It is an extremely eerie sensation to read a 30-year-old kids’ book, one you have reread many times, and to realize with a sudden jolt that it completely foreshadows a recent world event. Ladies and gentlemen, I posit that The Ghost of Canby Hall portended the 2016 U.S. presidential election. I submit to you that Gigi Norton is Donald Trump.
I’m itching to discuss this in greater detail, but like a good blogger I better back up and start from the beginning. This was the second Canby Hall book I ever read, but I purchased it at the same time as the first (Princess Who?) so it was part and parcel of my initial introduction to the series. While I always thought the plot of this book was extremely improbable, recent political events have shown us that the most unlikely, illogical things CAN happen, so that should put an end to my thinking I know anything. Here we go.
We open with Toby and Jane waxing poetic about how beautiful spring is in Massachusetts. Throughout this entire book, we will hear multiple teenage girls going on and on about needing to spend time outside enjoying Canby Hall’s amazing spring season. Not being an outdoors person myself, I am skeptical that this would be the foremost desire on everyone’s mind. Anyway, Andy is in the dining room waiting for her roommates. She wonders where they are, noting that it was probably taking them awhile because “Jane was so pokey.” Really? I don’t picture a wealthy Boston blue-blood as being pokey, exactly. In any case, Jane and Toby show up and Andy teases them that they were probably working on their tans, something she doesn’t need to worry about because she “comes tanned.” I like the way these later books touch on the girls’ racial differences and the comfort they have talking about it, and then don’t bring it up again. Unlike so many other ’80s books, Andy’s being black was far from her only defining quality.
Penny Vanderark stops by to tell them that the three candidates for the (apparently) famed and coveted English Literature Award are Jane, Penny and Gigi Norton. I don’t understand why Gigi Norton would be up for such a supposedly prestigious writing award, as we’ve never heard she was a writer before, so I’m glad that at least this ghostwriter has enough intellectual honesty to make the characters wonder the same thing. Us readers, though, know that Gigi has to be a candidate for this award or the rest of the book would have no reason for being. I mean, not that that’s ever stopped anyone involved with this series before, but still.
Penny doesn’t know who Gigi Norton is, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since Penny’s only new to Baker House, not to Canby Hall, and Gigi isn’t a Baker resident anyway. But nonetheless, the 407 girls indicate that Gigi is the very definition of awful, so they don’t want to talk about her. When Gigi herself walks into the dining hall, Penny realizes they have art class together. (You can go a whole year in a high school class without knowing the names of your classmates? When there are only 25 or so of them?) Penny notes that Gigi always has an unkind comment to make about other people’s work, and that when Penny did a very true-to-life drawing of her brother, Gigi asked if it was a picture of her poodle. “Can you believe that?” Penny remarks.
“I don’t know,” Andy says seriously. “I’ve never met your brother.”
They then segue into how excited they are that Room 407 could walk away with the Lit Award. I don’t understand this whole idea of reflected glory, which will figure prominently in the plot. While I was certainly happy for my friends when they won awards, I never once felt it somehow reflected on me, and I highly doubt they felt any achievement of mine reflected on them either. But Andy cannot get her nose out of Jane’s business on this one. The three finalists each have to write an essay, and Andy will lose more sleep over Jane’s essay than over any of her own responsibilities this entire year. Just then, Gigi walks up to their table and makes a snide comment about how Penny is an airhead and the real contest is going to be between Gigi and Jane, and that Jane shouldn’t start writing her acceptance speech just yet. We’ve heard a lot more about what how talented Penny is at writing than Gigi, so I don’t buy this. None of the girls are bothered by her barbs.
Back at their room, Meredith has left a note saying she stopped by to say hi. When the girls decide to put off studying for finals in order to go say hi back, it turns out Meredith wanted to let them know about a new exhibit at the library. An old estate has donated a diary, some letters, and a music box belonging to Julia Canby, the 13-year-old who died of fever in 1897 and whose father founded the school in her memory. The Canby Hall news dissemination service is at work again! Rather than make an announcement to the entire student body, just tell the girls of 407. They’re the only ones who matter anyway! The girls head over to the library, with Jane commenting that the items are probably really nice, since the Canbys were rich. Andy deadpans that she thought Horace Canby bought all this land with coupons. Upon arrival, somehow there’s already a crowd of students gathered around the glass case despite none of them being residents of Room 407. Furious, the actual girls of 407 slaughter them all in order to begin examining the exhibit first, as God Himself intended. Haha! You got me, that’s not true. That doesn’t happen till the next book.
In actuality, Andy is stunningly uninterested in the whole thing from the beginning. To me, this is uncharacteristic of her, as I think of her as pretty smart, but comments such as “I don’t see what’s so exciting about a bunch of old papers” and “I just can’t deal with your rush to see musty old relics from the Victorian age” don’t strike me as all that intelligent. Jane, however, is very excited to see the diary and letters, given her love of literature and American history (you know, since her family basically started America.) Toby is, inexplicably, captivated by the music box, which has a skater on it and which plays “The Skater’s Waltz.” She seriously nearly wets herself over it. I don’t get it. Are there no music boxes in Texas? Even if there aren’t, are music boxes that exciting a contraption? Let us discuss. (Some other time.)
The librarian lets them handle all of the items and take them off to different parts of the library, which is just asking for theft and destruction if you ask me, but, alas, no one did. Jane curls up in a corner of the library with the diary, after vowing to ignore the librarian’s instructions to share it with any other students who want to see it (because the world revolves around you if you live in Room 407, didn’t you know?) and begins reading entries by 13-year-old Julia Canby, who is apparently alone and lonely in London with only a governess and a strict father for company. Jane is full of sympathy.
That night at dinner everyone is congratulating Jane and Penny on being nominated for the Lit Award. Jealous, and ignored because she’s such a crummy person, Gigi finally calls out to the entire dining hall that everyone is jumping the gun with their congratulations and that anything could happen between now and awards night. Heavens, whatever could she mean? No one takes her seriously except Andy, who warns that no one should discount Gigi. (FORESHADOWING!) When Andy suggests calling the Oakley Prep guys to find out what they’re up to that evening, Jane declines, saying she has to study for finals. “Are you really going to study?” Andy asks suspiciously. “Or are you just in a hurry to get back to that silly old diary?” You know, that is really none of your business, Andy. Why don’t you worry about your own academics, hmmm?
Both Toby and Matt also say they have to study and can’t hang out, so Andy ends up studying as well. Back in their room, she notices that Jane is engrossed in pages of notes she copied from Julia Canby’s diary, and actually claps her hands to get Jane’s attention. “Jane Barrett! You are supposed to be studying! Why are you wasting time poring over those silly old notes? Which, I might add, you shouldn’t have wasted so much time taking in the first place.” MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS, CORD! If any roommate of mine was that bossy about my life, she would have rather quickly needed to find a new roommate. When Jane responds that she is studying both literature and history, Andy says, “I don’t call a diary history. It’s just stuff written by someone a long time ago.” Andy, a) that is sort of the definition of history, and b) no one cares what you think. Jane starts going on about how unhappy Julia is, Andy becomes perturbed at Jane’s use of the present tense, and Toby muses dreamily about the freaking music box. After they all fall asleep, Jane is awoken by the faint strains of “The Skater’s Waltz.” She assumes she’s imagining it.
The next morning as they discuss their plans for the day, Andy says she’s going to blackmail Matt into coming over to study with her by threatening to tell the whole Oakley Prep campus that he only has to shave twice a week. My thoughts are, firstly, what a nice girlfriend, and secondly, if he lives in a boarding school, wouldn’t that be unlikely to be a secret? She then nags Jane that she better not be going to the library to bury herself in the diary again, because Jane sure needs to study. Dude, you are not your roommate’s mother. Andy secretly hopes to herself that there’ll be a huge crowd around the exhibit, so Jane won’t be able to get near it, which means she’ll have to study instead, and then she’ll walk off with the Lit Award. Andy, I love you, but … get a life. At the dining hall, Dee, Maggie and Penny all mention that they heard music playing the night before. Jane doesn’t admit that she heard it too, but now she knows she wasn’t just hearing things.
Jane heads off to the library with Toby in tow, as the latter is “anxious for more time with the music box.” SERIOUSLY? It’s a music box, Toby. It’s not love. Andy vents to Matt about how annoying it is that her roommates are so interested in old stuff. Matt diplomatically replies that Andy is the most “now” person he’s ever met, which he loves, but Jane and Toby may just have a stronger sense of history. Andy agrees to stop nagging Jane if Jane takes her studies seriously, because “dummies” aren’t allowed in Baker House (which, as an aside, is intermittently called Baker Hall. Make up your minds, ghostwriters, please.) Good grief, who cares about the intellectual makeup of your dorm? Worry about yourself, woman!
Meanwhile Jane is engrossed in Julia Canby’s letters, which indicate that she has no one to hang out with in England, as her father won’t let her meet people, and she misses her friends in America. Engrossed in the world of 1897 London, Jane looks up and sees Julia Canby herself outside the library window. A girl with long dark hair and wearing Victorian clothing walks towards the pond, slips into a grove of trees, and disappears. Jane, seriously disturbed, wonders if she’s seeing things.
Back in 407 that evening, Andy notices that Jane is lost in thought and starts haranguing her again, asking if Jane has heard more about the essay she needs to write for the award competition. Andy has always been my favourite of all the girls of 407, but she is really turning over a new, shrewish leaf in this book. Remove your nasal bones from her business, I beg of you. Toby interjects that Dee and Maggie said Meredith told them there would be an essay contest for the award. What does a housemother, rather than an English teacher, have to do with this, and why would she tell other students the details rather than the actual finalists? It makes no sense. Toby, that hotbed of information, also informs Jane that the finalists are going to be allowed to choose their own topics. Jane immediately decides to write about Julia Canby. Andy is irritated and asks why Jane can’t pick another topic, as Andy does not want to hear one more word about that diary. Yeah Jane, you’re so selfish. Geez.
That night, Andy is the one who hears the music, and she realizes it’s the tinkling sound from the music box itself, not an orchestral recording. She decides not to tell anyone.
The next morning, she has a great idea. She’ll call Cary and he’ll help get Jane’s nose out of the diary. This behaviour has now crossed over from “Mildly Concerning Meddling” to “Full-On Inappropriate.” What Jane chooses to do with her own time is none of your business, Andrea! As it turns out, Cary thinks Jane’s interest in history is great and refuses to try to convince her otherwise. I’m on his side. Defeated, Andy heads to class, but on the way she spots the same mysterious figure in Victorian clothing that, unbeknownst to her, Jane saw the day before. Assuming it’s Gigi Norton, Andy yells, “Gigi, this is really dumb! It’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done!” The figure meanders off, and Andy turns a corner and immediately runs smack into Gigi Norton, who is not wearing Victorian clothing and who would have had no time to change.
Andy spends her entire English class completely bewildered, trying to figure out who the elusive figure is, and decides to talk to Toby about it, because “sometimes Toby had a unique way of looking at things.” (That is a true statement! I love the character of Toby for that reason, except for the times when she’s totally incapable of interacting with the human race and the authors’ excuse for that is simply, “Texas.”) Andy finds Toby sitting by the pond hoping to see the resident ghost. Because it has now officially spread all over campus that Julia Canby’s ghost has come back to Canby Hall. Despite having seen something herself, Andy tries to convince Toby that there is no ghost, just someone dressed up as Julia Canby. Toby is doubtful. Andy tries to get Toby to at least agree not to mention this to Jane, who will only become more obsessed with Julia. Toby says Jane will probably hear about it from someone else before long.
Sure enough, when they get back to Baker House, the entire dorm is buzzing about Julia Canby’s ghost. Andy yells to the crowd that they are all being ridiculous, but no one believes her. (Sound familiar? The masses refusing to listen to reason?) Back in 407, Jane admits that she too saw the “ghost.” Andy calls it bizarre that one of the smartest girls in school would fall for a joke. Jane asks what being smart has to do with it. Andy states the obvious, which is that there are no ghosts. Then both Jane and Toby start talking about legendary ghosts in their families. Andy, exasperated, tells them they’ve both gone over the edge.
I have to agree with Andy, and also admire her courage, because that night in the dining hall the entire student body is chattering on about Julia Canby and sharing their own supposedly true ghost stories. Andy leaps to her feet and yells again that everyone has lost their minds and that Julia Canby has not returned to Canby Hall. No one will listen. Frustrated, she goes to Oakley Prep and unloads on Matt. She admits to herself that her thinking had been sent “into a tailspin … She had seen Julia Canby, she hadn’t seen Julia Canby, everyone at school was crazy, no she was the one who was crazy … it was maddening.” The effect of an entire group believing something illogical is having a gaslighting effect on Andy. The fact that people she considered reasonable are also falling for it is making her question her own sanity.
Jane is back at the library, where the Julia Canby exhibit is suddenly very popular. She finally gets her mitts on the diary, and starts reading another entry about how lonely Julia is in London, and how she’s met a nice older boy who plans to call on her. Jane is angry for her, and also glad that her own parents made sure there were people her own age around when the Barretts toured Europe. Did Jane’s parents hire teenagers to travel around with them or something? I can’t picture finding local companions for your kids on an international family trip. If my kids ever read this, when we travel it’s for WONDERFUL FAMILY TOGETHERNESS, YOU HEAR ME? 🙂
Later, Toby is sitting by the school pond. “Listening to the music box had relaxed her, making her feel light and happy.” Again with the flipping music box! Is that thing filled with Xanax or something? We are given little time to ponder, because Toby is the next person to see the vision of Julia Canby. Toby, unlike the other witnesses, calls out to the apparition in an attempt to speak to her, but no luck. “Julia” darts into the grove, out of sight.
Back in 407, Toby can’t wait to tell her roommates that she’s had a sighting too. Andy throws herself onto her bed and puts a pillow over her head, shouting “No, no, not you too!” But Jane is eager to hear every detail. Toby says the ghost was wearing Victorian clothing, and “it’s not like anyone at Canby dresses that way.”
“Someone at Canby obviously does,” Andy retorts from under her pillow. Point to Team Andy! Instead of acknowledging that, duh, the most likely explanation is that someone is dressing up as Julia Canby, not that Julia Canby herself has returned to Canby Hall, Jane “direct[ed] a wicked gaze at the pillow.”
Andy eventually emerges from underneath her pillow and tells Toby she’s gone crazy. Suddenly and for no clear reason, Jane becomes willing to listen to reason. She says someone could be playing a trick on the whole school (gee, ya think?) and the only person who would do something like that is Gigi. Without thinking, Andy says, “Oh, it’s not Gigi.” Jane and Toby are immediately suspicious, wondering how Andy can possibly know that for sure. Before they can press her, the Skater’s Waltz music starts playing again. “The music box!” Toby cries, overcome with terror for the well-being of her precious drug-delivery system. “Someone’s taken it out of the library! That’s against the rules! Oh, what if they break it?” Oh my goodness, just make like a skating rink and CHILL OUT, Toby. It’s a stupid MUSIC BOX. I’ll buy you one off eBay myself if it’ll make you shut up about it. Andy fumes that this is all part of the ghost stunt someone is playing. Jane and Toby, pointedly, don’t agree. So they presumably actually believe Julia Canby’s ghost is sitting around listening to her music box? Andy runs out into the hall to try to find the source of the music, but has no luck.
Back in their room, they’re all trying to study. Andy starts nagging Jane about her Lit Award essay again. Good grief, woman, you’re the only voice of reason in this entire book, but lay off! Andy says she “still think(s) writing an essay about a dead person is dumb.” The dumbest thing about that statement is the person making it, which Jane points out when she notes that Andy’s tune would change if the essay were about Faulkner or Hemingway. For once, Jane is right. I’m not used to it.
The next day, Meredith finally gets around to calling the three Lit Award finalists to her penthouse to tell them about the essays they need to write. Again, WHY is a housemother and not an English teacher doing this? Gigi remarks that she’s already completed a 6-page outline. Penny and Jane make snide remarks. Meredith says they are free to pick their own topics, because headmistress PA trusts in their good taste. Gigi snickers and says, “Well, some of us can be trusted. That is, those of us who don’t date rock musicians with earrings and long hair.” I don’t get it – isn’t that the average American teenager’s dream guy? Jane murmurs in response, “Then there are those of us who don’t date anyone.” Although I don’t like making fun of people who don’t date for whatever reason, I have to admit that Gigi deserved that.
While Meredith finishes up, Jane is wondering where she’s going to find the time for this essay on top of studying for finals. She feels extra pressure because “Andy and Toby were counting on her to win this award for Room 407, and she would hate to let them down.” Girl, are you serious? Again with the reflected-glory nonsense! Can everyone just worry about their own education, please?
On their way out, Jane and Penny wonder whether Merry has heard about the ghost. Penny suggests that maybe their housemother doesn’t want to pay attention to rumours. Jane bristles and asks sharply, “You mean because they’re so silly?”
YES THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I MEAN.
Penny hastily says no, just that Merry might not have talked to anyone who had actually seen the ghost, and until she did it would be a hard thing to believe. (Again, ya think?) Jane is mollified.
The gang and their Oakley Prep counterparts go to Pizza Pete’s for dinner. Once seated, Matt says to Andy in front of everyone, “Seen any more ghosts?” Her secret’s out. Everyone learns that Andy has seen “Julia” too. Jane is furious that Andy was acting like the rest of them were crazy when she had seen the same thing they did. Andy responds that she knows she saw a person dressed up in Victorian clothing, not a ghost. Cary makes the situation worse by piping up that Andy didn’t mention having seen the ghost when she talked to him about Jane. Jane is doubly angry that Andy talked to Cary about her. Andy retorts “The whole campus was going nuts. I needed help.” She then storms out of the restaurant, dragging Matt with her. “I am so tired of this silly ghost business,” she rants. “Now my roommates, who used to be sane, rational people, are mad at me.”
Later in the library, Jane is engrossed in the last entry in the diary. Julia’s new man-friend did come to call, but her father threw him out. Julia is devastated, and on top of that she doesn’t feel well, having come down with the illness that, unbeknownst to her, will take her life. Crushed between the pages of the diary are the ancient violets her thwarted caller brought her. Looking up from the book but with her mind still in 1897, Jane sees the ghost walking by the window again. She runs outside to chase it down, but with no luck. This time, though, other people have seen it too. Jane resolves to discuss this whole thing from beginning to end with her roommates, but when she gets back to 407, she finds a nosegay of violets lying on her bed.
Jane is at first shocked, then furious. She accuses Andy of buying the violets to ridicule her. Andy, of course, knows nothing about the bouquet and is annoyed that Jane would think she’d pull a trick like that. They have a huge fight and Jane storms off. Andy resolves again to get to the bottom of this.
That weekend, Andy and Toby go to the florist in town and ask about the nosegay. The florist does remember selling it, and says it was purchased by a young girl with long dark hair who paid in cash. After they leave, Toby remarks that the description sounds a lot like Julia Canby. Andy retorts that it also sounds a lot like Gigi Norton in a wig.
Back on campus, the Baker girls and the Oakley guys are studying on the lawn when they see Gigi Norton come out of Baker House arm-in-arm with another girl. Jane gasps, because the other girl looks an awful lot like Julia Canby. Turns out that it’s Agnes Pearl, who lives at the other end of the fourth floor of Baker, and it seems she and Gigi get along because they’re exactly alike. (If that’s the case, how come everyone knows and hates Gigi but no one, including us readers, knows Agnes? And who was named Agnes after the 1950s?) Jane mentions Agnes’ strong resemblance to Julia. Dee informs her that if she’s suspecting Agnes of dressing up as the ghost, it’s not possible, because Dee saw Agnes on two separate occasions when the ghost was sighted. Jane is relieved by this news, because “It would have been so awful if Agnes Pearl had been the Julia Canby everyone had seen. Just awful! So awful that Jane couldn’t stand to think about it.” So she, you know, doesn’t.
I think I speak for everyone in 2017 when I say that delusion on this scale is dangerous.
That night in 407, the Skater’s Waltz music starts playing again. Andy jumps up, determined to figure out what’s going on. She says that obviously someone taped the music box and is now playing it back on a tape recorder, and she’s going to find it. Jane scoffs at such a crazy idea, since Andy “doesn’t have a shred of proof.” Uh, it’s called common sense, Jane. Andy says the music sounds really close, like it’s coming from their own room. She’s determined to search 407. Jane refuses to allow a search in her part of the room, lest it be made into a mess. Andy correctly notes that that would be impossible, as it already is a mess. In any case, she is unsuccessful in finding the source of the music that night. She decides she will secretly follow Gigi Norton.
The next morning she sits at a dining hall table, waiting for Gigi to arrive for breakfast. She’s annoyed by the conversations going on around her, as everyone is seemingly obsessed with only one topic: Julia Canby’s ghost. Each time Andy tries to change the subject and ask someone if they’re ready for finals, she’s met with a blank look. Scary, Andy thinks. She’s genuinely worried that the entire school is going to fail their final exams.
She ends up tailing Gigi and becoming convinced that “the girl led an extremely boring life.” But her sleuthing pays off when Gigi spends hours in Agnes’ room in Baker, only to emerge and make three separate trips to the fourth-floor broom closet. Andy now knows there’s something to be found in that closet.
Back in the dining hall, Jane and Toby are talking, and it seems the scales are finally loosening, if not entirely falling, from Jane’s eyes. She admits that she wants Julia to be real because she feels very close to her after reading the diary, but she knows it’s not possible.
Back in Baker, Andy goes into the broom closet. She finds the tape recorder first, which does indeed have a tape of the Skater’s Waltz in it. She then finds a maroon dress, black cloak, and black wig hidden under cleaning supplies. She wonders what to do, since she knows that these discoveries won’t convince anyone that Gigi is behind the ghost. But she’s glad she’s proved it to herself. Later, in 407, she tells her roommates that she’s found the items, which she calls “Gigi’s weapons in the fight against Canby Hall’s sanity.” Jane is horribly disappointed. As Andy and Toby discuss their next steps, Jane jumps up and yells that she doesn’t want to hear any more about it and she doesn’t want to be involved in their detecting. Because Jane doesn’t want the truth and she can’t stand Andy’s “smugness” at having been right. This makes little sense, since she was just telling Toby how she knew the ghost couldn’t be real, and Toby points that out.
Later, Andy goes back to the broom closet and switches the Skater’s Waltz tape for a rock tape, turning the volume up as high as it will go. Then she lies in wait again. That evening, hiding behind a potted tree in the hall, she sees Gigi come out of Agnes’ room with a long envelope and push it through the hall mail slot. Andy is disappointed, because “It’s no crime to mail a letter, though I am surprised she has anyone to write to.” Ha! But then Gigi whirls around and races away from the mail slot. And just then, rock music starts blaring through the dorm.
People start pouring out of their rooms and Andy is so excited to unmask Gigi that she can barely contain herself. She realizes that the tape recorder was probably hidden in the mail slot and Gigi used the envelope to press its Play button. But before Andy can say anything, Gigi gets to the mail slot first and pulls out the tape recorder. Turning to the crowd, eyes wide with innocence, Gigi announces that someone must have hidden it in the mail slot, and it must have been the same person playing that music box melody at night. The gathered girls are hanging on her every word, and Andy wonders how on earth they can be so gullible.
“Don’t you mean I, Gigi?” Andy calls out. “You were the only person at the mail slot just before the music started, and you were the first one there after it started.” Gigi coolly notes that she couldn’t have been the only one in the hall, since Andy was there too. Also, just because Andy didn’t see anyone else there doesn’t mean there wasn’t anyone else there. The crowd, thrilled at the implication, starts whispering excitedly. Andy is infuriated, knowing that at any other time Gigi’s ridiculous explanation wouldn’t have worked. But the atmosphere was ripe for it now, because the ghost had been on everyone’s mind for days.
One solitary person does call out that it’s a rare 1890s ghost that knows how to operate a tape recorder, but “the question was drowned out by the loud chattering of girls who didn’t want any questions. They wanted to keep their ghost.” Andy shouts desperately for the girls to think, to realize that there is no ghost, that there’s only Gigi, but no one will listen. So she doesn’t even bother to ask how the rock music found its way into the tape player, because no one cares. Beyond frustrated, Andy thinks to herself that “When people began to believe someone like Gigi Norton, the campus was really in trouble.”
This is where I got goosebumps.
However, something good does come of it. Back in 407, Jane tells Andy, “Okay, I give up. You were right all along. Gigi’s behind the whole thing.” Jane recognized the rock music as Andy’s own, and she knew that Andy would tell the truth. (I’m trying to figure out how to apply their solution to mass delusion to our current national mass delusion.) Jane’s now the one who’s furious, saying “I can’t believe I let myself get taken in like that. I mean, how stupid can a person get?” (What I’d give to hear a Trump supporter utter those words!)
“We saw what Gigi wanted us to see,” Toby says. “She must have been laughing behind our backs that whole time.” (TRUMP AGAIN!)
Andy wonders how Gigi could have been the ghost, given the time that Andy ran into her immediately after a Julia-sighting. Jane provides the answer: that Gigi and Agnes were both playing the ghost, to give each other alibis.
The next day in the library Penny asks Jane for help coming up with a topic for her Lit Award essay. Jane suggests writing about “how easily intelligent people can get carried away … about how distracted, even hysterical, people can get when they’re not thinking rationally. You remember the story The Emperor’s New Clothes, don’t you? … Isn’t that a little bit like what happened here? … We wanted to believe we saw Julia, so we did. Even though we knew better.”
This was the second time I got goosebumps. I have specifically used the Emperor’s New Clothes story to describe Trump voters’ support on more than one occasion. They want to believe that he’s a Christian millionaire who’s going to give them jobs and money, so they do – despite every piece of evidence to the contrary (his refusal to release his tax returns, his products manufactured in Bangladesh, his multiple marriages, his horrendous comments about women, his absence of any sort of Christian behaviour … need I go on?)
Penny is grateful for Jane’s advice and Jane goes off to finish her own essay, only this time in a sane manner. She acknowledges to herself that the Julia Canby they saw around campus never existed, but the one in the diary did, and Jane wants to do that Julia justice. She also vows to be appreciative of the friends, freedom, and physical life she has and which Julia did not. (We’ll see how long this healthy attitude lasts.)
Meanwhile, Andy is over at the Drama Department, because “it couldn’t hurt to check out a few additional details. The more evidence they had, the less chance there would be that Gigi, who lied as easily as most people breathed, would slide out from under their accusations.”
Alas, here is where the Trump analogy breaks down. Back in 1987 — heck, back in 2014 — facts actually mattered. Now, they do no longer. While I agree that Trump, like Gigi, lies as easily as most people breathe, he did once make one statement that was 100% truthful: that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters. On that, I agree with him completely. So it doesn’t matter what evidence we find of his involvement with Russia or his large-scale tax evasion or his sexual relationships with chipmunks. The majority of his supporters will never open their eyes, because to do so would be to admit that they were terribly, terribly wrong about him. Better that the entire country go to hell than suffer THAT!
Deep breaths. Where was I? Oh yes, at the Canby Hall Drama Department, which is described as being empty since there was nothing going on in the department that late in the year. (Naturally once Shelley Hyde was no longer a student there, they cut back on their two-performances-a-day, 365-day-a-year schedule.) Anyway, Andy asks for the costumes from last year’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Unsurprisingly, the lock on the cupboard has been jimmied and the contents are missing. The student in charge is freaking out, but Andy promises that she’ll have the costumes back by tomorrow. That’s quite a confident promise to make, if you ask me – what’s to stop Gigi from catching wind of their suspicions and destroying the items?
On her way out, Andy is stopped by Merry, who has heard about the ghost business and wants to know what the heck is going on. Andy fills her in and basically tells her that they have a prime suspect and are going to make sure she gets what’s coming to her. Merry’s entire response is essentially to tell her to be careful. Really? Some of your students are plotting against another student, you know maybe half the story, and you’re going to just let them take care of it? That sounds like bodily injury, or potentially a lawsuit, just waiting to happen. But the girls of 407 are in charge here, and we all know they can do no wrong! (Aside: why is Merry being paid for this? Shouldn’t the girls of 407 just run Baker House?)
That night the girls are plotting their revenge. Dee and Maggie, who believed Andy’s accusations the night before, have joined them. Andy says being in the dining hall was driving her crazy because all around her she kept hearing people saying “Julia Canby, Julia Canby,” and Andy wanted to jump up and yell “Gigi Norton, Gigi Norton,” but knew no one would believe her until she had proof. (Believing someone when they present you with evidence … such a quaint 1980s worldview!) Meanwhile Neal calls Toby and tells her he’s looking forward to coming to her class dinner. Toby says Jane will be glad to have Neal there if and when she wins the Lit Award. The reader is supposed to be suitably impressed by the mature, modern relationship between the three of them.
The Dastardly Plan goes into action. The girls are seated in the dining room, except Andy, who joins them a few minutes late, when suddenly a voice comes over the loudspeaker saying “This is Julia Canby.” Everyone in the room stops moving. The voice says she wishes to speak to Gigi Norton, and all eyes turn to the said Gigi, who is, pardon the pun, white as a ghost.
The voice goes on about her experiences in London and how she wished she had had more friends, and how Gigi should always be kind to hers. “Remember Gigi, be kind … be kind …” the voice finishes as it drifts away.
There’s silence until Gigi whispers, “That was Julia Canby.”
“So what?” Andy shrugs. “We’ve been hearing from her for a long time now. What’s the big deal?”
Gigi jumps to her feet, trying to convince her. “Will you listen?” she cries. “I’m telling you that wasn’t me this time.”
So it was you the other times? Andy wants to know, tightening the noose.
Gigi gives up. She admits in front of the entire dining hall that it was.
After their a-ha moment, the girls of 407 and their cronies admit that the most recent visitation of Julia Canby was actually their doing, using Andy’s voice and key details from Jane’s study of the diary. Gigi is furious at being tricked. But faced with the hostility of the entire student body, she asks if they’re going to tell PA what she’s done, because if they do, she’ll be expelled. The
school executioners girls of 407 tell her they’ll have to think about it.
This whole scheme is so implausible. What are the odds that Andy would be able to disguise her voice enough that Gigi wouldn’t recognize it? And how likely would Gigi herself be to believe in the ghost of Julia Canby? That would require her to fall for the exact trick she was playing on everyone else. I just don’t buy it. Also, when Gigi is trying to convince everyone that she had nothing to do with Loudspeaker Julia, she says she didn’t know any of the details from the diary, so she couldn’t have mentioned them. But then how did she know to send the nosegay of violets to Jane? Also, why is Agnes not involved at all in this public unmasking? These are the questions that keep me up at night. In the end, the magnanimous girls of 407 decide to extend mercy and not tell PA about Gigi’s misdeeds. Because if they did, who would take over villain duties in this series? Really, they’re thinking of us.
In a surprise to exactly no one, Jane wins the Lit Award. She’s summoned to PA’s house for the news, and PA tells her that her essay, along with Penny’s, drew a clear picture of what had been happening on campus recently, and PA is grateful to the girls for putting an end to it. More abdication of responsibility by the adults in this series. No wonder bullying was a problem in the ’80s! And PA agrees that the guilty party should not be expelled, because “revenge is not an attractive quality in a young woman – or a young man.” ARE YOU SERIOUS? This has nothing to do with revenge. This has to do with actions having consequences, and with protecting the learning environment of innocent, paying students from toxic people. Honestly! PA then praises Jane’s depiction of Julia Canby some more, laying it on eye-rollingly thick. Incidentally, Penny is getting an Honourable Mention, which is a little odd when there were only three candidates in the running for this award in the first place, but I suppose this is part of the universe’s punishment for Gigi. You know, since her school won’t do it.
The girls finish finals and go on a shopping trip to Boston for new dresses for the big dinner, and, oddly for this series, all of that is described in one sentence. No further details. On the big night, the girls are wearing their hot new outfits (Jane’s is trimmed in cream lace at the neckline and at the cuffs of the long full sleeves … I forget, are we in 1887 or 1987?) Jane’s parents, Cary, Matt, and Neal are all there. We end after Jane’s name is announced and she begins to read her award-winning essay to the crowd.
So in summary, allow me to recap my recap and list the similarities between The Ghost of Canby Hall and the 2016 U.S. presidential election:
- The masses refusing to listen to reason
- Andy needing to state the obvious (that there are no ghosts) as Trump objectors needed to state the obvious (that Donald Trump is neither a Christian nor someone who cares about the poor)
- A few courageous voices repeatedly trying to make people listen to reason and the listeners repeatedly refusing
- The gaslighting effect of groupthink
- Formerly intelligent people being willing to believe the insane and unwilling to think about whether they might be wrong
- Followers scoffing at truth and demanding proof of it, but then ignoring said proof
- Gigi’s war on Canby Hall’s sanity as Trump’s war on America’s sanity
- Followers attributing truth-telling to “smugness”
- The perpetrator laughing behind supporters’ backs at their gullibility
- Followers who at any other time would have seen through the nonsense, but in this situation were primed to believe the impossible (with the primer being the ghost sightings in the book and Macedonian fake news in real life)
- Followers not wanting questions because of the desire to keep their idol, Emperor’s New Clothes-style
- When people begin to believe someone like Gigi, or Trump, everyone is really in trouble
So what do you think? Do you agree that Scholastic must have lent their ghostwriter a crystal ball for this one? Or am I just projecting? Let me know, and get ready. Because next up is a real palate cleanser: one of my favourites of the whole series!