It’s Not Cheating If You Really Like the Victim – or, Canby Hall #9, Boy Trouble


The whole premise of this one is so absurd, at least in my world, that I have no choice but to barrel through its recap as quickly as possible. I just don’t understand how even a pre-teen reader in the ’80s was supposed to look up from their Atari for this.

So one night Dana is too busy to go on a date with Randy, so she begs Shelley to go instead to keep him company. Shelley and Randy really hit it off, so naturally they start seeing each other behind Dana’s back. Yes, just as simply as that. It’s as if the publishers suddenly realized that Shelley and Randy were both “country”  characters and probably would have been a better fit than Dana and Randy in the first place, so they decide to just throw them together now. And we’re supposed to believe that Shelley, who already has two boyfriends, remember, is now going to start dating her best friend’s boyfriend on top of that? How much free time does this chick have? Although I guess it fits with her pattern of loosely defining fidelity, it was so preposterous I couldn’t even stomach most of it. Basically when Randy first makes a move on Shelley, and she not-very-convincingly protests, he says “I’m not married to Dana … I like her a lot. I like you too. I don’t think we need to say anything [to her.]” Your logic is impeccable, Mr. Pseudo-Country-Boy! (I mean, the dude lives 10 minutes outside of Boston, how much of a hick can he be, for heaven’s sake.) So they start sneaking around, and we the readers are treated to endless pages of Shelley’s lame inner monologue of supposed guilt (which, although annoying, doesn’t actually stop her from betraying her best friend.) In the midst of this, Stupid (Strangely Seductive) Shelley thinks that Pamela saw her and Randy on one of their dates, so she unwisely starts a conversation with Pamela to try to find out what she knows, and like the idiot she is, ends up blowing her cover. Pamela gleefully tells Faith. Eventually Tom figures it out. It’s only after HER primary relationship is threatened that Stupid (Strangely Seductive) Shelley grows a conscience. She and Randy have a guilty goodbye scene in which she says of themselves “We’re both such good guys” (I’m still wiping off the coffee I spat onto my computer screen at that one) and he suddenly says “we both know we can’t date anymore.” Oh, now you realize it, buddy? At that moment Dana walks in on them. She’s understandably furious, but then all logic exits the world of Canby Hall, because in the span of about an hour she does the following: 1) yells at Shelley, 2) seeks counsel from Magnificent Michael Frank in his one cameo appearance this book (who tells her she wanted this to happen by sending Shelley on the date in the first place), 3) meets Randy in town and tells him she forgives him, 4) comes back to the dorm and tells Shelley she forgives her. Because Dana has realized she was just as responsible as Shelley and Randy for this happening. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Looking back from my vantage point in the 21st-century, I’m naming this as the moment the age of personal responsibility ended. Just sayin’. Also, Dana realizes Shelley and Randy have much more in common than she and Randy do, but the book ends with Dana and Randy still together. Good grief, can someone put this relationship out of its misery already?

OK, I’ve devoted way too many words to that particular plotline. Consider our collective intelligence insulted. Meanwhile, a comparatively more interesting B-plot was going on in which Casey falls in with Putrid Pamela and ends up causing a riot in the local supermarket. Pamela is her usual arrogant unrepentant self about it, so the manager decides to teach them a lesson by getting all the stores and restaurants in the town of Greenleaf to ban all Canby Hall girls from their premises. Nice idea, and one we want to work since Pamela is such a bee-yotch, but let’s be realistic here, the stores in such a small town would be way too dependent on the students’ revenue for this to ever succeed in real life. It is announced that all that needs to happen for the ban to be lifted is for the four girls involved to write apology letters. The other two (one of whom is our old friend Mary Beth) immediately do, but Casey and Pamela see this as a @#!*% contest and refuse. Everyone keeps wondering what horrible punishment the imposing headmistress is going to mete out, and it turns out to be that she grounds the entire school. No one is allowed off school grounds until Casey and Pamela apologize. Which, although Casey does, Pamela continues to openly and rudely refuse to do. There’s all this blathering about how in its entire 100-year history the relationship between Canby Hall and the town of Greenleaf has never been in jeopardy until now, yada yada, so why is Pamela not expelled? You know, in all the books there’s always so much talk about how afraid everyone is of PA, but when does she ever actually do anything strict? She frequently talks a tough talk, but never really disciplines or gets rid of the instigator, who is usually Pamela. (I mean, I realize the series could never eliminate its villain, but allow me my righteous indignation.) When the girls in the dorm descend en masse on Pamela’s room to make her write the apology letter and lift their collective punishment, she still laughs in their faces and refuses to write it. So after much discussion and planning, the entire school begins giving Putrid Pamela the silent treatment, and she eventually gives in. What I want to know is, why did ignoring a horrid person require so much secretive intrigue and so many hushed executive committee meetings? Who in the school would have been talking to that comic-book she-devil anyway when she was the reason they couldn’t buy groceries or see a movie?


– Much like the name of Faith’s father and the alma mater of Faith’s sister, the minor character of Cheryl Stern is going through a flip-flopping from “Cheryl Stern” to “Cheryl Stein” and back again, depending on the day. I am seriously going to look into the job requirements for a teen book editor position. I feel like it’s something I could do while simultaneously caring for my toddler and, say, re-shingling our roof.

– Last book’s guidance counselor Michael Frank has suddenly been upgraded to “school psychologist Dr. Michael Frank.” Is that a mail-order certification in Massachusetts?

– Why is Room 407 suddenly on the second floor of Baker House? Does that make any sense at all? You wouldn’t have had to read any of the prior books (which is good, since that obviously wasn’t a requirement for the ghostwriters anyway) to assume that a room number that starts with 4 would be on the fourth floor. Of course, there’s no need to panic, because I’m quite confident the most important room in this dorm will be magically teleported back to its rightful position by the next book.

– You know, Shelley’s actor-boyfriend Tom is kind of bizarre. Apropos of nothing, he randomly dresses up like a clown and juggles in the rain outside a movie theatre for everyone waiting in line. I get it, he likes acting, fine, but does that mean he has to behave like a deranged person?

– Once again, Dana says this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time she and Shelley have problems between them. For the love of all that is holy, is that a threat? To the reader?

So overall, I’m annoyed that Shelley’s behaviour is supposed to be excused just because she’s one of the main characters. If the story had been the exact same but with Putrid Pamela in her place, the author’s condemnation of her would have been immediate. Also, for all their torrid attraction, whose strength was such that they could not resist its passionate and inexorable pull, I’m going to wager a bet that we’ll never hear of any interaction between Randy and Shelley again. Ah, continuity … how you elude us so!


15 responses »

  1. Great review! And I must say I love continuity mistakes but I never noticed that they’d switched floors of 407! My favorite continuity mistake of all time was in Sleepover Friends ( another 80’s series ) in which Patti’s younger brother was called Harold , not his real name Horace. I was like who the hell is Harold? Maybe editors think eleven years old readers won’t notice! Have you got any favorite continuity mistakes?

    • Continuity errors drove me up the wall! It still baffles me why it was so easy for us readers to spot mistakes but not for any adults actually involved in the publishing process. My best friend Sandy and I used to keep a list of Baby-Sitters’ Club continuity errors (birthdays were changed, parents’ names were changed completely, etc.) and we actually sent it to Ann M. Martin care of Scholastic (crazy, I know) not realizing that by that point the books were all written by ghostwriters anyway. I never read too many Sleepover Friends, but both Harold and Horace are pretty awful names for a kid, so he was kind of screwed either way 🙂

      • Ha! too true on Harold/Horace – but it suited him – I don’t know why. Looking forward to your next review – I sat down the other night and read all of the ones you’ve got so far.

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  3. Oh, I’ve got a continuity error for you. In one of the early books the girls of 407 celebrate Dana’s “fourth birthday”. Her birthday is on February 29th, which makes her sixteenth birthday her fourth, technically. Then in “Three of a Kind”, they throw her an “unbirthday party” at the end of the school year, in June, because her birthday is later in the summer (July maybe?) and they won’t be together for that. I remember some of the continuity errors used to drive me mad as a adolescent, but that’s the only one I remember specifically now without re-reading the books.

    Great recaps. I’m up late reading them and laughing my head off. For all of the absurdities though, and the fact that I wanted to slap Dana (honestly, what was with all the breathless narration over her?), these books were still better than Sweet Valley High or any other comparable series I read in the eighties.

    • Welcome Orange Swan! You’re from my hometown! I think I remember that error — I’ll have to go back and re-read to find it. So annoying, isn’t it? I always wondered how I, who was not getting paid to pay attention, could notice these things and the actual authors/publishers could not. But I totally agree with you … as much as I like to snark about Canby Hall, it was heads and shoulders above its fellow ’80s teen series, which is why I still have such disproportionate affection for it today 🙂 Looking forward to reading your blog!

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  8. Dana’s taking the high road and forgiving both Randy and Shelley makes sense if you read it as a sign that Dana was not feeling Randy (in the upper or the lowercase sense) — and I don’t think she is. Look at the way she ditches him, in book after book, at the first sight of another guy. And she wanted Shelley to go out on a date with him — I actually think Dr. Michael “Gumball Machine Doctorate” Frank was onto something with that. Who asks one of their best friends to go out with their boyfriend? It was pretty unrealistic that Tom would take Shelley back, but then this is the guy who dresses up as a clown for the experience AND who knows she has a back home boyfriend. He’s probably dating Shelley purely for the Drama and will spend the rest of his life mining the experience for his one man shows and dinner theatre gigs.

    I liked the subplot about the girls getting banned from Greenleaf’s businesses, but agree that it was unrealistic that all those businesses would band together against the entire Canby Hall student body. What they might do is ban those particular girls and/or report their behaviour to Ms Allardyce (which I am sure would result in a semi-stern talking to).

    It makes NO SENSE that Mary Beth would be Pamela’s friend. The writer should have come up with a new character for that.

    I’m a professional editor and these continuity errors really are terrible — and they could have been pretty easily prevented. With a series like this, there should have been a style sheet kept on the GOCH books with a list of all the characters and their biographical details, as well as other pertinent details such as logistical details about Canby Hall, and this style sheet should have been given to each author as well as updated after each book. If the style sheet had been kept and referenced, it would have prevented most of these errors without the authors having to invest their time into reading all the GOCH books. The fact that this wasn’t done reflects the low investment attitude the publishers had towards these books, I suppose, but good grief, it just isn’t that hard to maintain and use a style sheet. I mean, I have such a style sheet for the stand alone novel I’m writing, because I find it saves me time.

    • Gumball machine doctorate! That’s a totally plausible origin story for Michael’s qualifications. That, or the bottom of a cereal box. Or the crawl space of his next-door neighbour’s attic. Or the weekly grocery store circular. We could go on all day! Maybe Tom could learn a lesson from Michael’s enterprising nature and make something of himself in time to pre-empt his future as a professional theatre loiterer.

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