Class Schedules and Class Wars … or, Canby Hall Super Edition #2, The Almost Summer Carnival

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Canby Hall Super Edition #2 - The Almost Summer Carnival

In which Jane morphs into a haughty bourgeois caricature of her former self. Had she lived seventy years earlier, Lady Mary would have had a soulmate.

Can we talk about this cover for a second? Cary, once again, does not have anything even resembling long hair and an earring. And although I know a blazer and skirt is supposed to be Jane’s preppy uniform, it really looks ridiculous at a carnival. I find it hard to believe she wouldn’t have thrown a thousand-dollar polo on. Also, “whose” is misspelled.

Rereading this one was interesting, as I remember well nearly all the books from here on out. Can I just say, for years I thought that the “Almost” in “Almost Summer Carnival” referred to the carnival almost having been called off? It was only later that I realized that the name of the carnival had been the same before and after the threat of cancellation, and that it referred instead to the summer season almost having arrived. Yes, my reading comprehension skills are exceptional, why do you ask?

We open on the girls of Canby Hall (which generally only means the girls of 407 and their next-door neighbours, not the presumably hundreds of other girls who attend this school) and their guy friends from Oakley Prep, hard at work getting ready for the aforementioned Almost Summer Carnival. Although we are told that this is a long-standing joint Canby/Oakley production, it was never mentioned in the books about the Old Girls. That’s the problem with a series bringing in all new characters – you can’t believably introduce new “old” traditions with the second group. Anyway, Jane and Cary are already bickering. That’s because Jane has a complete personality transplant in this book, behaving like a self-absorbed, ivory-tower-inhabiting shrew from beginning to end. While she’s always been prim and her wealth has always been a focal point of her back story, she has also always been reasonably likeable. That will definitely not be the case here.

The girls of 407 are summoned away from their carnival sign-painting duties. They arrive at housemother Meredith’s apartment to be told that the Canby Hall maintenance crew has gone on strike. Why this important news was imparted only to these three girls, instead of the entire student body that will be affected, is a mystery too great for my feeble human mind to unravel. Toby, having no experience with labour unions, and Jane, having no experience with actual labour, don’t grasp the impact. Only Andy understands what this means: the carnival is off.

As the reader is expected to sympathize with one side rather than grapple with the actual complexity of an issue such as this, the labour dispute is very simple. The Board of Trustees wants to cut the workers’ hours. Since the workers can’t do the same amount of work in fewer hours, they are striking. There’s no mention of why the Board of Trustees might have been forced to take such action. They’re just evil villains and that’s how it is. Not that I would normally take the side of a rich administrative board over working-class people, but I do get tired of both sides of a story not being told. Anyway, this means plumbers, electricians, carpenters, janitors and most of the dining hall staff have left campus and the school will likely close. (Canby Hall employs full-time plumbers and electricians and carpenters? More than one?)

The girls are panicked at the thought of the school closing and, more importantly, the carnival none of us had ever heard of until five minutes ago being cancelled. The future of Canby Hall is in peril yet again! Andy decides that the students will take over the maintenance work themselves, keeping the school open and holding the workers’ jobs for them till the strike is over. They make up elaborate chore charts for the entire student body (without bothering to ask anyone not in their immediate group whether they’re actually willing to take on campus maintenance on top of their regular courseload.) Jane is horrified at the idea of chores and hopes she can get away with just supervising. Armed with their chore charts, the girls of 407 go to see headmistress PA. She apparently has even worse judgment than I feared, as they successfully convince her not to close the school and to let the students take over the maintenance work instead. This is definitely going to go really well.

Before chores even start, the conflicts do. The following argument is repeated on an endless loop ad nauseam throughout this super-sized book, so I will summarize it here and give it a name: the Jane Is Wrong Argument (JIWA, acronym copyright 2015.) Jane blames the workers for being lazy and walking off the job, and thinks the plebes should be grateful to have any employment at all. Andy understands the plight of the working man and says they’re striking to prove that the Board’s demands are unreasonable. Toby (and everyone else) generally agree with Andy. Jane is neurologically incapable of understanding what they’re saying, or of being anything less than a world-class jerk about it. The end.

The next morning, Jane is assigned to clean the fourth-floor bathroom. Unsurprisingly, she has absolutely no idea how to do such a thing. With great trepidation, she tiptoes into the bathroom before breakfast, but is nearly trampled by the hordes of morning shower-goers. She welcomes the excuse to put off the task a little longer, goes back to her room, and falls asleep. Toby and Andy are on Dining Hall duty, and things aren’t going well. They had no idea how sloppy the student body is, the dishwasher is overflowing, and the toast Maggie made is like cardboard. Conveniently, there are two cooks who have stayed on (no Mrs. Merriweather in sight, even though she was just in the last book) who are handling the bulk of the cooking. Seriously, how would that fly in real life? Wouldn’t the rest of the staff be super @#!*% at the two traitors who weren’t striking with them? Or were the cooks under a separate contract or something? Do we need an employment lawyer to assist us in the analysis of this book?

When Jane doesn’t show up to help in the Dining Hall, Andy runs back to Baker House to check on her and finds her snoozing. Andy rudely awakens her and sends her to just clean the infernal bathroom already. Disaster ensues, but Jane finally gets it done, incurring two broken fingernails in the process (quite distressing, as it’s very possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to her), and gaining a touch of compassion for the striking workers who have to do this work every day. She “dismiss[es] the trace of empathy because she didn’t want to feel it.” Nice, Janie.

The Canby Hall girls and Oakley Prep guys gather for carnival work. Turns out the wooden game booths are always built by the maintenance crew. Since there currently is no maintenance crew, the students will have to build them themselves. Which no one actually knows how to do. Personal aside: Why are wooden booths built every year? What a waste of lumber and labour. Wouldn’t you just build them once and store them until the next year? Oh, but that would cut out 42% of the storyline in this book, you say? My mistake. Carry on.

Andy encourages the group. Filled with optimism, Jane says they’ll show the maintenance workers they can do just fine without them. Cary tells her that’s not what they’re trying to do. JIWA ensues.

The 407 girls are on Dining Hall duty again that evening. JIWA ensues. After they make up, they get into a water fight. Meredith (AKA Merry, but sometimes AKA Merrie) walks in on them. They are chastened. Merrie has a message for Jane: her mother saw an article in the paper about the Canby Hall strike, and is not happy. Jane calls her mother, who insists that Jane come home. After much negotiation, Jane convinces her mother to let her stay.

The next day Jane is stunned to see that despite all her hard work the day before, the fourth-floor girls have managed to trash the bathroom again. A little voice in her head notes that the strikers work this hard every day as a matter of survival. Jane basically tells the voice to shove it.

All the students are working hard, and out of sympathy, none of the teachers are assigning homework. But somehow the maintenance work just keeps piling up. Turns out parents are pulling their kids out of the school in droves, which is messing up the blessed chore charts. JIWA ensues. The 407 girls make another decision on behalf of the entire school and decide to implement an emergency measure, whereby each girl eating in the Dining Hall cleans off her own plate, throws out her own garbage, and puts her own dishes in the industrial dishwasher. This helps lighten the kitchen duties.

The next day, Randy and Toby go with some Oakley guys to the lumberyard to pick up the lumber for the carnival booths. Toby has a voucher from Meredith to pay for the wood. While they’re waiting, they get a pizza, but this makes them late to return. In addition, the head of the lumberyard won’t honour the Canby Hall voucher, as rumours are going around town that the school will be closing soon. Toby talks him into it. Meanwhile, Andy takes a break from carnival work to take some cold drinks to the strikers on the picket line. Jane snipes that Andy is babying the very people who are responsible for this whole mess. Serious JIWA ensues. (To make things easy, always assume that JIWA is accompanied by fighting between Jane and Cary.) The workers are very grateful to Andy for her gesture of kindness. They tell her the Board of Trustees won’t talk to them. A carpenter named Leo tells her that if they have any trouble building the carnival booths, they should come to him.

When Randy and Toby finally return with the lumber, it’s time to pack up for the day. Everyone is mad that they took so long. I am distracted by wondering what on earth 20-year-old Randy is doing hanging around helping with a girls’ high school’s carnival. In real life, that dude would be so sketchy.

That evening, the girls of 407 have another idea – paring down the menus to things like salad and sandwiches so that cooking and cleanup will be easier. Merrie, who is a vegetarian (did we know this before? I know Alison was one. Is it a requirement that every Baker housemother forego meat?) offers to make up new menus and get PA’s approval. The girls return to Baker to find that the broom closet is a mess and there isn’t a single clean towel in the dorm. The chores aren’t under control. Neal calls Toby to find out how things are going and to tell her he’s coming to the carnival. Toby gets all dreamy. Back in the room, Jane’s precious Wedgwood blue sheets have turned green in the laundry thanks to the inexperienced hands of whoever was on laundry duty that week. JIWA ensues.

The next day it rains. Apparently the whole student body, or what’s left of it, is worried about missing an afternoon of carnival work. But the rain lets up and they hurry outside after classes to find that their expensive lumber has been thoughtfully covered by tarps. They figure out that the good Samaritan was Leo. Andy goes to take the striking workers coffee. Those left behind start working on building booths, a task at which blue-blooded Jane is not particularly adept. Cary asks her to go get drinks for the students. Even though she later asks Toby to do the same thing, she is outraged at the public humiliation of being told she’s only good for waitressing. On her way to do this supposedly menial task, Jane runs into Meredith, who tells her that PA approved the new simplified menus, but they need groceries. As Merrie has to go pick up office supplies for the teachers, she asks Jane to go into town to order the groceries to be delivered. Without telling anyone, Jane leaves on this errand. However, having had no prior experience with grocery shopping, Jane is disgusted by the quality of food available in the Greenleaf grocery store. The bread is spongy, the cold cuts are greenish, and the apples are small. She decides to buy the bread at a bakery, the meat from a meat market, and the fruit from the local specialty shop. Unsurprisingly, she quickly runs out of money. Luckily, she’s a Barrett, so she has plenty of her own. But she’s embarrassed at what a poor job she did on this errand, and chagrined when Meredith picks her up and tells her she could have just purchased canned or frozen fruit instead. Such concepts never entered her upper-crust mind.

When Jane gets back to campus, Cary is mad at her for skipping out on carnival work. Andy notes that they need to figure out how to make the dunking mechanism on the dunk tank work, but the master notebook of plans is impossible for them to decipher. Jane makes a snide remark about asking Andy’s precious friends on the picket line to translate, which Andy excitedly agrees to do.

The new menus are a hit, so after dinner Andy stands up in the Dining Hall and asks everyone to do a better job with their maintenance chores. A little later than I think would be realistic, her fellow students finally ask who died and left her boss, and why she volunteered them to do all this manual labour without actually asking. She convinces them that they all really do want Canby Hall to stay open, and that they don’t want to go to summer school. Her pep talk works and the students start attacking their chores with vigour.

Back at the dorm, the 407 girls clean their room and narrowly avoid another JIWA, because there’s water in the hallway. They trace the origin to a stopped-up sink in the bathroom that has been left on. They find out who was on bathroom duty and drag the now-sleeping girls out of their beds to clean up the mess. Tell me, how does all of this succeed if there aren’t any actual consequences for not doing your assigned chores, other than public shaming? This whole plan to keep the school open relies pretty heavily on the goodwill and strong work ethic of a large group of capricious teenagers. I’m thinking of a certain roommate I once had who readily agreed to equal cleaning duties, and when it was her turn simply skipped doing them. The rest of us couldn’t physically compel her to do what she’d agreed to do, so we either had to live in filth or clean ourselves. Our friendships with her didn’t survive, but I can’t say she cared. So would these girls?

Anyway, the next day, after having Leo successfully translate the building plans for her, Andy gets the dunk tank assembly started. She goes off to find the hose from the Baker House basement. Jane sneers that at least she’s not playing waitress for the picketers again. JIWA ensues. Meanwhile Andy, in the basement, is stymied by the heavy, old-fashioned hose and has to get Matt for backup. It takes two of them to wrestle the hose off the wall and up the stairs outside. (I mention this only because our friend the hose will make an important repeat appearance and I want you to be prepared. I am nothing if not thoughtful.) They fill the dunk tank and Jane volunteers to test the dunking mechanism. Andy hits the lever with deadly aim, dunking Jane. Happy with their work, and starving, Andy and Matt don’t bother to spend the two hours necessary to wrestle the hose back onto its rack, so they dump it down the basement steps and go to Pizza Pete’s.

Back at the dorm, Jane is frustrated because she can’t find a white blouse she wants to wear. Turns out there are ten on the floor of Dee and Maggie’s room, all missing owners. The girls are realizing that the laundry never returns within 24 hours anymore and, when it does return, is often discoloured or damaged. (I guess it makes sense that at a boarding high school, the laundry would be done for them, but it seems so odd to me to live in a dorm and not do your own laundry.) Jane, like the toddler she is, complains. JIWA ensues.

Jane then goes out with Cary and complains about him always taking Andy’s and the strikers’ sides. Massive JIWA ensues.

The weekend arrives and JIWA occurs again inside Room 407. Toby is assigned to gardening duty on the six tulip beds that are PA’s pride and joy. Toby is so relieved to escape the constant fighting and to have an outdoor chore that she attacks it with gusto. Randy shows up and asks her to go riding. She decides to turn the sprinklers on, go for her ride, and come back in time to turn them off. But on their ride, Randy asks her to tell him all about Neal and she loses track of time. They rush back to campus to find that someone (Merrie) has turned off the sprinklers, but too late. The waterlogged tulips are all swimming in massive pools of water and mud. Merrie, upset with Toby’s irresponsibility, has her bail out the excess water bucket by bucket and haul it to the wishing well. Toby has to do this walk of shame multiple times past the others doing carnival prep work, and her humiliation garners their sympathy. Once she finishes and joins them, hands full of blisters, Jane has her go get drinks for everyone. Somehow, although the very same request from Cary a few chapters back had Jane seeing red, this is OK. Jane and Cary are not speaking, but then they make up, and decide to go out that night. Jane, knowing Toby has had a bad day, generously invites her along. Cary is amazed at Jane’s wonderful character. (Despite her behaviour throughout this entire book.) That night, Jane regales them with stories of her disastrous grocery shopping trip. They meet up with Andy and Matt and stroll through the village, where they encounter workers from the picket line who are friendly to Andy but less so to the others.

The next day they’re doing more carnival prep work outside in bad weather. Leo and some of his striking friends return Andy’s kindness and bring the students cookies and hot chocolate. Jane, naturally, can’t let this be and makes hostile comments. Massive JIWA ensues. The workers retreat. Cary is once again not speaking to Jane.

Toby calls Neal, who has been Jane’s boyfriend since they were born and who is still her friend. Though loyal Toby doesn’t say a word against Jane, Neal figures out that Jane has been ruining things with her attitude about the strike.

The following week, the teachers finally realize these kids are at school to learn things like algebra and not how to scrub a toilet, and start assigning homework again. The girls don’t know how they’re going to get homework done on top of classes, carnival work and maintenance chores. Andy decides she will simply stop sleeping.

That afternoon, a plumbing leak occurs in the laundry room. Merrie comes over to the group working on carnival stuff and asks Cary, who has a car, to pick up some repair supplies and to take a Canby Hall girl with him so the school payment voucher will be accepted. Jane, as his girlfriend, naturally assumes he’ll take her, but Cary ignores her and asks Toby. Jane is mortified and furious. Andy talks her down, but Jane decides she is now ignoring Cary. Goodness gracious, what does anyone see in either of these two infants?

That night, conversation turns to an apparently crucial component of the Almost Summer Carnival: the pie-baking contest. Jane has no intention of participating. Unfortunately for her, Andy has already signed her up.

After Toby tells Jane that Cary couldn’t stop talking about her during their trip to the hardware store, Jane makes up her mind to apologize. However, Cary refuses to listen, and her pride won’t let her beg. Andy, watching this, tells Matt that she hates when Jane’s not getting along with Cary, because she takes it out on everyone around her, especially Andy and Toby. See what I mean? The Jane of this book is such an immature wretch! What kind of friend does that? Sure enough, at dinner Jane keeps up a steady stream of complaints (the soup is cold, the sandwich is bulky, there’s a gum wrapper on the floor) and constantly looks for more things to criticize. The others finally tell her to put a sock in it. Back at the room, Toby is in the shower when there’s a knock at the door from someone saying Toby has a long-distance call downstairs. Jane, correctly guessing that it’s from Neal, jumps to take the call for her, over Andy’s disapproval. Jane eagerly goes down to talk to her old friend, assuming that he’s the one person who will understand her feelings over this ridiculous, inconvenient strike, since he grew up just like she did. Since everyone in this book is a reasonable human being except her, she is wrong. Neal does not sympathize with her. You would think that every single person around you having a certain viewpoint might convince you to at least consider that your position might be wrong. But our friend Jane does not have that advanced a level of self-awareness. She simply hangs up on Neal and goes back to the room. When Toby returns from the shower, Andy tells her that Neal called, because she’s not at all sure Jane will. Seriously? I kind of hate you right now, Jane. Toby is upset that Jane didn’t come get her. Jane tells her Neal’s changed. Andy and Toby figure out that that means Jane complained about the strike and Neal didn’t take her side.

The next morning they wake up to a hailstorm and a power outage. For some reason the dorm is simultaneously sweltering. The girls are upset because they realize that their carnival booths are probably being destroyed. Suddenly, a chunk of hail shatters their window. They escape to the hallway to find most of their dormmates taking shelter there. Merrie starts organizing teams to clean up the glass, tack blankets across the broken windows, and collect food since they’ll all be stranded inside all day. She also notes that the temperature is really high despite the cold outside, and sends Jane to the basement to turn off the furnace.

Once there, Jane finds that the entire basement (which is dark, since there’s no power) is covered in an inch of water. She successfully turns off the furnace, but notices that the reason the basement is flooded is because there’s a hole in the wall through which rain is pouring. She finds a suitably-sized log and plugs up the hole. But when she goes up the stairs to leave, the door is stuck. She realizes she’ll have to leave by the door that leads outside, which means she’ll have to go out into the storm. But as she steps back down into the basement and the icy water, something winds itself around her right ankle and holds it tight. The ancient red rubber hose has made the reappearance I promised you.

Meanwhile Cary and Matt have bravely fought their way over to Baker House from Oakley Prep to help, since their maintenance crew is repairing the damage on their campus, but they know the Canby girls currently have no maintenance crew. Everyone wonders where Jane is. Our reluctant heroine is fighting to free herself from the hose, but her fingers are stiff and cold and she is unable to undo it. The hose becomes so tight that her entire leg is in pain. Plus, since the furnace is now off, she’s freezing. Then the log, incessantly pummeled by the rain, pops out of the hole and the level of water in the basement begins to rise again. Jane, genuinely frightened that she might drown, decides to drag the entire hose with her to the outside door. But as she tries to do so, her left ankle also gets trapped in a coil. To add insult to injury, the log that had been plugging the hole rushes by and hits her in the shin. She does the only thing left for her to do and starts screaming.

Surprisingly, this is not dragged out very long. By the very next page, Andy, Toby, Matt and Cary are hearing her calls for help. They can’t get the basement door open either, so they go out into the storm and through the outdoor entrance. When they finally get into the basement, all they can see is Jane standing in the middle of the floor, knee-deep in water. Toby asks why Jane didn’t at least come up the stairs to stay dry. “I’m prospecting for gold, Toby,” Jane replies. “If you join me, I’ll split my findings with you fifty-fifty.” Hee! When she explains that she’s not just hanging around, she’s actually stuck in a garden hose, Andy realizes her negligence is to blame and, because she’s a good person, is filled with remorse. If Jane had been the one responsible, she’d have found a way to blame the strikers. Anyway, the others eventually manage to free Jane and plug up the hole. Andy uses an axe to chop down the basement door. We are never told how all the damage in the basement is fixed. Anyway, they get a good look at Jane’s ankles, which are discoloured and the size of baseballs. Andy cries. Jane is put to bed and Cary keeps her company. The others go outside to survey the storm’s destruction, which is significant. The campus is a lake and only one of the ten completed booths is still intact.

Fed up, Andy decides to go to PA and tell her that they just can’t keep going without help. Toby goes with her. When they arrive, they find that PA has decided to close the school. With no workers and no windows, it’s too much. (As an aside, how do these teenage girls just get an audience with the headmistress of their private school whenever they want, no appointment necessary? PA’s personal assistant needs a talking-to.) Andy tells PA to simply end the strike and make everyone go back to work. When PA says she can’t do that, Andy says that maybe PA really wants Canby Hall to close. Uh … rude, much? PA is hurt by this. She tells the girls that the strike has nothing to do with her, she has no power to end it, and she can’t believe the girls thought all this time that she could. Andy feels bad. I am mystified. Andy is the girl who has displayed an uncanny understanding of the nature of labour laws and disputes throughout this entire book, and now suddenly has the impression that the headmistress could have ended that pesky little strike at any time. Makes no sense to me. Andy comes up with a new plan and asks PA for the names and addresses of each member of the Board of Trustees. She’s going to go visit each one herself. Since there are apparently no regulations concerning privacy, PA gives this information to her.

Andy and Toby go into town and head to the home of the first name on the list. An unfriendly man opens the door, but he agrees to let them in so they can plead their case. (Girls, haven’t you ever heard of stranger danger?) They tell him they love their school and don’t want to see it close. “Hmph!” he says, adjusting the bow tie he’s wearing for a casual Sunday lunch at home. “Should have been closed the minute those workers walked off the job, if you ask me.” (Now would a trustee really believe that? As was mentioned earlier in this book, closing down a private school before the end of term could finish the school forever. Many parents would refuse to send their daughters back once the school reopened. Would shutting down Canby Hall really be something the Board of Trustees would be OK with?)

“Oh no sir,” Toby responds. “I came all the way from Texas to get my education at Canby and it’s a good education.” It is noted that the trustee’s “expression indicated clearly that he thought Texas should be closed down along with Canby Hall.” I laughed out loud.

The girls tell him what they think should be done, which is to give the workers their hours back and give them a raise. And where is that money supposed to come from, I ask you? But Andy and Toby do not concern themselves with such minutiae. And since he listens, they consider the visit a success.

At the next trustee’s house, they don’t even get in the door. That trustee refuses to let them in or listen to what they have to say. But he does say that the first trustee called him and told him he should listen to their spiel, so Andy and Toby are encouraged. Conveniently, at the next house, three of the remaining trustees are together having lunch. They listen to Andy and Toby’s plea and promise to pass on the message to the sixth remaining trustee.

That afternoon, as the phone lines were damaged from the storm, a call for Jane accidentally goes to another girl’s room. That girl tells the caller that Jane can’t come to the phone because she had an accident and can’t walk. Turns out the caller was Jane’s mom, who calls Merrie and tells her they are coming to pick up Jane in three days after they return from a business trip. If they’re that concerned about her safety, wouldn’t they send a driver to pick her up that night? Jane does not want to go home, so is upset.

That evening in the Dining Hall, PA and the three housemothers (although at least one of the houses was overseen by a married couple in a previous book) arrive with an announcement. Everyone inside the book thinks they’re coming to tell them that the school is closing. But everyone outside the book can flip ahead, see there are only 17 pages left, and predict that the announcement is actually that the strike is over. Which would be correct. The maintenance crew is coming back to work that night and will be working around the clock to catch up. PA asks Andy and Toby in particular to stand up for congratulations, since of course the strike ending is basically their doing entirely. She also says they will all be excused from afternoon classes for the next three days to catch up on carnival prep work. (The people at this school totally have their priorities straight.) The student body is elated.

Jane is the only one who’s not overjoyed, since she’s leaving. Andy decides that the way to convince her parents to let her stay is for Jane to bake a really awesome pie. Neither Jane nor I understand how that will work. A couple of nights later, the Canby girls and Oakley boys are all in a kitchen somewhere or other baking their pies. Jane is having fun, once she realizes that she is not the only one ignorant in the ways of pie creation.

The morning of the first day of the Almost Summer Carnival is the day Jane’s parents are arriving to pick her up. Jane decides she’s not going to go peacefully. The roommates discuss her pie, which is sitting on her nightstand and which “looked like something that had been fashioned out of clay by a very small and perhaps near-sighted child.” Again, I admit I laughed. They spend the afternoon getting all the carnival food (including Toby’s suggestion, which naturally was tacos) ready.

Jane’s parents arrive in the evening, dressed in a silk dress and silk suit entirely unsuitable for carnival-going. Jane insists that they go to the carnival to see the fruits of all their hard work. At first, the Barretts are unimpressed, refusing to eat the food or enjoy the sights. But then they end up in front of the ring toss booth, which sparks some sort of long-buried memory in the brain of Mr. Barrett. He transforms into a ring-tossing machine and Mrs. Barrett morphs into a giddy schoolgirl who confidently tells Jane that he’s going to win a panda bear for her, as he did once long ago. Jane is gobsmacked that her parents were ever at a carnival before this. Mr. Barrett goes on to win the panda bear and a collection of other prizes, which he hands to Mrs. Barrett, who hands them, “queen-like, to Matt and Cary to hold for her.” That image also made me crack up. Then they start eating tacos. This is so out of character for them (after all, Jane did say that a burger is as ethnic as their eating in Boston gets) that Jane realizes they have fallen under the spell of the Almost Summer Carnival and somehow that means she won’t have to go home after all. The book ends with Andy breaking the news that a boy named Russell Swanson’s Apple Crumb Pie ended up winning the pie-baking contest (love that a boy won!) and Jane threatening to throw her pie at Cary.

So somehow all Jane’s incredibly selfish remarks and how they might reflect on her character are forgotten, and she and Cary are together again. Luckily, the old tolerable Jane is back in the next book, if I recall correctly. And hey, this one wasn’t so bad – there wasn’t a single mention of an Old Girl! I’ll take snotty Jane over Dana, Faith or Shelley any day!

Not Wanting to Hang Out With the 407 Girls As a Clinical Sign of Severe Pathology … or, Canby Hall #22, Troublemaker

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Canby Hall #22 - Troublemaker

You know what always bugged me about YA novels? The way they would introduce new characters — seemingly important new characters, judging by the amount of time and ink spent outlining them — and then NEVER MENTION THEM AGAIN. Perhaps current series are also guilty of this (I don’t know, because I’m just now realizing that I don’t actually read any modern series … are there legitimate book series with recurring characters out there for adults? I guess you could consider Tana French‘s Dublin Murder Squad, truly some of my favourite books on the planet, a series, but the whole point of her novels is that she picks one character from the preceding book and builds a new story around them, so it’s not an issue that everyone else is forgotten. She is such a lyrically gifted, haunting, and still technically perfect writer that I would never criticize her anyway. Man, I’m distractible. Where was I?) Canby Hall #22 is an example of this nonsense. Here we have, in excruciating detail, one Laura Lee Evans shoved down our throats. And much like Mary Beth Grover in the early part of the series, we pretty much never hear from her again. Was Laura Lee supposed to be the New 407 Girls’ Casey Flint, their non-roommate sidekick? Then why is Penny Vanderark introduced two books from now? (And Penny really does take over the Casey role to some extent.) And why weren’t next-door neighbours Maggie and Dee enough for the New Girls? Was it because they didn’t live alone and therefore always had each other? Do the roommates really have to always be this magical threesome bestowing benevolence upon lonely singleton dormmates?

Obviously I’m not hip enough to get it, so let’s get to it.

The book opens with Toby moaning about the snow. Her roommates diagnose her with the Winter Blahs. Texas Toby goes on and on about how crappy the winter season is, and it just seems a tad overdone to me. The Toby Houston I know wouldn’t make this big a deal out of anything. Anyway, Andy and Jane decide to throw a Winter Blahs party for Toby and invite the whole dorm. Toby asks if this party will be similar to the quilting bees they have back home. Did she grow up in 1923? She is informed that it will be a boy-girl party. She then wonders whom she should ask. Really, Toby? This again? How many times do we have to reestablish your burgeoning relationship with Neal? Inexplicably, the roommates suggest Randy, and then suggest Neal. Toby, who apparently did grow up in 1923, says there’s no way she can call up a boy and ask him to a party. However, she becomes way too excited and invested in the upcoming event, which I can understand, as standing around drinking flat soda, eating Cheetos, and listening to a terrible high school band would definitely be the highlight of my month. Of note, the opening to this book describes Andy as having “a wonderful hipness that came from growing up in Chicago.” I am definitely resolving to use the phrase “a wonderful hipness” more often.

Spirits are dampened, however, when new housemother Meredith can’t give them permission for the party. A brief recap of Meredith’s difficult start at Baker House is given, with evidence that she has changed for the better being provided in the form of her new hairstyle, which is a “body perm” given to her by the fourth-floor girls. This poor woman has to have a perm, and she can’t even have it done by professionals? Anyway, Meredith says they have to ask headmistress PA. The usual blather is given about how they’re all too terrified to even consider doing so. Despite the millions of times they’ve asked for and received favours from her in the past.

The girls are discussing their party plans with Maggie and Dee in the Dining Hall, where it is decided that California Dee will also be a guest of honour, and Gigi Norton and her best only friend begin eavesdropping. Gigi, as you will recall, was Jane’s roommate the year before, was dubbed The Worst Person in the World, and is the new Pamela. And apparently, Canby Hall ghostwriters love alliterating “Y” names, as the void left by Pamela’s movie star mother Yvonne Young has been filled by Gigi’s lame friend Yolanda York. Gigi is jealous that the 407 girls and their friends are planning a party to which she will likely not be invited (because she doesn’t live in their dorm, but details details.) Gigi tells Yolanda that she’s going to throw an even better party and will ask her parents for money to make it AMAZE-BALLS. Yolanda innocently inquires if Gigi actually knows where her parents are. Apparently Gigi’s parents are well-known photographers who travel the globe and occasionally think to leave information with their agent on how their only child can reach them. Ah. So Gigi has issues because her parents neglect her. It’s Casey all over again. Gigi marches over to the 407 girls’ table and informs them that she’s having an awesome party too. They try to get out of going and she tries to pin them down. I don’t understand this. She hates them, so why would she want them to attend? She tells them her theme is going to be “Come as Someone You Hate.” Toby stands up to her and tells her the idea is evil. The other girls back her up. Gigi leaves with the threat that they will all regret this.

The next day Andy is panicking because she just realized that a huge history paper is due the next week. She had a month to work on it, but wasted most of that in the dance studio, so she’s way behind the rest of her class on the assignment. So now she has to spend from now till the due date in the library, which means she won’t be able to help out with the Winter Blahs party. Toby has been inordinately and inexplicably counting on this party to lift her spirits and is worried that Andy’s procrastination will ruin things for her. Unselfishness, thy name is “Canby Hall Girl.”

In the dining hall, they encounter the aforementioned Laura Lee Evans. She is very thin and very pale with “fragile-looking” skin, and is also very quiet, wears very conservative clothes, and keeps to herself. Although she’s also a fourth-floor girl, the others rarely see her. Since no one can be allowed to live a life independent of the 407 girls, Jane goes over and invites her to their party. Laura Lee says “I don’t really think about things like parties” and moves to a table farther away to sit by herself. Jane is mystified and the 407 girls discuss how Laura Lee is always alone, has no friends, and has the only single room in all of Baker House. (Until Penny arrives in a couple of books, but who’s keeping track? Besides, um, me?) Jane, Andy, Toby, Maggie and Dee make it their mission to find out why Laura Lee is so unhappy (their assumption) and how to get her to stop being a hermit.

Really, poor Laura Lee.

Anyway, the next morning Jane awakens to find the entire campus covered in a sheet of ice. She discovers that no salt has been spread because the handyman is sick and PA’s phone line is down, so the headmistress doesn’t know. The handyman’s wife tells them there’s a barrel of salt and sand at every dorm and the students will have to spread it themselves, even though there are insurance restrictions on that. There is no barrel at PA’s house, so now Jane is worried about her. Jane and Toby spread the sand all over the campus and up to PA’s door. We then go through the entire cliched song-and-dance: PA observes this impassively, she orders them to come inside, Jane and Toby are terrified, then PA says she’s “never been more proud of two Canby Hall girls”, they relax, yada yada. PA then tells them that Meredith told her about their co-ed party and permission is granted because they have just proven themselves to be responsible. I don’t really know what spreading salt has to do with allowing boys into a dorm for a party, but OK.

We cut to Gigi on a winter walk around campus, noting to Yolanda that she doesn’t need to get permission from PA for her party because she rented out the back room of Pizza Pete’s. She couldn’t afford a posher place because she never did get in touch with her parents, but no matter. At that moment, Texas Toby and California Dee come out to the pond to make their first attempt at ice skating, and Gigi and Yolanda hide behind a tree to watch. Toby starts bellyaching about how Andy could have spared a little time from her obsession with her history paper to teach them how to skate. Self-absorbed, much? Because ice skating is more important than schoolwork? Toby then snarks that “Jane’s a true friend” and “some certain roommates” shouldn’t have left their work for the last minute. This kind of disloyalty is totally not Toby. I hate when characters’ actions don’t ring true. Unsurprisingly, they both wipe out once finally on the ice and Gigi comes out from her hiding place to mock them. Dee and Toby realize she heard their entire conversation. And that is one reason why you don’t badmouth people, October Houston.

Back in 407, Toby makes more snide remarks to Andy. Andy is shocked that Toby is mad at her. Me too, dude. They start talking about the party and Andy mentions that she’ll invite Matt, but she really wishes she could invite Steve Palmer from her parents’ restaurant. Fidelity, thy name is “Canby Hall Girl.” She goes to call Matt, and Toby complains that Andy has time to make a phone call but not to teach her how to skate. Jane shuts her down firmly, and it’s about time. Toby agrees to stop whining, but says “that still doesn’t mean I have to be happy about this history project of hers.” Toby, I’ve always liked you, so it pains me to say this, but … you’re being kind of a jerk.

Toby then gets a phone call from Randy so she takes the opportunity to ask him to the party, but he wisely turns her down. Gigi, who is apparently everywhere, overhears this too and does her best to make Toby feel worse. Back in the room, they’re all discussing Gigi’s upcoming party when Andy begs them to keep it down. Why is she attempting to get any work done in a room shared with others? Take thee to a deserted corner of the library, woman! Toby says she hopes Andy’s work won’t keep her from the W.B. party. Jane and Maggie push her into the fourth-floor bathroom and tell her (again) to stop picking on Andy. Laura Lee walks in with hairstyling products and, at the sight of them, tries to scuttle away. Maggie offers to help her with her hair and, when Laura Lee declines, Jane jumps in with the only logical conclusion: “Laura Lee, why are you so afraid of people?” Yes, because there could be no other reason why she wouldn’t want you touching her head. LL says she’s not afraid, she just likes to be alone. When asked why she came to Canby Hall then, she says she had to come because it’s a tradition in her family. Jane says it’s also a tradition for Canby Hall girls to make friends. LL says “I can’t, so why don’t you just leave me alone?” I’m on your side, Laura Lee. These bulldozers would make anyone join a monastery and take a vow of solitude.

After dusting themselves off from their rejection by an obviously crazy person because who else would ever reject them, Jane and Maggie make Toby call Neal and ask him to the W.B. party. Of course Neal gracefully accepts. As Gigi and Yolanda have no lives and have decided to follow the Baker House girls around everywhere, Yolanda was eavesdropping on this conversation from behind a pillar. When Yolanda reports on this to her master Gigi, Gigi notes that she knows Neal’s address at school because he was Jane’s boyfriend last year, when Gigi and Jane were roommates. Gigi starts ominously rolling a piece of paper into her typewriter.

The 407 crew starts ticking off their list of respective dates. It is noted that Cary is going because, a) he likes Jane, and b) although “Ambulance was good, they didn’t get asked to play that many gigs.” Yet they got invited to Colorado??? Dee starts sketching a palm tree she’s going to paint on her dorm room wall. This gives Jane an idea.

Andy is in the library and spots Laura Lee sitting by herself. Like the boundary-challenged person she is, she sits down next to her. LL clearly doesn’t want to talk, but Andy blathers on. She’s having a tough time with her history paper because her topic is black history in America, which is sort of, you know, broad. LL suggests that she narrow it down to black women in America. Andy is amazed and grateful at this groundbreaking idea, and convinced that LL must actually be a super-great person.

Jane has come up with a secret idea that is supposed to be a wonderful surprise to Toby and the reader, but which will only surprise the former. She goes to the Greaf Diner to tell Cary what she wants the band to wear to the W.B. party. He violently objects, but she is calmly confident that she will eventually change his mind.

Proving that they’re no better than The Worst Person in the World, the 407 girls hide in the bushes outside Addison House to see what Gigi and Yolanda will be wearing to their “Come as Someone You Hate” party. Turns out Yolanda is dressed as Ms. Merriweather, the dining hall’s head cook, and Gigi is dressed as a slovenly Toby Houston. The 407 girls vow revenge. Over at Pizza Pete’s, Gigi is starting to panic because no one has shown up to her party. Just then, five creatures in strange costumes (sheets with socks, balloons, and red blobs on them) show up. They say they came as things they hate: pizza, parties (specifically Gigi’s), and the sock pile that lives on Gigi’s floor, with which her former roommate is very familiar. They tell Gigi she’s a creep for picking her party theme and that because of it, no one at Canby Hall will attend.This doesn’t strike me as realistic because, a) in real life, mean girls are unfortunately usually pretty popular, and b) I definitely don’t believe that every teenage girl in a school would have enough moral fortitude to reject a party on the grounds of incivility.

Neal sends Toby flowers in advance of their W.B. party date. Dude, cool it. It’s called overkill. A package for Andy arrives from her parents, and every girl present in the dorm lobby is excited, since the Cords’ boxes of treats are legendary around school. The gang of girls traipses upstairs behind the box to watch Andy open it and share the goodies. When Andy does, she finds a note stating that it’s a Term Paper Survival Kit from her family. Organic vitamins, prunes, herbal tea, gorp, Turkish dates, beef jerky, saltless peanuts, and wheat-germ granola are all included. The gathered girls, faces falling, start politely backing out of the room. Just as the last ones disappear, Andy penetrates the deeper layer of the box. Turns out the health-food items were just to deter poachers. Underneath are beautifully iced petit fours. The 407 crew, Dee and Maggie dive in. Because they can’t just let sleeping dogs lie, Toby marches down to Laura Lee’s room. It is noted that hers is the only door in the dorm without decorations or messages from friends. Toby invites LL (who really was sleeping – nice idiom choice on my part) to 407, but LL declines. Toby gives her a petit four and says cake is the easiest way to make friends. LL repeats the word “friends” in a daze like she’s never heard it before. Toby then babbles on about how she didn’t think she needed anyone either when she first came to Canby Hall, but life is much better when you let friends in, and all LL has to do is accept their offer of friendship. Good grief, these people are pushy! LL effectively says she’ll think about it, but the cake has visibly softened her. (As it would me.)

Meanwhile Gigi and Yolanda are hiding in the infamous fourth-floor broom closet. Seriously, these two need an extracurricular or something. Yolanda reports that she overheard the 407 crew saying eventually they’d “get through” to Laura Lee. Gigi takes this to mean that they want something from LL, and decides that she and Yolanda will spy on her, too. She has major revenge plans in mind. She asks Yolanda if any girls are outside the door, and Yolanda says no. As they scamper out of the closet, they come face-to-face with Meredith. Yolanda, who is not the brightest Crayola in the box, says Gigi just asked if there were any girls around, not if any staff were around. Meredith comes up to them and asks why they’re in her dorm. They claim they’re on a scavenger hunt. Meredith privately vows to keep an eye on them.

That night, Toby and Jane call Neal. Toby wants to thank him for the flowers, Jane wants to let him know how to dress for her secret party theme. Neal, however, yells and hangs up on Toby, who starts sobbing. The omnipresent Gigi and Yolanda are hiding behind a chair, enjoying the scene. Apparently Neal received a letter saying that Toby never wanted to go to the party with him, that she really wanted to go with Randy, and that she was going around school making fun of Neal. The letter was signed by Andy. Luckily, Jane immediately calls Neal back, tells him Andy would never do such a thing so the letter must be a prank, and manages to smooth things over between him and Toby. She then sees Laura Lee in the lounge, looking at the H volume of the encyclopedia. (Whenever a detail like that is included, you can be assured we’ll hear about it again.) LL tells Jane she heard giggling coming from behind some chairs and the front door of the dorm subsequently opening and closing. Jane decides to tell LL all about Gigi and Yolanda. “It’s kind of scary, all this intrigue that goes on at a boarding school,” LL responds. “I don’t believe I can handle it.” And then she runs out of the room. Jane goes over to look at what she was reading. The encyclopedia is open to the HEA page. LL could have been reading about Health Insurance, Hearing Aids, William Randolph Hearst, or Hearts. Jane wonders if LL’s secret is that she needs hearing aids, but then realized that she heard the giggling, so that couldn’t be it. Uh, wearing hearing aids would have helped her do that.

Andy confirms that, obviously, she did not write the poisonous letter. The 407 girls acknowledge that it must have been Gigi. Well, at least they didn’t insult our intelligence by dragging out that epiphany. Andy writes a letter to Steve saying that her history paper is done and all she has to do is type it. She goes to Greenleaf for fresh typing supplies. While window-shopping, she spies Laura Lee and guidance counselor Michael Frank get out of a taxi. (There’s no one else with them, because as we know, this is a man who cares nothing about the potential for sexual assault allegations.) “Now Laura Lee, are you sure you don’t mind my going upstairs with you?” he asks. LL responds that she doesn’t, “because it won’t make any difference, one way or another.” After they enter a building, Andy goes over to read the sign and sees that it lists lawyers, doctors, dentists and a travel agency. She doesn’t know which office LL and Michael have gone to. The plot thickens. Andy then bumps into Yolanda, who assumes that Andy must be following Laura Lee around too. When Andy assures her she is not, Yolanda tells her that LL visits Michael in his office all the time and never takes gym class. Andy self-righteously marches off, but her curiosity is piqued.

Back at the dorm, Andy is bragging about her speed-typing skills. Apparently she used to type her older brother’s papers so he would let her “play his hottest albums.” Toby decides to go into town to get snacks. (Jane, in a nice throwback which I appreciate because I am not at all used to continuity in this series, requests cherries jubilee.) Dee is busy painting her wall palm tree. Right after Toby leaves, the 407 phone rings with the message that Meredith wants everyone up in her apartment immediately for an emergency dorm meeting. The caller appears to be speaking through a handkerchief, and hangs up when Jane asks who it is. Andy reluctantly gets up and puts all her typed pages and notes in a red folder on her desk. They pick up Dee and go up to Meredith’s apartment, where they find they’re the only ones there and Merry isn’t even at home. They realize the call was a hoax. They dash back down to their rooms, where they find someone has ruined Dee’s painting with blobs of paint. They have also stolen Andy’s history paper folder, which contained her only copy of the paper, leaving a pair of red mittens in their wake. (These pranks seem awfully similar to the stuff Pamela pulled when she first arrived on the scene. And I see locks still haven’t been installed in this wildly naive institution.)

The girls are silenced by this tragedy, then all start looking for the paper. Eventually Toby returns and is filled in. She is horrified, and mentions that her mittens were stolen too, while she was signing out downstairs. Andy holds up the mittens that were found on her desk and asks if they’re Toby’s, which they are. Page 5 of Andy’s paper is then found under a pile of Western shirts in Toby’s drawer.

Thanks to ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, they don’t drag out the roommates’ mutual suspicion for long. These people are best friends, and that would have been just too ridiculous. They quickly recognize that Gigi must have been behind the theft. Naturally, they decide not to go to the authorities, which would end this book in about two more pages, purportedly because that would tempt Gigi into destroying the paper completely instead of just hiding it. (THANK GOD FOR PERSONAL COMPUTERS.) They come up with a plan and go to Laura Lee’s room. They ask her to participate because she’s the only one who doesn’t take gym class.

The plan is put in place and the reader is subjected to watching it unfold. In the dining hall, within earshot of Gigi and Yolanda, Andy says loudly that she is no longer speaking to Toby, who stole her history paper, and that she and others will be boycotting the W.B. party. On the other side of the dining hall, Toby is complaining loudly about how Andy wrote a horrible letter to her boyfriend. We are told that Part A of this ingenious plan is complete. We are not told how many painful parts there actually are.

The next day in creative writing class, which Jane shares with Gigi, Jane starts a class discussion and asks what her teacher thinks of someone who works for weeks on a paper and then has it stolen. When the teacher, feeling great referred pain on the part of this hypothetical fellow writer, expresses strong sympathy, Gigi scoffs, “Oh please. Anybody who thinks about this has to realize — why didn’t the airhead take better care of her stupid history paper? I mean honestly. You don’t just go waltzing out of the room and leave something that valuable on the desk.” She and the other students realize she’s said too much, but the teacher just says that Gigi has “a most peculiar outlook on life.” The others tell Gigi she’s sick and that the thief will get in big trouble. Isn’t that enough? She all but confessed right there. Oh, we’re only on page 126. The ghostwriter was contracted through page 168. So it’s not. But that was Part B.

Part C takes place during gym class, which Gigi cuts. She goes back to her room in Addison House instead and picks up her locker key. In the hallway, she runs into Laura Lee. Gigi accuses LL of spying on her and calls her a head case for her frequent meetings with Michael. LL asks her why she needs her locker key. Gigi, furious, gets in a few cutting remarks and runs away.

We move to Jane meeting Laura Lee at the front gates as planned (why?) and congratulating her on her detective work. Jane tells her that Andy will be following Gigi to the lockers to make sure Gigi doesn’t destroy the history paper. After that it will be Jane’s shift, and then Toby’s. As it’s an emergency, they’re all taking a chance and cutting a few classes today. LL admires their dedication and Jane says that’s what friends are for. At that moment, LL freaks out at the sight of a car entering the school gates. It’s her parents, coming to check up on her. In desperation, she asks Jane for a favour. Apparently her parents and “all the doctors” want her to be involved at school, mix with people, and make friends. Every time her parents visit they find her all alone and then get upset. Jane thinks LL’s parents must be monsters.

Meanwhile Andy is following a nervous, pacing Gigi and tails her into the library. There, Meredith spots Andy and wonders why she’s cutting class. Then Merry spots Gigi and, having heard the story of the stolen history paper through the grapevine, figures out what Andy’s doing. And … leaves her to it. Because that makes sense.

Jane, ready to hate LL’s parents, meets them. They are thrilled to see their daughter with a friend. They recognize Jane’s name; turns out LL’s mom went to school with Jane’s aunts, fellow members of the “Renegade Brigade,” a group of girls that got into some vague mischief back in the day. The Evanses want to take the girls out for lunch, but they have class (which they’re not attending, but OK) so they head over to pay a visit to PA instead. LL thanks Jane for pretending to be her friend, saying “I’ve never seen them so happy.” Jane tells her she wasn’t pretending. Awww.

On to Part D of the plan (DEAR SWEET HEAVEN HOW MANY PARTS ARE THERE) as Jane goes to relieve Andy of her surveillance duties. On the way she runs into Meredith, who cryptically lets her know she’s figured out what’s going on. Jane whispers some new exciting plan into Andy’s ear, and she runs off. Jane then takes up spying on Gigi, who heads for the building with the lockers. Jane ends up alone with Gigi in the basement of lockers as Gigi pulls out the infamous red folder. Gigi tells Jane it’ll just be Jane’s word against hers, and starts ripping up the paper. At that moment, Laura Lee steps out of the shadows. She’d decided to cut class herself in case Jane needed backup. Suddenly, inexplicably, everyone else shows up. Maggie snaps a photograph of Gigi holding the paper. Dee comes in with a paint can and threatens to upend it on Gigi. Andy takes the paper back from Gigi who, knowing she’s been caught red-handed, tells them all to lighten up and that it was just a joke. They all decide to leave her alone and not involve any adults. Again.

Giddy with relief, the 407 girls, Maggie, Dee and Laura Lee link arms as they walk across campus. They run into LL’s parents, who are overjoyed to see her with a group of friends. Mrs. Evans starts crying and each girl introduces herself and says something “extra nice” about Laura Lee. “It was a beautiful moment, one of those glittering moments to be etched in stone to last forever.” Uh, more cheese, please? Gigi shows up and tells LL’s parents that LL is “too strange to have friends” and that she’s crazy since she’s always seeing doctors and shrinks. This prompts LL to make her grand, stunning confession: she has a bad heart.

[crickets]

That‘s the solution to the great mystery? Oh brother. The girls start “adding up all the clues”: LL’s pale skin, a sign of poor circulation; her fear of people and friendships; her frequent naps and many visits to doctors; the encyclopedia opened to H. “It was all so simple when you knew the facts.” Guess what, Eileen Hehl, ghostwriter? It was all very simple when we didn’t know the facts. No need to pat yourself on the back here. And also, can I just say, how ridiculous is it that Laura Lee would be looking up “Hearts” in an encyclopedia in a public place? If she’d had her condition all her life, wouldn’t she already have read everything she could get her hands on, and about her specific disorder, not just the generics? And why would a congenital heart condition make you afraid of people? Ugh. Anyway, LL’s parents then tell the girls that actually, LL has been cured. The doctors all want her to live a full, active life. But LL can’t accept it and doesn’t believe it, even though Michael Frank even went with her to Greenleaf to confer with her medical doctor. Somehow after this conversation, though, LL’s mind has been suddenly changed and she will now try everything a regular Canby Hall girl does. The Evanses take all the girls out to the Greenleaf Inn to celebrate.

The day of the W.B. party, it finally thaws. Andy’s paper is safely turned in. Toby goes to meet Neal’s train. She’s looking good because Jane and Andy have trimmed her hair. I don’t care what year it was, you couldn’t have paid me to let a teenage friend near my head with scissors. The W.B. party committee, which now naturally includes an enthusiastic Laura Lee, starts decorating. That evening Toby and Dee are escorted, blindfolded, to the lounge. The great surprise is revealed: the party has a beach theme!

[crickets]

Ambulance is playing reggae. Heating lamps are everywhere. Styrofoam packing peanuts are strewn on the floor to simulate sand. Everyone is wearing bathing suits, Hawaiian shirts, and flip-flops. There are ridiculous beach hats. Cardboard hot dog and ice cream stands are on the walls. And super-cool Ambulance is wearing beach attire. That’s what Cary was making a fuss about? Chaperone Merry is sprawled out on a beach chair with a paperback, wearing a black woolen old-fashioned bathing suit that covers her entire body. I have literally never seen one of these in real life. Laura Lee is handing out sodas and tells Jane, “I never knew that parties could be so much fun” and “I just didn’t realize that friendship could be so important.” Why would a cardiac issue prevent this girl from having basic common sense? Turns out LL has also met a boy from Oakley Prep, and they go to dance. She calls out, “This is fun! I’m going to have to learn all the wild dances!” Wow, this teenage banter really rings true to life.

The next night is time for Part E (ARE YOU KIDDING ME) of the never-ending plan. In the dining hall, every single Baker House girl is dressed up like Gigi Norton. They’re carrying a sign that says “COSTUME PARADE! COME DRESSED AS SOMEONE YOU’D LIKE TO SHIP OFF TO A DESERT ISLAND – WITH A ONE-WAY TICKET!”

So they all dressed up as Gigi Norton, someone they hate. I’m sorry, how does this make them morally superior to her? At least she came up with the idea first.

This ridiculous book ends with all six girls helping Dee repair her painted palm tree. They comment on how lucky Gigi is that they didn’t go to PA with the story (and why didn’t they? Wouldn’t that be grounds for expulsion?) and Laura Lee says “You are the best bunch of friends that anyone could ever hope for,” presumably just before climbing back into her padlocked box, since we never hear from her again.

Thank God that’s over. Next up is Super Edition #2, which means an extra 60 or so pages of cheese to wade through. With the help of a strong sedative, I’m up for it if you are!

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 – devote a book to visits to 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 super-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, 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.

So 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. Therefore 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 in fact 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! Or parenting!

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 a tad 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 A 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!