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!