Oh Me Oh My, It’s the Start of DIY … or, Canby Hall #26, Help Wanted!

Canby Hall #26 - Help Wanted!

It’s a genuine pleasure to see a cover where all three roommates look amiable and normal instead of prematurely aged or insane.

This was probably one of my two favourite books of the entire series (the other being #28, Happy Birthday, Jane), and at the time I don’t think I knew why I enjoyed this as much as I did. (I did know why I liked Happy Birthday, Jane so much. Because of all the food.) But fast-forward to today, when I’m now a devoted HGTV and DIY blog fan. Rereading this book in the 21st century, it really reminds me of an episode of House Hunters Renovations, what with all the repair mishaps and design considerations and budget-busting. And though in the mid-1980s, home improvement and design was not even slightly part of my world (because I was too busy reading YA novels, obvs) it’s kind of funny to me that perhaps a small kernel of my future obsession was lurking somewhere deep inside my feverish brain, stimulated by material such as this. Also, this book’s storyline is frankly very innovative for a series of this time. I cannot remember a single other novel from my childhood that involved teenagers taking on home renovations. (If anyone out there knows of another such tome, please share it with me – I’d probably love it.)

So because our fifteen-year-old heroines must never go home to spend time with their actual families, we open on the last day of school, when everyone is packing up and getting ready to ship out. Everyone, that is, except the girls of 407 and anyone in their immediate orbit. Toby, Andy, and Jane are staying for the first month of vacation so that they can get summer jobs and earn some money. It is not clear why attempting to find a job for four weeks in sleepy Greenleaf would be higher-yield than going home and looking for jobs that would last the full three months. ANYWAY. Dee and Maggie are also staying, because they have summer jobs in the school library. (Which is being used by … who, exactly?) Penny is staying for a few weeks while her parents are on a cruise. (As if her rich helicopter parents wouldn’t have scheduled a cruise for after the school year so she could join them, rather than missing a month of time with their youngest child.) Cary is staying to work at the Greaf. And housemother Merry will be there to provide the least amount of adult supervision possible, as she will be working in the dean’s office for the summer. The stage is set!

Inside Baker House is a whirlwind of activity. “Addresses and phone numbers” are being exchanged — how adorably quaint! Boxes are being packed and posters are being taken down, making the rooms look like they did at the beginning of the year. I don’t understand this. Don’t half these girls stay in the same rooms throughout their Canby career? I know Maggie started out in Addison House when Dana was in 407, and then got moved to Baker House 409 when the New Girls came along, and Jane used to room with Gigi Norton, but everyone who gets assigned to 407 certainly seems to stay there forever. Will they be taking down their posters once this extra month is over, and then putting them back up in September? These are the things that keep me up at night.

The girls are excited about essentially staying alone at boarding school for a few weeks and “being our own bosses for awhile.” This makes little sense, because the complete absence of effective adult authority at this school means they always seem to be their own bosses. Nevertheless. The roommates (including Andy, who’s described, apropos of nothing, as “a pretty black girl”) all settle down with the newspaper to peruse the want ads. Awww … remember the days before LinkedIn? What’s amazing about this is that they all convinced their parents to let them stay without any of them having an actual job locked down. Anyway, they have difficulty deciphering the classified section lingo, which includes statements such as “WP Op for Mktg firm. Must have Wang exp. Excel pot’l and perks.” Which apparently means a marketing company wants to hire a word processing operator who has Wang experience and they’re offering excellent potential and perks. Did you know a Wang is a type of computer? Well, Jane did, and she might have provided one of its last shout-outs, since at the time of this publication the company had just 5 years left before it would declare bankruptcy. You can thank me for that random fact after your next cocktail party.

The girls also consider an ad for a junior secretary, even though it would involve bookkeeping, because Jane doesn’t think that could be too hard. In an aside, it is explained that Jane’s wealthy upbringing may have had some holes, but it included “such basics as handling large sums of money.” Finally, I’ve figured out where my childhood went wrong! Her main experience with secretaries involves her father’s secretary, who is a man (a detail I love) who types and speaks several languages.

Merry stops by and tells them they’re going about this all wrong. They don’t need jobs with potential, they need temporary jobs. And they can’t be musing about finding the perfect outdoor job for Toby or a job that starts at 11 AM for Jane. They need to take what they can get. Duh! They turn to the temporary job section and find the list of ads to be disappointingly short. Well, what did you fools expect? You’re starting to look for summer jobs on the LAST DAY before summer starts! Toby even mentions that she thought to ask Randy’s dad if he needed help on their ranch, but by the time she asked, he had hired all the hands he needed. What exactly were your summer plans until about three days ago?

Poor advance planning notwithstanding, Toby finds a dogwalker ad she wants to pursue, and Andy finds an ad for an assistant captain at the Greenleaf Inn, the nicest restaurant in town. Because her parents own a not-at-all-similar restaurant, she is positive this is the job for her. The girls eat dinner at the dining hall with Dee, Maggie, and Penny, and Penny notes that she’s going to be taking notes on the events of the next month and writing it up for next year’s literary magazine, because she suspects the summer will be “chock-full of surprises.” FORESHADOWING.

The next day, Andy heads to the Greenleaf Inn interview. She thinks about how she really needs to get this job because her parents weren’t thrilled about her staying an extra month, and then she thinks about how close her family is. If I was her mother, and she was staying at boarding school across the country at the age of 15 for no good reason, I’d start wondering how close we really were. If I had signed off on this plan myself, I’d start wondering why I hated hanging out with my kid so much.

Jane heads to the Greaf for breakfast, where Cary is behind the counter. When she looks at that day’s paper, she complains that there’s nothing new — all the ads are the same as yesterday’s. Cary reasonably points out that this is Greenleaf, not New York or Boston, and there isn’t going to be that much selection. Jane points out that both Andy and Toby are out answering ads right now, and how can Jane be the only one who’s not qualified for anything? Cary thinks to himself that Jane looks too preppy and polished for most summertime work like waiting tables or nannying. But then he points to an ad for an employment agency. Jane’s spirits are lifted as she declares that they’ll have the perfect job for her, and heads off to pay them a visit.

Meanwhile, Toby arrives at the house of the woman advertising for a dogwalker. The woman hands over the leashes of five enormous, vicious-looking canines and tells Toby to start immediately. This can only end well.

Then we cut to Andy, at the Greenleaf Inn. She’s filled out the application, where the only thing she has to include in the “Past Experience” section is baby-sitting and snow shoveling. Oh, and she helped her brother run her parents’ restaurant for two days once when they were sick. The interviewer quickly tells her what we all know, which is that a four-star restaurant (or whatever the Greenleaf Inn is) can’t hire a 15-year-old to run their dining room. Back to square one.

Now we’re back to Jane, who’s sitting in the waiting room of the employment agency. Her application, after name and age, is literally blank. She has no work experience, but she’s not fazed. She’s positive the agency will come up with some wonderful use of her exceptional skills. Alas, Agatha Cadwell, the head of the agency, quickly puts those beliefs to rest. She asks why Jane didn’t use Canby Hall’s student employment service. (Canby Hall has a student employment service?) Jane answers that all those jobs were already taken. Again, how long did the 407 girls wait to make any sort of summer plans? Also, does that mean there are a lot of girls staying on campus for the summer? We’re sort of given the impression that the 407 girls and their cronies are the only ones. But if there are actually a bunch of students still there, wouldn’t the dining hall stay open? Anyway, Cadwell says coolly that Jane’s application is a little short on information (ya think?) and asks what Jane can actually do. Jane responds that she’s a good writer and has good taste in “clothes and decorating and things like that.” Cadwell says skeptically that writing and decorating jobs are a little hard to come by in Greenleaf. You don’t say! She starts looking through a file holder for possible jobs, and mentions a five-week stint soldering wires at an electronics factory 15 miles out of town, and Jane is relieved to be able to say that she only has four weeks available, not five, and that transportation would be a problem. Why, exactly, if she’s staying in town for four extra weeks, can’t she stay for five? And on top of everything else, she needs a job she can walk to? I bet she also wants a job that involves ice cream breaks and an on-site spa. Cadwell goes through a number of other jobs for which Jane isn’t qualified, and Jane eventually gets up and tells Cadwell to call her when she finds something. Cadwell makes it clear that the likelihood of a suitable job turning up lies somewhere between hell freezing over and Pauly Shore finally snagging that elusive Supreme Court position.

Jane is furious as she heads back to the Greaf, but Cary and Andy talk her down and she becomes even more determined to find a job. Then they all wonder how Toby is doing with her dogwalking.

It turns out that Toby is not walking the dogs, the dogs are walking her. They’re horribly ill-behaved and she’s worn out by the time she reaches a park. While there, she bumps into Randy, who helps her play with them for awhile. But when she calls for them to return, only four of them do. The lone maverick, Charlie (why did they have to give him the same name as Andy’s brother, who’s referenced a few pages earlier?) runs away.

Cut back to Baker House, where the other girls are deciding where to have dinner. The dining hall is closed for the summer, which is cause for celebration. Andy suggests splurging at Pizza Pete’s. (Don’t they ever get sick of that place?) Jane says they need to be careful to save their money. Dee snarks that Jane’s allowance would feed all of them for a month. Jane tells them that she asked her parents to stop her allowance once she found a job. The others respect her integrity. Toby then walks in and collapses on her bed. She tells them that after Charlie (The Dog) ran away, Randy took off after him in his pickup and she hurried the other four dogs home, dashing through people’s hedges and gardens, but they lost sight of the jailbreaker. Just when she’d resigned herself to telling her new employer that she’d lost one of her dogs, Toby arrived at the house to find Charlie (The Dog) sitting calmly on the front porch. However, several neighbours had called Charlie (The Dog)’s owner to complain about their yards, so Toby was promptly fired. Sad trombone.

That night, Jane can’t sleep, so she starts looking at job ads again. And lo and behold, she magically spots a new one. It reads “Family traveling in Europe needs reliable firm to prepare Greenleaf house for homecoming – 3 1/2 weeks. Clean-up inside and out, some painting, repair work, and decorating.” Three and a half weeks, how very convenient! Interested parties are supposed to write to one John Higgins at his P.O. box. A phone number isn’t even provided. MY GOODNESS, HOW DID ANYTHING GET DONE BACK THEN.

The next morning at the Greaf, Jane has a surprisingly tough time convincing Andy and Toby to go for this new job. They’re wondering, very reasonably in my opinion, what kind of repair work this will entail and whether their limited skills will be up to the job. Once she does drag them on board her questionable ship, Cary provides the next dose of skepticism. This, naturally, only makes Jane more determined. They decide to call themselves “407, Inc.” and go back to the dorm to work on their letter in response to the ad. Not, though, before going to the pool and then having a picnic. Work ethics be damned!

When they finally get around to pursuing the job they’ve stayed on an abandoned school campus to get, they go to Merry’s room because she has “one of the fanciest electric typewriters in the dorm.” Merry, too, has her doubts about this job, because she is a functioning human being. Jane is getting sick of all the haterz and starts quoting headmistress PA’s various speeches about the importance of promoting independence. What that has to do with taking someone else’s money for a job you can’t do, I don’t know. Anyway, they eventually get the letter written (with not one but two breaks for lemonade) and Jane encloses photographs of her bedroom and dining room at home, because she helped decorate them. I don’t know what I would do if I was John Higgins and I received this impressive application, but it would probably not involve a return phone call.

The next day, the roommates have to take shifts sitting by the 407 phone in case John Higgins calls. Again: life was hard back then! But Higgsy doesn’t call. He waits until the following day, when no one is sitting by the phone, because they’re all sleeping in. Andy and Jane are exhausted from various social events the night before, and Toby is tired from having stayed up late comparing Texas and Georgia with Penny. Really? After knowing each other several months this is still a major topic of conversation? Anyway, Higgins sets up an interview with Jane.

The following day at the Greaf, Andy and Toby are a bundle of nerves while they wait for Jane to finish her interview. Andy worries that they won’t have other options if they don’t get this job, and Toby mentions that she’s been continuing to check the want ads. She hasn’t told Jane, though, because Jane would “think I was going behind her back or something, and she’d get mad.” How irrational is that? Methinks Ms. English Lit Award-winning Barrett isn’t as mature and sensible as she thinks she is. Randy comes in and joins them in their wait, and Cary is working behind the counter. So they’re all there when Jane arrives and, after drawing out the suspense for a few minutes, gives them the good news: they’ve been hired.

It turns out that John Higgins is the cousin of the homeowner, Ms. Browen. He’d been trying to get a large company to do the job for weeks, but they were all booked up. The job will involve cleaning the house inside and out, shampooing rugs, painting the living room, repairing outside steps, and decorating a sunroom. (Why would a family want someone else to decorate a room in their house with zero input from them?) Oh, and they’re going to be paid three thousand dollars. The girls and guys absolutely lose their marbles over this sum, but that figure is supposed to cover their expenses, too. When you subtract the cost of paint, furniture, lumber, a rug cleaner, etc. from three thousand, it doesn’t seem like there would be that much left, especially not when split three ways, but I guess we’ll just have to believe prices back then were significantly lower than we remember.

They go out to the house to have a look. It turns out that Jane accepted the job without ever actually seeing the house, but naturally she doesn’t think that’s a problem. The house is beautiful but gigantic and somewhat neglected, and the others realize this is going to be a pretty big job. Conveniently, Higgins has gone out of town and won’t be back for two weeks. Jane remains on cloud nine.

The next morning, they arrive at the house for their first day of work and decide on their plan of attack. Andy notes that she never thought she’d hear Jane Barrett talk about washing curtains. Jane says she’s learned a lot through having to do her own laundry at Canby Hall. Again, they do their own laundry! What was that nonsense about having to take over for laundry workers during the staff strike?

Anyway, they decide to start on the yard, which is huge. They spend an hour lugging fallen tree branches from the backyard to the driveway. Midway through the morning, who pulls up but headmistress PA. Turns out she’s friends with the Browens, and wonders what Jane is doing at their house while they’re overseas. Jane tells her about their new job, and PA is the next person to raise their eyebrows and comment that it’s going to be quite a job. This does not please Queen Jane. PA then says that she was planning to invite all the girls who had remained at Canby Hall to her house for tea, but that the 407 girls might be too busy. Jane assures her that their work schedule allows for “plenty of free time.” PA’s eyebrows race towards her hairline once again. She then casually mentions that they can’t leave all those broken branches in the front yard. Unless they arrange for private disposal, 407, Inc. will be fined. PA then exits smoothly stage left. The girls stare at each other for a few minutes, then spend the next hour dragging all the branches back to the backyard under the broiling sun.

They go to the Greaf for lunch, where they meet up with Dee, Maggie and Penny. (Dee and Maggie come into town for lunch from their jobs? Wouldn’t they just pack a brown bag?) The 407 girls look terrible after all their manual labour, and Penny offers her help if they ever need it. Andy and Toby talk wistfully about how great a swim would be, and Jane informs them that there’s no need to be wistful, as they will not be working from dawn to dusk, and they’ll quit work when everyone else does. Which is apparently 2:30 PM.

Only Jane goes swimming, though, because Toby decides to go horseback riding and Andy gets a call from Matt, who, like any sensible high-schooler, is back in Philadelphia for the summer with his family. He tells her he’s coming to town for a visit soon, and also that he went to see the ballet (I’m having a hard time picturing most male tenth-graders doing this) which inspires Andy to go practice her dancing.

The next morning, Toby awakes to find that she’s turned into a lobster. More specifically, she is horrendously sunburned. Andy is in severe pain from all the branch-lifting and dancing. Jane has pulled a muscle in her back. Turns out hard work is hard, y’all!

It’s raining, so they decide to tackle indoor duties today. Toby is in charge of shampooing the rugs. Randy drives the shampooer from the store to the house for them. What would they do without this overgrown pedophile weirdo and his wheels at their beck and call? Jane and Andy start emptying the enclosed sun porch. They plan to start carrying boxes to the garage, but they discover that each one is as heavy as a ton of bricks. Because each one actually contains a ton of bricks. In the midst of this thankless task, they hear an ominous sound. They run upstairs to find Toby being attacked by a malfunctioning rug shampooer which has covered her from head to toe in bluish foam. Andy pulls the plug and they clean the machine, but when they turn it back on, it’s dead. The task of rug shampooing moves to the bottom of the list.

Penny then shows up with a picnic lunch, which they all take an hour or two to enjoy. Penny then offers to help, which is the sign of an amazing friend if you ask me. She’s having a relaxing summer and offers to help for no money and really no benefit to herself at all? Lock that shizz down, I tell you. Andy and Toby are of the same mind as I, and they thank her and are about to accept, but snooty Jane just has to get on a high horse because she’s determined to prove that they can do this job themselves. She asks what would happen if Penny broke something or made a mistake. Toby and Andy correctly point out that the three of them are just as likely to make a mistake as Penny is. Penny herself is about to back out when Jane comes to her senses and accepts her help. This is the moment when the tone of the book starts to change, from “Whee, look at our fun summer job!” to “This nightmare will never end, and when it does, it won’t end well.” The last line of this chapter is the forbidding “but none of them, not even Jane, had any idea of just how long and hard the work would turn out to be.” Why “not even” Jane? It has already been established that Jane would be the least likely to see how much work this job is really going to be.

The next chapter opens with a letter from Jane to her parents, asking for a catalogue from their decorating company, because she can’t find what she wants for the Browens’ sun room at any store in Greenleaf. Expensive tastes can’t be satiated with the offerings available in a small village? You don’t say! She then heads to the post office, where she bumps into PA, who asks how things are going at the house. Jane wishes, not for the first time, that PA wasn’t besties with the Browens. PA also asks if Jane is sure she and her roommates will be able to attend her super-special tea party. Distracted, Jane answers yes. After ordering paint, she then heads to the house. She can’t see anyone at first, but eventually finds everyone congregated nervously on the back deck, gaping down at Andy stuck in the middle of the staircase leading up to it. Turns out one of the deck steps finally rotted through, catching Andy’s leg in the middle of the hole. Every time she tries to pull it out, large splinters slide into her calf. It is now obvious that all the steps are in bad shape and that the entire staircase will need to be rebuilt.

Eventually Andy manages to wrap her leg in a scarf and pry away the wood. She limps gingerly up to the deck (why is everyone acting like that’s such a safe place to be if the staircase is in such bad condition?) and they all examine her leg, which is a bit of a mess. Nevertheless, while Jane goes to look for medicine in the Browens’ cabinets, Andy and Toby admit to themselves that they may have bitten off more than they can chew with this job, and agree that they have no choice but to keep working.

Over the next few days, the yard finally gets cleared, weeded, and mowed, and the branches are hauled away, which costs more than they expected. (Welcome to the world of homeownership, my friends. At this point, my husband and I regularly expect bills to be approximately forty-four thousand times what we’ve budgeted.) Jane orders the lumber for the new staircase, with Randy and Cary’s advice. The roommates then gather to paint the living room, which is hunter green so is naturally going to take several coats. Jane’s in a bad mood because she’s starting to realize what a huge job this is. Toby’s in a bad mood because she’s coming down with a cold. Andy’s in a bad mood because her leg hurts and because Matt is coming to town the following day. She wants to take the day off to hang out with him, but she knows how much work they have left and she doesn’t want to feel guilty. Just as they get started, Dee, Maggie, Penny and Cary show up in painting clothes and carrying a tape recorder. Turns out, Penny has shamed them all into coming to help on their day off (or, as Cary dryly puts it, “risk being sneered at for the rest of my life.”) THESE ARE SERIOUSLY AWESOME FRIENDS. They have a painting party and things start to look up. They get two walls and a ceiling done (who paints the ceiling hunter green?) but things start to look down again when Toby discovers that she’s lost her voice. Then things take the downhill express exit ramp when Cary invites Jane to take the next day off and visit his family in Boston. Jane, as per her usual M.O., completely goes off the deep end. She yells at him that he knows how much work they have left to do, that he never misses a chance to mention it, and accuses him of trying to make it harder for them to finish on time than it already is. Cary points out that she’s the one always saying everything is under control, and that if a day off is going to make everything fall apart, then the job was never under control in the first place. Unable to respond to this display of logic, Jane runs off. Cary, the boyfriend who willingly came to help with her summer job on a day off from his, leaves. (The house, not Jane, though I can’t imagine why he doesn’t ditch her too. Especially not after the events of the next few books, but I digress.) The painting party is ruined.

The next morning, Jane sees Andy getting ready to meet Matt’s train, and mentions that she hopes Matt won’t mind hanging out at the house watching them work. Andy breaks the news that Matt won’t be watching them work, because Andy won’t be coming to work that day. Jane gets upset. Andy gets upset. Jane lets slip that she fought with Cary over the exact same thing. Andy echoes Cary’s words when she says that if no one can take any time off, then things aren’t under control. Jane refuses to admit this, and says they just have to work harder. Andy says out loud for the first time that she thinks they’re in trouble with this job. After she leaves, Jane looks at the catalogue that arrived from her parents’ decorating company. The prices, natch, are astronomical. She also looks at the invitation to PA’s tea and realizes there’s no way they can go. Realizing that they have just ten days before the Browens return, she finally admits to herself that they might not be able to get the job done. (Uh, just getting the sun porch furniture delivered could take months. NOT THAT I KNOW FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OR ANYTHING.)

After Jane leaves to shower, Toby opens her eyes. Turns out she heard her roommates’ entire exchange. Plus, now she’s really sick. Jane, when she returns, is alarmed by Toby’s physical appearance and goes to get Merry, who agrees that our Texan friend has a fever and probably strep throat. Merry walks Toby over to the infirmary. Toby keeps whispering that she can’t be sick, because they have too much work to do. Toby is also worried that they’re too far behind to catch up. Jane is now headed to the house alone.

Andy meets Matt at the train station and they have breakfast at the Greaf. Andy spills the whole sordid saga of the house, the mishaps, and the fights with Jane to Matt. They then start discussing how they should spend their day. Andy somehow starts to feel guilty about her argument with Jane that morning, wishing she could go back and “be the kind of best friend Jane deserved.” As an objective reader, it seems to me that the kind of best friend Jane deserves is one who will knock her upside the head, but apparently I’m missing some subtext here. Matt, being an extremely lovely boyfriend, suggests that they spend his sole day in Greenleaf working at the house.

Over at said house, a depressed Jane is painting by herself. Our Boston blueblood feels grungy and promises herself that if this is ever over, she’ll never put on an old pair of jeans again. Meaning … she’ll buy a new pair every day? She’s just about to pour some more paint into her tray when she hears a dripping sound. Then several dripping sounds. Then a loud crash.

Searching her way through the house, she finds that a chunk of ceiling has fallen onto the washing machine, and water is cascading from the ceiling hole onto the laundry room floor. Jane runs upstairs and finds that one of the bathroom floors is flooded. She figures a pipe has burst somewhere in a wall, and she is probably the least-qualified student at Canby Hall to deal with this. Don’t take my word for it; our ghostwriter states “Jane’s experience with plumbing was limited to turning on a faucet and watching the water come out.” Ha! I poke fun because my plumbing expertise is hardly much better. In any case, she wracks her brain for a solution and figures out that she should turn off the house’s water supply in the basement, which she does.

She goes to see Mr. Higgins, who, it turns out, is none too happy with the progress they’ve made so far. He got back into town the night before and went out to the house to check up on how things were going, and was dismayed when it turned out that a bunch of 15-year-olds hadn’t actually gotten that far. “I took a chance when I hired you and your friends,” he tells her. “I knew it was risky, but I did it anyway. Please don’t make me regret my decision.” WHOSE FAULT IS THIS REALLY, HIGGINS??

Jane convinces him that they’ll get the job done well and on time, even though she’s not sure that’s even possible anymore. He tells her to call the plumbers and repair people for the ceiling and have them send their bills to him. I cannot believe anyone would trust a random teenager to get multiple quotes and compare prices on work of this nature. I also can’t believe anyone, teenager or not, could get plumbing and plasterwork quoted and completed in ten days. Again, totally not speaking from experience.

Back at Baker House, Toby is in bed when Andy comes in to change before taking Matt over to the house. Toby relays the news that she has strep throat and Andy tells her that 407, Inc. needs to sit down and talk this thing out. Their team spirit comes inching back. “It was true,” Toby thinks to herself, “when they stuck together, they were hard to beat.” Oh really, Tobes? Can you give me some examples? “Look at how they’d helped keep the school from closing that time the workers went on strike” — OK, that’s one — “and how they were always there for each other when things went wrong.” Poor Toby couldn’t think of a second example, I guess. Nevertheless.

A few hours later, Merry finds Jane in front of the Baker House hall phone, frustrated because three plumbers didn’t answer her calls and the fourth was booked up for three months. Jane spills her guts to Merry, admitting that they’re in trouble with this job and that they may not even be able to get the non-emergency stuff done in time. Merry tells her that the 407 cult friendship is too strong for something like this to damage it. (I think the Browens might be more concerned about their house than the Canby girls and their precious friendships. Just putting that out there.) Then Merry suddenly remembers an angel she happens to know named Bob Haskins, who’s a handyman, plumber, and plasterwork master. He also has a son who does carpentry. You know, for things like … new staircases. (Why didn’t Higgins just hire the Haskins family in the first place?)

When Jane gets back to the house, Penny is there waiting to help, and Andy and Matt soon show up too. Now things get moving. They finish half the living room’s second coat of paint, they clean up the bathroom and laundry room, and the magical Bob Haskins has located the broken pipe and agreed to fix it. That evening, the 407 girls and Dee, Maggie and Penny have a powwow in which they agree to pay Bob and his son to do most of their work for them, which will get them off the hook with Higgins but will mean they make much less money than they expected to. Come ON. Is $3,000 enough to cover all that labor on top of all their other expenses? What was the point of staying this extra month, then? Also, I just realized, are they staying in Baker House for free this month? There is absolutely no way a school would allow students to stay in one of its dorms without paying room and board. So if they’re paying to stay, wouldn’t they actually have been losing money on this summer job even if it had gone well? Will any of these girls be majoring in economics in college?

The next day, Andy paints the living room, Bob works on the plumbing, his son Ron and two of Ron’s friends (who I assume ALSO need to be paid?) start building the staircase, and Jane continues clearing out the sun porch. As she carries broken pieces of chairs up to the attic (why would this family be storing broken chairs in their sun porch, I ask?) she feels someone steady the pull-down staircase. It’s Cary, back from Boston. They make up. And Cary keeps volunteering. So do Penny, Randy, Maggie and Dee. These people are saints, I tell you.

Ron and Co. finish the staircase and shampoo all the rugs. Bob fixes the broken pipe and re-plasters the laundry room ceiling. The windows are washed, the cleaned curtains are hung back up, the furniture is dusted and polished, the lawn is mowed twice more, weeds are pulled again, and the living room painting is completed. The sun porch is also emptied and painted. Just as the 407 girls are standing in the middle of it lamenting how empty it is, the doorbell rings. It’s a delivery truck from Jane’s parents’ decorating company in Boston, and it starts unloading gobs of gorgeous furniture. Once the room is fully assembled, it’s the prettiest one in the house. Toby and Andy demand to know how Jane did this. It turns out she spent her share of the money on the furniture. THAT came out of the $3,000 too? I’m calling foul! There is absolutely no way! Toby and Andy refuse to allow Jane to shoulder the entire cost and insist on splitting it three ways. Jane makes the final expense calculations, and shows the resulting number to her roommates. “407, Inc. had made a profit, but just barely.” THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY.

The book ends with Toby musing that they should have named their pseudo-company “Team 407,” and with the roommates cheesily realizing that “they were rich – not in money, but in friendship.” Can your tuition fees be paid in friendship? Inquiring minds want to know.

Next up: we’re headed to Texas, y’all, and Jane exhibits her early proclivity for infidelity once again! Yee-haw!






7 responses »

  1. Love it when I check your website and a new book review has posted! Thanks so much for sharing! (Haha, I still have my whole set of Canby Hall books too!!)

    • Thanks for reading Angie! It is so fun to find other closet Canby fans out there! Personally I’m debating what to do with my Canby collection once I’m done with this project. Display them in a custom mahogany cabinet in our front hall? So far my husband is not on board with this plan. I’ll keep working on him.

  2. I consulted an online inflation calculator, and $3000 (USD) in 1988 translates to $6,207.59 (USD) in 2017 dollars. Thinking in terms of today’s prices, I think the 407 girls could conceivably have paid for the supplies, the sunroom furniture, and branch disposal fee and even some labour and still had *some* money left out of $6200, but really the contracted amount was way too low and exploitative. No contractor worth his salt would have taken that contract, because he’d have estimated the costs and hours of labour required and said forget it.

    In your recap you ask who’d want their sunroom decorated for them. I can tell you, having taken courses in interior decorating, that one of my instructors told the class that sometimes clients will essentially hand over their credit card and tell the designer to have their house decorated by the time they get back from the Riviera or wherever. She didn’t like clients like that because it was too stressful to decorate an entire house without any direction from the client — what if they didn’t like the result? — but it does happen.

    I agree that the whole premise of the book is ludicrous. It makes no sense at all that the girls would stay at Canby Hall for an extra month to get minimum wage jobs that they didn’t even start looking for until the day after school let out when the job market in question is a little village and they’d have to pay room and board out of whatever they made. Jane *might* do it for the novelty of it, given that her family lives so nearby that she can see them more often, but it wouldn’t make any financial sense for Andy and Toby to do it, and on top of that their families could probably use their help in the restaurant (where the employees would want to take vacations and need someone to cover for them) and on the ranch (where summer is the busy season).

    Seriously, go home for a change, chickadees. You might actually like it.

    • Haha! I know there are people out there who give carte blanche to their interior decorators (I know I can’t stand when mine bugs me during MY Riviera vacations) so what I should have said was, who’d want a bunch of *high schoolers* decorating their home without any direction? But then, the Browens didn’t KNOW Cousin Higgsy had entrusted their mansion to this underage motley crew, so I guess the moral of this story is that those people need new cousins.

      And gosh, $6200 still seems really low to cover all these expenses to me. My husband and I recently bought our first detached home, which means for the first time in our entire lives we are aware of the cost of actual (not hand-me-down) furniture, and I think you could easily spend that much on sunroom furniture alone. I mean, not that I would, but it sure seems possible, especially if the prices in Jane’s parents’ hoity-toity catalogue are described as “sky-high.” Are we to believe that Jane haggled herself a good deal? What’s next for these girls, marrying into royalty? Off-Broadway stardom? Joint nannying? Um …

  3. Pingback: The Not-So-Lone Star State … or, Canby Hall #27, The Roommate and the Cowboy | The Girls of Canby Hall ... Revisited

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