The blurb on this front cover is totally misleading. Three hearts break harder than one? Actually, only two of the intrepid girls of 407 are in luuurve with the new guidance counselor. There is never a whisper of a suggestion that Faith might also like the guy, because he’s not black, and she is, and what is this, 2011?
OK, so this book serves as the introduction of Canby Hall’s good-lookin’ young male guidance counselor, Michael Frank, and in later books he always came across as a cool, benign adult presence. But in his debut performance he is weirdly Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish and no one seems to pick up on the fact that this dude is totally inappropriate with his students and is just a lawsuit waiting to happen. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So Dana has been feeling depressed lately and can’t snap out of it. Luckily, Canby Hall has hired a new guidance counselor, so she goes to see him. Of course, he’s hot, so she falls completely in love with him. Neither she nor anyone else except me thinks it’s sketchy that this guy meets with teenage girls alone at his house. He also asks Dana to go running with him, which they do on and off campus. Meanwhile Shelley seems to have a touch of the anorexia, so she goes to see Michael too. He euphemistically asks her if she’s craving pickles and ice cream, which totally shocks our Iowa girl (side note: this reference to pregnancy totally flew over my head in the second grade!) He then proceeds to tell her she has nothing to worry about because she still likes her mom’s cookies, and gives her the worst piece of advice ever: to go to the gym and weigh herself every single day. Somehow this laser-focus on weight will keep an eating disorder at bay. Shockingly, this doesn’t work, but no one blames the sainted Michael. I can only assume this is because he’s hot.
Dana convinces herself that Michael feels their connection too, so she dumps poor Randy. One might ask oneself, how dumb can an eleventh-grader be, thinking that a faculty member is actually going to be interested in her? Well first of all, it happened for Newt Gingrich, so why not anyone else? Seriously, if it happened for Newt freaking Gingrich, this occurrence has got to be at least 47% more likely to happen to any other person on earth. Secondly, one cannot completely blame Delusional Dana for her dreams of happily ever after when Magnificent Michael does demented things like whisper, in regards to the upcoming school dance, “Will you save me a dance?” and then actually slow-dance with her at said event. I mean really, are there no boundaries here? Also at this dance, Shelley passes out from not eating, and Michael’s solution is for her to come to his house every night for dinner. NO ONE at this school thinks this guy is creepy???
Unfortunately for Dana, Michael begins quietly dating Alison, their entirely more-age-appropriate housemother. Dana, like a moron, starts seeing Alison as competition. FOR A GUY SHE CAN NEVER HAVE. Everyone else gives Dana entirely too much sympathy over this nonsense, saying that getting over Michael is going to be way harder for her than getting over Bret Harper. Who she actually dated and was not an unattainable crush. The reasons for this stretch of logic are beyond my capacity, or more accurately my desire, to understand.
Meanwhile, the writer needed to give Pernicious Pamela (PP) something to do, so her poor grades start coming to the attention of the faculty, including Michael the guidance counselor. In order to get back at him for recommending that she be expelled, or for thinking about recommending that she be expelled, or for choosing Lucky Charms over Cocoa Puffs, or something, PP comes up with a scheme wherein she convinces Delusional Dana to put in a good word for her during one of Dana’s sessions with Michael. PP then turns around and accuses Michael of breach of privacy by discussing her with another student. The headmistress makes Michael defend himself in front of Dana and Pamela (awesome boss!) which he does in a Grisham-like moment of … showing them his planner with his penciled notes that somehow exonerate him. Anticlimax. Let’s be real, if Pamela was really so worldly and conniving, she would have accused him of sexual assault, which would have been totally believable BECAUSE THE DUDE MEETS WITH GIRLS AT HIS HOUSE. For crying out loud. Oh, and Mary Beth Grover is somehow Pamela’s friend now, with no mention of the lifelong bond she apparently forged with the 407 girls back in book #4.
Like a weirdo, Dana blurts out that she loves Michael (come on, do students really do this?) and then avoids him for weeks. Eventually Dana and Alison have some boring talk and Dana and Michael go on a make-up run and everyone realizes their true place in life (hint: Dana’s is not beside Michael.) It’s been pretty clear throughout all these books that Dana was never that into Randy, but her masochistic roommates who apparently don’t mind the drama inexplicably convince her to get back together with him. Poor Randy. To the writers’ credit, it is rather evident in later books that he becomes totally messed up by Dana’s head games.
This whole thing is a pretty standard premise, I guess, the high schooler having a crush on a teacher, but I just didn’t get what the readers were supposed to think of Michael. Besides his complete dearth of appropriate boundaries, he was weirdly mean at strange moments. He’s noted to have a “smug self-satisfied look on his face” when Alison walks by, he snaps at Dana not to be “coy” or “flippant” with him when she wasn’t being either, and he “growls” at her not to make light of their amazing, wonderful friendship when they’re discussing her Dumb Declaration of Love. And his advice to her for getting over the prize that is Himself? “Maybe if you like me more, you’ll love me less.” I don’t even know what that means but if I were him I’d be keeping this chick at least 500 yards away at all times rather than having private chitchat in the woods with her. And if I were her I would look for someone my own age, but that’s neither here nor there. In the end, all is right again in the world of Canby Hall. Including Shelley, whose eating disorder has been miraculously cured. Natch.
Obligatory list of examples of prejudice against overweight people:
– Michael’s secretary tells him she thought about jogging once but lay down till the thought went away, and his response is that “all flabby people” need that excuse. Nice, Michael. Nice. I totally feel like telling you all my problems now.
– At the height of Shelley’s Adventures in Anorexia, she borrows her roommates’ clothes. Faith notes that when Shelley first came to school her right leg couldn’t have worn those pants, and now both legs can. Wow! Shelley finally has worth as a human being! Instead of telling Faith where she can stuff said pants, Shelley responds, “How true. I really was gross.” There’s nothing I like more than an example of healthy self-image. Or supportive friendship.
And so ends our foray into the world of questionable teacher-student relationships. But stay tuned, friends, because no one can stay focused on schoolwork — or stay faithful — for long at
West Beverly High Canby Hall. Despite their most mediocre efforts.