French Women Are Phat … or, Canby Hall #12, Who’s the New Girl?


Sorry it’s been awhile, guys. I’m going through some medical treatment at the moment, but I’ll be back much more often once it’s over. Now, though, let me pose to you my virtual career-counseling question of the day:

If you were the high-school principal of a girls’ boarding school, would you consider an appropriate Spring Break activity to be:

a) Sending your students home to actually see their families for once

b) Barring that, on-campus extracurricular workshops and maybe some day trips to nearby Boston, or

c) A week-long trip to Fort Lauderdale with only two over-extended chaperones in the middle of college Spring Break debauchery

DING DING DING! If you chose c), you are qualified to be the headmistress of a fictional elite private girls’ school! Start polishing that resume now! (If you chose a), you have far too much sense to be reading books like these. Go reread The Republic.)

So it’s the dead of winter in Massachusetts, and the girls are going stir-crazy. Cue requisite mention of how otherworldly Dana’s beauty is, in that getting caught in a snowstorm on her way back from town didn’t seem like something that should happen to her. She still “looked glamorous with her hair in a towel.” Gag me. Meanwhile, Shelley mentions that Dana doesn’t eat more than 800 calories a day, which Dana, instead of denying, replies to by saying she has to “starve” herself to fit into all those awesome sample clothes her super-cool Manhattan-store-buyer mother keeps sending her. This is not included with even a whiff of irony. Does the ghostwriter feel any guilt at contributing to the adolescent female eating disorder epidemic in the Western world? Although I had to contain a chuckle at the sympathy the reader is expected to feel at Dana’s sigh that all the samples are size 6. Honey, with vanity sizing these days, a size 6 is practically plus-size.

Anyway, I digress. So the girls convince housemother Alison that taking them all to Fort Lauderdale for some fun in the sun would be a great idea for Spring Break. Alison, instead of wanting a break of her own from her 24/7 counseling of the trials and tribulations of hormonal teenagers, thinks this a great idea. Does Alison get enough oxygen up there in the penthouse of Baker dorm? She agrees, out of what I can only surmise is sheer stupidity, to talk to the headmistress PA about it.

Meanwhile, a new student is arriving at Canby Hall: a French countess named Nicole. Everyone is abuzz with excitement, and even Pernicious Pamela is impressed at the idea. It will be so cool! They will know an actual European! (Never mind the fact that at least one or two already attend Canby Hall.) She will be fun and stylish and dying to learn about their culture and they will show her around and make her an American and be best friends forever! (The girls plan to collect posters for the new girl’s room. Shelley will donate a Rick Springfield poster. Oh Ricky you so fine!)

But naturally when our new friend Nicole shows up, she’s not what they expected. Dressed like a 4-year-old in ruffly dresses with headbands and Mary Janes, our not-shallow-at-all girls of 407 are dismayed. How can they take her out in front of their boyfriends? How will they help her fit in at apparently-more-fashionable-than-we-gave-it-credit-for Canby Hall? Nicole is friendly at first but continues to dress in her baby clothes. She and Pamela are suitably impressed with each other, Nicole by Pamela’s movie-star mom and Pamela by Nicole’s mention of her several houses and chalets in France.

Meanwhile, PA agrees to the Spring Break Fort Lauderdale trip in large part so Nicole can see more of the country. I have never heard of such absurd reasoning in my life. The girls are thrilled. There is little mention of parents having any objection or money being much of an issue. Shelley, in a panic over her supposedly chubby body, secretly joins an aerobics studio so she can have a brand-new figure by the time they get to Florida. Thus begins several chapters of her sneaking around and generally acting like a secretive weirdo. To the girls’ annoyance, Pamela, who was going to go somewhere “fashionable” for Spring Break — Montreal — (the Canadian in me laughs, not because Montreal isn’t nice, but because that was a place we’d pop up to on weekends) decides she’s now coming on their Fort Lauderdale trip too. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure no conflict will ensue.

Later, Alison comes in to do a random room check on 407. (This school is full of contradictions. In some ways, it’s lax enough to send a bunch of naive 16-year-olds to Fort Lauderdale practically asking for STDs, but in other ways, it’s worse than the military.) While there, she asks the roommates to hang out a bit with Nicole. OK, fine. But then she asks them to get a date for her that weekend. Whoa, whoa, whoa! Can we talk about overstepping boundaries here? Since when are the students’ dating lives the business of school faculty? And has anybody actually asked Nicole whether she wants a forced date? I have got to stop trying to inject logic into this series.

So Dana begs Randy (who in this book is her boyfriend again) to get a date for Nicole from among one of his friends. He’s reluctant. Dana is terrified Randy will be mad at her for saddling one of his friends with Nicole when he sees that she looks like a doofus. So the girls decide to give Nicole a makeover. They take her shopping, she pooh-poohs everything she sees, until she suddenly grabs an outfit and buys it. The girls are relieved. Until that night, that is, when the girls go down to meet their boyfriends and find Nicole already there, completely transformed into a busty, leggy bombshell with new hair and makeup, with a suddenly much thicker French accent, flirting shamelessly and getting the guys to fall all over her. The group date is a disaster, with Randy and Tom spending the whole time completely enamored with Nicole and ignoring Dana and Shelley.

Interesting note: for some reason, Faith and Johnny were written into some family dinner that kept them out of this group date that night. Why? Was it because the ghostwriter wanted to show Nicole’s powers of attraction over all the men in her vicinity, but couldn’t conceive of writing the African-American Johnny as also being in love with her? I wonder.

I love this: later, when Dana confronts Randy about the evening, and claims she’s not jealous, he says “Well what about you and Chris Canby? It’s not much fun for me to think of you going out with that guy.” To which Dana replies, “We’re just friends, Randy. And besides, Chris and I don’t drag you along with us and ignore you for the whole night.” Oh, OK, so it’s all right for you to go out with another guy as long as Randy’s not right next to you? And aren’t you the one who brought Nicole along in the first place? I cannot wrap my mind around the dating logic of these people.

The next morning Nicole acts like nothing happened and her English is magically perfect again. She does complain of the cold, however, and says it somehow feels different than the cold at her ski chalet in Gstaad. Pamela says, “I thought you said your chalet was in Chamonix.” To which Nicole quickly replies her new one is, but the old one was in Gstaad. Nickie darling, are you trying to pull one over on Pernicious Pamela? Do you have an IQ equivalent to your numerical age? Meanwhile Dana, still fuming over the night before, suggests that they all get temporary new boyfriends while in Florida. I wouldn’t expect anything less of you, my dears.

Later that day, Nicole is found holding court in the dorm lounge again, looking fabulous in a sultry outfit and with French accent in high gear, and other girls’ boyfriends all gathered around her. The 407 girls snipe jealously. But then another French student comes in and asks Nicole what arrondissement she lives in, and Nicole replies uncomfortably that she lives in the 5th. The other French girl thinks that’s a weird answer and walks away. I didn’t get this scene when I was a kid, and even now that I’m older and know Paris a little better, I still don’t understand it. What’s so strange about living in the 5th arrondissement? But I do know enough to know that this is more of Canby Hall’s patented “foreshadowing.” Something ain’t right with our little Nicole!

So fast-forward a few weeks, and the Canby Hall contingent has landed in Fort Lauderdale. Naturally there’s some mix-up with rooms and Nicole ends up rooming with the 407 girls. Nicole has by this time for unclear reasons transformed into a rude snot. She and Pamela spend most of the week ditching the group by faking illnesses, and the sainted chaperones Alison and Michael never catch on. “I guess it’s hard to count heads when there are so many of us,” Dana surmises. Nice excuse! I’m sure the parents of the girl(s) that get(s) date-raped will be totally appeased when you lay that one on them. Meanwhile, Shelley has been working hard on her exercise regimen and has totally transformed her body. She’s frustrated because Alison and Michael have jam-packed their schedule (with dolphin shows, aquariums and alligator exhibits … oh my) so she hasn’t had a chance to go shopping for an awesome new swimsuit, and is stuck in her Iowa-issue flowered skirted number. Hawt! Of course Dana is in some super-expensive, super-sexy piece. Did you guys know her mother is a buyer for a store in Manhattan? Neither did I.

Also of course, the minute Dana and Shelley step on the beach, two college guys (one from New Jersey and one from Iowa, natch) hit on them. “I think I’m in love,” says the pseudo-New Yorker to Dana. She seems not the least bit surprised at this declaration, thinking instead to herself “Aggressive, but cute.” Come on! Who does this really happen to in real life? They later spot Faith in a coffee shop smiling at some guy over sodas. My head explodes as I repeat for the millionth time, THESE GIRLS ALL HAVE BOYFRIENDS. Later, Dana and Shelley’s new boy-toys leave a note for them at their hotel asking them out, Pamela and Nicole get jealous, and P&N fake their way out of the morning’s activities to intercept the guys and steal them so that D&S are stood up. Juvenile. Are there so few guys in this town that P&N need to jump on the ones who use terms like “a dynamite girl like you”?

All of this comes to a head the night some school from Georgia checks in and throws a luau for the Canby girls that very night. Yes, I can totally see that, can’t you, a bunch of high school boys getting to the beach and spending their first day setting up decorations and making leis? The night is “one of the most exciting Shelley has ever known,” and we know this is a universal emotion because at one point Faith is seen doing an impromptu breakdancing demonstration. Or maybe that’s because Faith is black. The girls end the night with multiple dates each. Ridiculous. Anyway, Pamela turns up after the party in a rage. Turns out she and Nicole snuck off to an expensive French restaurant, and when the chef came out to talk to them, Nicole couldn’t understand a word he said. Pamela forced the truth out of her, and it turns out … DUN DUN DUN … Nicole is not from Paris, but from Kansas. The whole thing’s been a put-on. Oh snap! Pamela is furious at having been played and ditches Nicole at the restaurant.

Alison and Dana go in search of Nicole and find her and bring her back, where she tells her whole story in front of a crowd. (Nice guidance counseling principles there, Michael.) Her father really is French, but she’s spent her whole life in Kansas. She doesn’t get along with her parents because they treat her like a little kid. Her mom is the one who dressed her in those kindergartner outfits. Just to play a trick on her parents, she filled out a separate set of application forms for Canby Hall with a new identity as a French countess, and when she didn’t get caught she decided to just keep playing along. She couldn’t help that boys ate it up. She had to keep up the new life she’d made for herself so people would admire her.

Casey, the resident expert on parental problems, tells Nicole she has to face her issues with her parents. Right then on the spot Nicole decides the best thing for her future is definitely to go to school in Kansas. She will stay the rest of the vacation, but now she knows she belongs there. Huh, certainty strikes in the oddest places! And thus exits Nicole, never to be heard from again.

The book ends with Shelley getting up early the next day determined to buy a new swimsuit for her rockin’ new body and surprise everyone. She picks out an ’80s-tastic shiny yellow vinyl suit and prances proudly out onto the beach. No one notices. She freaks out because she’s worked so hard for her bikini figure, her friends tell her they didn’t notice because she looked great all along, and moral lesson learned: Be happy with yourself even if your ghostwriters keep calling you chubby.

Assorted amusements:

– Says Nicole when she first arrives, in full French-citizen mode: “You go to school to have fun? Ah, you are a strange country with strange ideas.” No kidding, Nicole!

– Cool Casey’s outfit one school day is a poncho with a bright purple T-shirt and a “Don’t Ask” button pinned near the shoulder. Don’t worry, Casey. I’m not tempted to.

– Dana asks, “You mean all those wild movies about Florida are true? Thousands of college kids and crazy parties, and people ending up in the swimming pool at two in the morning?” This girl is from NYC, and that’s what she thinks is a “crazy party”? All the more reason these sheltered children shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a Spring Break destination.

– The night before the trip, Dana panics because she realizes she’s forgotten panty hose. A true necessity for a week at the beach for every fashionable Manhattan teenager. Preferably coloured.

Stay tuned friends, because if my crystal ball serves me right … boys are on their way. Get your shotguns ready!


5 responses »

  1. This was my FAVORITE of the series, though I always worried about Shelly wearing a vinyl bathing suit. Vinyl? Really?

  2. Pingback: Roosters in the Henhouse … or, Canby Hall #13, Here Come the Boys « The Girls of Canby Hall … Revisited

  3. Holy sh*t. Pardon my language but I had both a flashback and a revelation in this recap.
    800 calories. Whenever I diet my goal is 800 calories or less. I’ve never know why I chose that #. Now I blame Dana. My therapist is going to be amazed. Also, I think Shelley was anorexic with a distorted self-image bc she is totally smaller than Dana on all the covers.

    I scrolling down through your recaps (so I’m hitting the books in reverse, which is a little confusing). I’m amazed by how much I remember. I started reading the first generation in 1985 (Best Friends Forever was my first book) and powered through Graduation Day. I think I only read 3 of the second gen (Making Friends, the one where Toby eats the artichoke like an apple, and the one where Alison and #NotMichael have babies).
    Now I want to reread/read the entire series!

    • Isn’t it crazy how much of this stuff sticks? Decades later I still remember Shelley’s shiny vinyl yellow swimsuit and Andy’s earth-tone quilt. You definitely have to reread the entire series and comment back with your thoughts. If you only read three books from the New Girl years, and one of them was the truly horrendous last one, (Six Roommates and a Baby), you have a lot of gems to look forward to!

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