The Pilgrims’ Progress … or, Canby Hall #21, Party Time!

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Canby Hall #21 - Party Time!

Since our Canby friends visited Andy’s home in the last book, it’s Jane’s turn to shoehorn her square-peg roommates into her circular world. Incidentally, I like that this is something the series did with the new girls – have them all visit each of their home states. With the old girls, they only ever visited Shelley’s family in Iowa. I guess Manhattan and Washington, D.C. are only big enough for one girl of Canby Hall.

But before we can get to the proceedings in snooty high-society Boston, we have to start off on the grounds of Canby Hall. And ugh … Alison’s back. Or more accurately, she hasn’t left yet. Good grief, get a move on, woman! I always liked her, until her horrendous wedding and its surrounding events made me disdain her with a vigor I normally reserve only for Dana. The current girls of 407 are headed to her going-away party, which is complete with skits and poetry readings. Jane has been nominated as the fourth-floor poem reader because of her “strong voice.” Alison cries. They give her a cake that’s really papier-mache moulded around a rock. Then they bring out the real thing, a chocolate cake, because chocolate is the one non-health food item that Alison loves. “She couldn’t resist the stuff and all her girls knew it.” Really? This is news to me. Alison then gives a thank-you speech in which she introduces her replacement, the new housemother, Meredith Pembroke, who is dressed for the party in a suit and a stern bun. She endears herself to the gathered girls by announcing that this is technically a school night, and anyone who is not back in the dorm in 15 minutes will receive a demerit. The girls realize that a new, post-Alison era at Baker House has begun.

We then cut to Jane, Cary, Andy, Matt, Toby and Randy sledding down a hill and later having a snowball fight. This is the first time that Cary is described as “short.” Anyway, when the girls are alone, Jane invites her roommates to her parents’ upcoming Barretts’ Landing Party: a party at their mansion in Boston to commemorate the arrival of the first Barretts on the shores of Massachusetts 300 years before. (Incidentally, the book’s back cover states that this blessed arrival occurred in 1663. This book was published in 1987 and is certainly not supposed to be taking place in 1963. So the year of this party can’t be the 300th anniversary – in which case why are we having a party?) Andy and Toby are understandably nervous about being the only black/ranch-type people there. Jane assures them they won’t be, that it’s not a big deal, that surely they know which fork to use for escargot and how to do the waltz. (Does she know anything about her roommates at all?) When Andy and Toby become even more concerned, Jane runs off in tears. They go after her and promise her they’ll attend and won’t make fools of themselves, which we all know is the most ridiculous promise in the history of all-girls’ boarding schools.

Andy, still worried that she’s going to be totally out of place, decides to call the person she apparently now goes to for all race-relations advice: Faith. DEAR HEAVEN, MAKE IT STOP. By “it,” I mean “any mention whatsoever of Room 407’s Old Girls.” I find I am able to stand them less and less in my old age. Anyway, it is stated that Andy first met Faith over Thanksgiving weekend during Alison’s wedding (not true) and that Faith “was one of the most sophisticated young women Andy knew. Ultra-cool.” (Take it from me: also not true.) Faith advises Andy to get an etiquette book from the library and to remember “what they used to say in the sixties. Black is beautiful!” Faith also, very reasonably for once, points out that she visited Shelley in Iowa where there are far fewer black people than in Boston, so this party isn’t really that big a deal. Andy feels better, until she hangs up and is confronted by Meredith Pembroke, who gives her a demerit for making a phone call after eleven PM. When Andy explains that everyone makes their calls after eleven because that’s when the rates drop (thank you cell phones, have I said that before?) Meredith shrugs and says that in that case, everyone will get demerits. The new housemother is definitely a fun gal.

Later that week, Jane is getting ready to invite Cary to the Barretts’ Landing Party, but she knows she needs to stuff him full of pizza to increase her chances of getting him to agree to come, since he considers himself an escapee from Boston high society. She then pontificates about how “the Barretts are really part of the heritage of this country”, how various Barretts were involved with Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride and the Boston Tea Party, and how her dad and all the firstborn Barrett sons are named David French Barrett. (Even though he was David Quincy Barrett just one book ago!) When Andy teases her about her zeal, Jane is insulted, and when Andy apologizes, Jane forgives her, saying generously, “I think you just didn’t understand.” Jane, after all, truly believes her roommates should be honoured to be invited.

At dinner while trying to choke down the evening’s special of “Fisherman’s Catch,” which may or may not still be alive, next-door neighbours Dee and Maggie try to convince Andy and Toby to tell Jane that her family’s fancy society party isn’t their cup of tea (Boston pun!) and that they don’t want to go. Nice friends! Andy and Toby tell them how proud Jane is of her ancestry Jane, and that they can’t disappoint her. But they’re nervous.

Meanwhile Jane has shoved enough pizza down Cary’s gullet and is back at his dorm for their monthly open house. One Monday night a month, friends and girlfriends are allowed in the Oakley Prep dorm rooms as long as the doors are open. How positively quaint! But I like it. We are told about Cary’s computer-loving roommate Stu, a man of very few words. I’m pretty sure Cary was living with a completely different roommate a couple of books ago, but I can’t find the reference now. We are also told that Cary is extremely neat and organized, which sort of lets the air out of Jane’s excuse that she’s a slob because she was waited on by maids all her life. So was Cary! Anyway, Jane eventually gets to what she is secretly calling The Difficult Question. Newsflash, Jane: If you can’t ask your boyfriend to come to your family’s party, you need a new boyfriend. Anyway, after she very carefully brings it up, Cary shocks her by begging to attend. Apparently his anthropology teacher wants them to study a cultural rite, and he thinks this will be a perfect opportunity. When Jane is offended, he reminds her that they first met because she was writing a paper on the unusual experience of seeing his band play. Unable to give in, and aggravated by the arrival of the aforementioned Silent Stu, Jane stomps out of the room.

Andy writes a snail-mail letter to Faith in which she states that Jane has gone off the deep end and is now just spouting Barrett facts 24/7. Andy proceeds to share some of these facts, including the story of one Amanda Barrett, a women’s tennis champion from the 1800s, and notes that everyone is getting so sick of the Barretts that they hope to eventually hear about a Lizzie Barrett who eliminated her whole family of Barretts. In addition, Meredith Pembroke is continuing to hand out demerits like candy.

By Chapter Six, it’s finally time for this much-anticipated weekend in Boston. Jane goes up early and Cary drives Andy and Toby. In the car, they listen to “great music” such as Lionel Richie and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (However, I have no right to put quote marks around “great music,” as one look at my iTunes playlist would tell you.) Jane lives in hoity-toity Louisburg Square, where Louisa May Alcott and other famous people lived. Colour me impressed.

Cary drops Andy and Toby off and they ring Jane’s doorbell. When a woman answers the door, they assume it’s Jane’s mother. Turns out, it’s the maid. (Who didn’t see that one coming?) She escorts them to the south parlour, which is lavishly and expensively decorated, and leaves them there to await the arrival of Charlotte, Jane’s older sister. The girls are nervous so they start clowning around, flinging themselves on the furniture and tugging on a rope hanging from the ceiling, which turns out to be a summons for the butler. When he arrives, the girls jokingly order tea, crumpets, scones and cherries jubilee, which is just stupid if you ask me. They may not be rich, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have manners. Of note, Toby has “no idea” what scones are but knows people in English novels are always scarfing them. Ah, the pre-Starbucks days! After the butler leaves, Toby and Andy start messing around with a chessboard that has pieces clearly indicating a game in progress. Are you people in kindergarten? Then Charlotte arrives. She’s described as slightly overweight and dressed to look much older than she is. I just don’t understand this physical description. Why is her weight even mentioned, and why is she a stuffy dresser? Are we supposed to conclude that she’s unattractive? Especially given the later events of the book, this just doesn’t make any sense. Anyway, she’s also stuffy in personality, which takes Andy and Toby aback, as they’d heard so much about Jane’s awesome older sister. They assume she doesn’t like them. Which isn’t an unreasonable assumption, given that just as Charlotte is about to show them to their room, the butler returns with the expansive spread of food they ordered. Charlotte is shocked, and then sarcastically notes that they seem to have made themselves at home already. Can’t say I blame her. Then she leaves and says when they’re done, the butler will show them their room. Oh, and that dinner is in less than an hour.

When Andy and Toby are eventually shown to their attic room, which is beautiful and cozy but not fancy, Toby gets teary-eyed. Turns out she’s always dreamed of a little place like this, pretty but not intimidating, and she doesn’t know how she’ll ever have that since neither she nor her dad know anything about decorating. Andy offers her decorating expertise once they get back to school. Andy then gently presses Toby on the meaning of the tea bag hanging over her bed in Room 407. And in a moment I’ve remembered ever since, Toby is just about to tell her when … Jane bursts in. Opportunity lost forever.

Jane is thrilled to see them but breaks the news that, in her house, everyone dresses up for dinner. The only skirt Toby has is denim, and Jane realizes that will have to do. Andy points out that she’s already wearing a skirt and a sweater, but Jane notes that a Tina Turner sweatshirt is not exactly a sweater. Jane then begs them to dress up because if they don’t, her parents will think they don’t care enough to make an effort, and won’t get to know how great her roommates really are. JANE. If this is that important, why on earth didn’t you give your friends a heads-up before they arrived, so they could pack or borrow whatever random items they needed to survive a weekend at your place? For crying out loud!

Andy and Toby arrive in the dining room to find the rest of the family already seated. Is that how you treat guests? Let them find their own way to dinner? Anyway, Mr. Barrett says that he hears they have “representatives from the Windy City and the Lone Star State,” and Andy immediately pegs him as a Corny Father, who likes to say things like “Cat got your tongue?”

“Cat got your tongue?” asks Mr. Barrett.

The dinner is the rousing success you and I knew it would be. The first course is artichokes, and Toby proceeds to pick hers up and take a huge bite out of it. When she notices the others peeling off individual leaves, she tries to save herself by saying that they must eat their artichokes Boston-style. Andy’s knit tie falls into her bowl of Boston clam chowder and soaks up half the soup before she notices it. I am left wondering why she was wearing a knit tie. Then the maid brings a platter of soft-shell crabs, which Toby tries to take to pass around the table instead of letting the maid serve each person individually. Mrs. Barrett says, “No my dear. Those are for everyone. There aren’t enough for you to have them all.” That is just mean! The whole point of good manners is to make other people feel comfortable, not to highlight the difference between your privileged upbringing and their ignorance. Mrs. Barrett is the one who needs that etiquette library book. Toby is then further humiliated when she tries to daintily cut away little pieces of crab and Mrs. Barrett tells her to just eat the whole thing, shell and all. Fingerbowls with water and lemon wedges then arrive, and Toby drinks hers. Mr. Barrett continues Mrs. Barrett’s example of terrible hospitality by saying “We use our fingerbowls Boston-style” and making a big deal of washing his fingers in it. Don’t be jerks, you supposed pillars of society. Your guests already feel bad enough! Meanwhile Charlotte is completely silent. Jane is desperately trying to get her parents to like her friends, noting that Andy loves ballet (to which Mrs. Barrett says they’ll have to introduce her to a family friend of theirs, Mikhail Baryshnikov) and that Toby comes from a ranch. The disastrous dinner ends with Mr. Barrett going off to make his next move “by telex” to Olaf. Turns out he’s been playing a chess game for two years with some guy in Norway, and it’s the thing he loves most in the world. Andy and Toby gulp.

Later that night, Andy and Toby are in bed and Jane comes into their room. She says she thinks her parents liked them. She also says that Charlotte is “usually a little reserved – I think it has to do with being self-conscious about her weight” but is even more so than usual this weekend. Again with Charlotte’s weight! Not nice or relevant, people! Then Jane tells them about Cary coming over to meet her parents. Where were Andy and Toby? Shipped off to the attic? They’re his friends too, why weren’t they there when he visited? Anyway, Cary gave his usual bad-boy performance and Jane’s parents weren’t impressed. After he left, Jane helped her mother with the hats.

What hats?” Andy and Toby say in unison, with rising dread.

It seems that at this ritzy shindig, the men wear Pilgrim’s hats and the women wear bonnets. They’re personalized, so Toby’s has a horse on it and Andy’s has a ballet dancer. For some reason, this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Toby and Andy flat-out refuse to wear any hats. Jane explodes that they’re selfish, that they “display the table manners of cave dwellers,” and runs out of the room. I see she gets her charm from her parents! What did she expect when she didn’t prep her roommates at all on what they’d need to do that weekend? What kind of person throws her friends to the wolves without any warning?

The next day, Andy and Toby escape the Barrett mansion and go sightseeing with Cary, who gives them an insider’s tour of Boston. At Quincy Market, they find a shop devoted to rainbows. Toby decides she loves rainbows and buys a rainbow bedspread, a rainbow rug, and a rainbow mobile (!) for her side of Room 407. Rainbows may have a slightly different connotation these days, but our friend Toby lives in a more innocent time. Cary, after annoying the saleswoman by asking if she might have something in black and white, buys Jane a rainbow pillow as a make-up present. They wander through the shops, with Cary buying a Dire Straits pin and Andy buying a chocolate bar in the shape of a ballet slipper. (Do even your confections have to be ballet-themed, Andrea? I have a headache.) Cary then takes them to have authentic fish and chips, another thing Toby apparently knows nothing about. The sheltered child is then grossed-out by the idea of vinegar as a condiment, and oysters as a food. Seriously? Andy rightfully points out that this is the same girl who eats Canby Hall cuisine without complaint. Cary then takes them to the Smyth Museum, where Jane’s mom is the curator, and which has miraculously changed names since the last book. Andy and Toby, who are getting to know Cary a lot better, compare notes on him. Andy says she thinks Cary is better for Jane than stuffy Neal. Toby says she thinks Neal isn’t stuffy, he’s just trapped by social expectations and really has a wild mountain lion inside of him trying to break free. Andy is momentarily speechless by this interpretation. Cary takes them to the Barrett Collection wing, where a museum employee gives them a brochure on the family. Turns out Jane wasn’t exaggerating; every amazing story she told about her family was true. After a stop at Filene’s Basement (where they buy Cary a unisex tie in the shape of a fish, whatever that could possibly be), they call Jane to tell her they’re on their way home.

Jane is furious that they left without waking her and were gone the whole day. Her family thinks that Toby and Andy disappeared so they wouldn’t have to help with the party. In Jane’s words, “They pretty much think you’re the lowest of the low.” What kind of family is this? Way to make your guests feel great! Even if it was true, Jane, keep it to yourself! But why aren’t you correcting their misunderstanding? And why is this rich family doing all this pre-party work themselves? Don’t you have maids and cooks and hatmakers to take care of it for you?

When they arrive, the house is in a frenzy. Everything I know about rich people, I learned from Downton Abbey, which is how I know this doesn’t make sense: the cook is yelling at the maid for letting a sauce boil over. The maid who answers the door wouldn’t also be working in the kitchen! Unless perhaps the Barretts do hired-help Boston-style. Jane takes Andy and Toby to see her dress, and somehow this is the first time this whole weekend that they’ve been in her room. Of course she has a gorgeous gown, which make Andy and Toby’s regular-person duds pale in comparison. Charlotte comes in and, when asked if she has a date, stammers that she doesn’t because she wanted to be free to help her parents with the party. Andy and Toby think this sounds bogus. Back in their room, Andy surmises that Charlotte has a secret tragic romance. When Toby scoffs, Andy reminds her that it was she, Andy, who first suspected that Alison had a new great love. If their interfering with Alison’s love life is any indication of what’s going to happen to Charlotte, Jane’s big sister should book a spot in the nearest convent immediately.

Andy’s red miniskirt and white top and Toby’s brown skirt, blue shirt, and tan vest are not exactly on equal footing with Jane’s strapless pink tulle gown. But since it’s all they have, they attempt to use the shower to steam the wrinkles out of Toby’s outfit. This is unsuccessful (though the process reportedly leaves their hair, I quote, “frizzled”) so they go in search of an iron. As they head down the servants’ back stairs, Toby bumps into Andy, who bumps into the wall. Naturally, they hear a click and discover a secret passage. I am totally, completely, not making this up. I feel like we just took a detour into a Nancy Drew.

“We probably shouldn’t go in,” Toby says.

“Oh right,” says Andy sarcastically. “Let’s just forget the boring old secret passage and take the regular stairs. I’m a little tired of secret passages this month, anyway.” As ridiculous as this is, I do love these two.

They go through the secret door and descend down three flights of a secret staircase. While doing so, they smell lilac perfume. The staircase ends at a blank wall. They bump into it and another secret door opens, leading to a closet. They start laughing about something inane and, even more inanely, actually fall out of the closet onto the floor of the room beyond. They find themselves in the basement servants’ lounge, in front of Charlotte and McNulty, the chauffeur, who are kissing.

It is noted that Charlotte and McNulty make an odd couple, since she’s a head taller than him and “outweigh[s] him by quite a few pounds.” WHAT is this obsession with her weight? In any case, Charlotte is freaked out to see them. She starts telling some whopper about how McNulty was teaching her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That was such an ’80s trope in books and on TV, and does anyone ever buy that? Toby and Andy tell her to cut the crap and that her secret’s safe with them. She says she’s been wanting to tell Jane, but their parents have old-fashioned ideas about servants. McNulty is a struggling artist and he really needs the chauffeur job, and he’ll get fired if her parents find out. Toby’s and Andy’s lips are sealed.

Cut to the party, where Andy and Toby are making small talk with various adults (ie. boring people.) And wearing the hated hats, I might add. An older woman asks Andy where she goes to school. When Andy tells her it’s Canby Hall, the woman muses, “Isn’t that the school young Jane attends? I really should introduce the two of you.” Andy tells her they’re roommates. “Oh, I see. Well then, you’ve probably already made each other’s acquaintance.” Andy resists the temptation to say that in fact they haven’t, as it’s a pretty big room. Hee! (As an aside: did Charlotte go to Canby Hall too? I don’t recall that ever being mentioned.)

Cary shows up dressed relatively normally, and the teens decide the party is lame-o. Mr. and Mrs. Barrett come up, and the latter is concerned that the party has a “certain flatness” to it. Apparently, some people are setting up the Parcheesi board, and someone else is napping in the south parlour. Mrs. Barrett thinks it is likely that these are not positive signs.

Neal Worthington shows up and flirts charmingly with Toby. Their repartee culminates with him suggesting he drive up to Greenleaf the following weekend and take her out for their first date to Pizza Pete’s. But how can that be their first date? Wasn’t he supposed to pick them up from the airport and take her for pizza after their waitressing stint in Chicago? Was he detained by a Pilgrim-themed emergency or something? Whatever. They go into the conservatory and talk some more. Neal says Toby has such a special way of saying things. Since what she said was, “It’s like someone set up a piece of summer in the middle of winter,” I feel like Neal’s laying it on a little thick. But he’s supposed to be a genuinely nice person, and there aren’t that many of those in any situation, so I’ll give him a pass. Then he tells Toby how he’s expected to go to Harvard and join his father’s law practice and then marry a girl from one of the acceptable Boston families, and how his dad refers to marriage as “merging stock portfolios.” Turns out Neal isn’t so sure having his life decided for him is what he wants. He might have more in common with Texas Toby than with the Boston bluebloods with whom he was raised.

As they leave, Jane and Cary come into the conservatory and start making out. When her mother catches them and is not pleased, Cary calls himself “SuperCary” and jumps onto a table to reveal Superman suspenders underneath his suit. After a pause, Mrs. Barrett bursts out laughing and says she’s starting to see what her daughter sees in him. I am mystified. If this was me, I would honestly be concerned that he was deranged.

When they all return to the party, it’s in bad shape. People are already leaving. The hired band is playing elevator music. But Cary finds out they also play rock and, naturally, are willing to have him join them. Of course! A random high-schooler who’s never rehearsed with them in their entire lives! They start off with a Motown medley (including “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “My Girl”) because, you know, it’s that easy. Also naturally, Andy decides to give an impromptu group disco dance lesson. And … these teenagers save the party. OF COURSE. Soon the entire Boston-proper crowd is getting down to Cary’s cover of “Gimme That Old Time Rock and Roll”, Jane is showing her mother and sister some of the “newer, trickier moves from Canby Hall and Oakley Prep dances” — because, people, that is where America unveils its newest, hottest moves — and even the servants are dancing. The neighbours ultimately call the police because of the noise. Boston’s upper crust has finally entered the 1980s.

Late that night, the Barretts, Andy and Toby are foraging for a midnight snack. Toby offers to make huevos rancheros. But there are no tortillas or refried beans, because as Jane puts it, “To folks around here, a hamburger is pretty much as ethnic as their eating gets.” This seems like an unfair slam against Bostonians. I just can’t believe that’s true. Anyway, they end up making huevos rancheros with Boston baked beans and toast and gathering around the kitchen table to eat them. Jane, who doesn’t yet know about her sister’s torrid love affair, mentions that she saw Charlotte dancing with McNulty. Before Charlotte can come up with a response, Mrs. Barrett says she danced with McNulty too, and found out he’s a talented artist. There’s hope for Charlotte and her one true love! Mr. Barrett lets the girls know he knows they screwed up his chess game but he’s OK with it. Andy and Toby realize Jane’s family is cool after all.

The next day, they all head back to Canby Hall. Andy and Toby let Jane in on the secret of Charlotte and McNulty, and Jane is floored. She knew nothing of their romance or, even more unbelievably, of the secret passage in her lifelong home. They are all greeted by the lovely Meredith Pembroke, who is writing demerits for them because they signed the weekend signout sheet in pencil, when the Canby Hall rule book clearly states signouts should be written in ink. When they groan, they each receive another two demerits for insubordination.

The 407 girls discuss the new state of affairs with Dee and Maggie, who say rumour has it that Meredith was a prison warden before coming to Canby Hall. Someone else said her older cousin’s roommate went to school with a Meredith Pembroke in New Hampshire who was the wildest girl in the history of the school. Others believe Meredith takes lemon juice supplements to increase the sourness of her disposition. The girls decide to beat Meredith at her own game and not break a single rule. However, Toby is then given a demerit for using a hair dryer, since no electric appliances are allowed in the dorm. (In what year was this rule book written? Are even alarm clocks verboten? Whatever would Meredith say about my iPad?) When Toby argues that that rule refers to hotplates and refrigerators, and that everyone uses hair dryers, Meredith is unmoved.

As the week goes on, Andy gets a demerit for a late-night phone call to Faith. All three roommates get three demerits each because of the mess on Jane’s side of the room. Jane gets another five demerits when she’s caught kissing Cary on the front steps, since public displays of affection are forbidden. Andy gets three demerits for an unauthorized pet in the room – her goldfish. The girls, becoming alarmed at the rapid accumulation of demerits (twenty means a girl has to go before the all-campus board) decide to go to headmistress PA for help. They barge in on her at home, where she’s cooking. Andy, who prides herself on being able to identify any ethnic cuisine since she comes from a restaurant family, shows her amazing, incredible skill by recognizing the “exotic spice smells” as Indian. What a talent! Turns out PA is cooking her way through an Indian cookbook. They put her tandoori chicken at risk of burning while they kvetch about the overzealousness of Meredith. PA tells them that they are not the first girls to come and complain about the new Baker housemother. She also says mysteriously that she’s not going to do anything yet and that sometimes when the dust settles things have a way of working themselves out.

That weekend Toby wakes up, all agog over a letter she got from Neal the day before saying that he can’t wait for their date. I just can’t imagine a teenage boy writing a snail-mail letter to that effect on blue personalized stationery. But I guess, in some circles, that happened? Still happens? I need to do an anthropological study on that. Anyway, Toby is so excited she just has to go horseback riding. As she heads down the front steps of Baker House, a Camaro pulls up with Meredith and a hip, punky friend of hers inside it. They are laughing, but Meredith stops when she sees Toby, and gives her demerits both for leaving the dorm so early and for leaving campus. Toby takes the demerits and keeps walking. Meredith asks her where she thinks she’s going. Toby says since she’s gotten the demerits she might as well get her ride out of it. Meredith grounds her for the rest of the weekend for insubordination. Toby yells that it isn’t fair and Meredith knows it. As Toby goes inside, she hears Meredith’s friend ask Meredith what’s going on. “You might remember someone who made a personal campaign to break every rule in our school rule book – and did. Plus breaking two rules the administration had to invent to cover stunts of yours they hadn’t had the imagination to think of in advance!”

Hmmmm. I ask you, dear readers, whatever could this mean?

Toby does not waste time thinking about it, though. She goes in the front door of the dorm and sneaks right out the back. She runs like the wind to the Crowells’ where she saddles up Maxine. Randy asks her if she’s sure she’s going to be OK riding in snow like this, since it’s a bit different from Texas. Toby rolls her eyes and ignores him. She also, like a dumbbell, tells him she thinks she’s in love with Neal Worthington. Randy then goes into a lecture about how she’s just attracted to Neal, how love has to grow, and even though he’s completely correct, he’s successfully driving even me crazy. Toby is so irritated at the fact that everyone’s always telling her what to do that she gallops out of there, pushing Maxine on a full-tilt ride and disregarding Randy’s warnings. Pop quiz time. Is this: A) a good idea, or B) a not-good idea?

Maxine flips and Toby is thrown into the snow, injuring her ankle. Now, a little late, Toby starts to panic. She really doesn’t know anything about snow. Can she sink into it, like quicksand? She tries to crawl, but can’t because of the pain. She starts calling for help. After awhile she gets sleepy and decides to take a nap. Just before she falls asleep she hears Randy calling her name, so she musters all her strength to avoid succumbing to hypothermia and calls back to him. He finds her, slings her on his horse, and rides her to the infirmary at Canby Hall. Naturally, they run into Meredith, who attempts to give Randy a demerit for having livestock on campus. As a city person, I would really, really love to try to have any rule pertaining to livestock entered into my school’s rule book. Anyway, Meredith then notices that Randy has Toby on his horse, the same Toby that was grounded earlier, and she becomes irate. She tells Randy to take Toby to the infirmary, and that her infractions will be dealt with later.

In the infirmary, all Toby’s friends are gathering solemnly in the waiting room. I don’t mean to minimize their concern, but having been witness to waiting rooms in actual Level I trauma centers where family members are actually at risk of hearing actual life-or-death news, I was not able to fully get on board with the suspense of a kid with a sprained ankle in what is basically a school nurse’s office. But I will try. The town doctor drives in and puts a soft cast on her. He also recommends a cane (a cane for a teenager with an ankle sprain cannot have been standard of care even in the ’80s) and gives her a sedative, which is everything from unnecessary in someone with an ankle sprain to really inadvisable in someone with potential hypothermia. Anyway, Randy goes up to see Toby and tells her he went looking for her because Maxine came galloping back to the barn without a rider.

Meredith and her friend Rachel show up at the infirmary. Meredith tells Nurse Zinger (I always thought this name was made up, but I just met a Zinger in real life – awesome) that she wants to see Toby, but the nurse says no in no uncertain terms. You know, Meredith is a fellow staff member. Nurse Zinger should be giving her respect in front of the students, at least. But instead she takes Meredith to sign some forms, and Rachel sits in the waiting room with Toby’s friends. Rachel mentions that Meredith was really worried about Toby, and that she’s one of the most caring people in the world. The girls are incredulous. Rachel then goes on to say that when they were in college, Meredith was the wildest girl on campus. No dorm could keep her contained. She tied sheets together to climb out her dorm window so she could get to a Stones concert. (Wait – there were dorm rules in college? I don’t know any colleges, except maybe religious ones, that attempt to exert any civilizing control over their students.) Rachel and the girls of Canby Hall realize that Meredith has been overcompensating for her past.

Toby wakes up to find her infirmary room filled with balloons of every colour, brought by Neal since she likes rainbows so much. Jane, who is never the least bit jealous despite her lifelong, only-recently-ended relationship with Neal, brings him up to see Toby, with the shouts of Nurse Zinger from downstairs: “I’ll give him two minutes up there. The last thing a resting girl needs is a guy with that kind of goony romantic look all over his face.”

Speaking for myself and every teenaged girl or boy I’ve ever known: Toby would have had to give up her sickbed, because I would have been in danger of cardiac arrest secondary to critical embarrassment.

But apparently Neal is made of stronger stock than I, because he’s not the least bit embarrassed. He tells Toby he’ll come down the following Saturday for a rescheduled date, kisses her in front of Andy and Jane, and bids farewell. Andy and Jane break out contraband Chinese food they’ve snuck in. Toby’s fortune cookie reads, “Whatever the play, enjoy being in the cast.” Hearty guffaws ensue. These are interrupted by the arrival of Meredith. Only it’s a new Meredith, minus the high-powered suits and clipboard and clad instead in jeans and a paint-spattered sweatshirt.

She proceeds to sit down and tell them about her past. Everything Rachel said was true. Meredith had been a rich girl aiming to break every rule. She was “in and out of ten schools before one of them finally gave me a degree.” Ten colleges? Again, I am amazed. Short of, say, homicide, what broken rules can get you kicked out of a college? Even campus rape doesn’t come with expulsion! Anyway, then Meredith’s father died, her mom got sick, the money ran out, and she needed to get and keep a job. PA was friends with her mom’s family, so she agreed to give Meredith a chance. (Does PA make all the hiring decisions at Canby Hall? Doesn’t the Board or anyone else get a say, or is the entire staff populated with PA buddies?) Since PA knew about Meredith’s checkered history, Meredith felt she needed to prove that she wouldn’t allow trouble in her dorm. But she went too far, the list of girls set to go before the all-campus board is so long that some will be in their forties by the time of their hearings, and now every girl in Baker House hates her. Since Meredith is suffering from a lack of common sense, or possibly a brain injury, she asks the girls of 407 for advice. Of course they come up with the perfect solution: Amnesty Day. Everyone can turn in their demerits, never hear about them again, and start fresh. As she leaves, Meredith says that her predecessor Alison had told her that if she ever needed special friends, to look in room 407. Is this place a numerology cult or something? Are they all brainwashed into loving the occupants of that room. whoever they are?

By Monday, the Greenleaf doctor has apparently taken my medical advice from 28 years in the future and Toby is suddenly on crutches instead of a cane. Meredith has put up notices on the Baker House bulletin board. One is advertising demerit Amnesty Day. The second reads:

“Some of you may have heard a rumour that when I was in college, I slid down two stories on tied-together sheets to sneak out to a Rolling Stones concert. The story is false. It was a Led Zeppelin concert.”

Friends, after a rocky start, Alison 2.0 is here!

Miscellany:

– Toby is writing her history essay on the “Accomplishments of the Egyptians” with a pen. Remember the days?

– Toby loves any book she can find about brave pioneer women, and especially loves The Big Valley reruns. I had never heard of this show, but apparently Linda Evans and Lee Majors were in it. Why does Linda Evans look so different from her Dynasty days?

In any case, now that we have a replacement for Alison, we need a replacement for Pamela, am I right? Well the publishers have heard our pleas. Join me next time as mean girl antics return to Canby Hall!

Diners Beware … or, Canby Hall #20, Friends Times Three

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Canby Hall #20 - Friends Times Three These covers! Jane looks vaguely equine, and Toby looks like a 45-year-old PTA mom. This is one of the Canby Hall books I owned as a kid and read over and over and over again, though not within the last 19 or 20 years. So it was familiar and new to me all at once, this time around. And I was pleasantly surprised by the skills of one Barbara B. Hiller, Ghostwriter; compared to most of the other treasures in this sandwich collection, this particular one came with very little cheese. The other interesting thing about this book is that it is what taught me everything I know about waitressing. I never waited tables myself — all my school-age jobs were in retail — so to this day, this book is my handbook on How to Wait Tables, should I ever be emergently summoned to perform the task. Shall we begin? The book opens with the girls of 407 having a little roommate party to celebrate the end of the fall term and the upcoming Christmas break. Andy can’t wait to get back to Chicago and see all the ballet performances she’s snagged tickets for. Jane is looking forward to seeing her family, and Toby to seeing her dad, but both of them conveniently have the second halves of their vacations wide open. Jane’s mother will be busy throwing fundraising tea parties, and Cary will be out of town, as his band Ambulance has somehow been booked for a gig in Colorado. (Who on EARTH books a high school band with no experience to speak of from the other side of the country? There were no other crappy teenage groups closer to home?) Likewise, Toby’s dad is leaving after Christmas for a ranchers’ convention. Will Jane and Toby’s clear schedules and boring vacation plans soon come in handy? You psychics, you! The roommates exchange Christmas gifts. Jane gives Andy a framed reproduction of a Degas painting of ballet dancers, and Toby a framed reproduction of a Remington pen-and-ink drawing of a cattle drive. They are both thrilled, and also sort of impress me with the way they both immediately recognize that they are a Degas and Remington. Do most fifteen-year-old girls know that kind of thing? Anyway, Andy reminds Jane that they had a $5 dollar gift limit, and Jane replies that the gifts cost her nothing, because she just asked the curator of her grandfather’s collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for a favour. Since the curator is her mother, it was easy-peasy. So these girls got actual art off the walls of an actual art museum for a tenth-grade Christmas gift? Kind of makes me embarrassed about the $11.99 cat calendar with matching tasseled bookmark I got my best friend in tenth grade. Anyway, Andy gives Toby a Texas coffee mug and Jane a bottle of spray-on hair colour in electric blue for Ambulance’s rock concerts. Toby gives each of them a handmade leather wallet made by a ranch hand back home. They’re all enjoying the holiday spirit and getting ready to pack for their trips home the following day (where Jane muses only half-jokingly that the upstairs maid will unpack her suitcases and the downstairs maid will shine her shoes while the midstairs maid has her own duties) when Andy gets a call from her father that ends her dreams of a beautiful Christmas vacation: Robert and Elaine have fallen in love! Say it ain’t so! Who are Robert and Elaine, you ask? So did Jane and Toby. It seems Robert and Elaine are the best waiter and waitress in Andy’s parents’ restaurant, and they’ve not only fallen in love, they’ve eloped. And are headed on a honeymoon to Jamaica. (Where, Jane suggests, they might run into Alison and David. Please, can we not start talking about them again? After the last book, it’s too soon.) So since it’s too difficult to train strangers for short-term positions, Andy and her brothers are going to have to cover at the restaurant for the duration of the school vacation. Andy is bereft at the thought of missing all her wonderful ballet performances. (Her constant harping on ballet is becoming just like Faith’s never-ending photography and Shelley’s obsession with the theat-ah. As an aside, ever notice how when teens in YA fiction have a hobby, they go all in? It’s all they ever eat, breathe or sleep. You gotta stereotype people somehow!) At that moment, next-door neighbours Dee and Maggie stop by. By way of character introduction, Dee’s ideal outfit is described as being a surfboard and a bikini, while Maggie’s is “a striped cotton skirt, flowered shirt, wide belt, and shoes to match.” That is just the oddest outfit to imagine. And is there any mention of the fact that Maggie is the sister and daughter of the famed super-stylish Dana and her Manhattan fashion-buyer mother? You guessed it – NO. Does their mom only buy clothes for her firstborn? Anyway, they mention that Maggie is spending the second half of her Christmas break with Dee in Malibu. That gives Jane an idea, and their scheme is born: Jane and Toby will fly to Chicago to help out as waitresses at Andy’s family’s restaurant for a week! Andy is touched at their offer, but then good sense prevails and she asks whether either of them have any actual, you know, experience. Toby offers that she’s worked at the mess hall at her ranch. (The ranch she and her father own is big enough to require a mess hall? I digress.) So she knows that you need to get all the food on the plates without mixing the beans into the mashed potatoes, and then when the guys complain, you ignore it. Andy is dubious about how these skills will transfer into her parents’ restaurant. Toby assures her that she also used to work at a diner. Jane, for her part, has watched her mother train a lot of maids and she knows you serve from the left and clear from the right. Andy is more convinced. (Why would Mrs. Barrett be personally training maids? Wouldn’t that be, I don’t know, the Head Maid’s job or something? Whatever the American equivalent is of Mrs. Hughes?) Anyway, Andy gives them both lessons on how to balance a tray on one hand, and then calls her skeptical but apparently desperate father who eventually agrees to this ridiculous plan. Joining Jane and Toby will be Andy, her brothers Charlie and Ted, and another waiter, Steve Palmer. So what is the point of this anyway? Andy’s still going to have to work through her entire vacation. What trouble is the roommates’ presence going to save for the Cord family? Again, I’m asking too many questions. We cut to the barren lands of Texas, where Toby gets a call from Jane on the stable phone in order to finalize travel plans to Chicago. She is amazed by the fact that Jane can use her father’s fancy-schmancy conference call system to set up a three-way call with Andy. Today’s kids can video-conference at the drop of a hat! Anyway, Andy says, “Jane, you’re going to have to learn this waitressing stuff,” which is the understatement of the century if you ask me. Isn’t that sort of the reason she’s going? Andy dispenses several pages of waitressing tips and thanks Jane for the lobsters she’s bringing (although these are never mentioned again, soooo … I don’t think she did) and Jane says that it’s the least she can do when she’s coming for such a long “vacation visit.” Andy is concerned that Jane doesn’t really understand what’s in store for her. Ya think? Andy also mentions that it’s frigid in Chicago, so they should be prepared. Jane says casually that if they don’t have the right clothes, they can just use her mother’s account at Marshall Field’s, which Mr. Google tells me was an upscale Chicago department store that has since been bought out by Macy’s. In any case, Andy and Toby are awed by Jane’s wealth. The next day, Jane is informed at the airport that there’s been a mix-up with her reservation and there are no more First Class seats on her flight. She can either fly First Class on the next flight to Chicago, or she can fly Coach on this one, in which case the airline will give her three free upgrades to First Class to be used on future flights. Is it normal to be angry when I read about how genteel air travel used to be? Going off on a tangent: A year after we got married, my husband and I had to move 550 miles apart for 3 years due to my medical residency and his military service. We flew back and forth on as many weekends as we could during those years, which allowed me to amass a lifetime’s worth of airline horror stories. I experienced so many delays that I actually added up all my lost hours and wrote a letter to Continental Airlines saying that they owed me 2.7 days of my life back. Their response was essentially a big wet raspberry. So you get three First Class upgrades because of one minor flight error, Jane? Bite me. Anyway, Jane ends up seated to a gorgeous hunk who, naturally, she falls for completely, erasing any thought of Cary (HER BOYFRIEND) from her mind for the rest of the book. Zach Foster’s parents are divorced and he’s coming back to his mom’s house in Chicago after spending the holidays in Boston with his dad. When he hears that Jane is going to work in her friend’s restaurant, he is thoroughly impressed, because, as he quickly informs her, he hates rich people who don’t know the meaning of a hard day’s work. Jane is stunned and, as per her usual custom, doesn’t tell him the truth. Instead, she starts surreptitiously moving around her belongings so that he won’t see the designer label on her cashmere sweater. Makes perfect sense, Janie. Zach asks if they can get together while she’s in Chicago, and suggests the art museum (do a lot of 16-year-olds go on dates there?) and notes what a coincidence it is that the Boston Museum of Arts has such a great collection with her last name. Just then the flight attendant’s voice comes on overhead telling them to prepare for landing by “extinguishing all smoking materials.” You know, though in a lot of ways society has changed for the worse as the decades pass, I am so glad I have no firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to fly in an airtight tube choking on secondhand smoke. Anyway, they land, the three roommates meet up at the airport and are introduced to Zach, Zach mentions how nice it is that Jane can make a little money at the Cords’ restaurant to save for her college education, and Andy and Toby start laughing before getting the stink-eye from Jane. After the Zachster leaves with promises to see her that week, Jane explains to her roomies that she “didn’t have the heart to correct him” regarding what he thought of her. See what I mean? A total pattern of behaviour with Jane. She just never has a chance to explain herself. However, she mentions that she got a call from Neal, who’s still angry about the “mix-up” at Alison’s wedding (a euphemism if ever I heard one) but was very interested in Toby. So that’s back on again, I guess. They arrive at Andy’s family’s restaurant, Steak ‘n Ribs, and are going to be immediately put to work, so they get last-minute instructions and put on their uniforms. Toby lets it slip that she wasn’t actually a waitress at the diner where she used to work. She took care of the horses. It was sort of a diner/stable combination place. This can’t bode well. Andy gives them the grand tour of the restaurant. She shows them the basement, where extra supplies are stored, and warns them that the entire area is always kept locked. Will this fact come back to haunt them later? I leave it to your deductive reasoning. One thing Andy tells them is that the waitstaff’s break area is out of sight of the customers. You never want a customer to see you sitting down, because the minute they do, they’ll think of something they need. Man, that is just like residency! Before they know it, the girls are waiting tables. Jane is asked what the specials are and flips to her order pad, but panics when what she sees is “gr. lb. ch.w/ g, Ps + prsly. n. pot.” She corners Andy, who explains that, obviously, it means grilled lamb chops with green peas and new potatoes with parsley. (For $8.95. Lamb chops for $8.95, I say!!!!) Jane says she was about to tell the customers it was a pound of green cheese with great possibilities, which is definitely something I would order. Over the course of the night, Toby and Jane have a variety of mishaps – rude customers, mixed-up orders, forgetting to bring sugar with the coffee. Customers are noticing that the service isn’t what it usually is. The night is almost over when Toby starts balancing a tray with six meals on one hand, while a customer backs away from a table while telling a story. As Barbara B. Hiller tells it, “It would have been all right, but it was a fishing story.” The man spreads his arms, catches Toby in the stomach, and he, Toby and all the dishes come crashing down. The next day they are all exhausted despite hours of sleep. Jane is awoken by a call from Zach asking her to go to the Art Institute with him that afternoon. Jane is excited, but unsure of what to wear since her usual pressed silk blouse and blazer don’t cut it when one is slumming it. She borrows an old sweatshirt from Toby and jeans from Andy, explaining that Levi’s aren’t really designer jeans so they’re OK, and her roommates are kind of insulted. Jane has a great time  on her date with Zach despite the fact that it requires pretending to be someone she’s not. Then Zach says he wants to attend the museum’s school of fine arts, but he needs to know someone to get in, and his art teacher doesn’t have that much sway. Jane’s mother is on the Board of Trustees. Jane thinks about the irony of the fact that if she told him who she really was, she could get him what he wanted, but then he wouldn’t like her. Zach then says that the Board is made up of rich snobs anyway, so he’s just going to forget about it. This is definitely one couple that’s gonna make it, you guys. They go to the cafeteria for lunch and so that Jane can rest her feet, and Zach tells her she’s a “real fighter” and that he admires that. After ONE waitressing shift? Gag me. That evening, Jane and Toby meet Steve Palmer, who tells them to listen to Andy because she knows what she’s talking about. They tease Andy about him, and it turns out Andy’s always wanted him to notice her but he never does. Plus, he’s in college. PLUS ANDY ALREADY HAS HER BOYFRIEND MATT DOES ANYONE CARE ABOUT THAT OH MY CRANIUM. Jane mentions that she’s going out again with Zach that night after work, and Andy wonders how she’ll do that when she’s already so tired. That evening, they work in teams: Steve and Toby, and Jane and Andy. Andy, annoyed by Jane’s refusal to come clean with Zach, shows it by being annoyed by Jane’s work performance. During a break, Jane gently tells Andy she knows Andy’s envious of her dating Zach. Andy is genuinely surprised that Jane thinks she’s jealous and asks if it’s OK that Jane is pretending to be something she’s not. Jane, misunderstanding (or deliberately not understanding) says she’s not pretending to be a waitress, she’s trying to be a waitress. Andy gives up (far too easily in my opinion.) Mr. Cord assigns Jane and Toby to help Andy’s brothers with a banquet upstairs, so Andy and Steve take over the dining room. They work smoothly and efficiently together, and Andy asks him to stay for soda and dessert after their shift. He politely turns her down. After work, they all go up to the Cords’ apartment to try out a new chocolate cake recipe that Mrs. Cord is testing. Man, I wish I was friends with these people! They discuss who’s coming to “family lunch” the next day, which is a buffet lunch on Wednesdays for family and friends where they serve leftovers and recipes the cook is experimenting with. Everyone is welcome, so Jane asks if she can invite Zach. She then leaves on her date with him, and over hot chocolate at a diner, tells him about her various nutty customers, including a French-only speaking couple that didn’t leave a tip. It then somehow comes up that Jane doesn’t know Pig Latin, so Zach teaches her. In doing so, he also taught a 7-year-old me. So, kudos to you, Zacharino. As he escorts her home, he tells her again that he admires how she knows what she has to do and does it, even if it includes a tough job like waitressing. Insert eye-rolls. The next day brings the Cords’ warm and boisterous Family Lunch, where combinations of people as varied as Zach + Andy’s brothers and Jane + Andy’s father’s brother-in-law are engaged in colourful conversation. Solitude-loving Toby is having fun but feels homesick and needs a little break from it all. So she volunteers to take Andy’s two-year-old sister Nancy out for a walk. Toby enjoys the opportunity to be outside (even if those Chicagoans did cover it all up with concrete), so even though she can’t find the park they were heading to, she decides to keep walking. She chats away to Nancy about her two wayward roommates: Jane, who’s lying to Zach about who she really is, and Andy, who’s pretending that Steve doesn’t exist. Nancy provides helpful commentary such as “Doggie!” in reference to a vicious Doberman three times her size, and turns around, straining, in her stroller yelling “Doggie! Bowwow!” after its owner tugs it away. “Come on, Nancy, you’re acting just like Jane,” observes Toby. “There’s no future between you and Fang, there. Forget him.” What is it about toddlers and animals? A rabid dog could bite me and my kiddo would still want to pet it and take it home and have it live with us forever. Toby gets so caught up in walking and talking that it takes her awhile to realize that she’s lost and it’s starting to get dark. Panicking, realizing she has no idea how to get home and has Nancy’s safety in jeopardy, she starts running down streets with the stroller blindly. (Say it with me, friends: CELL PHONES ROCK.) Then she catches sight of a mounted policeman on a horse and immediately runs to him for help. He tells her she should take a cab home (duh) and points her in the direction of a taxi stand. Toby is so relieved that, once safely in the cab, she does some self-reflection with Nancy, recognizing that she’s in the habit of immediately trusting anyone on a horse, which was helpful in this case, but which is a silly belief. Nancy points out the window at the park they were supposed to go to. Toby promises she’ll take her the next day. You can just see Nancy deciding that, on second thought, she’s busy. Toby is eager to share her newfound insights with her roommates. In doing so, she mentions that they don’t have taxis in her part of Texas. Except “old Ben Juaro, but he’s not really a taxi driver. He just hangs around the barber shop and if somebody looks tired, he gives them a lift, and if they give him money, it’s fine with him. If that’s a taxi, then I lied.” I love Toby! Anyway, she explains to Andy and Jane what she has learned about behaviour patterns and how each of them need to break theirs in order to improve their respective situations. Andy totally understands what she’s saying about Jane. Jane totally understands what she’s saying about Andy. Neither is very interested in applying these life lessons to themselves. That night’s waitressing adventures begin. Jane picks up orders for a table and can’t remember who ordered what, and is too lazy to check her order pad, so she lets the diners figure it out. According to Tom Sietsema, my personal food guru, waiters acting like auctioneers (“Who got the chicken parm? How about this rainbow trout?”) is a huge no-no. Guess Jane, despite what we all thought, doesn’t have much of a future in the food-service biz. Then she asks if the table wants dessert, but they remind her that they already told her they want coffee. Exhausted, she asks Toby to cover for her and goes to take a break. She thinks about Zach, who she’ll be seeing again after work that night. She thinks about how this job is going from bad to worse for her, with someone ready to tell her something she forgot or something she did wrong every time she turns around. She can’t figure out why it’s so much easier for Andy and even Toby than for her. She ends up falling asleep at the table and is woken up half an hour later by Toby, who suggests Jane skip her date and catch up on her sleep, which of course Jane refuses to do. Later that night on her latest hot-chocolate date with Zach, Jane wonders again why this job seems to be too much for her. Zach tells her he needs to take her home so she can sleep. Jane isn’t sorry to get to bed, though she wonders to herself why she’s so tired when she’s getting ten hours of sleep a night. Good question, Jane. As someone who completed a medical residency with years of overnight call, and who now has two kids who conspire to wake up for myriad reasons throughout each night, I haven’t had seven consecutive hours of sleep in … let’s see, it’s 2014 … A VERY LONG TIME. So Jane, to be succinct: bite me. The next morning, Mrs. Cord and Toby are in a big discussion about the best way to make chili. Toby has Texas expertise in this area and Mrs. Cord wants to serve chili for the restaurant’s big New Year’s Eve party. While they’re occupied with experimenting, Andy and Jane go to see one of the ballet performances Andy was losing her marbles over back when she thought this was going to be her Christmas break to remember. They have a nice relaxing time, but on the way home, as Jane starts thinking about the upcoming evening of work, tension starts building again. When Andy comments that waitressing must be getting easier, Jane explodes that no, each night is harder and less fun than the last. (And since when is work supposed to be fun, missy?) Andy asks if Jane is sure it’s the work that’s bothering her. As Jane doesn’t seem to know what Andy’s talking about, and as Andy is reluctant to bring up Zach again when Jane’s been deaf on this subject in the past, Andy suggests lamely that perhaps what Jane is really worried about is the chili. That night starts out well for Jane, but starts going downhill when she makes a mathematical error on a bill. The irate customer accuses her of attempting to cheat him and makes a scene until Mr. Cord steps in to defuse the situation. Andy’s dad reminds Jane to call him over the minute things start getting out of hand. Then Jane takes the wrong plates to the wrong diners, then somehow gets involved in an argument between two customers that ends with both of them angry at her. Mr. Cord again reminds her to come get him as soon as there’s a problem, since it’s his restaurant and he wants people to come back. Probably to get her out of the way, he tells her to take a break. Zach calls and, like the unhelpful weasel he is, says that the Cords are working her too hard. Yeah, that’s it. Jane knows that the job she’s doing isn’t good enough and that the Barretts don’t fall. These two facts make her uncomfortable. An idea starts growing in her mind. When the night ends with Jane slipping and falling while carrying a tray of brownie sundaes, depositing hot fudge and ice cream onto an entire table of customers, she makes up her mind: she’s going home. This is the part I never understood as a kid, and still don’t today. If I’m reading this correctly, the day this occurs is Thursday. They literally have ONE MORE NIGHT to go in their week of waitressing. Jane can’t just suck it up and get through one more measly night rather than leave her friends in the lurch? Wasn’t helping them out of a staffing shortage the entire reason she came out there? During all her bellyaching about how hard this job was, why was no one ever mentioning that she literally had to make it through one week? And also, Barretts don’t fall, but quitting is OK? [End rant.] So the next day Jane is getting ready to leave Chicago, stuffing her belongings in clumps into her luggage as per her usual slobby ways. No one is able to talk her out of leaving, even when they mention that that night is the big New Year’s Eve party and they could really use the help that she, you know, flew out there to provide. But Jane is convinced that her experiment in waitressing has been a failure and that it’s time for her to walk away from it. Zach arrives to drive her to the airport, and the Cords and Toby all muse about how Jane really hadn’t been much worse than anyone else starting out, and how what she’s really doing is running away. In the car, Zach says he knows how hard Jane tried, and that he’ll be in Boston at Easter and will see her then. Jane pictures him arriving at her mansion, and wonders if she could convince him that her mother works as a maid there. He asks what time her flight is, and she pulls scarves and pajama tops out of her purse as she rummages through scraps of paper and tangled jewelry to find her ticket. Zach tries to help her repack in an organized fashion. He shakes a scarf to let out the random things Jane had rolled into it, and onto the carseat fall an American Express Gold credit card and her mother’s store credit cards to various high-end retail establishments. Zach thinks Jane stole the credit cards and is horrified. Jane tells them they’re hers. He reads the names. “David Quincy Barrett, as in David Q. Barrett, Investment Bankers? Gloria Barrett, as in Curator of the Barrett Collection?” He accuses Jane of lying to him. Jane says she didn’t lie, she said she was working, and he assumed she was working class. Uh, Janie, you’re kind of splitting hairs here. You TOTALLY lied to the dude. Anyway, Zach then spits that that must be why Jane is leaving — she’s a spoiled little rich girl who can’t handle an honest day’s work. They spend the last few minutes of their drive to O’Hare arguing, and Jane ends with “If what I am isn’t good enough for you, then that’s your problem. Not mine.” He dumps her at the curb and drives off, never to be heard from again. Bye-bye Zach! Inside the airport, Jane sits down blankly on a bench. It’s noted that she “had always thought that airports had an electrifying excitement to them.” I totally agree! Despite my multitude of negative experiences with domestic air travel over the past decade, I still love the feeling of being inside an airport. It’s a condition I’m seeking treatment for. Anyway, that airport bench must have magical Oprah powers because Jane suddenly realizes what an idiot she was for the entire fling with Zach and what a crappy friend she was for ditching the Cords. Out of nowhere, she now knows that “Barretts don’t quit” and that she wants to keep her two good friends, “because Jane plus Andy plus Toby equaled friends times three.” I don’t really know what that means but at least they worked in a tieback to the title, so bonus points. (Yes, I am in charge of doling out points, and obviously my standards are abysmally low.) Where was I. OK so Jane has finally come to her senses, decides to go back to the restaurant, and rushes to the taxi stand, when her poorly-packed suitcase unexpectedly pops open, flinging its entire contents across a twenty-yard radius of O’Hare. Man, remember those old-school pop-lock suitcases? My family used to have them, and I distinctly remember the exact same thing happening to us in an airport in India, with ratty T-shirts and underwear flying all over the terminal. We were late for our flight, so my dad was not amused, but man, that memory still cracks me up. Thank goodness for zippered luggage. You know, if nothing else, rereading Canby Hall books is really giving me an appreciation for random inventions from the past 30 years. Passersby return items to Jane (“Here’s your lipstick, miss. Nice shade”) who is too embarrassed to notice at first that six extremely tall boys are helping round up her belongings. Turns out, they’re a basketball team from Texas, who collectively answer to the name “Tex,” are stranded in Chicago, and need something fun to do that night. Looks like Jane’s bringing some friends with her back to the Cords’. Everyone is thrilled to see Jane return, and Tex goes into the kitchen to help Toby and Mrs. Cord in their quest to churn out authentic Texas chili. The New Year’s Eve party at the restaurant gets off to a great start. Everyone loves the chili, and Jane is an award-winning waitress now that her mind isn’t occupied with Zach. She and Toby muse about how they can set up Andy and Steve. Turns out fate will do that for them, as Andy and Steve are each separately dispatched to the basement to get more onions for Mrs. Cord, who can barely make chili fast enough to keep up with the demand. Andy and Steve both end up in the basement, but ruh-roh: the door locks behind them. For those of you who guessed that that locking door would come in handy, fifty points to you! Sixty if you give me chocolate! Anyway, Andy and Steve take the opportunity to get to know each other. Turns out Steve’s a musician who loves ballet. He asks her to go to the ballet with him when she comes home for spring break, and admits that he’s always had a hard time forgetting that she’s the boss’ daughter. Eventually, they’re rescued by Charlie. Tex has the entire restaurant dancing to the country-western band the Cords booked (country-western, in Chicago?) and Mr. Cord is amazed. He says they already have ten reservations for next New Year’s Eve. “We’ll have to get the Texans stranded in Chicago again,” says Andy. “Maybe we can arrange something,” laughs her dad. Steve asks Andy to dance. Meanwhile Toby gets a call at the restaurant from Neal, who wants to know if he can meet their plane in Boston the next day, drive them all back to school, and then take her out for pizza. Aww! But won’t that be weird with Jane there, since Jane and Neal dated from the ages of, like two to sixteen? Oh well. Jane’s poor treatment of guys earns her no sympathy from me. The party is a rousing success. After it’s over, the roommates talk about how they’re headed back to school the following day, and Jane mentions that she can’t wait to see Cary. SEE WHAT I MEAN? NO SYMPATHY HERE. The next day they have a warm goodbye scene with the Cords. Mr. Cord wonders “who’s going to dump food on my customers now that you all are gone.” Jane suggests that perhaps he could retrain Robert and Elaine. Who are coming back from their honeymoon at last, lazy good-for-nothings. Jane uses her three First Class upgrades to get her, Andy and Toby seated in First Class together. They have a great time enjoying the perks about which I have only dreamed. They talk about how, from now on, they’ll notice and truly appreciate good service. They discuss their New Year’s resolutions, which for Jane include stopping smoking, practicing the piano, and ceasing fingernail biting. Since she doesn’t currently do any of these things, she has no chance of breaking her resolutions and the year is guaranteed to be a success. The book ends with them mimicking their fussy customers and eating First Class cream puffs. And thus ends our favourite trio’s foray into the restaurant world. In a matter of hours, they’ll be back at boarding school, but not for long, for the next book is also on location. Andy and Toby are invited to a fancy party at Jane’s home in Boston. Will hijinks ensue? Not a chance!

Sometimes Eloping Is Best for Everyone … or, Canby Hall Super Edition #1, Something Old, Something New

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What does this blurb mean? The bride doesn't go missing, it's the groom! Who edited these books, wolves?

What does this blurb mean? The bride doesn’t go missing, it’s the groom! Who edited these books, wolves?

This is the back cover. which is totally just a reprint of the cover art for #10, Make Me a Star. What does this have to do with Alison's wedding? I guess that Dana is, as always, the star.

This is the back cover. which is totally just a reprint of the cover art for #10, Make Me a Star. What does this have to do with Alison’s wedding, you ask? I guess that Dana is, as always, the star.

 

Hello my adorable fellow masochists! I mean, I’m assuming you’re fellow masochists since, like me, you presumably read this nonsense growing up without guns pointed to your heads. In general, I have an overall feeling of benign nostalgia towards this series, but certain installments really make my blood boil and my questions for the Maker of the Universe multiply. Shall we get started on the recap of one of them? (After that intro, how could you resist?)

This extra-long clunker opens with Andy, Jane and Toby walking across campus lamenting the advent of winter, apparently now the best of friends. Jane says that Canby Hall becomes major snowball-fight territory in the winter and all the teachers stay indoors because of it. I’ve never heard this mentioned before or since. It is then noted that Jane likes to show off her Canby Hall knowledge a little since she’s the only one of them who was there the year before, and that Andy and Toby indulge her, because “the three of them indulged each other in lots of little ways.” Uh, really? It’s still October. Six weeks ago, you guys were plotting round-robin assassinations of each other. Anyway, they bump into PA, who guilts them into signing up for the annual Canby Hall Leaf Rake, which is about as much fun as it sounds. Then they start gossiping about how housemother Alison has been walking around swooning and taking lots of mysterious little trips to Boston on the weekends, without her boyfriend Michael the guidance counselor. They wonder what’s going on. Conveniently enough, Alison has called a dormwide meeting for that night.

Then there’s some descriptive prose about how awesome Alison is and how she’s the perfect cross between a kid and a grown-up. Evidence of this is supposed to be the fact that she’s always looking for her glasses which are on her head, and that she shows up to the meeting with eyeliner on one eye but not the other. I assume that anyone who was a fan of the Canby Hall books was also a fan of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, so remember Dawn’s mother Sharon? She was supposed to be all goofy and absent-minded, as illustrated by the fact that she would put shoes in the freezer and, like, credit cards in the toaster. This is just so far beyond the realm of charmingly quirky. What it is is concerning, from a neurological standpoint. I think both Sharon and Alison need a thorough workup for Alzheimer’s, stat.

Anyway, big surprise to no one, Alison has called the meeting to tell the girls that she is leaving Canby Hall because she is getting married, but not to Michael. She’s marrying a TV anchor from Boston named David Gordon. And she’s getting married at the Canby Hall chapel. And her maid of honour is going to be … @#!*% DANA, of the original 407 girls. This is where my respect for Alison, if one can have respect for a TOTALLY FICTIONAL CHARACTER (um, I may need professional help) took a long walk off a short pier. Does this woman have no friends? Does she have no life? (Pot, meet kettle.) Presumably she had a rich and full existence prior to taking this job, could she do a little something to show it? Getting married at the school instead of one of your hometowns, OK fine. I’m a UVA alum and they are super-obsessed with their chapel (which is admittedly lovely) so I guess I can see that happening in real life. But asking your former student to be your maid of honour? And making it the insufferable DANA, at that? And inviting her idiot roommates back too? OUT OF ALL THE HUNDREDS OF GIRLS YOU’VE PROBABLY CARED FOR DURING YOUR TIME AT THIS SCHOOL? I can’t take it. I just can’t, you guys. Ugh.

We then cut to the poor, innocent state of Hawaii, which has no idea its share of the ozone is about to be decimated by the rapid swelling of @#!*% DANA’s stupid gorgeous head. Dana gets called back from a run to take a long-distance call at her father’s house that’s full of a) static, b) a very tiny Alison voice coming from far away, c) mentions of how expensive the call is going to be, and d) other 1980s anachronisms. Dana decides to go back to the East Coast for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. How very simple! No mention of whether her mom will mind! Dana convinces Alison to let Dana call Shelley and Faith to tell them the news, which is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. Letting someone else tell your supposedly close friends you’re getting married, and to whom? Gag me. Anyway Alison says she “really need[s]” the three of them there, and I lose my lunch.

When I revive, Dana has talked to Faith, who has talked her into letting her (Faith) call Shelley, and all of them are surprised that Alison is getting married, shocked that it’s not to Michael, and all set to drop everything and come in a matter of weeks. Meanwhile, Jane, Andy and Toby watch the evening news to get their first look at Alison’s soon-to-be Main Man. Toby is anxious, and apparently unconsciously sucks her thumb when she’s anxious. WHAT? This has never been mentioned before or since, and I refuse to believe it. Tough-as-nails cowgirl Toby? A ridiculous habit to give her. Anyway, she’s worried about what she’ll wear. In order to pad out this “Super Edition” by the requisite 80 extra pages or so, Jane and Andy plan a trip to the mall to find Toby an outfit.

Before they can go to the mall, they have the obligatory Leaf Rake. David Gordon shows up in a sportscar and swoops Alison into his arms in front of everyone, including PA. Michael happens to be walking by, sees this, and looks stunned and angry, then turns on his heel and leaves. This, my friends, is what is apparently known in the teen-literature world as “intrigue.” The 407 girls then head for the mall. They start their search for the perfect wedding ensemble in Sandra’s Styles, a promising establishment if ever I heard of one. The trendy, hip outfits they pick out for Toby are

1) A pair of pleated pants and a slouchy jacket in forest green, with a shirt in green and rust stripes,

2) A beige wool skirt, a beige silk shirt, and a beige-and-white striped gangster vest

Imagine this in beige.

Imagine this in beige …

3) And a blue dress with forties shoulder pads and a “splash” of sequins across the front

 

And imagine this with bigger shoulder pads.

… and this with bigger shoulder pads. And splashier sequins.

 

OK, hold up for a minute. I know Toby is supposed to be this backwoods naive country girl and Jane and Andy are supposed to be the worldly urban fashion experts, but with help like this, who needs experts? Are you really telling me Toby wouldn’t be better off in jeans and cowboy boots? Or, say, a barrel?

Anyway, Toby is having fun trying on all the clothes and is hamming it up, until she catches sight of Randy watching her from outside the store, and she runs back into the dressing room and starts to cry. Again, crying because a guy saw her goofing around – add this to the list of Things Toby Houston Would Never Do. Randy tells Jane to pass on the message that he thought Toby looked “real pretty.” Toby’s day is made.

Later Toby goes riding at Randy’s ranch. It is briefly mentioned that Randy sometimes recites poems to her. Uh, he did that to Dana, not Toby. I am beginning to think that whoever wrote this (Carol White) never actually read any of the previous books in this series. Anyway, Toby tells him that Alison is getting married, and that she (Toby) never plans on getting married because she doesn’t want to wash anyone’s socks out at night or change her name, which is what all the wives do back in Rattlesnake Creek. Randy enlightens her on the ways of the twentieth century. Toby reconsiders her marriage embargo, but says she could never marry Randy. That’s sort of out of nowhere, Tobes, since he never asked you to and since it’s obvious you’re in love with him. ANYWAY. Toby also mentions that Dana’s coming for the wedding, Randy gets all broody, Toby learns that Randy and Dana used to date, and Randy says he’ll be making himself scarce that weekend. Toby gets jealous.

Meanwhile Jane and Andy are over at Oakley Prep watching a practice session of Cary’s band Ambulance. Conveniently, Matt is now their lighting guy, so two crushes can be killed with one stone, or something like that. The guys tease Cary about something or other (all I got out of that anecdote was that one of this super-cool band’s high-school-aged members is named Harvey) and Cary takes it good-naturedly. Jane is hurt because he would have bristled if she’d tried to tease him that way, and then she realizes that it’s probably because he really cares what she thinks of him. OH PUH-LEEZE. Then Jane asks him to be her date for Alison’s wedding, and this greasy rock-n’-roll wishful thinking idiot actually refuses because weddings are a “waste of time.” Hello, isn’t she your girlfriend? What the @#!*% do people (actually, just Jane, I don’t remember any other girl ever throwing themselves at this Adonis) see in this guy? Jane runs away crying.

Thanksgiving, the weekend of Alison’s wedding, quickly approaches. This year, nearly every girl in their dorm is staying at school for her wedding instead of going home for the holiday. These are high school students! I’m sure their parents across the country are thrilled. Alison is nervous about what the old 407 girls will think of David, since when they graduated in June, she was still very involved with Michael. So again, HOLD UP. She was very involved with Michael in June and she’s MARRYING another guy by November? This chick moves fast! Anyway, there’s a knock at her door and three girls in ratty bathrobes with mud masks on their faces are in the hallway. Unsurprisingly, they turn out to be the mega-annoying Old Girls of 407, although how they managed to disguise themselves when they all just flew in and are supposed to be staying with Alison is not explained.

The next morning, the Old Girls decide to do the first of their many acts of Supreme Annoyingness this weekend and visit their old room. They stand outside 407 (again, why do none of these rooms have locks?) and criticize the “turkeys” who painted over their black walls with a “pukey” blue. These dimwits really have a lot of nerve. Unsurprisingly, Jane arrives at the room, hears them, and is offended. I am offended alongside her. The authors’ collective hero-worship of @#!*% DANA continues when Dana is described as the “socially smoothest” of the three Old Girls and she tries to apologize. Dana and Shelley then leave to go see Maggie, you know, Dana’s sister, who she hasn’t bothered to catch up with yet, and Faith runs into Andy. They have another excruciating exchange in which Andy acknowledges that the last time they saw each other, Andy’s accusations of rampant racism on campus were unfounded. She admits to not getting the lead in a play because of talent, not colour. But in practically the same breath, Andy starts hounding Faith again about how Faith MUST have felt like an outsider when she was at Canby Hall. (Of note, this may have been true, if Faith dressed anything like she was dressed for this conversation, which was in parachute pants and a jacket with spaceman shoulders, whatever that means.) When Faith denies this for the umpteenth time (I can’t believe I’m defending an Old Girl), Andy comes out with this quote I have remembered for twenty-five years, ever since I first read it: “You’ve been a long time in a white world now. Maybe what happens is you start to lose your blackness a little. Maybe you start to go a little beige.”

OH GIVE ME A BREAK. Meanwhile, PA is parading candidates for Alison’s job in and out of buildings, and each one is more strict and uptight than the next. Also, Dana helps Maggie dye her hair blue, for absolutely no forward plot propulsion or otherwise discernible reason.

On Thanksgiving morning, Dana wakes up on Alison’s floor, where she’s been sleeping for the past two nights. She and the other Old Girls have been drawing straws for the futon, and Shelley and Faith have won both nights. How unfair is that? Would any friends actually say to each other, “Nope, sorry, you sleep on the floor till kingdom come, as long as you keep drawing the short straw”? I detest the Old Girls. Anyway, Dana goes for a run down to the Crowell farm to see Randy. They see each other, he’s cold at first, then warms up, he mysteriously mentions that he already knows all the details about Alison’s wedding, Dana gets jealous at the thought of him being with some other girl, he tries to kiss her (WHAT IN THE WHAT????), she rebuffs him, he jumps on his horse and gallops away. I want to bisect Dana’s aorta. Or maybe mine, for reading this.

Dana and Toby run into each other on the road leading to the Crowell farm. Dana realizes that Randy’s mystery girl might be Toby. Toby finds Randy huddling like a weenie in the hayloft and he says he wants to be alone. Toby figures out he had some kind of clash with Dana. I literally want all of these people to move to Uzbekistan. But then I think about how unfair that would be to the Uzbeks.

The Old Girls have decided to squeeze in all of their favourite Canby Hall activities during their weekend visit. (They are apparently all staying with the bride-to-be in her tiny apartment, ON THE WEEKEND OF HER WEDDING. Neanderthals.) One of these favourite things is apparently swimming in the Canby Hall pool, which I promise you was never mentioned in the 17 books of theirs to which I subjected myself. In the pool, Shelley mentions that she went into town looking for her old boyfriend Tom, whom she found giving a wildflower bouquet to a new girl named Cynthia. Faith’s amazed response: “Tom?! Mr. Sensible? I’d like to have gotten a picture of that.” Are you kidding? Since when was Tom Mr. Sensible? This is the same blithering halfwit who dressed up as a clown to juggle outside a movie theatre for literally no reason. Anyway, the horrible Old Girls all make fun of Cynthia when they find out she wears socks with bunnies on them, even after it’s mentioned that not only does Shelley still have her old boyfriend Paul in the picture, but now has a new boyfriend Mark at college. In what universe are any of these catty no-goods attractive to anyone of the opposite sex?

They then head to Pizza Pete’s for dinner, and naturally Pizza Pete’s is open on Thanksgiving. They’re meeting the New Girls for a planning session for Alison’s bridal shower, which is apparently scheduled for about 18 hours before her wedding. The Old Girls wonder why the New Girls have to be in on the planning, and the fact that the shower was the New Girls’ idea does not seem to register in their pea brains at all. As Faith puts it, “Alison’s our friend. She’s just their housemother.” As far as I can see, she’s ALL OF YOU PEOPLE’S HOUSEMOTHER. The Old Girls show up late, which the New Girls take as a power play. Problems immediately ensue when they can’t agree on what pizza to order. Faith secretly asks the waitress to add a double helping of anchovies to the New Girls’ pizza. First of all, what a Glass Bowl thing to do. Secondly, what waitress would agree to do it and needlessly endanger her tip? Anyway, they then spend what feels like hours (to me) arguing about where to hold the shower and what theme to have and what gift to give Alison, and each of them thinks They Know All. They decide to have it at some health-food cafe Alison likes (there is apparently a shocking number of establishments to choose from in sleepy little Greenleaf) and then turn their attention to fighting over who knows Alison best and whether David is really right for her. These infants then come to the conclusion that if David isn’t right for Alison, it’s their job to warn her. Which they’re going to start looking into with only two days left till the wedding, apparently.

That night, the New Girls decide to spy on Alison and David at the Rialto, Greenleaf’s revival movie house (which has never been mentioned until now) in order to determine whether they should allow her to go through with this marriage. (Where are Alison’s parents? Her friends? IS THERE ANYONE ELSE IN HER LIFE BESIDES THESE FOOLS?) In a showering display of imbecility, they dress up as old men with long beards, robes, and caps with tassels dangling from them, and babble in a made-up language while sitting in front of the lovebirds. (Wouldn’t it be easier to spy on them if you were sitting behind them? Why do I still demand logic from this series? You guys, there’s something seriously the matter with me.) Alison figures out that the old men are Jane, Andy and Toby, so she and David decide to “have a little fun with them.” David talks loudly about how a woman’s place is in the home keeping the man happy, and how his mom is moving in with them, and how Alison should take up mushroom farming (???) and how he won’t want her associating with the girls of Canby Hall after the wedding, lest they put their modern ideas back in her head. The girls are outraged and jump up, breaking character, although the thing they seem most appalled about is David’s hastily made-up nickname, Lissy. Alison wonders why she’s being tormented by costumed girls of 407 all the time – first the Old Girls in their bathrobes and mud masks, and now this. I’ll tell you why, Lissy – because you encourage them by including them in your wedding instead of eloping, changing your identity, and never communicating with any of them again. Anyway then Alison and David expound on David’s wonderfulness, and how the girls don’t need to worry, because Alison would never fall in love with a jerk. They have plans for a marriage that will be a “partnership of equals.” David will support them while Alison gets a graduate degree in art history, and then he gets to “just loaf and fool around with my painting” while she supports them in whatever lucrative position a graduate degree in art history can get you. Probably, in this day and age, something at Burger King. Anyway, if they have kids, Alison’s going to stay home for the first year, and David will stay home for the second year. Living on one income … how very quaint! David buys them all hot chocolate and the New Girls are convinced he’s God’s gift to Alison. Maybe if I buy the IRS hot chocolate, they’ll give me an extension on my taxes. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

Anyway, so since stupid too-cool Cary refused to go to the wedding, Jane asked Neal, who was thrilled to be invited. After all the trouble she went to breaking up with him in the last book, she reels him in again? How dumb can you be, Barrett? Just go with your friends and be done with it. Isn’t Neal already kind of into Toby at this point anyway? OH MY GOODNESS WHY AM I BOTHERING WITH LOGIC AGAIN. Toby, who somehow has an extra locker while Andy has none, decides to go there to get her cowboy boots with the snakeskin inserts – she’s gonna be dressin’ up fancy for Alison’s shower shindig, y’all! She finds Dana trying to break into her old locker and moping around because they changed the combination to her old lock. Then Dana exposits about how coming back to Canby Hall just isn’t the same, everything has changed, blah blah blah. Toby asks her if she’s talking about Randy, which of course she is. Dana tells her she doesn’t understand why Randy thought he and Dana could just pick up where they left off, Toby tells some Texas fable that explains why he still thinks he has a chance, and Dana’s interest in Randy is renewed because of his mysterious friendship with Toby, which makes him seem full of “enticing secrets.” Could this chick be more fickle? Then they babble about how the Old Girls are invited to a brunch at Alison’s so they can finally meet David, and how sad Michael is, and how someone should go talk to him about his heartbreak.

Cut to Faith taking her stupid pictures AGAIN, this time for yet another class assignment on “Disappearing New England.” Tell me, why would the University of Rochester care about that? She’s worried that Andy’s comment about her being beige might have a grain of truth. Then she sees Andy coming by, and neither wants to escalate into a full-blown fight, but “neither wanted to lose points by being really nice to the other. And so the conversation was like a plant with lots of tiny, hidden thorns.” Seriously, are you kidding me? How immature are these people? I see no point in recapping their interaction. Suffice to say: DUMB.

Next we move to Alison’s brunch for the Old Girls, where trouble is brewing (PUN ALERT) between Alison and David. Why, you ask? Because he made the coffee strong, which she didn’t like, and he took her distaste as a slur on his culinary skills, of which he was very proud. He then called her coffee weak, which upset her because she was very insecure in the kitchen. Then they somehow segue into David being sick of being put on display for her friends all the time. Their fight ends with David yelling that she can entertain her own friends while he goes somewhere where there’s no talk of weddings, and as he turns to storm out the door, he sees the Old Girls all standing there in dismay, having heard the entire thing.

OK, this is getting ridiculous. David, what do you think getting ready for marriage is? Of course you have to meet your spouse-to-be’s family and friends and develop relationships with all of them. What, did Alison not have to meet anyone from his side? Is this a case of two totally friendless, family-less people (other than the Canby Hall parasites girls) marrying each other? In that case, it’s probably a match made in heaven.

So unsurprisingly, after having witnessed this display, the Old Girls all hate David. And as much as it brings up my lunch to do it, I have to agree with them here. If I ever saw a fight like this between my friend and her fiance in which he complained about meeting her loved ones, I would be convincing her to call off her wedding faster than you can say “truffle canape.” Anyway, so they all talk to Alison. Faith says David may just have pre-wedding jitters. Dana asks Alison if she’s moving too fast, having only known David for seven months. Alison says they’re both just stressed out, and that the week before she herself blew up about some weird gift his uncle sent them and when neither of them wanted to write the thank-you note, she threw the gift at the wall. Dana says with some (understandable) concern that she can’t imagine Alison and Michael ever having a fight like that. Alison says the romance had been fizzling between her and Michael for some time. Shelley shows the first spark of good sense I think she’s ever shown in this series and says excitement doesn’t necessarily last, but true love becomes deeper, and what’s going to happen in 6 months when the excitement with David wears off? Alison’s response:

“I don’t know, maybe I’m making the biggest mistake of my life … But all the plans are set now and I’m not one to go back on a decision once I’ve made it. And so, for better or worse, it looks like I’m going to marry David Gordon on Saturday.”

Wow. Nothing like that attitude to ensure a successful marriage!

After this brunch, the Old Girls head down to 407 to conference with the New Girls on a present for Alison. Really, why can’t each threesome get her a present and not involve each other at all? Oh, because this book still needs about 60 more pages of padding, you say? Got it. Naturally Dana takes it upon herself to lead, and naturally, tension is everywhere. They decide to get Alison presents based on the “Something old, something new” rhyme (hence the title! CLEVER!) and draw lots. There will be 6 people and 4 lots, so two gifts will have pairs shopping together. My goodness, why couldn’t the Old Girls take the first half of the rhyme and the New Girls take the second half? Again, my medical problem rears its ugly head: a desire for logic. So Faith and Andy, unsurprisingly, are paired together as they both draw “something new”, Jane and Dana both draw “something old,” Toby gets “something borrowed,” and Shelley gets “something blue.”

Dana and Jane go to Laurel’s Old Stuff, another place in Greenleaf they apparently both love but which we have never heard of before and will never hear of again. Jane talks about how great David is and Dana expresses her skepticism. The store owner, Laurel, naturally knows and loves Alison, so gives them an antique camisole for next to nothing. Toby gets a mysterious present out of her extra locker that later turns out to be her lucky horseshoe. Shelley goes to a sporting goods store looking for a blue mask, flippers and snorkel, because Alison and David are taking a delayed honeymoon to the Caribbean. What kind of nonsense is that? You just rent the equipment when you get down there, you don’t buy it in Massachusetts and lug it through Customs with you! Plus you have to get the right size flippers, you can’t just pick up any old pair. And you don’t buy any of this junk anyway unless you’re a professional or something, because you use it twice, tops, and never pick it up again. DUH. Anyway, when Shelley walks into the sporting store, she sees Tom’s new girlfriend Cynthia behind the counter. They end up looking for the equipment together, and it turns out that Cynthia wears her weird clothes because she’s poor, and she really loves Tom, and Tom has said nice things about Shelley. Shelley feels bad. I feel good. That Shelley feels bad, I mean. It’s about time. Meanwhile Faith and Andy are shopping together and have resolved their conflicts by, you know, talking about them in an adult manner. Amazing how that works. They buy a talking toaster for Alison and bump into Michael, who’s happy to see them but then hurries off when the subject of Alison comes up.

That evening, all six girls head to Alison’s shower. The Old Girls start talking about how crappy David is and how Alison needs to get out of the wedding. The New Girls act like lemmings and defend David, accusing the Old Girls of undermining Alison’s confidence in her decision. When they reach the health food cafe, none other than Cary is waiting there for them. He tells Jane he was an idiot (no argument here) and that he’d love to go to the wedding with her. She tries to tell him that she’s already invited someone else, but he “leaned in to kiss her too soon” and then runs off, so she doesn’t have a chance. This is an ongoing pattern with Jane. She doesn’t seem to have “chances” to be honest with people. How much time does she need to explain a situation, a week? So now she’s got two dates for the wedding, neither of whom know the other is coming.

The shower, set to Bob Seger, Alison’s favourite (I have no words) goes well at first, but to the surprise of no one, goes downhill eventually. First of all, these six are apparently the only ones there. Alison is the housemother for the entire dorm, not just Room 407. Where are all the other girls she’s cared for? Didn’t they all stay at school over Thanksgiving for this wedding instead of going to see their families? During gift-opening, Alison admits that she’s thinking of postponing the wedding. Why would you tell this to a group of teenagers? Work it out with friends your own age, lady! The New Girls tell her she just has jitters and the Old Girls get mad that Alison’s concerns are being ignored. Alison gets upset and runs out of the restaurant. The six girls with the combined maturity level of a toddler on amphetamines end up in an all-out brawl that culminates with Shelley shoving chocolate cake into Jane’s face. What is WRONG with these people? How is that acceptable behaviour in any company? If I ever saw someone do this in real life, I would immediately label them dangerous. For real. If you’re that unstable that you can’t control yourself in civilized society, I’m keeping my distance from you. This incident is kind of glossed over in the effort to get to the next chapter, but there really should have been consequences for Shelley, such as that no one speaks to her again, ever.

When they get back to Baker House, after having all walked home together (I would have called a cab, commissioned a Learjet, whatever to get away from Unstable Shelley) a videocassette is waiting at the front desk addressed to the Old Girls. The richest girl in their dorm has her own VCR, and isn’t very nice. But she’s trying to get on Jane’s good side because Jane set her up with a friend of Neal’s, so she lets them play the tape in her room. (If she’s so selfish, why would Jane have fixed her up with anyone?) The tape is an apology from David, in the form of a newscast, recorded at his anchor desk, in which he asks for another chance from the Old Girls. As usual, the Old Girls are skeptical and the New Girls are swooning. As an aside, the Old Girls wonder where they’ll sleep that night, since Alison will probably want her privacy. Dana says they can bunk in with her sister Maggie. Uh, does anyone want to make sure three extra people are OK with Maggie’s roommate? And what kind of security is in this dorm, that random strangers can come and just lie around wherever and for however long they want?

The phone is ringing when they get back up to 407, and Toby is delighted to find that it’s Randy. Only he’s calling for Dana. Dana agrees to meet him, then feels bad for Toby, who tells her that she and Randy need to work out whatever’s going on between them. Then Toby heads off to mope in the broom closet. Is this the first mention of the infamous fourth-floor broom closet, the only place where a Canby Hall girl can get some privacy? I remember Andy/Jane/Toby’s crowd using it a lot, but not so much the older crowd. Anyway, Dana and Randy go for a drive, talk about how incompatible they are, and then Dana kisses him. I HATE DANA.

Meanwhile Faith has gone to check on Michael and his broken heart. They have a nice exchange while he’s making hot chocolate, where he says that the trick is not to use instant mix, but to make it the old-fashioned way, like her mother used to. Faith states that her mother works full-time and uses instant everything. “Well, your grandmother then,” says Michael. “She was a lawyer,” responds Faith. “But I think my grandfather used to make lemonade from real lemons.” I never knew Faith’s grandmother was a lawyer (and neither did any of the other ghostwriters, I’m sure) but I like that touch. Anyway, Faith is all set to allow Michael to cry on her shoulder, when she finds out that not only is he happy for Alison, he has a new girlfriend too, a Spanish teacher from Greenleaf High, who walks in at that moment. And why has he been moping around campus looking miserable? Because he had his wisdom teeth pulled out the week before. That doesn’t explain why he kept bolting whenever there was mention of Alison, but OK. Michael and his new love’s forthcoming engagement is implied and Faith leaves totally convinced that the future Mrs. Michael Frank is a prize. She also has brown hair on one page and blonde hair on the very next page, but whatever, I guess. Faith goes back to the dorm and has a midnight conversation with Dana, and they both agree that somehow all this means that they were wrong about David.

Dana goes to convince Alison to call the wedding back on. She bumps into Toby, who is going to do the same thing. Toby is the least likely of the New Girls to do such a thing, being so uncomfortable with other people and social traditions, but she had to be the one so that there was ample opportunity for several annoying paragraphs about how each didn’t know where the other stood with Randy or some such nonsense. Anyway, they both barge in on Alison, who has been going through major anguish and ignoring David’s calls, but has decided she loves him and wants to go through with the wedding after all. So basically … Dana and Toby’s intervention was useless.

The next day is the day of the wedding. Andy and Toby awake to find out about Jane having invited Neal and Cary to the wedding, and that Jane’s idea of a solution is to pretend she’s sick to get out of it. They tell her she needs to tell Cary not to come. She throws a fit about them not supporting her (oh Mylanta, I have heard this song and dance so many times before in this series …) but eventually gets up the courage to call Cary. Only he’s not there, he’s getting fitted for a tuxedo. So once again, her plans to come clean are thwarted.

All six roommates go to help the bride get ready. Again I ask, where is her mother? Sisters? Friends? Cousin Maura? Anyone? This is making Alison look like a pathetic human being with a sad and empty life. Also, it’s really highlighting how different weddings used to be just a few years ago, before the wedding industrial complex ramped up and made every engaged woman into a bridezilla. Alison is getting married a month after getting engaged, in her great-grandmother’s lace gown. Today, with Say Yes to the Dress and that kind of thing, that would never happen; most women wouldn’t dream of wearing anything other than their own wallet-busting selection. Plus you’d have a hairstylist and makeup artist following you around all day, not some random kids getting you ready an hour before. Dana’s maid of honour outfit is a dress Alison’s opera-singing great-aunt wore on stage. Today, a bridesmaid’s dress would cost no less than a month’s salary and be selected after no fewer than three months of angst-filled bridesmaid-dress shopping.

Anyway, the six 407 girls primp Alison up (Shelley is supposedly “the best stylist among them” and uses hot rollers to create a “cascade of curls.” She’s done Iowa proud!) Dana does Alison’s makeup with blue and silver eyeshadow. Hawt! Each of them tries on Alison’s veil and imagines herself as a bride. Then they all get dressed, and Alison’s “wonderful” dress is described as having puffed long sleeves and a scalloped neckline. Have I used my “hawt” quota for this post? Anyway, then PA shows up at the door with her wedding gift. Turns out there’s another line to the wedding rhyme. It actually goes

Something old, something new

Something borrowed, something blue

And a sixpence in her shoe.

 So PA has somehow managed to procure a sixpence. And a double rainbow appears in the sky. Things are looking good for our wannabe bride.

But yet! They get to the chapel and David is missing. As Alison hasn’t spoken to him that day, out of superstition, no one knows where he is. Neal and Cary are there, though, sitting together, and haven’t figured out they’re both there as Jane’s date. Vince, David’s station’s sportscaster and his best man (evidently David, at least, has friends) shows up, but he is David-less. Alison’s parents walk in and gush over how lovely she looks in her great-grandmother’s wedding dress. Where were they when she was getting ready? Who sees their daughter for the first time on her wedding day at the church??

Time passes, the guests get restless, the priest offers some unhelpful advice about grooms who never do show up, the girls wonder if the wedding really is off, and Alison is about to lose the last of her marbles. Finally, though, in dramatic YA-fiction fashion, a horse gallops up and stops just outside the chapel. It’s Randy, with David hanging on to him for dear life. Turns out David’s car broke down, and in this pre-cell phone era, had no way of contacting anyone. Randy found him and delivered him to the church, and is now invited to stay for the wedding. Everyone files into their seats. Faith is the wedding photographer. Gag me. I hope Alison forgets to pay her. Also, Dana is not only the maid of honour but is the only bridesmaid. If the only person I could ask to stand up for me at my wedding was some kid I once kept an eye on, I’d be so embarrassed I’d forego the wedding party entirely. Anyway, the wedding goes off without any further hitches, and they are declared man and wife, and then woman and husband, because Alison is an “ardent feminist.”

Dana is occupied with maid-of-honour duties, and also with a new crush on Vince (I HATE DANA, have I mentioned that? I hope she never comes back to this stupid series, but I know my wish doesn’t come true) so Toby gets Randy all to herself, and he tells her she looks pretty. Barf. I wish everyone would just dump these doofus guys. None of them are worth a dime, with the possible exception of Neal. Official Wedding Photographer Faith takes pictures of the wedding party outside the chapel wearing Groucho Marx noses and glasses. Classy. Meanwhile, Jane is finally forced to come clean to Neal and Cary, both of whom do exactly what she deserves, which is get up and leave.

The reception is in the Greenleaf Inn which is said to be full of “historic glamour” and “perfect for a traditional bride like Alison.” I thought Alison’s whole thing was that she was hippy and modern and quirky (and also afflicted with Alzheimer’s)? Dana spends the entire night talking to Vince and ignoring Randy, but thinks it’s OK because he’s talking to and learning to dance with Toby. Ugh, Dana. HATE. Then Cary shows up again and tells Jane that he and Neal were hurt, and Jane should apologize to Neal and make it up to him. “Why are you giving me such good advice on my relationship with my other boyfriend?” she asks. So now Neal is her other boyfriend? I thought she broke up with him in the last book! I am so confused! Also, in need of a life. Anyway, Cary says he’s confident he, the cool rocker, will win Jane in the end. Sure, buddy. Toby and Dana end up in the ladies’ room together, and Dana tells Toby she’s realized she and Randy aren’t right for each other and she wants a guy more like Vince. Toby is relieved that Dana won’t be tying up Randy’s future, and tells Dana to go tell him that. Dana and Randy dance and resolve all their issues (I guess) and the most surprising couple on the dance floor is Cary and headmistress PA. Alison tosses her bouquet and Shelley catches it. Shelley and Jane make up, for some unknown reason. Then the girls decorate the newlyweds’ car, Alison whispers tearful goodbyes and nonsense about how she couldn’t have had this wedding without them (yeah, she could have had a better one) and the married couple heads off to their honeymoon in Niagara Falls.

The next morning, the six girls of 407 are having brunch in the room. Each of them brings something, and Shelley’s contribution is something called “Iowa Cooler,” which is apple, orange and grape juice with a shot of chocolate syrup. That is … disgusting. And totally sounds like something an adult ghostwriter would think up in a failed attempt to be quirky. Anyway, since we’re now at the end of the book, the Old Girls and New Girls have had their obligatory Resolution of Conflicts and are all besties, and they end this ridiculous story by tumbling onto the front lawn of Baker in what is described as a big pile of leaves and friendship. And also my vomit.

Selected randomness:

– Maggie notes that Andy has been seen walking around campus with a “goony” look on her face and Matt Hall’s arm around her shoulder. Neither Jane nor Toby know about Andy’s boyfriend, yet he’s her date to Alison’s wedding. How are they so out of the loop?

– Dana’s little half-brother is named Joey now, not Josh. Of course, he’s also Maggie’s little half-brother, but no one ever mentions that.

– Quote from one of the Old Girls, about Alison: “If she threw over Michael, who has got to be one of the most terrific guys in the world, it must be for some guy who’s incredibly rich and famous and good-looking. Robert Redford’s already married, so who does that leave?” Dude is now 78 years old! And at the time of this book’s publication (1986) he had just divorced his wife of 27 years, so he, technically speaking, was available.

– The head dietician of Canby Hall’s horrible dining hall is now one Mrs. Sharp (guess Mrs. Merriweather got canned after trying to make the improvements suggested during the Truth Pledge) who describes “eggs Benny” this way: “You ever heard of eggs Benedict? Well eggs Benny’s sort of like that.” Tempting!

– Jane’s mother still tucks her in at night when she’s home.

Oh my goodness, that was painful to get through. Let’s collectively erase it from our minds. What’s up next? A book I remember well: Jane and Toby are helping out at Andy’s family’s restaurant in Chicago! Will disaster ensue? Is the Pope Catholic? See you on the flip side!

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.