If I’m Being Honest, My Thought is Good Riddance … or, Canby Hall #17, Graduation Day


Hello fellow Canby Hall aficionados! You know, when I first started this project, I had grand plans to recap one book a week — fast-forward to now, and I’m lucky if I do four books a year. I think I’ll stop apologizing for the delay and just accept that this is the frequency my hectic life will allow. So let’s jump in, shall we? I must admit I’ve been looking forward to this one, the last of the Dana/Faith/Shelley era, because those three have really overstayed their welcome as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not alone, friends. This book, the sole one dedicated to their senior year, skips the entire first semester and begins after Christmas. Someone at the publishing house was eager to see these three ride off into the sunset too!

So the girls have returned to Canby Hall for their last semester and are rehashing their Christmas vacations. Dana went out with a short, fat, pimply guy over break that she actually liked. Needless to say, we never hear about him again. “I can’t see you with less than a borderline Adonis.” Faith says, and she “wasn’t trying to flatter Dana, she was just being honest.” Gag me! As an aside, Shelley’s traveling outfit is a red suit, which she sheds for jeans. Remember the glamorous pre-TSA days when people dressed up to fly? Me neither, but I’ve heard about them.

We are quickly introduced to the individual dilemmas eating away at our heroines during their last year of high school. We can be quite confident we will hear a lot of bellyaching about all of this over the next 170 pages.
– Dana’s problem: Her dad wants her to delay college and move out to Hawaii for a year after graduation to get to know her stepmother and new baby brother.
– Faith’s problem: She’s applied to the photography program at the University of Rochester, but she can’t go if she doesn’t get a scholarship. Question A: Why has she only applied to one college? Question/Comment B: This is why we Asians get pressured by our parents to go into medicine. Why on earth, when you’re strapped for money, would you waste what little you have on a useless major that ensures you will remain poor for the rest of your life? Major in something that will get you a decent job and take as many pictures as you want in your spare time, woman!
– Shelley’s problem: Should she go to college at the University of Iowa or move to New York and try to break into theatre?

The semester starts up and PA tells the seniors in assembly that they have a special responsibility not to break the rules because the younger students look up to them. Foreshadowing! But wouldn’t that authoritative tidbit be more appropriate at the beginning of the school year rather than the middle?

Meanwhile, plans are being made for Arch Day, a Canby Hall tradition wherein each class sings a song of their choosing and passes through an arch of flowers, with the senior class exiting off the stage and out of the school, symbolizing their departure into adulthood, or something. This is apparently a big freaking deal. The senior class spends an hour deciding what colour their robes will be, finally settling on “a cool shade of green.” Dana and Terry volunteer to write the class song. We are told this is all very exciting.

Shelley gets yet another part in yet another play (You Can’t Take It With You, an actually very funny play that I was in myself in high school, but I digress.) Faith is stressed out taking pictures for her college application (singular) and is being a killjoy to everyone. She and Dana are too busy to celebrate said part-acquisition with Shelley, so she sits in her room feeling sorry for herself, and Pamela oozes in to make her feel worse. However Faith and Dana have sent Casey to celebrate in their place, with Tom and Keith. Shelley has a great time, until the end of the evening when Tom starts talking about all their individual future plans and how glad he is to have gotten to know her these past few years. Shelley senses there’s something he’s trying to tell her, but doesn’t worry her vapid little head over it. When she gets back, Dana and Faith are both in bad moods. Dana is furious at Terry because they can’t agree on the senior song. She wants a Broadway tune, he wants a punk ditty. Faith is in the doldrums because she didn’t like her last roll of film. I am tempted to toss that girl into the campus pond, stupid camera and all.

Dana and Terry are bickering again the next day when Pamela intervenes and they suddenly develop a united front in hatred of her. They decide to get Alison, a neutral third party, involved. On their way upstairs about two seconds later, through a miracle of time travel and physics, they somehow run into Pamela again, now wearing a mud mask. She is apparently filled with humiliation and fury at being seen in such a state. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is a boarding school. Based on my experiences with dorm life, we saw people in much worse states of being. I’m not sure a mud mask would be anything to write home about. Plus, she has totally been seen by the guys in a mud mask before. Anyway, the saintly Alison suggests using a Gilbert and Sullivan tune as a compromise. Dana and Terry love this idea and hail her as a genius. I am dubious.

On the last day before the deadline for sending in her pictures, Faith gets the idea to finagle the groundskeeper into letting her on to a rooftop to take birds’-eye landscapes. He asks for a copy of one in return. She’s super-happy with the results and finally starts acting like a normal human being again. She meets up with Johnny at the Tutti-Frutti where she doesn’t want to talk about her college application because it makes her nervous and she doesn’t want to talk about his post-high-school plans because she hates that he’s going to become a cop, so they talk about how they met at that very spot, and then it suddenly occurs to Johnny FOR THE FIRST TIME that they’ll be separated at the end of the semester. Sniffles all around (myself excluded.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch campus, the star of the play, a new student named Diana, is a great actress but undisciplined and believes she doesn’t need to know her lines. Tom is not too sympathetic when Shelley complains. Why not? Because … dunh dunh dunh … Tom has a thing for Diana! Shelley is furious and rushes back to the dorm to vent, and Faith, in an idiotic attempt to make her feel better, says that she saw Tom with a different girl at the movies the weekend before, so it’s not like he’s concentrating on just one “other” woman. Oh, OK, in that case, no need to feel bad at all! Then she says Shelley doesn’t have any right to be so upset given that she also has her hometown boyfriend Paul, so she and Tom are nothing like Faith and Johnny. This doesn’t go over well, shockingly. Dana decides to change the subject by sharing the lyrics she and Terry have written for the Arch Day song. The reader is meant to think they’re clever and amusing, but the first word that came to my mind was “inane,” if you want the truth. Dana gets ticked that Shelley and Faith aren’t interested and storms off. She calls Randy and lets him ramble on while she cools down, then shuts him down completely when he ventures to say that he’s sorry they never worked out. Nice! Then she returns to the room, where Casey, Faith and Shelley surprise her by performing her song. They liked it after all. All together now: Aww! Turns out Casey has worse problems than anyone — her rich art-collector parents aren’t going to bother to come to graduation at all.

Faith presents the groundskeeper with prints of the pics she took on the roof with him. He tells her they’re the best present he’s ever had. Touching.

To combat the March blahs, the Baker House boys throw a mid-winter luau. Everyone’s excited. Dana gets Randy to donate some straw, and Shelley starts making matching grass skirts. Faith makes paper flowers for their hair. Dana teaches them a Polynesian dance using a Hawaiian tape her father sent her. They’re the sensation of the party, natch, and win the hula dance contest. (The guidance counselor and housemother are there serving drinks and food, including faux poi: baked beans with brown sugar and ketchup. Yum-O!)

But the glow of the party quickly wears off as the next morning they’re back to fighting. Faith is stressed again because any day now she should be finding out whether she got into Rochester. Dana and Shelley are as sick as I am of hearing about it. (And shouldn’t they also be waiting for college acceptances?) They don’t speak for the next couple of days until the fateful letter finally arrives. (Why do I feel like they’re always waiting for Momentous Photographic News to come for Faith?) Turns out she got accepted but only got a partial scholarship, so she’s sure she can’t go. Dana and Shelley suggest that she talk to her mom about it, but Faith snaps that her mom’s got enough problems and Dana and Shelley don’t understand what it’s like to be strapped for money. All three remain mad at each other. Faith does call her mom who insists she will find a way. Now, instead of worry, Faith is gloomy with guilt. One’s as good as the other!

The 407 girls continue to fight. Someone leaves Faith’s mustard jar on the radiator, ruining it. Shelley annoys Dana and Faith by practicing her lines in the room. Dana freaks out because her new running suit is missing and Faith and Shelley both saw her sister Maggie borrow it. Dana goes to Maggie’s dorm ready to explode because Maggie took her clothes without asking, but it turns out Maggie and her roommates are going as string beans to a costume party and she wanted to see if the running suit would match theirs. Dana realizes it was no big deal, tells Maggie to keep it, and tries to calm down.

Casey, who’s been soaking up every last moment with Keith, finally notices the silent war in 407 when they refuse to go on a picnic with her and the guys. Pamela wanders in to borrow a book and provides a snide comment or two. Alison finds out and is determined to get them back on track again, giving them the choice of muddling through to the end of the year as they are, or repairing their friendship. Even as a kid first reading this, I thought their behaviour was immature. These are your best friends and you’re going to waste your last months together ignoring each other over stupid slights? So Alison gets each of them to agree to speak to her individually for half an hour, they all pour their hearts out, and she then gets the three of them to talk to each other with her as mediator. Unsurprisingly, they instantaneously forgive each other and come up with solutions to each of their problems. Faith will take a loan from her mother for college and insist on paying it back when she becomes a famous photographer (or hits her tenth anniversary of waitressing, is my guess.) Dana will take advantage of the opportunity her dad is giving her and go to Hawaii, since college will always be there the following year. Shelley is afraid to go to college in Iowa because Paul will think they’re exclusive again (again, WHY is no one considering more than one school?) but she realizes that going to New York without formal training would be a copout, so she decides to be honest with Paul and head to the University of Iowa. The girls then heap more praise on she-who-can-do-no-wrong, Alison. Alison mentions that she and PA were going over the next year’s rooming assignments and were using the three of them as a template for the ideal roommates. I feel like I’ve said this before, but foreshadowing!

Now that resident U.N. representative Alison has swooped in and fixed things, the girls are tighter than ever and finish up all their end-of-year activities. Casey’s problem is solved too, as her aunt is coming to graduation so she won’t feel like an orphan. After finals, the four of them, the 3 Baker boys, and Johnny decide to have a big celebration. They start by walking around campus enjoying all their favourite spots for one of the last times. Then, since 8 PM is apparently “too early for dinner”, they head to the latest Michael J. Fox movie in town. (Oh, Alex P. Keaton!) Next, since Shelley is faint with hunger, the boys pick her up and dump her in the bushes. This minor act causes a crowd of strangers to gather appreciatively, commenting that their antics are better than the movie. Oh puh-leeze. Then it’s on to Pizza Pete’s and the Tutti-Frutti, which are apparently the only eateries in town. They collectively realize that they’re not going to be able to get back in time for curfew if they stay out, but Casey convinces them that they can sneak in through the fire escape, so they decide to chance it. They make it safely back to their hall and are congratulating themselves on their escapade, when they find the door to 407 ajar and Pernicious Pamela waiting inside. Turns out she came to return that book, found them missing, and felt compelled, out of total concern for their safety of course, to tell Alison.

Alison is angry at their reckless lack of concern for rules, rounds them all up, and takes them to PA’s house in the middle of the night for their reckoning. They’re terrified. Is it me or has this happened like eighteen times before? (Four separate links there!) Why are they still so frightened of her? They go through PA’s interrogation and tell her they were all equally to blame. PA decides not to prevent them from graduating or ban them from Arch Day (the latter not being a sentence that sounds particularly bad to me, but they were petrified of it.) She decides they’ve been punished enough. So THEY GET NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. I am positive this has happened before. (See previous four links a few sentences back.) Is anybody on this campus listening to me? PA’s hard-as-nails reputation is total smoke and mirrors.

The 407 girls, Baker boys, and Casey decide, without consulting the rest of the senior class, to dedicate their senior song at Arch Day to PA (because these fools are the only members of their class who matter, obviously), “who knows why.” I can tell you, if I was a member of their class and heard that dedication at my graduation and I didn’t know why, I’d be more than a little ticked. But then I’d remember that I’m not Dana, Faith or Shelley, so who am I to have feelings? Arch Day ends up going off without a hitch. The junior class sings “We Are the World.” Oh, 1985! Dana and Terry’s lyrics inspire a standing ovation, naturally.

The day before graduation, we finally get a glimpse of what’s to come (and not a moment too soon, if you ask me.) A visitor shows up to 407: a certain Jane Barrett. Yes, it is the first appearance of one of our new trio of roommates! She tells the old 407-ers that she’s getting the room as a single next year and she wanted to see what she could do with it. Dana, Faith and Shelley are offended when she doesn’t love their black walls. I realize that Jane is the first character in this series to display any actual taste.

Graduation goes well and, mercifully, quickly. All the girls’ families are there. They say goodbye to Randy, Tom, Johnny and even Bret Harper. Shelley magically and randomly realizes that she is totally over Tom, conveniently. The girls pack up, embrace, and leave Baker House. And I breathe a sigh of relief. The Dana/Faith/Shelley era, save a few cameos in the later books, is over. And not a moment too soon. Join me next time as we welcome a much more palatable set of roommates to 407. Or am I remembering them too generously? Follow along and let’s find out!


14 responses »

  1. Fun recap as usual! Yes, Dana, Faith and Shelley are finally exiting through that glorious arch (fictional New England boarding schools usually do have lame traditions like that), but then they come back, like the living dead, except to dispense advice (Faith) and be really, really full of themselves (Dana) or to be a big baby (Shelley). At least we mostly get to focus on the new set of girls, who were better, though we do get a rehash of the same types: Cool Black Girl, Pretentious City Girl, and Culture-Shocked Hick Girl. Andy gets more of an equal role and more boyfriends than Faith did; Jane tends to be kind of full of herself like Dana was, but in Jane’s case no one lets her away with it, let alone feeds her delusions of superiority; and Toby has more sense and fewer histrionics than Shelley ever did, though even she gets a few style makeovers from her big city roommates because can’t figure out how to dress herself attractively. Hello, Canby Hall writers, people who live in big cities don’t have some kind of lock on knowing how to dress! Looking forward to the rest of the series – I just wish the writers had taken the second set of girls all the way through graduation. And that we’d found out what that damn tea bag signified.

    • LOL that tea bag! What a tease! I like to believe that if the series contract hadn’t ended abruptly and we’d been able to see the second set of girls through to graduation, the secret would have been revealed on their last day in some grand fashion. And oh yes, ’80s stereotypes were alive and well in the Jane/Andy/Toby era too, no argument here! You’re right about why those stereotypes were marginally less annoying for them though — we don’t get the undeserved hero worship of Jane that we had forced on us a la Dana, and Toby isn’t a simpering mentally-challenged idiot like Shelley, and Andy, perhaps by virtue of not having a murdered father, is just less melancholy than Faith. And even though I grew up in a big city, I was always offended on behalf of these small-town characters who were depicted as being less sartorially savvy than most kindergartners I know! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I just stumbled upon your blog – I am re-reading my old favorites and was wondering, does anyone love Canby Hall as much as I did?! Ha! In middle/high school I used to pretend I lived in Baker.

    Reading these books back, the errors and single-dimensional characters drive me crazy. But the nostalgia – ahh! I so miss the YA fiction of the 80s & 90s.

    • Oh yes, you have found someone who loved Canby Hall as much as you did! 🙂 Welcome Beth, and thanks for stopping by! It is so true, 1980s YA lit is ridiculous in some ways (with its characters and storylines being so cliched as to be caricatures) but it was so innocent and sweet in some ways too. I’d be afraid to let my daughter roam the teen section of the bookstore today, but Canby Hall lets me return to a simpler time! Thanks for reading!

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  4. I was looking forward to your review of this book and it didn’t disappoint! I invested a lot of time and money buying and reading these books in the 80’s. I remember being a little sad reading graduation day saying goodbye to the original characters. BUT Looking back on these books as an adult I get a chuckle out of how contrived and ridiculous the characters & story lines were. I may revisit my collection and re-read again just for a laugh.

    • Paula, that would be a very worthy use of your time! These unintentionally ridiculous people deserve credit for being so able to provide smirks on demand, even if they are fake (the people, not the smirks!). I really was not unhappy, even as a kid, to say goodbye to the Dana/Faith/Shelley trio. I found them just so annoying. But I did always wish there was closure for the Jane/Andy/Toby years. Maybe we’ll have to dabble in some fanfic. Thanks for reading!

      • Did you ever read the Francine Pascal series Caitlin? I would enjoy reading your reviews on those. They were over the top ridiculous.

      • Oh gosh, I had to Google to refresh my memory. I think I read one of them way back when, but I don’t know if I could wade my way through all of them now, given that they sound completely insane. Maybe you can do it and I’ll gladly follow you! 🙂

  5. This was my all time favourite book series when I was growing up in Norway! Absolutely loved them, but never got my hands on the books past the first 17! Love this blog x

    • Thanks Anniken! The second set of roommates was SO much better than the first. If you can snag some of those books on Amazon or eBay you have a treat in store! I mean, they’re still ridiculously contrived, but at least the characters are likeable, which is a pleasant change 🙂

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