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.