy once you really get to know him,” Casey said.

“No?” Dana said, doubting that Casey’s assessment of Keith would bear much resemblance to reality.

Casey: “He has such beautiful hands.”

“I’ve never noticed his hands,” Dana said. “I’m always too busy looking at his elbows. They’re gorgeous.”

 

And so the boys are here to stay, at least until graduation. Will they be allowed to live independent lives, or will these girls engulf them in their dramas until they escape to college? Or will they all wake up one day mature and determined to focus on academics? HAHAHAHAHA! I’ll report back.