I had to take an unplanned hiatus from updating this blog due to some unexpected medical issues, but I’m back! Although the next few months will be crazy, I’m hoping I’ll be able to squeeze in some Canby Hall time here and there. Honestly though, I wonder if the events of the last few weeks haven’t been a conveniently timed excuse, because real-life distractions or no distractions, I was just not motivated to get through this particular bomb. If we have to be told one more story in which Dana saves the day by being irresistible to some conveniently placed guy, I will vomit. And of course that is a totally empty threat, since I am sure we will be told many more of those stories and since I am still planning to complete this blog project. Sigh. Girls of Canby Hall, you have me over a barrel and you know it.
So basically, frosty headmistress PA holds an assembly (I love that in these days before e-mail and texting, every assembly had to be publicized by putting up a million fliers all over campus) and tells the girls that the school’s founder, Horace Canby, did not stipulate in his will that the school should continue in perpetuity. Thus the future of the school has always depended on the current Canby heir thinking the school is worth funding, which in fact the current Canby heir, Owen Canby, does not. He has decided to sell the school property to a computer company (why a computer company would want to headquarter in the minuscule village of Greenleaf is never addressed) and Canby Hall will close at the end of the semester.
Naturally bedlam ensues. I find it particularly demeaning for the teachers that this is apparently the first time they are hearing of this as well. You wouldn’t let the staff in on the news before telling a bunch of kids? Anyway, the girls of 407 are filled with righteous indignation and become the ringleaders of the Save Canby Hall committee. They decide if they can raise enough money to cover a year of the school’s expenses they can keep Canby Hall running on another property. Shelley starts canvassing local businesses for donations. Tom introduces her to a crusty old longtime Greenleaf farmer named Cary Sampton (another Cary! What is WITH this series and that name?) whose grandfather had a fight with Horace Canby in the 1920s and who therefore doesn’t like the Canby family. Of course he’s gruff and blows them off … for now. Faith decides to hit up Pamela Young’s mother, the movie star Yvonne Young, who’s visiting campus. While Pamela is giving her mother a tour (a totally unnecessary tour at that, since Yvonne was just there filming a movie, or don’t they remember that?) Faith barges in and pleads her case. YY blithely agrees to make a large donation but then mentions that she’s headed to Europe for several months and can’t even be bothered to think about it till after she returns, which will be too late.
Of course, we can’t have our young female readers thinking that hard work and creativity will get you anywhere. All you need, ladies, are your feminine wiles! Dana, who is somehow single because Randy is, for the duration of this book, conveniently “more of a friend than a boyfriend” and off in Kentucky horse-shopping with his dad for the winter, bumps into a guy while running. Literally. Conveniently, he turns out to be Chris Canby, the son of Owen Canby. In their first meeting Chris tells Dana he totally agrees with his dad that making money is the most important thing and that closing Canby Hall is inevitable. Dana is outraged at him. Chris, of course, is smitten with her.
The girls then horn in on a meeting between Owen Canby and PA. PA greets them with an “expression of gratitude that she didn’t have to face him all by herself.” Oh puh-leeze. They ask him not to sell. He treats them like the dumb kids they are and tells them it’s a done deal. Meanwhile Chris Canby calls Dana for a date but mentions that Canby girls aren’t being invited to work on a business project with the other schools in town because they won’t be around much longer. Dana is enraged and hangs up on him.
Glutton-for-punishment Chris Canby then calls Dana again and asks her to brunch at his house because he wants to “put an end to this adversarial relationship.” All of a sudden, he’s OK because “there was a lot to be said for a guy who disagreed with all your principles but would defend to the death your right to have them.” Um, Dana? Nothing in his conversation indicated any such thing. But don’t let me enlighten you. She goes to their mansion for a stuffy brunch, harangues Owen Canby again about not closing the school, and he shuts her down again. But now, for no discernible reason, Chris Canby has suddenly decided Canby Hall is an “important community asset” and is on their side, trying to convince his father to change his mind.
PA goes out of town and informs the whole campus. Does no one in this town defecate without an announcement from her? The computer company buying the property comes to the school to do an inventory, so the girls get the idea to stage a protest. They chain themselves to the buildings to prevent the buyers from entering and hold up really stupid signs (sample: “A School is a School!”) No joke, this is at some point compared to MLK marching for justice. I am speechless.
The local media show up and of course pick Dana, Faith, Shelley and Casey out of the crowd for interviews. The computer company people are freaked out by the publicity. Owen Canby gets mad and has the sheriff arrest them all for trespassing. They get transported to the local jail, where of course Chris Canby shows up for no clear purpose, as does Cary Sampton, who pays their bail (all $100 of it) by collecting coins and crumpled bills from his shoe. PA turns up from out of town and is furious, herding all the girls back to school. She demands to see the ringleaders of the operation at her house for further punishment, and they’re all freaking out because of PA’s supposed draconian reputation. But — shocker — no consequences are in store! When they get there, PA tells them she just had to put on a show for the other girls in order to save face, and she’s actually proud of them, and she gathers them in a tearful embrace. Come ON. How does she deserve this tough-as-nails rep when she has never actually followed through on a disciplinary threat at any point in this series?
The parents all see on TV or hear from others that their girls were arrested, and every single one of them responds with joking phone calls or cutesy poems via telegram a la Shelley’s family. You know, I’m not totally sure how my parents would react if they heard from a third party that I was arrested, but I’m fairly confident it would not be with iambic pentameter.
Chris Canby then hides in the bushes outside 407 (I love how the view from 407 changes conveniently for whatever happen to be the purposes of the current story — this week, their room looks out over the back door) and tells Dana he got his dad to drop the charges against the girls. Before they can celebrate, they find out PA just told Alison she is resigning. The whole school is in an uproar at PA’s betrayal as the news spreads overnight. The next morning, PA holds an assembly (more mimeographed fliers! Oh, the trees!) to say she’s actually resigning in protest so no one can say she was involved in the closing of the school. She still plans to stay on and do her job for free. Like a light switch, all the students are on her side again. She couldn’t have told Alison the full story to begin with and saved the drama? Oh, but that wouldn’t be the Canby Hall we all know and, um, tolerate.
In the most dippy turn of events in a largely dippy story, PA’s secretary shows up in the middle of the assembly and climbs on stage with a bunch of shoeboxes and an anonymous note that have just been delivered. The shoeboxes are filled with $6 million in cash. The girls lose their flipping minds in mass ecstasy. Then Owen Canby shows up at PA’s house to tell her the sale to the computer company fell through. Didn’t see that one coming! Now since the school is not going to be sold, all the money from their anonymous benefactor can be used for an endowment and they can be free of Owen Canby.
Shelley (and any reader over the age of two) suspects who the mysterious donor is. She gets her crew to drive randomly around town and refuses to tell them where they’re going. They end up at — I hope you’re sitting down — Cary Sampton’s log cabin. He tells the kids his entire life story; turns out his dad had secretly hidden millions of dollars in their family barn. CS was just bitter about his old family feud with Horace Canby so took awhile to decide to help the school out. Like a doofus, he even shows them the hiding place where he still has $2 million left. Yes, showing a bunch of high school students you don’t know where $2 million in cash is kept sounds extremely responsible. The kids are all delirious with joy and unconcerned about the nausea of the reader. Chris Canby kisses Dana, of course, and she lays the groundwork for us readers to never hear from him again by saying innocently that she’s not ready to go steady but would like to get to know him better. Let me translate that for you, Chris, in the thoughtful words of *NSYNC: bye-bye-bye! The book ends with nonsensical emoting about how Canby Hall can never be removed “from their hearts or minds, not ever.” I don’t know, girls, I’m willing to bet that lobotomies might be reasonably effective.
– When Faith shows up with a donated antique table for their room, we learn that Dana is not just the resident fashion expert. She also loves “sculpting space” and always seems to know just where everything should go in a room. Are there a lot of opportunities for a sixteen-year-old to demonstrate this particular skill in life?
– Poor PA and the incident with her wayward brother gets some unfair documentation here. It’s not really accurate to say PA “had been totally hostile about even seeing him again, until she found out that he’d gone straight,” which is how this ghostwriter describes it. Talk about retrospective editing. Or lack of editing, more likely.
– There wasn’t much of Pernicious Pamela in this book, but the ghostwriters couldn’t let us forget about her repugnance, could they? So while in line in the dorm bathroom, Pamela sweeps in front of three girls waiting in front of her for the shower and just takes the next available stall. Instead of saying anything to her, they all just look at each other like idiots. Are you teenagers or doormats?
– I don’t know if we’ve had this drilled into us enough times, but Pernicious Pamela is rich. How do we know this, you may ask? Because she dresses in the uniform of a rich California girl. And what might that be, you may next ask? A “wide-shouldered” mauve tweed coat dress with “pink tinted stockings” and black patent leather pumps. In the immortal words of Gwen Stefani: Girl, you got style.
Next up: one of the few from the older books that I actually remember. Francophiles, get ready!