Author Archives: muchmorewherethatcamefrom

Lone Star, Not-So-Lone Jane … or, Canby Hall #27, The Roommate and the Cowboy

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Canby Hall #27 - The Roommate and the Cowboy

The guy on this cover looks 45, not 17, and he’s supposed to be the love interest of a high school junior (insert Roy Moore joke here). At least Andy and Jane’s outfits are accurate.

The vast majority of my large extended family lives in various parts of Texas, so over the past 25 years or so I have made many trips there. In fact, so far the only plane trips my children have ever taken have all been to Texas. (Note to self: must rectify that immediately.) But I originally read this book before anyone in my family had moved there, which meant that this single piece of writing directly established my inner vision of the Lone Star State: hot, dusty, wide-open spaces with huge ranches populated mostly by rattlesnakes and the occasional rodeo-riding human. Imagine my surprise when my cousins took me through a Whataburger drive-through in Houston, to the beach in Corpus Christi, and clubbing in Austin. (The hot and dusty part was generally accurate, though.) Where were the horseback-riding ranchers of few words but deep thoughts? Oh, for that, I’d have to reread this book. And unfortunately for you, I’m dragging you along with me like an ’80s road trip in the backseat with no iPads. You’re welcome!

We open with Toby at home on summer break, doing what she’s been longing to do all school year —  ride on her beloved horse Max — but somehow still bored and restless. Next we see Jane at home in her mansion in Boston, equally bored and restless. We then cut to Andy waitressing at her parents’ restaurant in Chicago, too busy dealing with obnoxious customers to be bored, but missing Canby Hall all the same. Back in tiny Rio Verde, Texas, Mr. Houston is worried about Toby. He can tell she’s moping around and that the solitude of the ranch, which she’s always loved, is no longer quite enough for her. He suggests inviting her roommates to come see Texas. Toby is thrilled and rushes to call them. Andy is excited by the idea, but feels guilty about leaving home again when her parents are expecting her to be around for another month and a half. “So what’s two weeks?” Toby cajoles. Two weeks? Why on earth do they need to visit for so long? A three-day weekend would be plenty! This is especially egregious considering that these girls are teenagers in boarding school who already don’t see their families for most of the year and who just spent an extra month staying behind at school so they could make far less money than they would have elsewhere. As a parent, I would find the suggestion that my daughter leave again for so long, and for no good reason, rather hurtful. Also, ridiculous. But Andy’s parents, though sad about her taking off again, are actually sadder at the thought of the three Musketeers missing one of their trio (which I think we can all agree makes absolutely perfect sense), so they agree to the trip. Jane immediately agrees to the adventure with no angst whatsoever, and no mention is made of her family’s reaction, so we can assume they weren’t planning on hanging out with her over the summer anyway.

Sooner in the book than you’d expect, Toby and her dad are at the Lubbock airport picking up Jane and Andy. On their way home, they stop at a restaurant and eat chicken-fried steak and fried okra. This is how Jane and Andy know they’re really in Texas now. It takes several hours to get from the airport to Rio Verde, dimming Jane’s hopes for a few shopping runs into the city of Lubbock. Can someone from Boston really be excited about the shopping in Lubbock? Jane sees bushes out the window and asks what they are. Inexplicably, Mr. Houston tells her they’re marshmallow bushes, which she falls for, until Toby gently tells her they’re cotton bushes. I do not understand this exchange. Toby’s dad seems like a nice guy, and making fun of your teenaged guest does not seem like a super-polite welcome, but any time something happens in this book that doesn’t make sense, the explanation is usually TEXAS. Jane sees an outcropping of buildings that she assumes is the outskirts of Rio Verde, then realizes, as they blow by, that that was Rio Verde. This doesn’t bode well for the next two weeks. (TWO WEEKS!!!)

They finally reach the Houston homestead, a large white farmhouse whose lawn is “the only green for miles.” (See what I mean about their depiction of Texas?) Inside, Andy looks at the gun cabinet and asks, “Do you really shoot these?” Mr. Houston answers in the affirmative, because it “would never occur to him to keep a bunch of guns around just for show.” Thirty years ago you probably could own guns in America and still be a normal, non-extremist sort of person, but in the current political climate I think that’s no longer possible.

They get settled into Toby’s mom’s old attic sewing room, where the three of them will stay. You know, throughout this entire book, they never once mention seeing Toby’s own room. Perhaps it slipped their minds. They run downstairs for dinner, startling Mr. Houston with their noise, and they meet Abe, the Houstons’ foreman who helps cook and basically has always been a part of the family. After dinner, the girls clean up and get into a soap suds fight, prompting Mr. Houston to ask them to keep it down. These big-city girls are gonna take some getting used to.

The next morning Toby takes her roommates on a tour of the ranch in the family Jeep. They are both amazed at Toby’s ability to know where she is despite the absence of significant landmarks. Throughout the morning, Andy is super-interested and enthusiastic, while Jane is tired from getting up early, hates the heat, and doesn’t like being bounced around in the front seat. This will set the pattern for the next two weeks. (TWO WEEKS!!!) For someone who was supposedly raised to place a lot of importance on etiquette, Jane is a remarkably ill-mannered guest.

Back at the house, they look at old photo albums and laugh at a picture of a toddler Toby dressed up as Annie Oakley, but no mention is made of any pictures of her mother. Wouldn’t you be curious to see your best friend’s deceased parent? Instead, Jane laments what the Texas air is doing to her hair.

After lunch, they head to the ranch’s swimming hole. Toby fearlessly uses the rope swing to jump into the water and Andy follows suit, but the water’s too murky and too full of possible killer insects for Jane. She pretends her foot got cut by something as an excuse to sit on the ground in the heat while the other two have fun. Her thoughts: “She felt something crawling on her stomach and stifled another scream. It was a trickle of sweat. She wiped it away in disgust. This was an awful place. Why would anyone want to live here?”

It’s your first day being hosted by your friend’s family, Jane. Nice.

Finally she can’t bear the heat any longer and decides to take just a quick dip. Unfortunately, halfway in, she brushes against something that turns out to be a snake. Screaming, she runs out of the water and smack into a cowboy. This is our introduction to Beau Stockton, Toby’s arrogant, Texas-loving neighbour. He tells Jane not to be embarrassed, because “lots of women go weak in the knees around me,” and that little water snakes are indeed dangerous, because they cause heart attacks in cowardly Yankees. Toby comes out of the water and we get the following charming exchange:

“‘Whoowee, you sure have grown up and filled out some,’ he said looking her over, closely scrutinizing the one-piece swimsuit that set off her nicely curved figure.”

This. This is the kind of language we were fed as children, the kind of male behaviour we were told was normal, the kind of societal shaping to which we were made to conform. It is quite telling that, despite being a child whose parents always placed their value on my brain and not my looks, I still saw nothing wrong with this sentence. And now, as an educated adult, I see so clearly how disgusting it is that this boy “looks her over” and “closely scrutinizes” her figure, which we are told is pleasing. You have NO RIGHT, Beau Stockton. You have no right to examine her body, and it does not matter one iota how nice or not nice her figure is. That is irrelevant information. And these books were written by women! Is it any wonder we have centuries of damage to undo?

Rant over, for now. So Toby introduces her roommates to Beau, whose family is the Houstons’ closest neighbour. Jane can’t believe people really name their kids Beau in Texas. He bristles and says Jane couldn’t possibly understand the importance of family names, being a Yankee. That’s all Jane needs to go off on how her family arrived on the Mayflower and participated in the American Revolution and basically started the entire country, #nobiggie. As they part ways, Beau calls Toby by her full name, October, just to get under her skin. She in turn calls him “Beauregard.” Is that really the full form of Beau? Oh great, I’m Googling it now and it turns out that General P.G.T. Beauregard was the person who championed the use of the same Confederate flag that still dogs the outskirts of civil society today. Not linking to him, thank you very much.

The next morning Toby wakes them up at 5 AM to go out to the north pasture and see cattle with Abe. Jane says she can’t “handle another whole day in the wilderness right now” and tells the other two to go without her. What did you think this trip was going to be like, Jane? Tea parties at the Rio Verde Ritz-Carlton? Toby, Andy and Abe go to see the huge cows, and Andy, being a pleasant person and good guest, has fun.

Back at the house, Jane wakes up mid-morning to find the house empty. She is quickly bored. After wandering around the house aimlessly for a few hours, she moves her wandering outside. Suddenly she hears a thundering behind her, which turns out to be Beau Stockton riding up on his horse. They have a halfway normal conversation in which Beau actually appears to be semi-human. Turns out he’s going to be a senior in high school and is thinking about going to Texas Tech for college, or maybe all the way over to the other side of the world, which is Austin. He offers her a ride back, which she declines, and he cautions her to watch out for rattlesnakes, because “they’d just love to sink their teeth into those nice, firm calves of yours.”

I just hate this guy. Want me to pontificate on the qualities of your body, you turd?

Jane, naturally, changes her mind and he swings her up onto his horse. He brags that he’ll be riding at the rodeo the following week and that he’s even better at dancing. He tells her there’s going to be a big barn dance following the rodeo and that he might even ask her to dance, “providing you know how.” What a Romeo! It’s only after he drops her off that Jane remembers Cary. HER BOYFRIEND. Man, that rocker is so inconvenient.

That night the roommates are in their room talking, and Jane mentions that she ran into Beau. Toby tells her it’s kind of difficult to “run into” anyone around there, given that it’s a 30-minute ride between their ranches. Jane suggests that maybe he came by to see Toby, and Toby doubts this, given that the only reason Beau ever came by to see her growing up was when his brothers weren’t around and there was no one else he could irritate. Ha! Jane asks about this big dance Beau was talking about, and dance-lover Andy is immediately interested. They decide to go shopping for barn dance-appropriate outfits the next day.

The following morning, they find themselves in the cluttered Rio Verde general store. Toby leads them to the racks of clothing and asks what Jane thinks, to which Jane classily wrinkles her nose and says, “I think I’ll stay home.” Andy, of course, easily finds a pair of jeans and a yellow button-down shirt with roses that she likes, tries them on, and is happy with the outfit. Jane, on the other hand, literally makes faces at every item Toby holds up. She finally grabs some jeans and a shirt and tries them on, but of course has to be a Negative Nellie about the whole thing, thinking “She looked stupid. The jeans were too tight and flared out at the bottom to allow for boots.” I believe those are called … bootcut? When she comes out of the dressing room with her complaints, she hears a voice say, “I wouldn’t change a thing, Boston.” Up pops that jerk Beau again, like a bad penny! Toby gives her a different size shirt to try on, and Beau calls after her, “I like that one you have on,” to which Jane replies, “Why don’t you see if they have it in your size.” Love it. Jane, of course, doesn’t like this blouse either, and decides that nothing’s going to work so she’ll either wear something she already has or stay home. Great guest you are, Miss Upper Crust. Before they leave, the store owner mentions that Beau’s a crazy rodeo rider and is going to get his neck “broke” one of these days. Jane muses that one can always hope.

By Day 5 of their two-week trip (TWO WEEKS!!!) the girls are running out of things to do. Toby wishes she could think of more activities, and doesn’t understand why it’s so hard to keep them (read: Jane) entertained, as Toby has lived on the ranch all her life and always found plenty to do. She decides to take them to an old Native American (though they call it Indian, of course, despite the glaring absence of garam masala) battleground on the property to look for arrowheads. Andy finds a small one, and Jane’s interest is immediately piqued. As someone who grew up around historical markers in Boston, this is right up her alley. Eager to find a genuine arrowhead to show her family back home, she eventually finds something even better: a rare spearhead. For the first time this trip, Jane is excited and Toby is happy.

That night they have a campout, and Grumpy Jane is back. The smoke from the campfire keeps following her. They’re too far from the house. Toby’s ghost story is freaking her out. The cot is too uncomfortable. The next day, Jane, having hardly slept at all, is predictably exhausted. Toby suggests an early night, so they head up to their room, where Andy finds a scrapbook. In it is a photo of Toby’s first-grade class, and both Andy and Jane note the teacher’s uncanny resemblance to George Washington. Unfortunately for them, Mrs. McKee was Toby’s favourite teacher, so Toby must defend her honour. They get into a pillow fight, which ends with them knocking over a lamp with a crash. Mr. Houston throws open the door and asks what’s going on. Toby goes out to talk to him, and asks if he’s really that upset about them breaking such an old and ugly lamp. Her dad tells her that it’s actually a souvenir from his honeymoon with her mom. She feels terrible.

Her roommates feel the same, so after they clean up the mess, they want to do something to make it up to him. They decide to cook and serve a candlelit dinner the following evening.

The next morning Mr. Houston is out repairing fence posts and feeling bad about getting so upset. The girls drive out to meet him and tell him of their dinner plans, and he knows it’s their way of apologizing. They check out the house’s pantry to decide on a menu. The freezer holds ribs, so barbecued ribs it will be. Andy asks if they have any cookbooks, and Toby finds one, but it’s missing a significant number of relevant pages. Will this be a problem? No! Andy will just mimic what she’s seen her mom do. You know, this is a recurring theme with Andy. She always thinks she can do anything restaurant-related just because she’s watched her parents do it, like apply for a job running a 4-star restaurant at the age of 15. Also, remember when we were dependent on cookbooks? I always say that, as awful as the Internet can be, one of the most wonderful things it has given us is the ability to type in a random string of ingredients and come up with a recipe for dinner.

They head into Rio Verde to pick up supplies. The ingredients available are not quite what Andy is used to back in Chicago, but they make do with substitutes. (This will definitely end well.) Back at the house, Andy kneads dough for homemade bread and makes an apple pie. In her haste, she accidentally grabs chili powder instead of cinnamon and carefully mixes it in. I feel like that detail should have been saved for later instead of giving us readers the ending right away, but I guess that’s why no one ever asked ME to ghostwrite for this series. The pie bakes up beautifully. Once the bread is in the oven, Andy and Toby decide to try to glue the pieces of the broken lamp back together as a gift for Mr. Houston. The one thing, the only thing, that they ask Jane to do is watch the bread.

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But Jane with her flea-like attention span gets hot, again, so she decides to meander outside in search of a breeze, and who should gallop up but that red-hot hunk of sexism, Beau. They engage in their usual Boston-Texas banter and Jane gets Beau to admit that he’s never been farther east than Dallas. What is it about some Texans that they feel superior when they’ve never actually seen anyplace else? They’re so engrossed in their nauseating flirtations that Andy and Toby, after semi-successfully gluing the lamp back together, eventually smell burning bread. They dash down to the kitchen to find that both loaves are completely charred and unsalvageable. They go looking for Jane, who they see in the distance walking with Beau. Homemade bread is scratched off the dinner menu. Amazingly, Jane is not scratched off the 407 occupant roster.

The Houstons’ oven is hotter than Andy’s family’s oven, so the barbecue sauce is scorched when she pulls the ribs out. Despairing, she wonders if anything will be edible. Jane and Toby try to comfort her by saying that everything will taste better than it looks, and that they’ve still got baked potatoes which are hard to mess up, and amazingly these sentiments don’t go over well. But they manage to calm Andy down and get their candlelight dinner on the table. Seeing everything arranged, Andy feels proud. This is the first complete meal she’s ever made without her family’s help. But … then people start eating.

The rib meat is too tough to chew. The barbecue sauce is too clumpy to spread. The middles of the baked potatoes are raw. Everyone takes second helpings of the green beans, which are the only item fit for consumption. When the camera-worthy pie is brought out, the still-hungry people at the table all ask for big pieces. But the final disaster strikes when they take their first bites and realize that it tastes like “a cross between apple pie and an enchilada.” Andy bursts into tears and runs out to the back porch.

Her roommates follow her and try to make her feel better, but she just wants to be alone. Back in the kitchen, Mr. Houston and Abe are making peanut butter sandwiches, and Toby and Jane join in. Once Andy has calmed down, she decides to go back inside to help clean up. But when she sees everyone laughing and eating PB&J, she bursts into fresh tears and runs off into the night.

It’s late that evening before anyone notices that Andy is nowhere to be found. After checking the house and the immediate yard, Mr. Houston and Abe decide to go out in the Jeep looking for her and tell Toby and Jane to stay back at the house — more to keep Jane safe than anything else. The girls are frightened for their friend, but Toby muses that it’s much better to have levelheaded Andy out there than Jane, and Jane herself thinks that if she was the one who was lost, they would find her body the next day, long dead from a heart attack.

Andy is indeed lost, near an outcropping of rocks that she thought would point her back to the house but which does not. She climbs to the top of the rocks, trying to find some light or sign of human life, but slips, falling to the ground and scraping her leg hard in the process. (Andy’s always injuring her leg, too!) Just then, she hears a coyote howl. Meanwhile, Mr. Houston and Abe have had no luck finding her and decide to turn back. Andy thinks she hears a motor, but it fades away.

Back at the house, the men tell the girls that it’s too dark and they’ll have to wait until morning to continue looking. Toby, horrified, says they can’t leave Andy outside all night. When Toby was thrown by Maxine into a snowdrift after her fight with Merry, she would have died if Randy hadn’t found her. Mr. Houston knows she’s right and goes to call the Stocktons to help with the search. The men go back out and Toby heads out on Max. Jane waits at the house, where lo and behold, Beau shows up again. That guy should just move in! He tells Jane that when he heard one of the visitors was lost, he was afraid it was her. Jane gets on his horse with him and they go off searching too.

Meanwhile, Andy is slapping at mosquitoes and nursing her throbbing leg when she hears a rattling. There’s a rattlesnake nearby, and she can’t see where it is.

The searchers come back to the house to grab something to eat. Jane starts to cry and Beau takes her into his arms. Toby’s only reaction is that she envies Jane for having someone to comfort her. If Toby has known Beau all her life, wouldn’t she also be annoyed and mystified that Jane was into him? Also, disgusted that Jane was cheating on her boyfriend? CARY SLADE, ANYONE REMEMBER HIM? Just me? OK then.

It’s 2 AM when Mr. Houston and Abe, out in the Jeep again, decide to turn around for the last time. At that moment Andy hears the motor and starts screaming for help. They drive towards the sound and finally spot her in the headlights. They also see the rattlesnake, sitting on a rock just above Andy’s head. Using a pistol they keep in the glove compartment, Toby’s dad shoots the snake, which drops to the ground, and Andy springs to safety.

Back at the house, Jane is sleeping against Beau’s shoulder when the rescue party returns. The girls have a joyful reunion. They present the repaired lamp to Toby’s dad, who laughs the way he did before Toby’s mom died. Everyone apologizes. Jane and Beau go out to the porch to talk, but things go sour when Beau says he’s not likely to ever visit Boston, because “once you’ve seen heaven, there’s no need to keep shopping around,” and Jane retorts that “heaven isn’t the place that’s hot 24 hours a day.” Ha! They part on bad terms.

The next morning, Andy and Jane watch Toby practice her barrel-riding for the rodeo, which is a week away. Andy asks Jane about Beau, and Jane says “Don’t remind me. He is the most obstinate, ill-mannered boy I have ever met.”

“He sounds just your type,” Andy responds.

While in the corral watching Toby, Jane starts to belatedly feel guilty, and decides she has to call Cary. They have a nice conversation which ends with Cary teasingly telling her not to fall in love with any cowboys while she’s in Texas. Jane fears that she already has. Seriously? In love? Beau Stockton is that appealing?

Apparently the girls do absolutely nothing for the entire second week of their visit, because the next chapter is the morning of the rodeo. They arrive at the grandstand and Andy and Jane get seats while Toby registers and the men get Max the horse ready. It is noted that the United States, Texas, and Confederate flags are all waving. A little racism never hurt anyone, I guess! The girls are swept up in the excitement of the event. During the opening ceremonies, Beau is the flagholder. Jane, which will surprise no one, has been looking for him all morning.

They’re on the edges of their seats during Toby’s event. She circles all the barrels and makes good time. No one else comes close to her time, but the last rider comes out faster and looks like she’ll beat Toby. However, at the last minute she knocks one of the barrels over. Therefore, as befits the laws of the universe, the event is won by a Canby Hall girl. The laws of the universe also allow for events to be won by the love interest of a Canby Hall girl, so Beau wins the calf roping. During his victory ride, he stops in front of Jane and mouths “You owe me a dance,” and Toby’s only reaction to this is to think of her own relationship with Neal and how opposites attract. CARY, PEOPLE!!!

Beau’s signature event, bull riding, is the last event of the rodeo. He comes out on his whirling, bucking bull and, surprisingly given the aforementioned laws of the universe, gets thrown off. Worse, though, is that the bull comes after Beau and catches him in the side, crumpling him to the ground. The rodeo clowns distract the bull and get it out of the ring, and cowboys help Beau to the first-aid trailer. Jane is distraught, knowing that she is leaving in two days and fearing that “she’d never hear that laugh again.” After the six whole days you’ve known and been irritated by him? Uh, OK.

For the dance that night, Andy wears the Western outfit she bought at the general store. Jane is halfhearted about her outfit, since Beau is hurt and there will be no one there to see her. She puts on an aqua sundress with spaghetti straps and clips an aqua bow in her hair. Oh, the eighties!

(I would like to point out that this is an actual item for actual sale in the present day, though it is admittedly described as “80s/90s vintage.”)

At the dance they eat Texas food and dance Texas dances. Jane is preoccupied with looking for Beau but doesn’t see him. Andy, being the dance fiend she is, pulls Abe onto the dance floor and Mr. Houston takes Toby. Just then, of course, a Texas drawl alerts us readers to the inevitable arrival of the apparently invincible Mr. Stockton. He wasn’t killed after all (more’s the pity). Jane owes him that dance, after all, so they join the others on the dance floor, and Jane isn’t worried that she doesn’t know how to do the Cotton-Eyed Joe, because being with Beau “left her floating,” so she’ll definitely be able to keep up. Excuse me while I become reacquainted with this morning’s breakfast. Jane is sure Beau must have promised dances to other girls, but to her delight they dance every dance together. Yeah, you know what Jane, it might be telling that none of the girls who actually know this guy want to hang out with him.

Finally, someone else thinks of Cary! Toby, on the sidelines, watches Beau and Jane together, and wonders about Cary. “What would he think of Jane’s Texas conquest? Well, that wasn’t her concern. Jane was finally having fun and that made Toby happy.” OH, OK THEN! If Jane has fun murdering people we’ll all just look the other way too, I guess. As long as our precious Jane is happy!

We also find out that Toby has known Beau since kindergarten (but haven’t they been lifelong neighbours?) when he said baseball was for boys and she beat him up. Ha! “Could that same obnoxious loudmouth have a romantic side to him she’d never seen?” Let me answer that one for you: NO. He doesn’t need one. Jane would fall in love with a good-looking refrigerator. I suppose we should be grateful that she’s still not as bad as her predecessor Dana. (It’s tough to pick one entry to link to as evidence of Dana’s boy-craziness. She was into a new guy in nearly every one of the Old Girls’ books.)

Beau and Jane go outside, where he tells her he told the bull to throw him in order to impress a certain girl from Boston. They kiss. It’s “as wonderful as Jane hoped it would be.” My lunch quickly follows my breakfast. Jane asks him if he could call her by her name, instead of “Boston.”

The next day the girls, Mr. Houston and Abe go to the swimming hole. Everyone plays water volleyball except Jane, who can’t bring herself to go back in that water. Beau, naturally, shows up. (Man, I wish he’d get lost. Can’t he take my hint?) They all have a fun day. After dinner, Beau says to Jane that he guesses he won’t see her again, since she probably has a boyfriend back home. Jane’s silence gives her away, as she thinks, “Had she ever felt like this with Cary?” Again, let me answer this for you: take a wild guess. Beau tells her that her guy should hold on tight, because if Beau ever makes it out to the East Coast, he plans to steal Jane away. He asks her to write him. (Ahh, the 1980s!) As they part, he finally calls her “Jane.”

And the next day Jane and Andy go home. To their parents, who presumably barely recognize them at this point.

Random notes:

  • Can I just document how much of a pet peeve “I got bit” instead of “I was bitten” is? It’s almost as bad as “I should of done that.” Are people being raised by vicious, grammatically-disinclined wolves?
  • The Houstons have their own gas station and their own Dumpster on their ranch. I’m almost tempted to move to Rio Verde.

Next up, the second of my two favourites of the series. Our Boston blueblood is turning sweet 16!

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

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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!

 

 

 

 

A Yuge Revelation … or, Canby Hall #25, The Ghost of Canby Hall

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Since I was new to the series when I got this book, I thought the disembodied arm reaching out of that rock poster WAS the fabled ghost. Also, whatever happened to Jane’s Wedgwood blue everything?

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!

 

Let It Goooooo … or, Canby Hall #24, Princess Who?

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canby-hall-24-princess-who

First, some housekeeping. I finally got around to making a sidebar widget with each book’s title, publication date, and ghostwriter name. Seeing it all in black and white, it’s hard to believe this series only lasted 6 years. Having started in 1983 and ended in 1989, it really is a quintessential snapshot of the ’80s. It’s also interesting to note which ghostwriters did one book and got the heck out of Dodge, and which ones had a prolonged journey with Canby Hall. For example, Mary Francis Shura, the mystery maven, wrote only one book – #2, Our Roommate Is Missing – and that’s the only thriller-type book in the series (the term “thriller” being used very loosely, of course.) Patricia Aks, who wrote the abysmal #4, Keeping Secrets, actually seemed to experience some growth as a writer since her other contributions, #6 Best Friends Forever and #17 Graduation Day, were progressively less dreadful. And you can also see that very few of the authors who wrote about the New Girls also wrote books about the Old Girls. It’s as if, when the fictional characters graduated and new ones came on the scene, the publishers brought in mostly new writers as well. I’d love to meet someone who worked on this series one day. I would demand that they explain themselves. And then I’d buy them cupcakes.

Anyway, here we are at the very first Canby Hall book I ever read. I got it as a Scholastic mail-order in Grade 2, as part of a two-pack with the next book (The Ghost of Canby Hall) and evidently they made such an indent on my impressionable mind that here I am 30 years later blogging about them. And my daughter Peanut is now the same age I was then! (Though I haven’t yet introduced her to Canby Hall. She’s a voracious reader, but I feel like she has the rest of her life to read about teenagers and adults, so why not enjoy reading about children now? She’s into all the kid books by Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary, Roald Dahl, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sarah Mlynowski … so I’ll probably hold off on Canby Hall with her for a few more years. Besides, when she sees the effort devoted to this blog, she’ll need to be old enough to handle a high level of concern about her mother’s mental state.) Since this was the first book in the series I read and I knew nothing about the characters at the time, I thought the girl in the crown on the cover was Princess Allegra, rather than Andy just clowning around, so for the longest time, in my mind Allegra was black. Which does not make a lot of sense in terms of European monarchies, but where I really should have realized my error was the fact that she (**SPOILER ALERT FOR A 30-YEAR OLD BOOK**) got together with Randy, since these ghostwriters would never have dreamed of portraying an interracial relationship. That should have been your first clue, Much! But I’m ahead of myself.

We open on the girls attempting to study for finals but getting distracted by the beautiful spring weather. Andy shows up with yet another care package from home, and announces that the dining hall is serving “Tuna Surprise” for dinner. Jane asks if the surprise is food poisoning. Apropos of nothing, Andy segues into her desperation to get into an advanced-level dance class the following year. She’s working hard on an original dance routine for the audition. Is Canby Hall an arts institute, for heavens’ sake? I have never heard of a regular high school where the students had to put this much effort into getting into a dance class. Or where this many dance performances and/or school plays are put on each year. (Remember how many plays Shelley was in?) Toby is worried about her horse Max, because her dad offhandedly mentioned in a letter that he had a cough. This is why being a person of few words doesn’t pay off, people. Because the one or two words you do choose to utter end up being imbued with tremendous import and THEN WE READERS HAVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT FOR THE REST OF THE BOOK. Meredith the housemother (A.K.A. Alison 2.0) shows up to tell them they’re wanted at headmistress PA’s house. The girls get all nervous and wonder what they’ve done wrong, because PA never summons students “unless they’re in trouble.” Uh, have we forgotten about the Open House just one book ago? Didn’t she summon you then? And, like, a million other times? Anyway, they head over to PA’s house (man, how much easier all of this would have been once e-mail was invented) to find out that there’s another prospective student PA wants them to show around: Her Royal Highness, Princess Allegra of Montavia.

Toby speaks for us all when she asks, “Where is that? What is that?” Jane informs her, and us, that it’s a “small country in Europe. About the size of Monte Carlo but not as flashy. It’s famous for its skiing, its lakes, and its international banking.” So, basically, a fake Monaco. They head over to Pizza Pete’s, where they run into Maggie, Dee and Cary and tell them the news. Cary muses that Allegra is a “beautiful name.” I’m afraid I don’t agree, Mr. Slade. The only thing I can think of when I hear the name Allegra is allergies. Anyway, Cary offers to have his ridiculous band Ambulance play a song for the princess, which will impress her so much that she’ll have to choose Canby Hall. While I am attempting to wrap my mind around this leap of logic, Jane tries to gently tell Cary that she doesn’t think princesses like rock music. Surprisingly, Cary is not the least bit insulted.

Since Princess Allegra will be staying for a week with her bodyguards, they’re going to need rooms. Conveniently, there are two empty rooms in Baker House. Just how many spare rooms are there in this dorm, anyway? First Baker took in all the displaced girls after the storm, and now this? Also, one room is on the fifth floor and one is in the basement. The bodyguards will be five floors away from the person they’re supposed to protect? And in addition, the students are in charge of painting and decorating the rooms — and these students include the boyfriends from Oakley Prep. Do the Oakley Prep guys not have anything to do on their own campus and for their own academic lives? I’m trying to think of what could have possibly convinced me to do free home improvement work for dorms at a school I didn’t go to, and I’m coming up with very little. Anyway, Andy and Toby have a powwow and comment that this royalty stuff is right up Jane’s alley, so they privately hope she will take over hosting duties with Princess Allegra and leave them free and clear.

The gang gets the rooms ready. Jane solicits donations of lamps, plants and towels from the other students. Seriously, the school isn’t providing those, for heaven’s sake? Cary hopes Allegra will be able to give them the inside scoop on other royalty, because he wants to know, “Are Fergie and Andy really happy?” Alas, Cary, as you and the rest of us will find out in about six years … not so much.

Jane is determined to help Canby Hall make a good impression on the princess, who’s on a tour of U.S. schools before deciding which one to attend. Andy is still obsessed with working on her dance routine. Toby is worried because she has no idea how to act around royalty, and she’s still freaking out about her horse’s cough. She could just, you know, call her dad and ask what’s going on, but she claims to be afraid to do that. Also, we would lose about 50 pages of plot, so silly me! She runs into Randy, there’s some exposition about how she still gets butterflies around him even though she’s now sort of seeing Neal, and she asks Randy if they can bring the princess out to his farm to ride sometime. Fatefully, he consents.

Princess Allegra finally arrives at Canby Hall with great fanfare and is greeted by crowds of curious and/or admiring students. Jane takes her turn at entertaining first, by escorting Allegra on a tour of the Canby Hall campus. This kind of thing really lights Jane’s fire, so she blathers on about each of the landmarks, including the building her grandfather donated. But then she looks over and notices Allegra yawning. At that exact moment, awful Gigi Norton happens to be passing by and snarks that Jane is already boring the princess. Allegra sweetly shuts Gigi down on Jane’s behalf. When Jane then suggests lunch at the Greenleaf Inn, Allegra kindly explains that what’s really going on is she’s tired of being treated differently just because she’s a princess. She wants to be treated like any other Canby Hall student. She doesn’t want to be handled with care and given special experiences, she wants to eat in the dining hall and sneak in after curfew like everyone else. Turns out Her Royal Highness of Montavia is just a regular teenaged girl. Jane is flummoxed.

Andy takes her turn entertaining Allegra next. At first Andy is annoyed at the intrusion, since she has her stupid dance routine to work on (plus final exams to study for, but PRIORITIES, people.) But then they walk into town so Andy can practice at the auditorium while her boyfriend Matt offers helpful critiques. Why is Andy practicing at an auditorium in town, instead of the school auditorium? This makes no sense. Anyway, Matt tells her the routine is great but too much. She should cut out a few moves and calm it down a bit. Then Andy and Allegra go to the Greaf Cafe. Andy notes that she didn’t have lunch so she’s starving. Allegra comments that she did have lunch, and the sooner she can get something else in her stomach, the sooner she can forget what it tasted like. Andy realizes that the princess has a sense of humour. Cary waits on them and Allegra jokes around with him too. She and Andy proceed to talk over cheeseburgers, and Andy gets an idea of what the life of a real princess is really like: very regimented, isolated, and boring. And then Allegra drops her bombshell: she’s engaged. To Prince Frederick of Almare, a (fake) principality that borders Montavia. After the wedding, the two countries will be joined. Allegra got her parents to agree to her coming to school in the States for a year by threatening to break her engagement.

Turns out Allegra and Frederick have been groomed for each other forever. She’s 17 and he’s 34. They’re going to get married right after her high school graduation because it will benefit both countries and she can’t delay it too long. Andy is dumbfounded. Allegra says that she and Andy have something in common, because people see Allegra’s royal title first rather than who she really is, in the same way that people probably see Andy’s skin colour first rather than who she really is. So they’re both used to sticking out like sore thumbs. (This discussion confused me to no end back when I thought Allegra was also black.) Andy realizes she and Allegra could be friends.

That night, they throw an impromptu after-hours party in 407 for Allegra, who brings a basket of fresh fruit and a box of French chocolates, cementing her friendship with all the girls. (Except Toby, who’s still brooding over Max.) Jane tells Toby to just call her dad already and Toby is too freaked to do so. She agrees to give it three days and call if she hasn’t heard from him by then.

Next it’s Toby’s turn to take the princess around. She takes Allegra and the bodyguards to the Crowell farm to go riding. Randy and Allegra (who’s beautiful, naturally, in case I forgot to mention that) hit it off. And after an afternoon riding together, Toby realizes that “Randy had fallen – but not from his horse.” DUN DUN DUUUN!!!

Back at the dining hall that evening, Maggie rushes up to the girls with news: She was in town buying batteries for her Walkman (I told you, quintessential ’80s!) when she saw Randy and Princess Allegra going into Pizza Pete’s together. The girls are all excited over a potential real-life fairy-tale romance unfolding before their eyes (though they do wonder how Randy feels with two burly bodyguards watching their every move.) Toby quietly leaves the table without a word. Jane and Andy chalk this up to her being too worried about her horse to care about a budding romance. But it’s really that Toby is bummed about losing Randy to Allegra. Even though she’s kind of been seeing Neal, deep down she’d always hoped that one day Randy would wake up and realize that their 5-year age difference didn’t matter at all. And when Toby gets bummed, what does she do? She shuts down. So she goes back to 407, rolls herself up in her Army blanket, and turns to the wall. Jane and Andy, concerned because she won’t talk to them, wonder why Toby’s father is putting her through so much worry about Max. Why doesn’t he tell her what’s happening? They feel bad for Toby and agree to talk to her about it the following day. Later that night after they’ve all gone to sleep, there’s a tap at the door. It’s Allegra, who needs to talk. She’s in love.

In love? After one afternoon? Mine eyes, they rolleth so hard.

Andy and Jane go up to the princess’s room (nowadays all of this could have been taken care of by text), where she tells them she’s on top of the world because she’s fallen in love with Randy Crowell and he feels the same about her. When Andy tactfully mentions Prince Frederick, Allegra says she doesn’t want to think about her inconvenient fiance just now. She needs the girls’ help. First, with her clothes. Up until now her clothes have been depicted as exquisite, expensive and stylish (I’ve spared you the descriptions) but now she says they’re too boring and conventional. She wants to look hip, like Andy, so she asks if she can borrow Andy’s clothes. Every time Andy is described, she’s wearing some variation of a sweatsuit, so I really don’t understand this. But whatevs. Next, Allegra needs them to help her and Randy get a little privacy by escaping from her bodyguards, Joseph and Rodger. The girls agree.

They sneak back down to their room, which incidentally is messy again. Jane had cleaned her side when Allegra first arrived, but says that once she realized the princess was just a normal girl, she went back to her old ways. Andy muses that perhaps they’ll get lucky and a duchess will visit next. Toby wakes up and asks where they’ve been. When they tell her they’re going to help Allegra get alone time with Randy, Toby rolls back towards the wall. Somehow her roommates don’t put two and two together.

The next day Andy and Jane are standing in the Baker House lobby at Allegra’s instructions. Joseph and Rodger are there too, waiting for her. PA walks by and wonders what the 407 girls are doing, twiddling their thumbs, when finals are coming up. They tell her they’re waiting for the princess. PA immediately asks how Allegra is liking Canby Hall, and with straight faces they tell the headmistress that Allegra has fallen in love. Out the window, they see Randy’s pickup truck drive by. At that minute a piercing scream echoes through the dorm. Everyone, especially the bodyguards who up until now have been in danger of dying from boredom, hurries up to the fifth floor, where Merry’s and Allegra’s rooms are located. Jane and Andy, heeding Allegra’s instructions, are the only ones to stay rooted to the spot, feeling like fools. So they’re the only ones to see Randy’s pickup truck drive by again, this time with two people in it.

Turns out a girl from Addison House who collects autographs had gone up to Allegra’s room to ask for hers. But she glanced at the floor and saw a huge furry spider, so she screamed bloody murder. The spider was, of course, a toy. But after the commotion dies down, Merry wonders why the hullabaloo didn’t wake Allegra. Just then the bodyguards show up, worried because they’ve discovered that Allegra’s not in her room. There’s a page or two of exposition, in which the guards say they were told to wait for her in the lobby, and Jane and Andy say she’s not with them, etc. etc., until finally Merry gets wise and asks Jane and Andy point-blank if they know where Allegra is. They say, why yes they do. She’s at the Crowell farm. Why didn’t anyone ask? The bodyguards dash out the door. Merry asks them how much time this nonsense has bought Allegra. They tell her about half an hour. Merry tells them that if Allegra is going to all this trouble to spend time with a boy, then that boy must be very special. But she advises them not to get on the bodyguards’ bad side.

Thus begins Allegra’s modus operandi, which turns out to be a huge game for the students. The princess plans her outings with Randy, tells one girl where she’s going, and when Joseph and Rodger start asking around, that girl tells them. By the time the bodyguards find Allegra, she and Randy have had half an hour to 45 minutes to themselves. (If the princess and her bodyguards had rooms ON THE SAME FLOOR she might find it slightly more difficult to continuously give them the slip, I can’t help but mention.) In the midst of all the love connection excitement, Jane and Andy remember Toby’s misery again, and finally decide to do something about it. They call her dad in Texas to extract the truth about Max from him, since Toby won’t do it. After being stunned at the fact that Mr. Houston thinks she has an accent, Jane learns that when Toby’s dad wrote that Max had a cough, he wasn’t talking about Max the horse. He was actually talking about Max, her uncle. (On her mother’s side, he adds helpfully.) Both Maxes are now doing great. Why anyone would bother to mention in a handwritten letter that a grown adult coughed is beyond me, but OK. Thrilled to be able to ease Toby’s mind, Jane and Andy rush off to find her. When they do find her looking miserable in the library, they nearly shout the good news, and Toby momentarily smiles. But when they suggest celebrating with a party that includes Allegra, she shuts down again, leaving her roommates disappointed and confused.

Toby is depressed, and normally when she’s feeling down she craves wide-open spaces and seeks refuge at the Crowell farm. But now, of course, she can’t do that. She’s gotten a letter from Neal inviting her to go sailing with his family, but she’s already decided to say no, go home to Texas for the summer, and be depressed there. Girl, you have another, far more age-appropriate guy interested in you – I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot here. But then, no one is paying me for my opinions.

Back at the room, Andy and Jane are racking their brains to figure out what else could be bothering Toby. Allegra shows up with water biscuits because she needs to talk and she knows Jane likes to eat. I never knew what water biscuits were, but because of this book I always thought they sounded so elegant. Now I’m not entirely sure. Anyway, Allegra is weepy because her week at Canby Hall is almost over, and in two days she’ll have to leave Randy. My goodness, all of this has only been less than a week? Andy and Jane try to cheer her up by saying that it’s only three months till the new school year begins, and since Allegra will clearly be choosing Canby Hall, she’ll be back before she knows it. The princess counters that, once her parents find out about Randy (because her bodyguards will be required to provide a report on her activities) they probably won’t let her come back to the States at all. As she smoothes the blanket on Toby’s bed, she suddenly asks, “Toby doesn’t like me, does she?” When Jane and Andy disagree, she muses that since Randy and Toby were as close as siblings, Allegra had thought she and Toby would be close too, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. After she leaves, Jane and Andy self-flagellate for not seeing WHAT WAS IN FRONT OF THEIR EYES THE ENTIRE TIME, which is that Toby is upset that Randy has fallen for Allegra. They agree they need to talk to Toby. At that moment, a voice from the doorway tells them to go ahead and talk. Toby has arrived. However, when they try to tell her they know why she’s been so down, she wraps herself up in her blanket again, says talking just causes more trouble, and goes to sleep.

The next day Toby gets up and out early and goes to blow off steam on the tennis courts with Dee. She originally started playing tennis to impress Randy, but now she enjoys it of her own volition. She’s beating Dee, but when Randy drives by in his truck, probably to pick up Allegra, and cheers Toby on from his window, she loses the game.

Andy and Matt are practicing her dance routine AGAIN, and then they meet Jane and Cary at the Greaf. Cary informs them that Princess Allegra actually loves rock music and told him that if she could see Ambulance play live, she’d treasure the experience for the rest of her life. (Laying it on a leetle thick, Allegra.) So they decide to throw a big going-away party for her, with Ambulance as the entertainment. Andy and Jane muse between themselves that Toby will never agree to come. But Jane wisely points out that it’s not like things will just magically get better once Allegra leaves. Randy’s already fallen for her, and that’s not going to change back. (Really? They’re in love with each other forever? After five days? And with Allegra’s wedding taking place 7 books from now? **BELATED SPOILER ALERT**)

Back at school, Meredith corners Andy and Jane, saying that PA is concerned because Allegra seems much less happy than she did at the beginning of the week, and Merry herself found Allegra crying in her room. Andy and Jane tell her to let the princess be for now. They then run into Allegra, who apologizes for Meredith’s concern, but says she didn’t want to share her troubles with the housemother because it won’t help. She’s got to marry Frederick no matter what. The 407 girls tell her about the going-away party, and they all become melancholy. As they leave the fourth floor, the broom closet door opens and Toby emerges, having ducked in there to avoid her friends. She heard them talking, and feels a little bad for Allegra, but still worse for herself, so she goes back to the room and rolls herself up in her blanket again. She’s awoken by Andy, who’s determined to finally have an open conversation about this drama. Said conversation ensues, and ends with Toby saying things will go back to normal after Allegra leaves, and Andy saying “that would mean [Randy] didn’t care much about her. Do you really think he doesn’t?”

The next day Andy and Jane are headed to town, the former to practice her dance routine at the auditorium AGAIN, and the latter to buy more yellow highlighters. (That’s Jane’s thing in this book, that she loves to highlight. I can’t make too much fun of this, since all through med school and college far more pages of my textbooks were highlighted than unhighlighted. Seriously, I would highlight entire paragraphs, which sort of defeats the purpose.) They run into Maggie and Dee, who ask if they want to chip in on a goodbye present for Allegra. They hesitate, wondering if it will hurt Toby’s feelings, then decide to do so. Andy gives them a dollar bill and some change. Oh, the days when that amount of cash could actually purchase something.

Andy runs through her entire performance at the auditorium, then startles when she hears a voice. Turns out the teacher of the advanced dance class has been watching the entire routine, because she just happened to be passing by. Who passes by a public auditorium and goes inside just to see people putzing around? Andy is heartened when the teacher offers a piece of advice, which is to not change a thing.

That night the Canby Hall girls and Oakley Prep guys are getting ready for the party. (The boys’ headmaster agreed to let them use the Oakley Prep gym after Cary started talking about saving international relations.) Since the party was on short notice and no one had had time to buy decorations, they were using a mixture of old ones, which meant that pictures of Frosty  the Snowman, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny were being taped to the walls. What kind of high schoolers are these, I ask you?

At the party that night, Ambulance is in their element and everyone’s having a great time, but the guest of honour is late. Suddenly Randy bursts in, wild-eyed, and rushes up to the 407 girls, asking if they know where Allegra is. No, they don’t, because she was supposed to be riding with him. Joseph and Rodger are close behind, also looking for their charge. Allegra is missing.

Cut to PA’s house. Randy is explaining that Allegra was supposed to meet him at the Greaf, but she wasn’t there when he arrived. The bodyguards say that she did get there, then went to the restroom, and they later found out that she snuck out through a side door. (This was two hours before, by the way. She’s been pulling these tricks on her bodyguards for a week and they still manage to lose her for over two hours? I say a job performance review is in order!) Everyone tries to brainstorm where Allegra could be. The bodyguards conclude she’s been kidnapped. PA contacts the police and the FBI.

Completely illogically, Andy and Jane are shocked. I quote:

“Greenleaf was such a quiet, peaceful little place. Not that it didn’t have its share of problems, but kidnapping just seemed completely out of place in a town where three parking tickets and a broken-into vending machine were a big day for the police. Could Greenleaf, Massachusetts really be the site of a kidnapping?”

IT ALREADY WAS, YOU FOOLS!!! A girl you personally know, who LIVED IN YOUR DORM ROOM, was kidnapped just a few years before! How soon we forget.

Meredith calls a meeting of the Baker House girls to let them know what’s going on. I have my doubts as to the wisdom of notifying a hundred teenage girls of a possible crime against an international political figure that may or may not have happened, but nevertheless, it’s what she does, in case a ransom call comes into one of their rooms. Uh, OK. Andy, Jane and the others are up most of the night talking and worrying about Allegra.

Meanwhile, Toby has gone off on her own for a walk in the rain. Randy drives by, helping with the search. Though he’s worried sick, he thinks to ask how Max is doing. Toby is touched by his concern. Then, on a hunch, she walks to the Greenleaf bus station, where she finds Princess Allegra.

It turns out that Allegra came up with a spur-of-the-moment plan to escape. She concocted a disguise from the lost-and-found box, slipped out of the Greaf, dodged the policemen she saw on the streets, and hid at the bus station. Her plan was to run (though to where, she didn’t actually know) and then write letters from wherever she ended up. Excellent scheme! She tells Toby that she knows she’ll have to go home, and that what she and Randy have won’t last, and she can’t bear it. Toby tells her that if Randy cares about her now, he’ll always care about her. Famous last words, I say, since, again, we will be reading about Allegra’s wedding in about 7 books, and it ain’t to Randy Crowell. (**BELATED SPOIL — oh, who are we kidding.) But anyway, back in the here and now (the here and now being 1987) Toby realizes that what she’s said is true. While Randy will always care about Allegra, he will also always care about Toby. This revelation heartens her, and she tells Allegra why running away is a bad idea – one Toby tried herself back in the day before being talked out of it. And then, like the hero she is, Toby escorts Allegra back to Canby Hall.

The next day is the day of the princess’s departure. She comes by 407 to return Andy’s clothes. Andy says that the next time Allegra comes, Andy will borrow from her. Allegra says sadly that that’s not going to happen. Once they find out about Randy, her parents will not allow her to return. So she’s going to go home, do what they want, marry Frederick, and cherish her memories of Canby Hall. Andy argues that they are in the twentieth century, not the sixteenth (and even the twentieth sounds so ancient now, doesn’t it?) and modern girls need to fight for what they want instead of just giving up. Allegra realizes that Andy is right and asks her to write periodically to help keep up her courage. Yes, royalty needs plebes like us to buck them up. And with that, the entire school sees Princess Allegra off in her limo – but not before giving her their present first, which is a candle shaped like a cheeseburger. Guess not too many girls chipped in for that gift.

OK, so despite being intensely improbable, this book did not suck, and the ghostwriter Carol Ellis succeeded in making the princess genuinely likable. I do wonder why Gigi Norton didn’t stick her nose into this visiting-royalty business more, but if anyone else was missing her, we won’t have to miss her for long, because up next is the second Canby Hall book I ever read, in which (**SUPER-SUBTLE SPOILER ALERT**) the lovely Gigi figures prominently. Also, there are only 9 books left in the series to recap. We’re into the single digits, baby!

Casey Flint Replacement, Take Two … or, Canby Hall #23, But She’s So Cute

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Canby Hall #23 - But She's So Cute

 

Evidently Laura Lee was deemed unsuitable as a long-term reincarnation of the Old 407 Girls’ sidekick, Casey. I can only assume that this is because the publishers were prejudiced against cardiac patients. So here comes their next attempt. Also, Jane is really kind of a crummy person again, though not nearly as insufferable as back when she was a carnie.

About this cover. Penny looks appropriately sweet and gosh-darn about it all, and Jane looks great. For once she looks pretty instead of vaguely equine, as on several other covers. But why is Andy lying on the floor and grinning? Why is she surrounded by books instead of a broken care package? And why is Toby smirking in the background like some kind of evil overlord whose puppets are performing exactly as she wants them to?

So the book opens with Andy struggling through the hall with yet another massive care package from home while girls around her are moving their belongings into Baker House. Apparently the storm that ended the last book hit Charles House worse than Baker, and since it was so close to the end of the year, the board decided to relocate those girls and do the repairs over the summer. First of all, if they have that many empty rooms sitting unoccupied in Baker, why do they HAVE three dorms in the first place? And does it really make sense to leave broken windows, etc. unrepaired until summer? Wouldn’t moisture and insects cause even more damage in the meantime? And there are still three full books, including this one, until the end of the year, so … summer’s not that close, is all I’m saying. (If there are any private school boards who are hiring out there, I guess I’m probably your woman.)

Anyway, so Andy runs smack-dab into a new girl, and they and the package go flying. The girl is a Southern belle named Penny Vanderark. Andy offers her a cookie from the food that’s now lying everywhere. It is noted that Penny had noticed Andy in class before because of the “great-looking clothes Andrea always seemed to be wearing. Today was no exception. She had on a cotton sweater of soft pink and turquoise with pink sweatpants and matching turquoise socks that folded down neatly over her Reeboks.” So basically, she was wearing a sweatsuit. I’m pretty sure my first-grader has that exact same outfit.

So Andy and Penny get to chatting and Penny helps Andy carry her broken box to 407. By “helps,” I mean Penny picks up two items while Andy carries the rest. It seems our new friend Penny is a little on the helpless side. In 407, Penny takes a gander at the unusual decorating scheme (remember, Andy’s third is decorated in earth tones, Toby’s is decorated in rainbows, and Jane’s is decorated in filth.) She notices the tea bag hanging over Toby’s bed and thinks, “Surely, it had to be some kind of potpourri.” I laugh out loud.

Andy then helps Penny carry her stuff over to her new room, which Andy discovers is a huge mess. Penny laments that her mother isn’t there to get her room straightened up, because she’s really good at telling the maid what to do. Penny muses that that’s a skill she’ll probably need to learn so that she can run her husband’s house one day. In terms of who that husband will be, well, once she’s in college she’ll really start looking. Andy helps Penny start to organize and unpack, but Penny is useless at folding and not much less useless at anything else. Andy thinks that Penny makes wealthy spoiled Jane look neat and self-sufficient.

Andy returns to her room to find her roommates trying to covertly break into her care package. They head out to meet Penny for dinner, and Andy mentions that Toby will probably like her because Penny is “from the South. Just like you.” Toby finds this characterization irritating and realizes that Penny is likely a Southern belle. She tells her roommates that Texas doesn’t cultivate the whole Southern-belle idea like some other southern states do. I beg to differ. Toby and Jane finally meet Penny, and we are treated to some ominous descriptions of Toby’s inner thoughts. Basically, she’s met girls like Penny before and will have to warn her roommates about her later. Since Penny may be shallow but is basically a nice person, this always seemed a little melodramatic to me.

Penny displays what will become her signature talent: telling funny stories about herself. She regales the roommates with a tale about how a senior student tricked her into walking into the headmistress PA’s house, thinking it was the library. When discovered by PA, she simply started crying, because “that always works with my family.” Penny and PA end up having tea. Andy says she’s a celebrity because not many students have had tea with PA. Liar! My goodness, after all these recaps, I’d like to find out what student HASN’T spent time chillaxing in PA’s living room.

They end up eating with Dee and Maggie, and Penny charms all of them with the notable exception of Toby. Penny tells more stories, including one of her going missing in a store as a toddler because she loved to make funny faces at herself in the mirror. Toby thinks to herself darkly that Penny probably still does that in her spare time. Back in their room, Toby tells Andy and Jane that she thinks Penny’s an airhead. A and J don’t understand Toby at all. Meredith (now a perfectly normal housemother, after the girls of 407 taught her everything she knows), stops by to tell them that PA is having an important meeting at 10 the next morning and that she specifically asked that the girls of 407 be there. The girls even wonder among themselves why PA would ask for them, since they’re only sophomores, but they are not privy to the knowledge we have, which is that the world revolves around Room 407.

The mysterious meeting at PA’s turns out to be about the upcoming Open House. PA wants to showcase the amazing friendships that are formed at Canby Hall (not just the “excellent academics,” which, come on people, is common knowledge) so she has handpicked sets of friends among the student body to be guides for the interested students who will be visiting that weekend. She wants these newly-minted guides to write letters (!) of introduction to their assigned students and to plan a fun activity for them that’s typical of a Canby Hall Saturday night. Toby, Andy and Jane bicker over what they each consider fun, then decide to come up with a couple of options, write to their charges, and let them choose.

We cut to Andy letting loose in the dance studio and Penny coming in, immediately impressed, as everyone must be at all times, by Andy’s talent. She mentions that Jane was helping her unpack, which Andy notes to herself must have been like the blind leading the blind. I think it’s entirely possible that, between the two of them, Jane and Penny gave up and started putting items back in boxes. But never mind. As Andy and Penny leave the studio, they start talking about Andy’s lifelong dream of being a professional dancer. Penny says she has no determination or talent that would help her achieve a dream but, as it happens, that works out fine because she has no dreams either. Andy is incredulous and says there must be something Penny wants out of life. Penny says that of course there is. She wants to get married. Andy wants to know why Penny came to Canby Hall. Penny says her father sent her there so she could get into a good Ivy League school … so that she could find the right husband.

My head, it aches so.

Andy gets righteously frustrated, telling Penny that she’s got to have dreams. What does she really want? Penny gets upset, saying it would be different if she had some special skill, but she doesn’t. (Besides, “I hate the sight of blood, so med school is out.” YES, BECAUSE THAT’S THE ONLY REASON.) Then she asks what’s wrong with wanting some guy to take care of her. Why should she work all day when someone else can do it for her and she can golf and play tennis and go to the movies with her friends?

Is this a joke, people? Are there really people who do this? Why do their spouses allow it? I am not including stay-at-home parents in this scenario, because they’re working harder than anyone. But people without kids, or who have a staff taking care of their kids? If they’re not holding down a job, shouldn’t they be doing something with their time to benefit others?

Andy gives up and parts ways with Penny. Back in 407, she finds Jane engrossed in a piece of writing. She notes that Jane has also led a privileged life but still knows the meaning of working hard to achieve a dream. Jane mentions that she is working on her submission for the Canby Hall Journal, an apparently very elite and exclusive annual publication for which she is desperately hoping to be chosen. This will not in any way become a source of contention later on.

A letter comes from April, one of the girls they’ll be hosting for Open House weekend. It’s addressed to Toby, so Andy and Penny decide to head over to Randy’s ranch to meet Toby and have her open it. Penny (whose room is still a disaster zone) puts on white running shoes. Andy tells her she might want to wear something different, as the orchard will be muddy, and Penny says it’s no problem. If they get muddy, she’ll just send them home to her mom to clean up for her. Just kidding! She’ll stick them in the closet until she can take them home herself. She wouldn’t send muddy shoes through the mail. She’s not an animal.

Penny tells more self-deprecating stories about herself. At the ranch, Randy rides up, looking “like a model for a Marlboro billboard,” which I guess is supposed to be a good thing. Penny is immediately interested and Toby is immediately annoyed. Randy asks if she wants to ride a horse, and Penny demurs. How could she ever ride something so big? She quickly changes her tune when Randy shows signs of giving up, though, and simpers that she could consider trying horseback riding if Randy’s big strong self was there to help. Toby settles back to watch the charade. As Penny attempts to mount the horse, she expertly puts her left foot in the saddle, grips the mane with her left hand, and the saddle horn with her right. She then makes a lame attempt to hoist herself up and falls to the ground in a heap, giggling that she has no idea what she’s doing. Toby instantly realizes that Penny has ridden before, because an amateur would have held the saddle with both hands. (This was lost on me, but I trust Texas Toby.) Randy doesn’t notice the deception, and he and Penny have a grand old time while Toby cleans up her horse and fumes. By the time the girls leave to get back to Canby Hall, Randy seems hooked by their new Southern friend.

That night they read the letter from April, who puts the ball back into their court. Penny comes by and suggests that they simply go into Greenleaf for burgers and a movie, since that’s a typical Canby Saturday night. This idea is hailed as genius. Andy invites Penny to join them on their Open House hosting duties. Toby, blood boiling at having to share Randy and now her roommates with Penny, makes it clear she doesn’t want Penny along. Penny quickly retreats to her room, and Andy and Jane turn on Toby, asking why she’s being so cruel and saying she must be jealous. Toby responds that Penny may be as dumb as she looks, but not as helpless, and storms out of the room.

After some reflection, Toby decides to keep her mouth shut and let Penny goof up on her own again, hopefully showing the others that she’s an impostor in the process. Upon returning to the room, she finds out that Jane has been invited to an Ambulance performance by Cary, and she asks Andy and Toby to join them. To make up, Toby suggests inviting Penny as well. Andy is thrilled.

At the gig the next night, despite claiming to have two left feet, Penny spends the entire evening dancing. Her helpless Southern belle schtick has guys falling all over her. Toby is silently infuriated as she watches Penny bat her eyes at all of them and wonders why no one else can see through their resident Georgia peach.

Cut to English class however many days later, which apparently all three 407 girls plus Penny take together. If they’re in a class together, how is it that Andy and Penny didn’t know each other at the time of their fateful hallway collision? High school classes don’t usually have more than 30 people, and I’m betting at a single-sex private school the classes are even smaller. Anyway, the teacher starts reading aloud one of the best short stories submitted for a recent assignment. Andy assumes the story must be Jane’s, since she’s the best writer in the class. But it isn’t. The story is a hilarious one that has the whole class laughing. Turns out the author is Penny.

After class, Andy corrals Penny and is losing her mind over Penny’s newly discovered writing talent. This is it! This is what Penny’s ambition should be! Penny isn’t buying the enthusiasm. What she writes might be OK for a tenth-grade English class, but no one else would want to read it. Andy challenges her to submit the story to the Canby Hall Journal, which Penny has never heard of. Jane is not happy that Andy is encouraging Penny to compete for what has been Jane’s dream for her entire life, or at least since this book began.

Andy will not let this go. She says that Penny can actually go to college with a purpose now and make something of herself. Penny smiles and says she already knows what her purpose will be: to get her MRS degree. (I did not get this antiquated reference as a child and, now, have trouble believing women actually said this as late as the ’80s.) Andy asks why Penny won’t share her writing with others. Penny says other people can write their own stories. Andy says most people don’t have the talent to do that. Penny hands her paper to Andy and says there, now she’s shared. She appreciates Andy’s efforts, but she has no interest in a career. She “could never make it on [her] own.” Man, I’m all for marriage, but if my daughter ever acts this helpless, somebody shake us both.

Andy, with all the insight of a concrete block, decides that since Penny has given her the story, Andy will submit it to the Canby Hall Journal for her. (Because that will go over well.) Jane doesn’t think it’s a good idea because Penny’s reticence stems from fear that people won’t like her writing and then will stop liking her, and Penny cares deeply about what other people think, as evidenced by her letting her parents run her life completely. Andy responds that they all listen to their parents but then go ahead and do what they think is best. (They’re FIFTEEN! I roll my eyes.) Jane reads the story again, is reminded that it’s great and makes her own writing seem flat, and is jealous of Penny and the threat that she has revealed herself to be. Andy ends up secretly submitting Penny’s manuscript (leaving it on top of the office’s typewriters, hee!) to the journal.

Later, the girls are trying to work on their English papers. Toby crumples a draft up and tosses it into the trash can, and Jane says she can’t concentrate on work while Toby is busy imitating Willie Mays. Toby informs her (and me) that Willie Mays played baseball, not basketball. Jane (and I) could hardly care less. Toby takes a walk to clear her head and ends up passing Penny’s room. When Penny sees her, she invites her in and promptly takes a comic tumble out of bed, pulling her sheets and books to the ground with her. She and Toby talk, and when Toby mentions what a good writer Penny is, our Southern debutante seems genuinely perturbed. Toby can’t figure out why Penny doesn’t mind being the centre of attention when she’s making a fool of herself, but is mortified when receiving true admiration. Nonetheless, for the first time, Toby kind of likes Penny and feels they might be able to be friends.

Jane then gets a call from Cary, who tells her his band Ambulance just got tapped for a private gig at the Westfield Inn, apparently the nicest place around although we’ve never heard of it. What happened to Alison’s wedding venue, the Greenleaf Inn? Anyway, Cary wants Jane to come see his “first big break” (what an optimist, that Cary!) but the problem is it’s on Saturday night, the night of the Open House, and he can’t invite the whole Canby gang. Jane morphs into her sometimes-selfish self and decides she can’t turn down a glamorous night and an awesome meal (this private party’s going to pay for HER dinner?) even if it means ditching her friends, so she says yes.

Andy and Toby are furious that Jane is backing out of their plans just because she got a better offer. Jane can’t explain herself, gets mad, and decides they’re just jealous because they don’t have boyfriends. (Yes, that’s definitely it.) She starts writing her English paper about how friends “don’t judge you for doing something you really want to do even if it means going against what they want,” and decides to leave it lying around for her roommates to see. Oh, Jane, maturity is still your middle name.

Things are tense between the 407 girls as Jane refuses to change her mind in the morning. (In her words, if she went with Cary, she could lose her best friends, but if she went with them, she would “miss the chance of a lifetime.” Look, this magical inn isn’t even in Boston. I cannot believe that the worldly and wealthy Jane would care about this backwoods venue, or that she doesn’t have a million more fancy dinners in her future.) Andy and Toby replace her with Penny in their Open House plans.

Friday afternoon there’s a final assembly to discuss the Open House. Jane, alternating between guilt over her defection and annoyance at the others’ anger, decides it’s ridiculous that the whole school is in an uproar over a dumb Open House. You and me both, Janie!

The next day is the long-awaited Saturday. Andy and Toby privately agree to go easy on Jane for the sake of showing the prospective students some good Canby Hall friendships. They stop by Penny’s room, where she’s overslept because she didn’t set her alarm clock correctly. Her hair is perfect though, and it’s implied that she faked the whole thing for another laugh at her expense.

Open House starts and our heroines meet up with their assigned charges, April and Jennie. (The ghostwriter couldn’t have come up with two names that didn’t start with two of the initials of the 407 girls? This makes skimming very challenging, people.) Andy is, incidentally, noted to wear a size 5 shoe. Those are some tiny dancin’ feet. Anyway, they start with a lecture on Canby Hall history by PA, then a tour of the campus, then lunch at the dining hall which is, thankfully, boxed sandwiches and ice cream sundaes, thus prolonging the visitors’ ignorance of the true nature of the questionable culinary offerings at this venerable institution. They then participate in a huge game of baseball. (I would have promptly decided against this school if they made me do this on a prospective visit there.) Penny is pretty bad but Jane is worse, as she points out that attempting to catch the other team’s balls could damage a fingernail. She does hit one ball while at bat, though, by using the novel technique of keeping her eyes open. Later, Penny thanks Toby, one of the team captains, for not leaving her to be the last one picked. Toby thinks again that maybe she could like Penny. (Foreshadowing for when Penny does snag the coveted role of Casey Flint 2.0.)

Back in the room, April and Jennie are told that Jane will not be joining them that night. As Jane gets embarrassed, Penny breaks the tension by telling a long story about her first dance, when she wore a too-big outfit and ended up losing her skirt while dancing with her crush. Everyone cracks up. Jane realizes that the whole day has been fun and that she’s jealous she’ll be missing out on the evening. She excuses herself to call Cary, hoping he’ll break their date. But no such luck — he’ll be there to pick her up soon.

After all the girls leave for Pizza Pete’s, Jane suddenly and finally has the epiphany that it was wrong to cancel her plans with her friends. She puts on shorts and a polo, as well as pigtails (!) and goes down to meet Cary. When he arrives and expresses surprise that she would go to Buckingham Palace THE WESTFIELD INN dressed like that, she tells him that that’s just it — she’s not going to the Westfield Inn after all. Cary is understandably upset — why is it OK to break plans with him? I can’t say I blame him, since logic is not entirely Jane’s strong suit. I mean at this point the damage is done, why hurt him too? Anyway, he zooms off into the night and Jane dashes to Pizza Pete’s just in time to join the gang.

The next morning, the 407 girls are at chapel. As an aside, this is a very rarely-mentioned activity at Canby. I don’t know when the visiting students (all of whom are in high school and traveled long distances, remember) were packed off — probably on a Greyhound at 1 AM. Anyway, the student body is invited to an open house at PA’s house as a gesture of appreciation. Toby heads over to Randy’s for a ride first, and Randy waxes poetic about how he’ll miss her over the summer. I guess his paying attention to Penny is forgiven. Then it’s off to PA’s shindig where the headmistress babbles on about the importance of friendship, striking a chord in the soul of Jane, who realizes that now she truly knows what friendship is about. Until the next book, that is. Anyway, back at the dorm, Cary shows up to tell Jane that he was ticked at her, but then he thought about it and now he knows where she was coming from. How convenient!

The next day in English class, the teacher starts reading another “exceptional” essay. Toby is in physical pain from the boredom. “She really couldn’t understand why Ms. Gardner got such a kick out of reading these stupid essays to the whole class. She could understand if the woman liked to read them to herself, after all, she assigned them, she must like to read them. But why make the whole class suffer through it with her?” In this case, I couldn’t agree more, Tobes. The essay goes on in barely-sixth-grade prose about how the writer learned that she shouldn’t ditch her friends for a boy, and Toby realizes the essay is Jane’s. Whoop-de-doo. (Actually they all have a much bigger reaction but I’m no good at faking. I can’t believe that was the best writing turned in for that assignment.)

Jane’s and Penny’s pieces both get accepted to the Canby Hall Journal. Jane is ecstatic but Penny is furious at Andy for submitting the story without her knowledge. Andy can’t understand her reaction. Penny says the editors want to meet with her about some changes, and what if she can’t do them? She’s going to go over there and tell them the submission was a mistake. Toby pipes up that Andy sure did make a mistake: the mistake of thinking that Penny wanted to be anything other than cute. Texas Toby then tells Penny what she’s been dying to say for weeks: that she knows Penny faked being unable to ride horses. Penny runs out of the room.

Andy goes after her and they have a heart-to-heart in which Penny shares her fears that she won’t be able to make the changes the editors want. It turns out that she has ambition after all: she has actually always wanted to be a writer, but was afraid she wasn’t good enough. Now she doesn’t want to find out if she’s good enough or not. Andy tells her if she wants to keep her dreams packed away instead of trying to make them come true, maybe she really does need someone to take care of her.

Then we are subjected to some internal Penny struggles in which she muses that she always thought she knew what she wanted, a marriage to a nice boy, but then she met all these girls with lofty career goals and started wondering if she wanted something more too. So which is it Penny, you always wanted to write or you just realized it two weeks ago? We are also told that Penny never realized she was putting on a helpless act until Toby said so. That is some miraculous self-delusion there. I feel like we could make a fortune bottling that up and selling it to, say, struggling cults.

The next day Penny goes to the journalism office, where the teacher outlines the changes they want to make. Penny realizes she doesn’t agree and that, if they change her story, it won’t be her story anymore. Uh, editing is an important part of the publishing process. Does she think all books are just sent to the presses exactly the way the authors submitted them? (Actually, that could explain this entire series.) So she gathers up her skimpy courage for the first time in her little Southern life and tells the editor that that’s the way she wants it to stay. As she’s leaving, the teacher calls after that they’ll reconsider because her story really belongs in the journal.

Penny finds the 407 girls and excitedly tells them that she stood up for what she believed in for the first time ever, that she actually knew she was right, and that she knew that if they didn’t want to print her story the way she wrote it, then she didn’t want them to print it at all. (But I thought you didn’t want them to print it at all whether they changed it or not. FOR THE LOVE OF LITERATURE, WHICH IS IT?) Andy is proud of her. Penny says her next story idea is about a girl from Texas who’s the only one who can see people as they really are. Oh come on. I like Toby, but she’s not so much particularly insightful as she is surrounded by dense doorknobs who make her look like a genius. Anyway, they all go into Baker House, and we are told that “No one looking at the quiet campus on that late spring afternoon would ever have believed the dreams that were being born, and the excitement that was exploding, behind those closed doors.” I guess I’ll take your word for it, ghostwriter. Actually, the writer of this book was Lynn Zednick, and now that I Google her, it seems the TV show Glee was based on a Texas teacher named Lynn Zednick Shaw. Is it the same person? Can anyone out there confirm this?

Random thoughts:

– It is noted that when Jane invited Andy and Toby to her family’s Barrett Landing Party, Andy had joked that her ancestors had arrived in a big ship too — they’d just been riding below deck. I totally did not get this when I was a kid, but now I think Andy’s kind of awesome. Of course Jane does not find this funny because her family’s ancestry is very important to her. I would think she should maybe not find it funny because her ancestors were probably the slave owners, but tomato tomahto.
– When their English teacher assigns the “Friendships I Have Known” topic for their next paper, Toby thinks to herself that the teacher “had about as much imagination as her horse Max when it came to selecting topics. Then she reconsidered. If given a chance, and having the ability to write it down, Max might even come up with something better.” Hee!

Next up is a Very Special Episode: the very first Canby Hall book I ever read. Royalty is taking notice of the finest boarding school in the land the town of Greenleaf! See you then, friends!

Class Schedules and Class Wars … or, Canby Hall Super Edition #2, The Almost Summer Carnival

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Canby Hall Super Edition #2 - The Almost Summer Carnival

In which Jane morphs into a haughty bourgeois caricature of her former self. Had she lived seventy years earlier, Lady Mary would have had a soulmate.

Can we talk about this cover for a second? Cary, once again, does not have anything even resembling long hair and an earring. And although I know a blazer and skirt is supposed to be Jane’s preppy uniform, it really looks ridiculous at a carnival. I find it hard to believe she wouldn’t have thrown a thousand-dollar polo on. Also, “whose” is misspelled.

Rereading this one was interesting, as I remember well nearly all the books from here on out. Can I just say, for years I thought that the “Almost” in “Almost Summer Carnival” referred to the carnival almost having been called off? It was only later that I realized that the name of the carnival had been the same before and after the threat of cancellation, and that it referred instead to the summer season almost having arrived. Yes, my reading comprehension skills are exceptional, why do you ask?

We open on the girls of Canby Hall (which generally only means the girls of 407 and their next-door neighbours, not the presumably hundreds of other girls who attend this school) and their guy friends from Oakley Prep, hard at work getting ready for the aforementioned Almost Summer Carnival. Although we are told that this is a long-standing joint Canby/Oakley production, it was never mentioned in the books about the Old Girls. That’s the problem with a series bringing in all new characters – you can’t believably introduce new “old” traditions with the second group. Anyway, Jane and Cary are already bickering. That’s because Jane has a complete personality transplant in this book, behaving like a self-absorbed, ivory-tower-inhabiting shrew from beginning to end. While she’s always been prim and her wealth has always been a focal point of her back story, she has also always been reasonably likeable. That will definitely not be the case here.

The girls of 407 are summoned away from their carnival sign-painting duties. They arrive at housemother Meredith’s apartment to be told that the Canby Hall maintenance crew has gone on strike. Why this important news was imparted only to these three girls, instead of the entire student body that will be affected, is a mystery too great for my feeble human mind to unravel. Toby, having no experience with labour unions, and Jane, having no experience with actual labour, don’t grasp the impact. Only Andy understands what this means: the carnival is off.

As the reader is expected to sympathize with one side rather than grapple with the actual complexity of an issue such as this, the labour dispute is very simple. The Board of Trustees wants to cut the workers’ hours. Since the workers can’t do the same amount of work in fewer hours, they are striking. There’s no mention of why the Board of Trustees might have been forced to take such action. They’re just evil villains and that’s how it is. Not that I would normally take the side of a rich administrative board over working-class people, but I do get tired of both sides of a story not being told. Anyway, this means plumbers, electricians, carpenters, janitors and most of the dining hall staff have left campus and the school will likely close. (Canby Hall employs full-time plumbers and electricians and carpenters? More than one?)

The girls are panicked at the thought of the school closing and, more importantly, the carnival none of us had ever heard of until five minutes ago being cancelled. The future of Canby Hall is in peril yet again! Andy decides that the students will take over the maintenance work themselves, keeping the school open and holding the workers’ jobs for them till the strike is over. They make up elaborate chore charts for the entire student body (without bothering to ask anyone not in their immediate group whether they’re actually willing to take on campus maintenance on top of their regular courseload.) Jane is horrified at the idea of chores and hopes she can get away with just supervising. Armed with their chore charts, the girls of 407 go to see headmistress PA. She apparently has even worse judgment than I feared, as they successfully convince her not to close the school and to let the students take over the maintenance work instead. This is definitely going to go really well.

Before chores even start, the conflicts do. The following argument is repeated on an endless loop ad nauseam throughout this super-sized book, so I will summarize it here and give it a name: the Jane Is Wrong Argument (JIWA, acronym copyright 2015.) Jane blames the workers for being lazy and walking off the job, and thinks the plebes should be grateful to have any employment at all. Andy understands the plight of the working man and says they’re striking to prove that the Board’s demands are unreasonable. Toby (and everyone else) generally agree with Andy. Jane is neurologically incapable of understanding what they’re saying, or of being anything less than a world-class jerk about it. The end.

The next morning, Jane is assigned to clean the fourth-floor bathroom. Unsurprisingly, she has absolutely no idea how to do such a thing. With great trepidation, she tiptoes into the bathroom before breakfast, but is nearly trampled by the hordes of morning shower-goers. She welcomes the excuse to put off the task a little longer, goes back to her room, and falls asleep. Toby and Andy are on Dining Hall duty, and things aren’t going well. They had no idea how sloppy the student body is, the dishwasher is overflowing, and the toast Maggie made is like cardboard. Conveniently, there are two cooks who have stayed on (no Mrs. Merriweather in sight, even though she was just in the last book) who are handling the bulk of the cooking. Seriously, how would that fly in real life? Wouldn’t the rest of the staff be super @#!*% at the two traitors who weren’t striking with them? Or were the cooks under a separate contract or something? Do we need an employment lawyer to assist us in the analysis of this book?

When Jane doesn’t show up to help in the Dining Hall, Andy runs back to Baker House to check on her and finds her snoozing. Andy rudely awakens her and sends her to just clean the infernal bathroom already. Disaster ensues, but Jane finally gets it done, incurring two broken fingernails in the process (quite distressing, as it’s very possibly the worst thing that has ever happened to her), and gaining a touch of compassion for the striking workers who have to do this work every day. She “dismiss[es] the trace of empathy because she didn’t want to feel it.” Nice, Janie.

The Canby Hall girls and Oakley Prep guys gather for carnival work. Turns out the wooden game booths are always built by the maintenance crew. Since there currently is no maintenance crew, the students will have to build them themselves. Which no one actually knows how to do. Personal aside: Why are wooden booths built every year? What a waste of lumber and labour. Wouldn’t you just build them once and store them until the next year? Oh, but that would cut out 42% of the storyline in this book, you say? My mistake. Carry on.

Andy encourages the group. Filled with optimism, Jane says they’ll show the maintenance workers they can do just fine without them. Cary tells her that’s not what they’re trying to do. JIWA ensues.

The 407 girls are on Dining Hall duty again that evening. JIWA ensues. After they make up, they get into a water fight. Meredith (AKA Merry, but sometimes AKA Merrie) walks in on them. They are chastened. Merrie has a message for Jane: her mother saw an article in the paper about the Canby Hall strike, and is not happy. Jane calls her mother, who insists that Jane come home. After much negotiation, Jane convinces her mother to let her stay.

The next day Jane is stunned to see that despite all her hard work the day before, the fourth-floor girls have managed to trash the bathroom again. A little voice in her head notes that the strikers work this hard every day as a matter of survival. Jane basically tells the voice to shove it.

All the students are working hard, and out of sympathy, none of the teachers are assigning homework. But somehow the maintenance work just keeps piling up. Turns out parents are pulling their kids out of the school in droves, which is messing up the blessed chore charts. JIWA ensues. The 407 girls make another decision on behalf of the entire school and decide to implement an emergency measure, whereby each girl eating in the Dining Hall cleans off her own plate, throws out her own garbage, and puts her own dishes in the industrial dishwasher. This helps lighten the kitchen duties.

The next day, Randy and Toby go with some Oakley guys to the lumberyard to pick up the lumber for the carnival booths. Toby has a voucher from Meredith to pay for the wood. While they’re waiting, they get a pizza, but this makes them late to return. In addition, the head of the lumberyard won’t honour the Canby Hall voucher, as rumours are going around town that the school will be closing soon. Toby talks him into it. Meanwhile, Andy takes a break from carnival work to take some cold drinks to the strikers on the picket line. Jane snipes that Andy is babying the very people who are responsible for this whole mess. Serious JIWA ensues. (To make things easy, always assume that JIWA is accompanied by fighting between Jane and Cary.) The workers are very grateful to Andy for her gesture of kindness. They tell her the Board of Trustees won’t talk to them. A carpenter named Leo tells her that if they have any trouble building the carnival booths, they should come to him.

When Randy and Toby finally return with the lumber, it’s time to pack up for the day. Everyone is mad that they took so long. I am distracted by wondering what on earth 20-year-old Randy is doing hanging around helping with a girls’ high school’s carnival. In real life, that dude would be so sketchy.

That evening, the girls of 407 have another idea – paring down the menus to things like salad and sandwiches so that cooking and cleanup will be easier. Merrie, who is a vegetarian (did we know this before? I know Alison was one. Is it a requirement that every Baker housemother forego meat?) offers to make up new menus and get PA’s approval. The girls return to Baker to find that the broom closet is a mess and there isn’t a single clean towel in the dorm. The chores aren’t under control. Neal calls Toby to find out how things are going and to tell her he’s coming to the carnival. Toby gets all dreamy. Back in the room, Jane’s precious Wedgwood blue sheets have turned green in the laundry thanks to the inexperienced hands of whoever was on laundry duty that week. JIWA ensues.

The next day it rains. Apparently the whole student body, or what’s left of it, is worried about missing an afternoon of carnival work. But the rain lets up and they hurry outside after classes to find that their expensive lumber has been thoughtfully covered by tarps. They figure out that the good Samaritan was Leo. Andy goes to take the striking workers coffee. Those left behind start working on building booths, a task at which blue-blooded Jane is not particularly adept. Cary asks her to go get drinks for the students. Even though she later asks Toby to do the same thing, she is outraged at the public humiliation of being told she’s only good for waitressing. On her way to do this supposedly menial task, Jane runs into Meredith, who tells her that PA approved the new simplified menus, but they need groceries. As Merrie has to go pick up office supplies for the teachers, she asks Jane to go into town to order the groceries to be delivered. Without telling anyone, Jane leaves on this errand. However, having had no prior experience with grocery shopping, Jane is disgusted by the quality of food available in the Greenleaf grocery store. The bread is spongy, the cold cuts are greenish, and the apples are small. She decides to buy the bread at a bakery, the meat from a meat market, and the fruit from the local specialty shop. Unsurprisingly, she quickly runs out of money. Luckily, she’s a Barrett, so she has plenty of her own. But she’s embarrassed at what a poor job she did on this errand, and chagrined when Meredith picks her up and tells her she could have just purchased canned or frozen fruit instead. Such concepts never entered her upper-crust mind.

When Jane gets back to campus, Cary is mad at her for skipping out on carnival work. Andy notes that they need to figure out how to make the dunking mechanism on the dunk tank work, but the master notebook of plans is impossible for them to decipher. Jane makes a snide remark about asking Andy’s precious friends on the picket line to translate, which Andy excitedly agrees to do.

The new menus are a hit, so after dinner Andy stands up in the Dining Hall and asks everyone to do a better job with their maintenance chores. A little later than I think would be realistic, her fellow students finally ask who died and left her boss, and why she volunteered them to do all this manual labour without actually asking. She convinces them that they all really do want Canby Hall to stay open, and that they don’t want to go to summer school. Her pep talk works and the students start attacking their chores with vigour.

Back at the dorm, the 407 girls clean their room and narrowly avoid another JIWA, because there’s water in the hallway. They trace the origin to a stopped-up sink in the bathroom that has been left on. They find out who was on bathroom duty and drag the now-sleeping girls out of their beds to clean up the mess. Tell me, how does all of this succeed if there aren’t any actual consequences for not doing your assigned chores, other than public shaming? This whole plan to keep the school open relies pretty heavily on the goodwill and strong work ethic of a large group of capricious teenagers. I’m thinking of a certain roommate I once had who readily agreed to equal cleaning duties, and when it was her turn simply skipped doing them. The rest of us couldn’t physically compel her to do what she’d agreed to do, so we either had to live in filth or clean ourselves. Our friendships with her didn’t survive, but I can’t say she cared. So would these girls?

Anyway, the next day, after having Leo successfully translate the building plans for her, Andy gets the dunk tank assembly started. She goes off to find the hose from the Baker House basement. Jane sneers that at least she’s not playing waitress for the picketers again. JIWA ensues. Meanwhile Andy, in the basement, is stymied by the heavy, old-fashioned hose and has to get Matt for backup. It takes two of them to wrestle the hose off the wall and up the stairs outside. (I mention this only because our friend the hose will make an important repeat appearance and I want you to be prepared. I am nothing if not thoughtful.) They fill the dunk tank and Jane volunteers to test the dunking mechanism. Andy hits the lever with deadly aim, dunking Jane. Happy with their work, and starving, Andy and Matt don’t bother to spend the two hours necessary to wrestle the hose back onto its rack, so they dump it down the basement steps and go to Pizza Pete’s.

Back at the dorm, Jane is frustrated because she can’t find a white blouse she wants to wear. Turns out there are ten on the floor of Dee and Maggie’s room, all missing owners. The girls are realizing that the laundry never returns within 24 hours anymore and, when it does return, is often discoloured or damaged. (I guess it makes sense that at a boarding high school, the laundry would be done for them, but it seems so odd to me to live in a dorm and not do your own laundry.) Jane, like the toddler she is, complains. JIWA ensues.

Jane then goes out with Cary and complains about him always taking Andy’s and the strikers’ sides. Massive JIWA ensues.

The weekend arrives and JIWA occurs again inside Room 407. Toby is assigned to gardening duty on the six tulip beds that are PA’s pride and joy. Toby is so relieved to escape the constant fighting and to have an outdoor chore that she attacks it with gusto. Randy shows up and asks her to go riding. She decides to turn the sprinklers on, go for her ride, and come back in time to turn them off. But on their ride, Randy asks her to tell him all about Neal and she loses track of time. They rush back to campus to find that someone (Merrie) has turned off the sprinklers, but too late. The waterlogged tulips are all swimming in massive pools of water and mud. Merrie, upset with Toby’s irresponsibility, has her bail out the excess water bucket by bucket and haul it to the wishing well. Toby has to do this walk of shame multiple times past the others doing carnival prep work, and her humiliation garners their sympathy. Once she finishes and joins them, hands full of blisters, Jane has her go get drinks for everyone. Somehow, although the very same request from Cary a few chapters back had Jane seeing red, this is OK. Jane and Cary are not speaking, but then they make up, and decide to go out that night. Jane, knowing Toby has had a bad day, generously invites her along. Cary is amazed at Jane’s wonderful character. (Despite her behaviour throughout this entire book.) That night, Jane regales them with stories of her disastrous grocery shopping trip. They meet up with Andy and Matt and stroll through the village, where they encounter workers from the picket line who are friendly to Andy but less so to the others.

The next day they’re doing more carnival prep work outside in bad weather. Leo and some of his striking friends return Andy’s kindness and bring the students cookies and hot chocolate. Jane, naturally, can’t let this be and makes hostile comments. Massive JIWA ensues. The workers retreat. Cary is once again not speaking to Jane.

Toby calls Neal, who has been Jane’s boyfriend since they were born and who is still her friend. Though loyal Toby doesn’t say a word against Jane, Neal figures out that Jane has been ruining things with her attitude about the strike.

The following week, the teachers finally realize these kids are at school to learn things like algebra and not how to scrub a toilet, and start assigning homework again. The girls don’t know how they’re going to get homework done on top of classes, carnival work and maintenance chores. Andy decides she will simply stop sleeping.

That afternoon, a plumbing leak occurs in the laundry room. Merrie comes over to the group working on carnival stuff and asks Cary, who has a car, to pick up some repair supplies and to take a Canby Hall girl with him so the school payment voucher will be accepted. Jane, as his girlfriend, naturally assumes he’ll take her, but Cary ignores her and asks Toby. Jane is mortified and furious. Andy talks her down, but Jane decides she is now ignoring Cary. Goodness gracious, what does anyone see in either of these two infants?

That night, conversation turns to an apparently crucial component of the Almost Summer Carnival: the pie-baking contest. Jane has no intention of participating. Unfortunately for her, Andy has already signed her up.

After Toby tells Jane that Cary couldn’t stop talking about her during their trip to the hardware store, Jane makes up her mind to apologize. However, Cary refuses to listen, and her pride won’t let her beg. Andy, watching this, tells Matt that she hates when Jane’s not getting along with Cary, because she takes it out on everyone around her, especially Andy and Toby. See what I mean? The Jane of this book is such an immature wretch! What kind of friend does that? Sure enough, at dinner Jane keeps up a steady stream of complaints (the soup is cold, the sandwich is bulky, there’s a gum wrapper on the floor) and constantly looks for more things to criticize. The others finally tell her to put a sock in it. Back at the room, Toby is in the shower when there’s a knock at the door from someone saying Toby has a long-distance call downstairs. Jane, correctly guessing that it’s from Neal, jumps to take the call for her, over Andy’s disapproval. Jane eagerly goes down to talk to her old friend, assuming that he’s the one person who will understand her feelings over this ridiculous, inconvenient strike, since he grew up just like she did. Since everyone in this book is a reasonable human being except her, she is wrong. Neal does not sympathize with her. You would think that every single person around you having a certain viewpoint might convince you to at least consider that your position might be wrong. But our friend Jane does not have that advanced a level of self-awareness. She simply hangs up on Neal and goes back to the room. When Toby returns from the shower, Andy tells her that Neal called, because she’s not at all sure Jane will. Seriously? I kind of hate you right now, Jane. Toby is upset that Jane didn’t come get her. Jane tells her Neal’s changed. Andy and Toby figure out that that means Jane complained about the strike and Neal didn’t take her side.

The next morning they wake up to a hailstorm and a power outage. For some reason the dorm is simultaneously sweltering. The girls are upset because they realize that their carnival booths are probably being destroyed. Suddenly, a chunk of hail shatters their window. They escape to the hallway to find most of their dormmates taking shelter there. Merrie starts organizing teams to clean up the glass, tack blankets across the broken windows, and collect food since they’ll all be stranded inside all day. She also notes that the temperature is really high despite the cold outside, and sends Jane to the basement to turn off the furnace.

Once there, Jane finds that the entire basement (which is dark, since there’s no power) is covered in an inch of water. She successfully turns off the furnace, but notices that the reason the basement is flooded is because there’s a hole in the wall through which rain is pouring. She finds a suitably-sized log and plugs up the hole. But when she goes up the stairs to leave, the door is stuck. She realizes she’ll have to leave by the door that leads outside, which means she’ll have to go out into the storm. But as she steps back down into the basement and the icy water, something winds itself around her right ankle and holds it tight. The ancient red rubber hose has made the reappearance I promised you.

Meanwhile Cary and Matt have bravely fought their way over to Baker House from Oakley Prep to help, since their maintenance crew is repairing the damage on their campus, but they know the Canby girls currently have no maintenance crew. Everyone wonders where Jane is. Our reluctant heroine is fighting to free herself from the hose, but her fingers are stiff and cold and she is unable to undo it. The hose becomes so tight that her entire leg is in pain. Plus, since the furnace is now off, she’s freezing. Then the log, incessantly pummeled by the rain, pops out of the hole and the level of water in the basement begins to rise again. Jane, genuinely frightened that she might drown, decides to drag the entire hose with her to the outside door. But as she tries to do so, her left ankle also gets trapped in a coil. To add insult to injury, the log that had been plugging the hole rushes by and hits her in the shin. She does the only thing left for her to do and starts screaming.

Surprisingly, this is not dragged out very long. By the very next page, Andy, Toby, Matt and Cary are hearing her calls for help. They can’t get the basement door open either, so they go out into the storm and through the outdoor entrance. When they finally get into the basement, all they can see is Jane standing in the middle of the floor, knee-deep in water. Toby asks why Jane didn’t at least come up the stairs to stay dry. “I’m prospecting for gold, Toby,” Jane replies. “If you join me, I’ll split my findings with you fifty-fifty.” Hee! When she explains that she’s not just hanging around, she’s actually stuck in a garden hose, Andy realizes her negligence is to blame and, because she’s a good person, is filled with remorse. If Jane had been the one responsible, she’d have found a way to blame the strikers. Anyway, the others eventually manage to free Jane and plug up the hole. Andy uses an axe to chop down the basement door. We are never told how all the damage in the basement is fixed. Anyway, they get a good look at Jane’s ankles, which are discoloured and the size of baseballs. Andy cries. Jane is put to bed and Cary keeps her company. The others go outside to survey the storm’s destruction, which is significant. The campus is a lake and only one of the ten completed booths is still intact.

Fed up, Andy decides to go to PA and tell her that they just can’t keep going without help. Toby goes with her. When they arrive, they find that PA has decided to close the school. With no workers and no windows, it’s too much. (As an aside, how do these teenage girls just get an audience with the headmistress of their private school whenever they want, no appointment necessary? PA’s personal assistant needs a talking-to.) Andy tells PA to simply end the strike and make everyone go back to work. When PA says she can’t do that, Andy says that maybe PA really wants Canby Hall to close. Uh … rude, much? PA is hurt by this. She tells the girls that the strike has nothing to do with her, she has no power to end it, and she can’t believe the girls thought all this time that she could. Andy feels bad. I am mystified. Andy is the girl who has displayed an uncanny understanding of the nature of labour laws and disputes throughout this entire book, and now suddenly has the impression that the headmistress could have ended that pesky little strike at any time. Makes no sense to me. Andy comes up with a new plan and asks PA for the names and addresses of each member of the Board of Trustees. She’s going to go visit each one herself. Since there are apparently no regulations concerning privacy, PA gives this information to her.

Andy and Toby go into town and head to the home of the first name on the list. An unfriendly man opens the door, but he agrees to let them in so they can plead their case. (Girls, haven’t you ever heard of stranger danger?) They tell him they love their school and don’t want to see it close. “Hmph!” he says, adjusting the bow tie he’s wearing for a casual Sunday lunch at home. “Should have been closed the minute those workers walked off the job, if you ask me.” (Now would a trustee really believe that? As was mentioned earlier in this book, closing down a private school before the end of term could finish the school forever. Many parents would refuse to send their daughters back once the school reopened. Would shutting down Canby Hall really be something the Board of Trustees would be OK with?)

“Oh no sir,” Toby responds. “I came all the way from Texas to get my education at Canby and it’s a good education.” It is noted that the trustee’s “expression indicated clearly that he thought Texas should be closed down along with Canby Hall.” I laughed out loud.

The girls tell him what they think should be done, which is to give the workers their hours back and give them a raise. And where is that money supposed to come from, I ask you? But Andy and Toby do not concern themselves with such minutiae. And since he listens, they consider the visit a success.

At the next trustee’s house, they don’t even get in the door. That trustee refuses to let them in or listen to what they have to say. But he does say that the first trustee called him and told him he should listen to their spiel, so Andy and Toby are encouraged. Conveniently, at the next house, three of the remaining trustees are together having lunch. They listen to Andy and Toby’s plea and promise to pass on the message to the sixth remaining trustee.

That afternoon, as the phone lines were damaged from the storm, a call for Jane accidentally goes to another girl’s room. That girl tells the caller that Jane can’t come to the phone because she had an accident and can’t walk. Turns out the caller was Jane’s mom, who calls Merrie and tells her they are coming to pick up Jane in three days after they return from a business trip. If they’re that concerned about her safety, wouldn’t they send a driver to pick her up that night? Jane does not want to go home, so is upset.

That evening in the Dining Hall, PA and the three housemothers (although at least one of the houses was overseen by a married couple in a previous book) arrive with an announcement. Everyone inside the book thinks they’re coming to tell them that the school is closing. But everyone outside the book can flip ahead, see there are only 17 pages left, and predict that the announcement is actually that the strike is over. Which would be correct. The maintenance crew is coming back to work that night and will be working around the clock to catch up. PA asks Andy and Toby in particular to stand up for congratulations, since of course the strike ending is basically their doing entirely. She also says they will all be excused from afternoon classes for the next three days to catch up on carnival prep work. (The people at this school totally have their priorities straight.) The student body is elated.

Jane is the only one who’s not overjoyed, since she’s leaving. Andy decides that the way to convince her parents to let her stay is for Jane to bake a really awesome pie. Neither Jane nor I understand how that will work. A couple of nights later, the Canby girls and Oakley boys are all in a kitchen somewhere or other baking their pies. Jane is having fun, once she realizes that she is not the only one ignorant in the ways of pie creation.

The morning of the first day of the Almost Summer Carnival is the day Jane’s parents are arriving to pick her up. Jane decides she’s not going to go peacefully. The roommates discuss her pie, which is sitting on her nightstand and which “looked like something that had been fashioned out of clay by a very small and perhaps near-sighted child.” Again, I admit I laughed. They spend the afternoon getting all the carnival food (including Toby’s suggestion, which naturally was tacos) ready.

Jane’s parents arrive in the evening, dressed in a silk dress and silk suit entirely unsuitable for carnival-going. Jane insists that they go to the carnival to see the fruits of all their hard work. At first, the Barretts are unimpressed, refusing to eat the food or enjoy the sights. But then they end up in front of the ring toss booth, which sparks some sort of long-buried memory in the brain of Mr. Barrett. He transforms into a ring-tossing machine and Mrs. Barrett morphs into a giddy schoolgirl who confidently tells Jane that he’s going to win a panda bear for her, as he did once long ago. Jane is gobsmacked that her parents were ever at a carnival before this. Mr. Barrett goes on to win the panda bear and a collection of other prizes, which he hands to Mrs. Barrett, who hands them, “queen-like, to Matt and Cary to hold for her.” That image also made me crack up. Then they start eating tacos. This is so out of character for them (after all, Jane did say that a burger is as ethnic as their eating in Boston gets) that Jane realizes they have fallen under the spell of the Almost Summer Carnival and somehow that means she won’t have to go home after all. The book ends with Andy breaking the news that a boy named Russell Swanson’s Apple Crumb Pie ended up winning the pie-baking contest (love that a boy won!) and Jane threatening to throw her pie at Cary.

So somehow all Jane’s incredibly selfish remarks and how they might reflect on her character are forgotten, and she and Cary are together again. Luckily, the old tolerable Jane is back in the next book, if I recall correctly. And hey, this one wasn’t so bad – there wasn’t a single mention of an Old Girl! I’ll take snotty Jane over Dana, Faith or Shelley any day!

Not Wanting to Hang Out With the 407 Girls As a Clinical Sign of Severe Pathology … or, Canby Hall #22, Troublemaker

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Canby Hall #22 - Troublemaker

You know what always bugged me about YA novels? The way they would introduce new characters — seemingly important new characters, judging by the amount of time and ink spent outlining them — and then NEVER MENTION THEM AGAIN. Perhaps current series are also guilty of this (I don’t know, because I’m just now realizing that I don’t actually read any modern series … are there legitimate book series with recurring characters out there for adults? I guess you could consider Tana French‘s Dublin Murder Squad, truly some of my favourite books on the planet, a series, but the whole point of her novels is that she picks one character from the preceding book and builds a new story around them, so it’s not an issue that everyone else is forgotten. She is such a lyrically gifted, haunting, and still technically perfect writer that I would never criticize her anyway. Man, I’m distractible. Where was I?) Canby Hall #22 is an example of this nonsense. Here we have, in excruciating detail, one Laura Lee Evans shoved down our throats. And much like Mary Beth Grover in the early part of the series, we pretty much never hear from her again. Was Laura Lee supposed to be the New 407 Girls’ Casey Flint, their non-roommate sidekick? Then why is Penny Vanderark introduced two books from now? (And Penny really does take over the Casey role to some extent.) And why weren’t next-door neighbours Maggie and Dee enough for the New Girls? Was it because they didn’t live alone and therefore always had each other? Do the roommates really have to always be this magical threesome bestowing benevolence upon lonely singleton dormmates?

Obviously I’m not hip enough to get it, so let’s get to it.

The book opens with Toby moaning about the snow. Her roommates diagnose her with the Winter Blahs. Texas Toby goes on and on about how crappy the winter season is, and it just seems a tad overdone to me. The Toby Houston I know wouldn’t make this big a deal out of anything. Anyway, Andy and Jane decide to throw a Winter Blahs party for Toby and invite the whole dorm. Toby asks if this party will be similar to the quilting bees they have back home. Did she grow up in 1923? She is informed that it will be a boy-girl party. She then wonders whom she should ask. Really, Toby? This again? How many times do we have to reestablish your burgeoning relationship with Neal? Inexplicably, the roommates suggest Randy, and then suggest Neal. Toby, who apparently did grow up in 1923, says there’s no way she can call up a boy and ask him to a party. However, she becomes way too excited and invested in the upcoming event, which I can understand, as standing around drinking flat soda, eating Cheetos, and listening to a terrible high school band would definitely be the highlight of my month. Of note, the opening to this book describes Andy as having “a wonderful hipness that came from growing up in Chicago.” I am definitely resolving to use the phrase “a wonderful hipness” more often.

Spirits are dampened, however, when new housemother Meredith can’t give them permission for the party. A brief recap of Meredith’s difficult start at Baker House is given, with evidence that she has changed for the better being provided in the form of her new hairstyle, which is a “body perm” given to her by the fourth-floor girls. This poor woman has to have a perm, and she can’t even have it done by professionals? Anyway, Meredith says they have to ask headmistress PA. The usual blather is given about how they’re all too terrified to even consider doing so. Despite the millions of times they’ve asked for and received favours from her in the past.

The girls are discussing their party plans with Maggie and Dee in the Dining Hall, where it is decided that California Dee will also be a guest of honour, and Gigi Norton and her best only friend begin eavesdropping. Gigi, as you will recall, was Jane’s roommate the year before, was dubbed The Worst Person in the World, and is the new Pamela. And apparently, Canby Hall ghostwriters love alliterating “Y” names, as the void left by Pamela’s movie star mother Yvonne Young has been filled by Gigi’s lame friend Yolanda York. Gigi is jealous that the 407 girls and their friends are planning a party to which she will likely not be invited (because she doesn’t live in their dorm, but details details.) Gigi tells Yolanda that she’s going to throw an even better party and will ask her parents for money to make it AMAZE-BALLS. Yolanda innocently inquires if Gigi actually knows where her parents are. Apparently Gigi’s parents are well-known photographers who travel the globe and occasionally think to leave information with their agent on how their only child can reach them. Ah. So Gigi has issues because her parents neglect her. It’s Casey all over again. Gigi marches over to the 407 girls’ table and informs them that she’s having an awesome party too. They try to get out of going and she tries to pin them down. I don’t understand this. She hates them, so why would she want them to attend? She tells them her theme is going to be “Come as Someone You Hate.” Toby stands up to her and tells her the idea is evil. The other girls back her up. Gigi leaves with the threat that they will all regret this.

The next day Andy is panicking because she just realized that a huge history paper is due the next week. She had a month to work on it, but wasted most of that in the dance studio, so she’s way behind the rest of her class on the assignment. So now she has to spend from now till the due date in the library, which means she won’t be able to help out with the Winter Blahs party. Toby has been inordinately and inexplicably counting on this party to lift her spirits and is worried that Andy’s procrastination will ruin things for her. Unselfishness, thy name is “Canby Hall Girl.”

In the dining hall, they encounter the aforementioned Laura Lee Evans. She is very thin and very pale with “fragile-looking” skin, and is also very quiet, wears very conservative clothes, and keeps to herself. Although she’s also a fourth-floor girl, the others rarely see her. Since no one can be allowed to live a life independent of the 407 girls, Jane goes over and invites her to their party. Laura Lee says “I don’t really think about things like parties” and moves to a table farther away to sit by herself. Jane is mystified and the 407 girls discuss how Laura Lee is always alone, has no friends, and has the only single room in all of Baker House. (Until Penny arrives in a couple of books, but who’s keeping track? Besides, um, me?) Jane, Andy, Toby, Maggie and Dee make it their mission to find out why Laura Lee is so unhappy (their assumption) and how to get her to stop being a hermit.

Really, poor Laura Lee.

Anyway, the next morning Jane awakens to find the entire campus covered in a sheet of ice. She discovers that no salt has been spread because the handyman is sick and PA’s phone line is down, so the headmistress doesn’t know. The handyman’s wife tells them there’s a barrel of salt and sand at every dorm and the students will have to spread it themselves, even though there are insurance restrictions on that. There is no barrel at PA’s house, so now Jane is worried about her. Jane and Toby spread the sand all over the campus and up to PA’s door. We then go through the entire cliched song-and-dance: PA observes this impassively, she orders them to come inside, Jane and Toby are terrified, then PA says she’s “never been more proud of two Canby Hall girls”, they relax, yada yada. PA then tells them that Meredith told her about their co-ed party and permission is granted because they have just proven themselves to be responsible. I don’t really know what spreading salt has to do with allowing boys into a dorm for a party, but OK.

We cut to Gigi on a winter walk around campus, noting to Yolanda that she doesn’t need to get permission from PA for her party because she rented out the back room of Pizza Pete’s. She couldn’t afford a posher place because she never did get in touch with her parents, but no matter. At that moment, Texas Toby and California Dee come out to the pond to make their first attempt at ice skating, and Gigi and Yolanda hide behind a tree to watch. Toby starts bellyaching about how Andy could have spared a little time from her obsession with her history paper to teach them how to skate. Self-absorbed, much? Because ice skating is more important than schoolwork? Toby then snarks that “Jane’s a true friend” and “some certain roommates” shouldn’t have left their work for the last minute. This kind of disloyalty is totally not Toby. I hate when characters’ actions don’t ring true. Unsurprisingly, they both wipe out once finally on the ice and Gigi comes out from her hiding place to mock them. Dee and Toby realize she heard their entire conversation. And that is one reason why you don’t badmouth people, October Houston.

Back in 407, Toby makes more snide remarks to Andy. Andy is shocked that Toby is mad at her. Me too, dude. They start talking about the party and Andy mentions that she’ll invite Matt, but she really wishes she could invite Steve Palmer from her parents’ restaurant. Fidelity, thy name is “Canby Hall Girl.” She goes to call Matt, and Toby complains that Andy has time to make a phone call but not to teach her how to skate. Jane shuts her down firmly, and it’s about time. Toby agrees to stop whining, but says “that still doesn’t mean I have to be happy about this history project of hers.” Toby, I’ve always liked you, so it pains me to say this, but … you’re being kind of a jerk.

Toby then gets a phone call from Randy so she takes the opportunity to ask him to the party, but he wisely turns her down. Gigi, who is apparently everywhere, overhears this too and does her best to make Toby feel worse. Back in the room, they’re all discussing Gigi’s upcoming party when Andy begs them to keep it down. Why is she attempting to get any work done in a room shared with others? Take thee to a deserted corner of the library, woman! Toby says she hopes Andy’s work won’t keep her from the W.B. party. Jane and Maggie push her into the fourth-floor bathroom and tell her (again) to stop picking on Andy. Laura Lee walks in with hairstyling products and, at the sight of them, tries to scuttle away. Maggie offers to help her with her hair and, when Laura Lee declines, Jane jumps in with the only logical conclusion: “Laura Lee, why are you so afraid of people?” Yes, because there could be no other reason why she wouldn’t want you touching her head. LL says she’s not afraid, she just likes to be alone. When asked why she came to Canby Hall then, she says she had to come because it’s a tradition in her family. Jane says it’s also a tradition for Canby Hall girls to make friends. LL says “I can’t, so why don’t you just leave me alone?” I’m on your side, Laura Lee. These bulldozers would make anyone join a monastery and take a vow of solitude.

After dusting themselves off from their rejection by an obviously crazy person because who else would ever reject them, Jane and Maggie make Toby call Neal and ask him to the W.B. party. Of course Neal gracefully accepts. As Gigi and Yolanda have no lives and have decided to follow the Baker House girls around everywhere, Yolanda was eavesdropping on this conversation from behind a pillar. When Yolanda reports on this to her master Gigi, Gigi notes that she knows Neal’s address at school because he was Jane’s boyfriend last year, when Gigi and Jane were roommates. Gigi starts ominously rolling a piece of paper into her typewriter.

The 407 crew starts ticking off their list of respective dates. It is noted that Cary is going because, a) he likes Jane, and b) although “Ambulance was good, they didn’t get asked to play that many gigs.” Yet they got invited to Colorado??? Dee starts sketching a palm tree she’s going to paint on her dorm room wall. This gives Jane an idea.

Andy is in the library and spots Laura Lee sitting by herself. Like the boundary-challenged person she is, she sits down next to her. LL clearly doesn’t want to talk, but Andy blathers on. She’s having a tough time with her history paper because her topic is black history in America, which is sort of, you know, broad. LL suggests that she narrow it down to black women in America. Andy is amazed and grateful at this groundbreaking idea, and convinced that LL must actually be a super-great person.

Jane has come up with a secret idea that is supposed to be a wonderful surprise to Toby and the reader, but which will only surprise the former. She goes to the Greaf Diner to tell Cary what she wants the band to wear to the W.B. party. He violently objects, but she is calmly confident that she will eventually change his mind.

Proving that they’re no better than The Worst Person in the World, the 407 girls hide in the bushes outside Addison House to see what Gigi and Yolanda will be wearing to their “Come as Someone You Hate” party. Turns out Yolanda is dressed as Ms. Merriweather, the dining hall’s head cook, and Gigi is dressed as a slovenly Toby Houston. The 407 girls vow revenge. Over at Pizza Pete’s, Gigi is starting to panic because no one has shown up to her party. Just then, five creatures in strange costumes (sheets with socks, balloons, and red blobs on them) show up. They say they came as things they hate: pizza, parties (specifically Gigi’s), and the sock pile that lives on Gigi’s floor, with which her former roommate is very familiar. They tell Gigi she’s a creep for picking her party theme and that because of it, no one at Canby Hall will attend.This doesn’t strike me as realistic because, a) in real life, mean girls are unfortunately usually pretty popular, and b) I definitely don’t believe that every teenage girl in a school would have enough moral fortitude to reject a party on the grounds of incivility.

Neal sends Toby flowers in advance of their W.B. party date. Dude, cool it. It’s called overkill. A package for Andy arrives from her parents, and every girl present in the dorm lobby is excited, since the Cords’ boxes of treats are legendary around school. The gang of girls traipses upstairs behind the box to watch Andy open it and share the goodies. When Andy does, she finds a note stating that it’s a Term Paper Survival Kit from her family. Organic vitamins, prunes, herbal tea, gorp, Turkish dates, beef jerky, saltless peanuts, and wheat-germ granola are all included. The gathered girls, faces falling, start politely backing out of the room. Just as the last ones disappear, Andy penetrates the deeper layer of the box. Turns out the health-food items were just to deter poachers. Underneath are beautifully iced petit fours. The 407 crew, Dee and Maggie dive in. Because they can’t just let sleeping dogs lie, Toby marches down to Laura Lee’s room. It is noted that hers is the only door in the dorm without decorations or messages from friends. Toby invites LL (who really was sleeping – nice idiom choice on my part) to 407, but LL declines. Toby gives her a petit four and says cake is the easiest way to make friends. LL repeats the word “friends” in a daze like she’s never heard it before. Toby then babbles on about how she didn’t think she needed anyone either when she first came to Canby Hall, but life is much better when you let friends in, and all LL has to do is accept their offer of friendship. Good grief, these people are pushy! LL effectively says she’ll think about it, but the cake has visibly softened her. (As it would me.)

Meanwhile Gigi and Yolanda are hiding in the infamous fourth-floor broom closet. Seriously, these two need an extracurricular or something. Yolanda reports that she overheard the 407 crew saying eventually they’d “get through” to Laura Lee. Gigi takes this to mean that they want something from LL, and decides that she and Yolanda will spy on her, too. She has major revenge plans in mind. She asks Yolanda if any girls are outside the door, and Yolanda says no. As they scamper out of the closet, they come face-to-face with Meredith. Yolanda, who is not the brightest Crayola in the box, says Gigi just asked if there were any girls around, not if any staff were around. Meredith comes up to them and asks why they’re in her dorm. They claim they’re on a scavenger hunt. Meredith privately vows to keep an eye on them.

That night, Toby and Jane call Neal. Toby wants to thank him for the flowers, Jane wants to let him know how to dress for her secret party theme. Neal, however, yells and hangs up on Toby, who starts sobbing. The omnipresent Gigi and Yolanda are hiding behind a chair, enjoying the scene. Apparently Neal received a letter saying that Toby never wanted to go to the party with him, that she really wanted to go with Randy, and that she was going around school making fun of Neal. The letter was signed by Andy. Luckily, Jane immediately calls Neal back, tells him Andy would never do such a thing so the letter must be a prank, and manages to smooth things over between him and Toby. She then sees Laura Lee in the lounge, looking at the H volume of the encyclopedia. (Whenever a detail like that is included, you can be assured we’ll hear about it again.) LL tells Jane she heard giggling coming from behind some chairs and the front door of the dorm subsequently opening and closing. Jane decides to tell LL all about Gigi and Yolanda. “It’s kind of scary, all this intrigue that goes on at a boarding school,” LL responds. “I don’t believe I can handle it.” And then she runs out of the room. Jane goes over to look at what she was reading. The encyclopedia is open to the HEA page. LL could have been reading about Health Insurance, Hearing Aids, William Randolph Hearst, or Hearts. Jane wonders if LL’s secret is that she needs hearing aids, but then realized that she heard the giggling, so that couldn’t be it. Uh, wearing hearing aids would have helped her do that.

Andy confirms that, obviously, she did not write the poisonous letter. The 407 girls acknowledge that it must have been Gigi. Well, at least they didn’t insult our intelligence by dragging out that epiphany. Andy writes a letter to Steve saying that her history paper is done and all she has to do is type it. She goes to Greenleaf for fresh typing supplies. While window-shopping, she spies Laura Lee and guidance counselor Michael Frank get out of a taxi. (There’s no one else with them, because as we know, this is a man who cares nothing about the potential for sexual assault allegations.) “Now Laura Lee, are you sure you don’t mind my going upstairs with you?” he asks. LL responds that she doesn’t, “because it won’t make any difference, one way or another.” After they enter a building, Andy goes over to read the sign and sees that it lists lawyers, doctors, dentists and a travel agency. She doesn’t know which office LL and Michael have gone to. The plot thickens. Andy then bumps into Yolanda, who assumes that Andy must be following Laura Lee around too. When Andy assures her she is not, Yolanda tells her that LL visits Michael in his office all the time and never takes gym class. Andy self-righteously marches off, but her curiosity is piqued.

Back at the dorm, Andy is bragging about her speed-typing skills. Apparently she used to type her older brother’s papers so he would let her “play his hottest albums.” Toby decides to go into town to get snacks. (Jane, in a nice throwback which I appreciate because I am not at all used to continuity in this series, requests cherries jubilee.) Dee is busy painting her wall palm tree. Right after Toby leaves, the 407 phone rings with the message that Meredith wants everyone up in her apartment immediately for an emergency dorm meeting. The caller appears to be speaking through a handkerchief, and hangs up when Jane asks who it is. Andy reluctantly gets up and puts all her typed pages and notes in a red folder on her desk. They pick up Dee and go up to Meredith’s apartment, where they find they’re the only ones there and Merry isn’t even at home. They realize the call was a hoax. They dash back down to their rooms, where they find someone has ruined Dee’s painting with blobs of paint. They have also stolen Andy’s history paper folder, which contained her only copy of the paper, leaving a pair of red mittens in their wake. (These pranks seem awfully similar to the stuff Pamela pulled when she first arrived on the scene. And I see locks still haven’t been installed in this wildly naive institution.)

The girls are silenced by this tragedy, then all start looking for the paper. Eventually Toby returns and is filled in. She is horrified, and mentions that her mittens were stolen too, while she was signing out downstairs. Andy holds up the mittens that were found on her desk and asks if they’re Toby’s, which they are. Page 5 of Andy’s paper is then found under a pile of Western shirts in Toby’s drawer.

Thanks to ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, they don’t drag out the roommates’ mutual suspicion for long. These people are best friends, and that would have been just too ridiculous. They quickly recognize that Gigi must have been behind the theft. Naturally, they decide not to go to the authorities, which would end this book in about two more pages, purportedly because that would tempt Gigi into destroying the paper completely instead of just hiding it. (THANK GOD FOR PERSONAL COMPUTERS.) They come up with a plan and go to Laura Lee’s room. They ask her to participate because she’s the only one who doesn’t take gym class.

The plan is put in place and the reader is subjected to watching it unfold. In the dining hall, within earshot of Gigi and Yolanda, Andy says loudly that she is no longer speaking to Toby, who stole her history paper, and that she and others will be boycotting the W.B. party. On the other side of the dining hall, Toby is complaining loudly about how Andy wrote a horrible letter to her boyfriend. We are told that Part A of this ingenious plan is complete. We are not told how many painful parts there actually are.

The next day in creative writing class, which Jane shares with Gigi, Jane starts a class discussion and asks what her teacher thinks of someone who works for weeks on a paper and then has it stolen. When the teacher, feeling great referred pain on the part of this hypothetical fellow writer, expresses strong sympathy, Gigi scoffs, “Oh please. Anybody who thinks about this has to realize — why didn’t the airhead take better care of her stupid history paper? I mean honestly. You don’t just go waltzing out of the room and leave something that valuable on the desk.” She and the other students realize she’s said too much, but the teacher just says that Gigi has “a most peculiar outlook on life.” The others tell Gigi she’s sick and that the thief will get in big trouble. Isn’t that enough? She all but confessed right there. Oh, we’re only on page 126. The ghostwriter was contracted through page 168. So it’s not. But that was Part B.

Part C takes place during gym class, which Gigi cuts. She goes back to her room in Addison House instead and picks up her locker key. In the hallway, she runs into Laura Lee. Gigi accuses LL of spying on her and calls her a head case for her frequent meetings with Michael. LL asks her why she needs her locker key. Gigi, furious, gets in a few cutting remarks and runs away.

We move to Jane meeting Laura Lee at the front gates as planned (why?) and congratulating her on her detective work. Jane tells her that Andy will be following Gigi to the lockers to make sure Gigi doesn’t destroy the history paper. After that it will be Jane’s shift, and then Toby’s. As it’s an emergency, they’re all taking a chance and cutting a few classes today. LL admires their dedication and Jane says that’s what friends are for. At that moment, LL freaks out at the sight of a car entering the school gates. It’s her parents, coming to check up on her. In desperation, she asks Jane for a favour. Apparently her parents and “all the doctors” want her to be involved at school, mix with people, and make friends. Every time her parents visit they find her all alone and then get upset. Jane thinks LL’s parents must be monsters.

Meanwhile Andy is following a nervous, pacing Gigi and tails her into the library. There, Meredith spots Andy and wonders why she’s cutting class. Then Merry spots Gigi and, having heard the story of the stolen history paper through the grapevine, figures out what Andy’s doing. And … leaves her to it. Because that makes sense.

Jane, ready to hate LL’s parents, meets them. They are thrilled to see their daughter with a friend. They recognize Jane’s name; turns out LL’s mom went to school with Jane’s aunts, fellow members of the “Renegade Brigade,” a group of girls that got into some vague mischief back in the day. The Evanses want to take the girls out for lunch, but they have class (which they’re not attending, but OK) so they head over to pay a visit to PA instead. LL thanks Jane for pretending to be her friend, saying “I’ve never seen them so happy.” Jane tells her she wasn’t pretending. Awww.

On to Part D of the plan (DEAR SWEET HEAVEN HOW MANY PARTS ARE THERE) as Jane goes to relieve Andy of her surveillance duties. On the way she runs into Meredith, who cryptically lets her know she’s figured out what’s going on. Jane whispers some new exciting plan into Andy’s ear, and she runs off. Jane then takes up spying on Gigi, who heads for the building with the lockers. Jane ends up alone with Gigi in the basement of lockers as Gigi pulls out the infamous red folder. Gigi tells Jane it’ll just be Jane’s word against hers, and starts ripping up the paper. At that moment, Laura Lee steps out of the shadows. She’d decided to cut class herself in case Jane needed backup. Suddenly, inexplicably, everyone else shows up. Maggie snaps a photograph of Gigi holding the paper. Dee comes in with a paint can and threatens to upend it on Gigi. Andy takes the paper back from Gigi who, knowing she’s been caught red-handed, tells them all to lighten up and that it was just a joke. They all decide to leave her alone and not involve any adults. Again.

Giddy with relief, the 407 girls, Maggie, Dee and Laura Lee link arms as they walk across campus. They run into LL’s parents, who are overjoyed to see her with a group of friends. Mrs. Evans starts crying and each girl introduces herself and says something “extra nice” about Laura Lee. “It was a beautiful moment, one of those glittering moments to be etched in stone to last forever.” Uh, more cheese, please? Gigi shows up and tells LL’s parents that LL is “too strange to have friends” and that she’s crazy since she’s always seeing doctors and shrinks. This prompts LL to make her grand, stunning confession: she has a bad heart.

[crickets]

That‘s the solution to the great mystery? Oh brother. The girls start “adding up all the clues”: LL’s pale skin, a sign of poor circulation; her fear of people and friendships; her frequent naps and many visits to doctors; the encyclopedia opened to H. “It was all so simple when you knew the facts.” Guess what, Eileen Hehl, ghostwriter? It was all very simple when we didn’t know the facts. No need to pat yourself on the back here. And also, can I just say, how ridiculous is it that Laura Lee would be looking up “Hearts” in an encyclopedia in a public place? If she’d had her condition all her life, wouldn’t she already have read everything she could get her hands on, and about her specific disorder, not just the generics? And why would a congenital heart condition make you afraid of people? Ugh. Anyway, LL’s parents then tell the girls that actually, LL has been cured. The doctors all want her to live a full, active life. But LL can’t accept it and doesn’t believe it, even though Michael Frank even went with her to Greenleaf to confer with her medical doctor. Somehow after this conversation, though, LL’s mind has been suddenly changed and she will now try everything a regular Canby Hall girl does. The Evanses take all the girls out to the Greenleaf Inn to celebrate.

The day of the W.B. party, it finally thaws. Andy’s paper is safely turned in. Toby goes to meet Neal’s train. She’s looking good because Jane and Andy have trimmed her hair. I don’t care what year it was, you couldn’t have paid me to let a teenage friend near my head with scissors. The W.B. party committee, which now naturally includes an enthusiastic Laura Lee, starts decorating. That evening Toby and Dee are escorted, blindfolded, to the lounge. The great surprise is revealed: the party has a beach theme!

[crickets]

Ambulance is playing reggae. Heating lamps are everywhere. Styrofoam packing peanuts are strewn on the floor to simulate sand. Everyone is wearing bathing suits, Hawaiian shirts, and flip-flops. There are ridiculous beach hats. Cardboard hot dog and ice cream stands are on the walls. And super-cool Ambulance is wearing beach attire. That’s what Cary was making a fuss about? Chaperone Merry is sprawled out on a beach chair with a paperback, wearing a black woolen old-fashioned bathing suit that covers her entire body. I have literally never seen one of these in real life. Laura Lee is handing out sodas and tells Jane, “I never knew that parties could be so much fun” and “I just didn’t realize that friendship could be so important.” Why would a cardiac issue prevent this girl from having basic common sense? Turns out LL has also met a boy from Oakley Prep, and they go to dance. She calls out, “This is fun! I’m going to have to learn all the wild dances!” Wow, this teenage banter really rings true to life.

The next night is time for Part E (ARE YOU KIDDING ME) of the never-ending plan. In the dining hall, every single Baker House girl is dressed up like Gigi Norton. They’re carrying a sign that says “COSTUME PARADE! COME DRESSED AS SOMEONE YOU’D LIKE TO SHIP OFF TO A DESERT ISLAND – WITH A ONE-WAY TICKET!”

So they all dressed up as Gigi Norton, someone they hate. I’m sorry, how does this make them morally superior to her? At least she came up with the idea first.

This ridiculous book ends with all six girls helping Dee repair her painted palm tree. They comment on how lucky Gigi is that they didn’t go to PA with the story (and why didn’t they? Wouldn’t that be grounds for expulsion?) and Laura Lee says “You are the best bunch of friends that anyone could ever hope for,” presumably just before climbing back into her padlocked box, since we never hear from her again.

Thank God that’s over. Next up is Super Edition #2, which means an extra 60 or so pages of cheese to wade through. With the help of a strong sedative, I’m up for it if you are!