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


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!


– 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.


7 responses »

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  6. Ah yes, this one, where Faith and Dana get a taste of small town life. I thought it was good that they found out that life in a small town can be fun and interesting, that there is sophistication and culture and good medical care to be had there, that life in a community where everyone knows each other can have its good points.

    Eyeroll over Jeff Hyde falling in love with F&cking Dana.

    Man, 4-H!! I grew up on a farm outside a then small town north of Toronto, and 4-H was definitely part of my childhood. I never joined it, but all three of my older brothers and my younger sister did. My youngest brother had a cow he named Rufus which he showed for it. Your “Toddlers and Tiaras” comparison had me thinking of possible titles for a reality show about 4-H: “Boys and Bovines”, “Hooves and Hairspray”, “Bumpkins and Beef”, “Cows and Accolades”. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d prefer that I didn’t.

    I agree that Aks should have made the fair a state fair instead of a county fair. One could understand a state fair being the highlight of the year, but county fairs can be pretty small potatoes.

    It was unrealistic that Faith’s mother would have had the resources to move Faith to a D.C. hospital. I understand her fear that a small town hospital might not be providing the best care, but they had a diagnosis and a treatment plan and it might do Faith more harm than good to be moved. Like you, I was about to say that the Hydes happening to know someone who had a private plane was unrealistic, but then I remembered that my humble farming family contained a dad who had his small plane pilot’s license when he was a young man and who knew the people who owned the flying field where he used to go, so yes, he knew people who owned planes. I suppose it’s *possible* that there was one wealthy family in town who had their own plane, and the Hydes, who knew everyone, might have been good friends enough with them to ask them to do them a big favour for the sake of their young house guest, and apparently absorb the cost of the fuel.

    The high-end summer jobs that only last two weeks are absurd. Do the Canby Hall girls never have to flip burgers?

    Is it that unusual for plane passengers to get food? I haven’t flown much, but I remember on my very first flight, which was from Toronto to London in 2002, we were served a meal and snacks on the plane (I actually found it too much food) and it was included in the ticket price.

    I thought Jeff’s thinking his non-gaffe was a gaffe was fairly realistic. He’s never known anyone black before and he’s being hyper careful not to say the wrong thing, so he’s overthinking what he says. As I recall the book doesn’t say that Faith has a problem with what he’s said — it’s all internal on his part. Little does he know that Shelley’s already beaten him to that punch with her “I’m sure black people can be as nice as anyone else” (arghhhhhhhh) not-so-micro aggression from the first book in the series.

    Man, mid-eighties fashion strikes again. The 1980s gets my vote for worst fashion of the 20th century.

    • Bumpkins and Beef! Man, that needs to get pitched. I’d watch it.

      Yes, air travel has definitely degraded to the point where food (especially free food) is uncommon on domestic flights. When I was a kid, I remember them serving semi-lavish spreads, and even now there are many international carriers that provide some really good eats. But a North American carrier? Forget it. I think your flight has to be over 6 hours to qualify for a free meal, which pretty much rules out most domestic destinations. What they do offer is overpriced snack bags, which, come on. I don’t need to pay $10 for pretzels and a cheese stick. Some carriers are apparently bringing back the long-lost in-flight meals, though, so we can all stay tuned to see how things change over the next few years.

      In a twist I didn’t see coming, I have completely flip-flopped on the whole state/county fair issue. Since writing this post, we have moved to a county with a really big-deal annual fair. We’ve attended it every year but have never once ventured over to our state fair. So I suppose Patty Aks wasn’t completely bonkers. You know, in this one area.

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