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

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.

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, shockingly, 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 twelve 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!


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

Canby Hall #26 - Help Wanted!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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


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?”


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!