Monthly Archives: December 2011

Sociopathy is Not Scary, Just Mildly Annoying … or, Canby Hall #7, Four Is A Crowd

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This is the first time they come right out and say Dana is supposed to be one of the best-looking girls in the school, but from this cover, I’m not buying it. And we are supposed to believe the haughty chick with the prim pink turtleneck and skirt — and brown purse strap — is a Hollywood hottie. I call BS.

I always loved the second set of Canby Hall roommates much more, and therefore owned and repeatedly reread nearly all of the later books in the series which were about them, so some of these Dana/Faith/Shelley ones I genuinely don’t remember. But what I have long suspected has been proven in this one: Shelley has the intelligence and social maturity of a kidney bean. Which is an insult to legumes everywhere.

So the girls are back at Canby Hall for their junior year of high school. Somehow there were a few extra weeks between Faith’s late-summer brush with death and their return to school, so these kids live in a world where July and August are like four months long. Anyway, the big buzz around campus is that the daughter of famous Hollywood movie star Yvonne Young is transferring to Canby Hall. We are shown that said daughter, Pamela Young, is a big deal because she shows up in a limo with servants and has personal electronics and matching baby-blue luggage. (The limo has California plates — this rich kid drove cross-country instead of just catching a flight?) And also because she name-drops big Hollywood actors like Joan Collins and Timothy Hutton. Hee hee! She also talked about Tom Cruise and Michael Jackson though, as well as Matt Dillon who I guess is still around, so that made this book feel not quite so old.

Clearly, the publishers decided that this series needed a villain, so enter Pamela. She’s blonde and super-glamorous, which is usually suspicious in this world to begin with. She’s everything else you’d expect a stereotypical teen novel adversary to be: selfish, snobby, arrogant, condescending, etc. She demands a single room, whines about being separated from her Jaguar, brags about her Hollywood connections, and so on. But the ghostwriter takes it one step further, and I kind of admire their nerve: when Shelley has breakfast with Pamela the first day and Faith comes up to the table, Pamela assumes Faith is a servant and tells her to clear the dishes. Faith is furious and Pamela is unashamed when corrected, saying, “Oh, well she must be used to people making that mistake.” What a bee-yotch! The truly infuriating thing about this scene, though, is that Shelley continues to hang out with Pamela. Who was just openly racist to her best friend. Shelley even lies to Faith and tells her she told Pamela off for it. Pamela does a bunch of other really crappy things to other girls, but this thing with Faith was the worst, because there’s a difference between brattiness and unrepentant prejudice. And this made me loathe Shelley more than I did Pamela, because I assume if you’re a sociopath you don’t know any other way to be, but if Shelley is supposed to be a non-sociopath, she is particularly scummy to tolerate this treatment of her friends because of the off-chance that she might get to visit Pamela’s house in Hollywood. That is way too much thought I just put into this dime-store novel.

So Pamela alienates everyone on campus except Stupid Star-Struck Shelley (SSSS), but our kidney bean’s big dumb eyes are opened once Pamela does something bad to her: she makes a play for SSSS’s boy-toy Tom. Ah, now SSSS sees what everyone was trying to tell her! Being a racist is one thing, but flirting with the guy you’re cheating on your hometown boyfriend with is really over the line! So Shelley and Tom ditch Pamela at the restaurant, and we all know you don’t incite the ire of the resident mean girl. Because now Pamela declares secret war on the girls of 407, and strange things start happening. An unkind letter appears in the typewriter on Faith’s desk, and Dana and Shelley are insulted while Faith insists she didn’t write it. Faith gets a phone message from Shelley to meet her, forcing Faith to miss Johnny’s birthday, but Shelley didn’t make the call. The girls fail their weekly room inspection because someone mysteriously messed up their room after it was cleaned, but Faith and Shelley assume Dana never cleaned it in the first place. (Why do these dorm rooms not have locks?) What’s amazing is that these supposed inseparable best friends forever (before the term BFF was part of our global vocabulary) are so quick to believe the worst and turn on each other. Dana even makes the prescient comment “There’s been trouble in 407 before and I suppose there’ll be trouble again.” Well, until this publisher’s contract runs out, at least!

The B-story is that the aloof and intimidating headmistress Patrice Allardyce is finally given a personal life. The girls see her with a twenty-something blond hunk, first in her house, then hiking in the mountains, and each time they’re in the midst of some emotional meltdown. PA is crying, he has his hands on her shoulders, then they’re running after each other … it’s all very Young and the Restless and melodramatic. Naturally they’re intrigued, so Dana and Casey decide to spy on PA to find out about her mad love affair. Now, I can totally understand the fascination with the private lives of figures of authority. My friend Ollie and I in college, and Sandy and I in elementary and high school, used to make up elaborate backstories for our teachers and professors and went gaga whenever they revealed any tidbit of personal information to us in class. But even we, with our questionable social boundaries, would have thought setting up a telescope on the dorm roof and hiding in the headmistress’ bushes were a bit much. Anyway, Stupid Star-Struck Shelley blabs this scheme to Pamela, who tattles on Dana and Casey. They get in big trouble and Dana says it’s a first getting summoned to the headmistress’ house, even though you and I know this happened to Faith and Casey in book #1. Whatevs. PA actually makes a good point when she says that teens think this kind of thing is funny, a cute schoolgirl prank, but they’d be outraged at the invasion of privacy if she did it to them. Too true, PA. But then she validates their behaviour by giving them some random social restriction punishment and introducing them to the blond hunk, who turns out to be her kid brother. Turns out he was in jail and she couldn’t tell anyone because it would hurt her career as a hotshot private school headmistress, but now he’s gone straight, as evidenced by his new job as a mechanic in town. (I’m calling it now that despite becoming a Greenleaf resident we will never hear from Baby Bro Allardyce again.) OK great, PA is a human with problems just like the rest of us, but without the sense not to go all over town rehashing them in public.

Anyway so the girls figure out Pamela was behind all the shenanigans and decide to exact revenge. They send her messages ostensibly from Bret. (Oh yeah, she’s been dating Bret and rubbing it in Dana’s face, and he’s been doing his usual thing and seeing someone else behind Pamela’s back even though you’d think he’d want to suck up to her to milk her Hollywoodness for all it was worth.) The messages send her running all over campus and eventually sitting in the middle of the woods with a huge romantic picnic waiting for Lover-Boy Bret, who of course never shows because he never knew anything about this in the first place. Pamela figures out the 407 girls were behind it and ends the book with a threat: that she isn’t finished with them yet. This is more a threat to us the readers though, because it means we’re going to see a lot more of this criminal-behaviour-treated-like-regular-school-hijinks before this series is through.

And now for my patented end-of-blog-entry random thoughts:

– Were people less sensitive about their weight in the ’80s? When Shelley arrives back at school after summer break, she says she’s going to miss her mother’s cooking, to which Dana replies “Yes, we can see it was delicious,” implying that Shelley’s gained some obvious chub. Now if Pamela said that, it’d be an example of her malicious soul, but sainted Dana can do no wrong?

– When the girls are discussing how it’s not OK for Pamela to look down on others just because her mom is famous, Dana makes the sage comment that she, Dana, is better-dressed than the other girls because her mom is a fashion buyer, but she doesn’t think it makes her better than anyone else. The girl IS a saint! (Interestingly, Dana’s little sister Maggie, who is a prominent character in the later books, is never held up as a fashion icon as far as I recall. But we can all understand that’s probably because she wears glasses.)

– At one point Dana is blow-drying her hair early on a Saturday morning, and another girl comes in and asks her to stop because she’s trying to sleep. So Dana leaves for the day with wet hair. Not to reveal the crusty old curmudgeon I secretly am (these damned kids these days!) but that would NEVER HAPPEN TODAY. One person would never think about the inconvenience of their actions for someone else. They would just think about their God-given right to bouncy hair. Seriously, did you hear that awful story about the girl who stabbed her roommate to death over a fight about an iPod? I really do think the world has changed in this respect. It’s all about us, never about anyone else. Makes me sad. Guess I should be glad we have Canby Hall to remind us of what once was.

– The girls paint their room black. Seriously. And that’s all I have to say about that.

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The Great Healthcare Debate … or, Canby Hall #6, Best Friends Forever

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Dana and Shelley have the exact same face, and once again it is insulting to describe Shelley as chubby. Moving on.

I don’t mean to frighten you, but this is another Patricia Aks special. I realized this partway through when I was wondering why the cheese factor had been ratcheted up again. There was no need to wonder! But let us muddle through nonetheless. So Dana and Faith are spending two weeks visiting Shelley in Iowa. Because they’re “East Coast big-city snobs,” they’re bracing themselves for two boring weeks in Hickville with no modern amenities. (As an aside, do you know any New Yorkers who consider their city equal to D.C.? I just think in real life Dana would have thought both Shelley and Faith were small-town girls.) Anyway, so our worldly city girls’ prejudices are challenged, because they have an exciting trip that includes the following: Shelley’s brother Jeff (naturally) falls instantly and totally in love with Dana. A runaway horse during a horseback-riding expedition becomes a near-death experience for Dana, and Jeff bravely risks his life to save hers. A town hayride goes awry when a random twister comes up, nearly killing them all. The girls are impressed that the whole town turns out to build a new roof for a family who lost theirs in the storm. Faith is worried people will stare at her because she’s black, but everyone’s nice to her. It turns out Shelley’s mom could have been an accomplished musician but gave it up so she could be a happy stay-at-home mom, and Dana is shocked that this outcome is even possible. Dana and Faith are impressed that Shelley can drive. (Sometimes I forget how young these kids are supposed to be.) Shelley waxes philosophical about 4-H. Besides his feelings for Dana, Jeff is madly in love with a cow named Gertrude whom he’s grooming for the Iowa State Fair. Seriously, he puts hairspray on her and everything. It’s worse than Toddlers and Tiaras.

But the biggest story is that Faith has been feeling sick through the whole book and doesn’t want to bother anyone. She keeps popping aspirin and hoping it’ll all go away. Aspirin for dizziness, really? After the amount she ingested over the course of this trip, I’d want to guaiac her. Anyway, on the day of the fateful Iowa State Fair, the most important day of young Jeff’s entire life, when all his hard work raising Gertrude will pay off with … a ribbon, the whole family goes but Faith stays behind. Once Jeff finds out that Faith is a no-show, all his stress over winning said useless ribbon boils over and he becomes irrationally furious at her. He gets sent home to shower and relax until show time, but (foreshadowing!) he’s reminded that “The entrants must show the animals — no substitutions allowed — so be back here on time.” Guess who’s not going to be back in time?

(Oh for crying out loud. I just went back and reread the page and this whole shebang is a county fair. It’s not even the state fair. I don’t think the sentence “It’s like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween and any other holiday you can think of wrapped in one” is really very accurate.)

OK, so Jeff storms back home all pissed at Faith but then finds her collapsed and nearly unconscious. Knowing it will mean his lover Gertrude the Cow will miss her chance at stardom and his months of work grooming her will have been a waste (and, in my opinion, not having the sense to know his months of work grooming her were a waste anyway) he chivalrously abandons his fair plans and rushes Faith to the hospital. This is apparently a training hospital because an intern sees her first, and she is then seen by the resident physician. However, the resident is bald (I assume this means older than 40) and “famous” across the Midwest for his diagnostic skill, so I’m guessing Patty Aks doesn’t actually know what a resident is. Faith gets admitted immediately and Jeff waits all afternoon and evening until his family finds the note he left at the house and arrives at the hospital. Man, the days before cell phones were complicated, weren’t they? The characters even admit that when Jeff didn’t show up to present Gertrude, everyone assumed he’d been in a car crash but had no way of knowing.

It is implied that Faith is close to death, so Dana and Shelley start to lose their marbles. She is diagnosed with lymphocytic choriomeningoencephalitis, which by virtue of being in a YA novel is impressive. There is no mention of the fact that this is usually contracted from mice, but whatever. Faith’s mom arrives and everyone goes through this mainly unspoken song and dance of “East Coast hospitals are better!” “No, medical care in Iowa is just as good!” etc. etc. Faith’s mom wants her transferred to George Washington University Hospital in D.C. (if they said her sister Sarah went there I was going to kick someone) so Shelley’s family gets one of their friends to lend them his private plane. Just as simple as that. These people don’t have answering machines but they can access personal aircraft. Yeesh. So Faith, her mom, Dana and Shelley fly to D.C. (Shelley’s parents don’t seem to mind that they saw their teenage daughter for exactly one week this entire year) where D.C.’s best doctors declare that Faith got excellent treatment at the hospital in Iowa (treatment that consists, they claim, of aspirin and IV fluids … we didn’t worry about Reye’s Syndrome back then?) By the end of the book, Faith turns a corner and is on her way to recovery. Lesson of the day? Do not look down on small-town medical care, people! The East Coast snobs are properly chastened! Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this, Dana lets Jeff down easy. Early on in the book she had enough self-awareness to note that Jeff was the third guy she’d been involved with that year, and to be concerned because she didn’t want to be casual about her relationships with guys. In the blink of an eye, though, she suddenly knows he’s just a summer romance and basically makes it clear she’s saying goodbye forever as he pines away. Nice!

Miscellany:

– Naturally, Faith’s summer job is as a photography assistant, and naturally, Dana’s is as a model (oh give me a break), and conveniently both last only two weeks, leaving plenty of time for their God-given duties as the Girls of Canby Hall.

– Man, how different flying was in the Golden Age. At the airport, Faith “filled out” a boarding pass (I guess by herself? In pencil?), wheeled her suitcase through a gate, and sat down on the plane. No security line, no TSA attitude, and no bodily orifice exploration anywhere. To add insult to our 21st-century injury, the girls then get lunch on the next flight. And it’s free. I’m not making this up.

– Inconsistency alert! Shelley’s hometown best friend was named Cindy in the first book, but now is named Cary. Inconsistencies drive me crazy, if you haven’t noticed. My mind is filled with a million and one things and I still noticed this, how hard would it have been for the editor whose job it was to notice it? I also think it’s weird that of all names they picked “Cary,” when, as faithful Canby Hall readers will know, Cary is a major guy character in the later books about Toby, Andy and Jane. Maybe I need to lend this publishing team my copy of 100,000 Baby Names.

– News flash: we in the present day can rest assured that race relations have improved at least a smidge since 1984. When Dana and Faith first arrive in Iowa and meet Shelley’s brothers, the roommates are all giddy to see each other and keep talking in unison. Jeff says the three of them are like triplets and then “gulps” when he realizes his apparently highly offensive remark. Because they couldn’t possibly be triplets. Because Faith is black. (Has that been mentioned before?) I don’t even get the discomfort in this.

– Dana, the erstwhile New York fashion model, describes what’s in that season: hot pink and robin’s egg blue bouffant skirts, puffed sleeves and flower garden prints that have a “fairy tale look.” Hawt.

And now friends, we have made it unscathed (well, I’m assuming) through another Patricia Aks gem. Now that the miracles of semi-modern medicine have cured Faith and the girls have successfully frittered their summer away, we will be back at Canby Hall for the next book. Hopefully, no IV fluids will be necessary.

Two-Timing is the New Monogamy … or, Canby Hall #5, Summer Blues

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Regarding this cover, may I remind you that we are supposed to believe that Shelley is chubby, and may I also point out that Faith looks like a creepy child molester? “Heeeere, kiddies, want some candy?”

Because there is no story if these girls are ever allowed to return home, it turns out that each of them is staying for a month of summer school in an artsy subject. Shelley will immerse herself in drama, of course, Faith will study photography, naturally, and Dana will be doing poetry. Before final exams are even over, though, Bret finally shows his true colours and asks Casey out as a prelude to dumping Dana. “I told you in the beginning I wasn’t a one-girl guy,” he tells her by way of explanation. Actually, I’m probably the only person faithfully reading these books in chronological order, and I don’t think you did, buddy. Everyone else told her that, but not you. Anyway, Dana is blindsided — blindsided, I say! — and moping around, especially when she runs into Bret getting cozy with the hot French exchange student. I love how she’s so devastated that she just skips her philosophy final, and no consequence to this action is ever mentioned. At a school as hard-nosed as Canby Hall? I still have a recurring nightmare in which I find out I have a final exam in a class I never attended (and I am twice this character’s age) but I guess that’s just me.

But don’t worry too long about Dana, friends! No one in these books is ever single for long! She randomly meets what must be the only cowboy in Massachusetts, who of course spontaneously falls for her. This is the official introduction of long-running character Randy Crowell. She obsesses over whether they have too little in common (because Dana is a big-city New Yorker, in case this fact wasn’t mentioned enough) but when Bret weasels his way into Randy and Dana’s date in order to check Randy out and embarrass him for being a country boy, Dana realizes that Randy is who she really wants. Bret shows up the next day to ask Dana to take him back and, in a stunning show of YA-novel brazenness, comments that he still can’t promise to be faithful to her. In a not-so-stunning show of YA-novel spinelessness, she actually considers this tempting offer, but finally comes to her senses and sends him packing. She does this by reading a poem very obviously directed at Randy during the summer school closing program. Because Randy, despite being said country boy, wrote her a poem that showed her there was more to him than she thought. Or something. I don’t know, it was all getting kind of ridiculous. I don’t know any teenagers this obsessed with poems.

Meanwhile, Shelley has been blithely dating her new guy Tom while conveniently never mentioning that fact to her hometown boyfriend Paul. Unfortunately for her, Paul surprises her by showing up at Canby Hall. Shelley embarks on an incredibly immature and farfetched scheme in which she tries to make Paul think Tom is Casey’s boyfriend while simultaneously making Tom think Paul is just an old school friend. Did you get that? Never mind, it’s over soon enough. While Shelley and Casey are in the bathroom, the two guys talk to each other, figure out the truth, and leave, ditching the girls at the restaurant. Now there’s some spine, even if it is short-lived. Eventually, Shelley works things out with Paul — apparently he’s been seeing someone on the side too — and they both agree to … well, I couldn’t really figure out what their agreement was, except that they both get to do whatever they want and see each other too, I guess. That would totally work in real life. Anyway, Shelley somehow manages to wrangle the same deal with Tom by placing a rose on his doorstep, but not before a nosy neighbour calls the police on her because they suspect she might be the famed Greenleaf Cat Burglar. (Really, the police in this small town are seriously overworked. For a relaxing break, they might want to moonlight with the NYPD.) So in the end … Shelley emerges unscathed and no longer has to hide her cheating. Life lesson noted.

Random noteworthy items:

– Shelley says to Faith, who’s attempting to roller-skate, “I thought black people were supposed to be more coordinated. Where’s all that natural rhythm?”

!!!

– Alison’s close friendship with Dana is illustrated by the fact that she “gasps” and dashes up four flights of stairs when she hears something is wrong with Dana, and is especially upset because no one told her about it. Dana’s crisis? A sunburn. The time elapsed in which the entire planet was conspiring to keep this momentous news from Alison? Approximately 8 minutes.

– Randy and Dana have the following exchange the first time they meet, when she tells him she’s from New York. (Did you know that? Because she’s from New York.)

Randy: “We’ve got some of my mother’s kin in New York. Up in Hunter’s Junction.”

Dana: “Oh, I meant New York City. Manhattan.”

Randy: “Yep. I’ve heard of that too. It’s south of Hunter’s Junction, I believe.”

This Randy guy ain’t so bad!

– Faith refers to Dana as “culturally overprived” because she knows all about ballet and highfalutin’ stuff like that (because did you hear? She’s from New York) but doesn’t know what s’mores are. Apparently knowing what eggs Benedict are is further proof of this, because no one else at Canby Hall has ever heard of them. Were we really that uninformed in the eighties?

And that was book #5. It ends with them all heading home for what’s left of summer vacation and Shelley inviting Dana and Faith to come stay with her in Iowa for two weeks. And everyone’s parents cheerily agree. These kids are away at boarding school all year, then spend an extra month in summer school, and their parents don’t care if they spend another two weeks away from home? Neglectful parents or problem kids? Discuss.