Monday, May 2, 2022

THE STARS HANG HIGH by Janet Lambert

 


Oh my gosh, it's been so long since I read this that I don't even know who is on the covers? Definitely Bitsy, probably Susan. Maybe the boy is Keith Drayton, Alcie's brother in law. I must get to writing these recaps sooner. I am definitely losing the narrative thread!

So this is a big slice of Susan going to the Orient with her dad because she will never have a life of her own and Bitsy wanting to be as wonderful as Susan, but also being lonely.

There are two suitors for Susan - the aforementioned Keith and the wretched Bobby. I'm about 5 books ahead now and I have to say that I have forgiven Bobby for most of his wretched youth.

So Keith is crazy about Susan, but respectful and patient. Bobby wants what he wants when he wants it and he even pressures Bitsy into spying on Susan for him. And he finagles his way into a tour with some big muckety-muck so that he will be near Susan and her father on their trip.

While Susan is gone, Bitsy takes over her bookstore job and really jazzes the place up. Keith becomes a confidante to her and she ends up learning to make friends with some of the girls from school. She is lovely, but her personality has been going through an awkward phase. She gets up the gumption to invite a classmate, Anne, over for a visit over the weekend. Vance, Bitsy's otherwise wretched brother, is charmed. 

Speaking of charm, Bitsy tells Mrs. Jeffers, the bookshop owner, that her store lacks it and offers to update it. It takes some doing, but Jeffers eventually comes around. 

One interesting tidbit is Anne's back story, "I'm an only child...My mother's been quite sick, so I had to come to boarding school. She's in a sanitarium. Being mentally ill is just like having any other kind of sickness, you know." This seems very forward thinking for 1960.

Bitsy invites Anne to Alcie and Jonathan's for Thanksgiving and Anne teaches her to dance. Keith is there as well and they have a nice conversation.

Then we switch to Susan and her ship is coming it, and she dreads the fact that Bobby will probably be there. She meets a nice new grandma who is coming to Japan to meet her son's Japanese wife and their new baby. There is a bit of Lambertian propaganda about accepting this mixed marriage which is frankly, lovely.

But then Bobby shows up and spoils the mood. He has bought pearls for Susan which is quite the wrong move, and frankly, way too thirsty.  She declines the gift. He takes her to a geisha house for sukiyaki and there is a lot of Bobby being microagressive. 

Then we are back to Bitsy and the bookstore's grand re-opening where Vance is slightly less of a jerk and kind of saves the day. Keith shows up and starts calling BItsy Doll and it is creepy in a Bobby-like way. 

Then we whiplash back to Susan and her father is very ill in Hong Kong. Bobby steps in and helps out and begins his much needed redemption. There is also another bit of propaganda about how Communism feeds on hunger and how Americans have to educate and feed the poor people in third world countries to help their standard of living rise to keep them from becoming reds. He talks the General into going home where he can recover properly.

Bitsy finds out they will be home for Christmas and she is trying to hold everything together at home and deal with Susan's boyfriend drama with Keith. She's a busy little beaver. Ellen starts calling her "lovey" which she adores because it puts her on par with Susan. 

On the trip home, Susan and Bobby have a come to Jesus moment where she confesses she finally loves him back, but she hates the idea of being an Army wife, but she will hitch her star to his wagon nonetheless. And then he says he will quit the army and go into business for her because he pretty much sucks at the army. 

Bitsy spends the last chapter feeling bad for Keith, but recognizing that she is a bit player in that bigger story. Then there's some weird stuff with naming stars and blowing kisses and it ends. 

This wasn't one of my favorites, although I liked Lamberts little bits of social commentary and I found the travel parts interesting. And I liked Bitsy's growth arc. Okay, maybe I did like it after all!


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

BOY WANTED by Janet Lambert

 

Ah yes, BOY WANTED, the cry of my youth...

Well we are back with Patty and Ginger and Janet is here to show us the Goofus and Gallant of teenagerdom, circa 1959. If she is this concerned in '59, I can't wait to see what she makes of 1968! I have some friends who read a couple Lamberts and then stopped and I have to wonder if the magic of her early books will be all worn off when we get to her later work. Regardless of her propensity for propaganda, she sure can spin a yarn. 

Well we jump right in with Patty being awful about Mary Lou. Mary Lou is fat and will look horrible in a wool skirt and middy blouse (I think anyone would) and her attitude has nothing to do with the fact that ML beat her out for vice president of the class. 

Patty is jonesing for a letter from Tim, who she met in WE'RE GOING STEADY but who has, lucky for him, gotten away from her. She is also awful about Ginger, who is her rock, and always picks her last to come over after she has tried the popular girls. 

Patty's big brother Douglas makes the mistake of saying that Ginger has personality and Patty takes it as a personal affront. When Ginger comes over she makes a big deal about it and they decide to list their positive attributes. Patty has a million things she thinks she is good at, but Ginger is stumped. Nice girls don't love themselves, I guess. The decide they're both fine and give each other nicknames - Ginger is Personality and Patty is Plus. Weirdos. 

So the gist of the story is that Tim is coming back. Patty has been pining and he has promptly forgotten about her, although he remembers Ginger was fun. In other news, Ginger is pining for Spark Plug, the Kenny Jenkins of her life. (Kenny Jenkins was the adorable motor head who lived next door when I was in middle school and high school and was 2 years older than me - fantasy fodder for sure...) And there is a mean teacher named Mr. Stillman who is a complete pill.

Well, it turns out that Mr. Stillman's wife is quite ill and he has small children so Ginger takes it upon herself to bring him food every night. Spark Plug helps her. They are so nice! Meanwhile, Patty is trying to get Tim back without looking like she is trying and also while maintaining her hold on popularity. He is resisting, somewhat to please his parents, somewhat because Patty is below the line of the Vicki Mendoza Diagonal. Patty is blaming Ginger for this because she can't possibly see any flaws in her own behavior. 

They make up after Patty's usually ineffectual parents make her stay home from a party. She apologizes in the most condescending way in front of Ginger's mom and Mrs. Johnson CLEARLY hates her guts, but is too polite to say. 

Ginger gets a dog, her parents hope it will help her be more independent of Patty. Of course Patty resents the dog. His name is Shadow and he sounds kind of boring, but I prefer him to Patty. Patty decides to punish Tim for "fluffing her off". Ginger points out that Spark Plug fluffs her off all the time and she doesn't care. That's the way boys are. (Did you know Quincy Jones produced that song?? I did not...) Patty says (and I quote) "And why should you care" Spark Plug's a square. He doesn't do big things. He's not an athlete." Harsh, Pat.

So Patty gets a date with Bill for the football game. And there is a delightful part where she is chatting with him and is both deep and self deprecating and I can see how, combined with her prettiness, that would be an intoxicating cocktail for a boy. She is thrilled to be dating a much older athlete. And Spark Plug tells Ginger she has a permanent seat in Beauty, the car he has been obsessively fixing up forever. 

So both girls end the book on a happy note. And I am sure they will stay that way. Just kidding. I assure you that having nearly completed SPRING FEVER, Patty becomes even more of a toxic Tammy.  But for now we will leave them happy. In the meantime, I will be back soon with THE STARS HANG HIGH where Bobby Parrish takes advantage of an elderly man's ill health to try to trick Susan into marriage. I am sure it will go swimmingly. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

FOR EACH OTHER by Janet Lambert


Well, I have to say that these are not the best covers I've seen in the Lambert revue. And the characters on the cover, who I can only assume are Josie and Scott, look far older than they should. Although Josie's hair looks great in the paperback version!

But let's back up.

We are back with the Campbells! The parents are intellectuals, who can't manage money at all and think it is perfectly fine to dress their children in rags and raise them on an old Chinese junk. The oldest, Sandra, is probably 18 or so and she is a beauty. She has a devoted beau, Jay, who is hoping to get her to accept his proposal. Her being in Haiti and him being a college student in the states isn't as much of an impediment as you would think because he's filthy rich.  Josie is about 15 and full of fun. She is a "bloom where you are planted kind of gal, and she is blooming. They have a younger brother, Tenny, who just rolls with the punches like a champ. 

 As the book opens, Josie is hanging around imagining things when she meets day-tripper Scott Maitland. He is the whitest boy in all of Haiti. He wasn't supposed to visit the island, but he has been over protected and is rebelling, albeit somewhat ineffectually. 

I had intended to research Haiti's "bloody struggle to become a republic, its ups and downs through the years when it was preyed upon by different political groups, and ending with the dissension and intrigue in its present government." But I did not, because Janet summed it up there. And I'm in this for the interpersonal relationships, not the politics. 

But I will point out at one point when Josie is talking about how the wealthy Haitians send their kids to school in France, she says they do it "Because French is Haiti's national language and because - well, many of them are almost white, and they feel that we still draw a color line." Which is a delicate way to say it in 1959. She is quick to mention that Sandra has a Haitian friend who was offered a wonderful job in New York, so clearly it isn't a problem.

Well, Scott gets a wee bit stranded and is a wee bit annoying, but Josie tries to make the best out of it. She takes him to see a voodoo ritual which they view as pure entertainment, but Lambert has an insightful bit where Scott is all riled up from the voodoo and Josie knows that it is just the thrill of the unknown and he will come down shortly, and he does. 

Drama erupts when Josie is overheard saying what a dud Scott is, and he overhears it. And agrees. But they make up. The Simpsons, who own the hotel where everyone is staying, have their study broken into. Nothing much comes of it. 

Then all hell breaks loose and the Campbell kids, Scott and Jay are sent to the states on their own. Josie spends much of my goodwill by sneaking a bunch of kittens onto the plane.

They end up at Jay's parents' house and we learn that Scott had been ill, but also had an older bother who had died of polio, which was one of the reasons his parents were so overprotective. That and his propensity for getting stuck in island nations during a violent coup. 

Jay's mom tries to give them some dresses that cost the current equivalent of nearly $300! That seems quite excessive. Sandra won't take them because until she is married she will pay for her own dresses, or at least her parents will. 

Jay sweet talks Sandra into taking his grandmother's engagement ring so that they can get married soon and go to college together. They're BABIES!! Josie reads some stuff to Sandy that she wrote about their parents for when they get homesick and it smartens her up and she plans to return the ring in the morning. 

And it ends. 

Honestly.

That's it. 

I really liked the Haitian setting and the look at the difference Lambert displays between tourists and people who stay in the place long term. As a person who likes to stay somewhere long-term-ish, rather than do touristy things, I appreciated it. And there was some real tension in the kids getting out of the country. But the interpersonal stuff didn't grab me. We KNOW Sandy and Jay are going to end up together and now that Scott has declared Josie to be his person, there's probably going to be another set of soulmates to keep together. 

Although I just pulled the next Campbell installment FOREVER AND EVER off the shelf and apparently they are moving to Crawfordsville and will have some adventures there. So you never know if Scott will return, or be forgotten. I look forward to seeing how Janet describes Crawfordsville. I have been there a few times, sure, it is 60+ years after the books were written, but how much could it really have changed?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, but I thought it would have stuck with me more than it did. Maybe that's just the Campbells. The settings are so unusual that the stories don't have to be too compelling. Or maybe I am dying to get back to Patty and Ginger and their crazy teenage wilding. Or to see if maybe Bobby Parrish does the right thing and lets Keith have Susan. So much to find out!

Saturday, February 5, 2022

GOING STEADY chapters 8-12

 


CHAPTER 8

All of a sudden there's a rash of clubs like this town has never seen. Patty is asked to join most of them, but she feel like she and two of her going steady friends, Jane and Phyllis, call themselves The Independent Three and think they are better than everyone else, even though "Spark plug called her 'a dope' and Tim had said she was 'pretty but stupid'." Ouch!

Well, tragedy strikes and Steve's appendix needs to come out and now Patty doesn't have a date for the hayride. (More shades of FIFTEEN! How convenient for teen fiction the appendix is.) She tries to get Ginger to find her a date, completely turning her back on the sanctity of the going steady as soon as it is inconvenient!

Doug and Mrs. Palmer have words about how spoiled Patty is wherein Douglas says to his mother, "I don't dig you." to mean he doesn't understand her.  Oh Janet, you're so hip! When she tries to comfort her daughter later, Patty tells her she isn't going steady anymore. Someone should tell Steve, once he is out of the near embrace of lady death!

CHAPTER 9

We switch to Bonnie's point of view as she heads to the drugstore to meet Douglas. She meets up with a friend, Madia, who is stalking her steady Bud. Bud is secretly dating Joan. Oh, it's a mess! After she and Doug watch the standoff, they start arguing about who is in the wrong. Janet gets in some anti-going-steady propaganda. Bonnie, as usual voices it. "These years are the last ones we'll have before we get responsibilities, so perhaps they ought to be kept free and full of fun." So wise.

When the kids get home, Mrs. Palmer is on hand to pound the lesson in further. " Going steady is a shaky bridge. It isn't anchored to marriage, or even to a recognized engagement. It's so awfully hard to walk on, especially if your companion decides to turn back and you're left along. You can't turn back when you're married." Oh dear, someone had best tell her about divorce!

Doug tries to write a letter of apology for being "a heel." But when he goes to call her, she is running down the hall of the house to apologize to him. Now THESE crazy kids just might make it work. 

CHAPTER 10

And now we are in Jane Palmer's head. She is bemoaning her lovestruck son and her daughter of whom she says, "If her grades weren't average, I'd swear she's a moron. And even so, I can't see where she finds time to study and. make good marks - dancing all afternoon, playing records and hanging on the telephone all evening, plus writing in her diary. That diary, by the way, is the worst piece of drivel I've ever read." Spying, Jane?  Not okay!

But as the Palmer parents discuss the state of their daughter, Mr. Palmer lays down some wisdom on why teens worry about stupid stuff. "Well, those are their problems. They can't worry about taxes - they haven't any. They haven't a washing machine to break down, either, or a big deal that has to go through if they're to meet their payroll. Girls have school, boys, other girls, clothes and parents to worry about. Boys, high school boys, like Doug, have all those, plus another big one to boot - how to get enough money to take a girl out." He's right, it IS harder for boys! Except the being a second class citizen thing for the girls. 

Then we shift to Bonnie and Doug who are helping Maida get over the duplicitous Bud by setting her up with the stalwart Boyd Freeman, self made man and student at Temple. There is some interesting stuff about the status difference between Maida, raised by her widowed mother and Bud's side-piece Joan, the banker's daughter. But mostly it's about mustering your wits and standing in your own defense. 

CHAPTER 11

On the way to school, Patty is nervous because she is now NOT going steady and feels like she is on the outs with her friends who Ginger describes as "a bunch of goony girls you never did like and who neck right in front of everyone." Oh my heavens, so salacious! 

As they leave their locker, Patty sees Tim and trues to figure out why she is so drawn to him, "He had fudgy hair, yes, and he wore slacks instead of cords, and was almost a junior. He made up nick-names like 'Ginger-cookie' and 'Merry Christmas', but he didn't know the difference between straight white teeth and ones with braces on them." So he's not...shallow?

After school, Patty and Ginger go to the treehouse which is where Ginger likes to sit when Patty is off being social. She eats cake and stalks Spark Plug. Ginger litters some wax paper, kind of going all AMERICAN BEAUTY with it. Patty realizes Ginger is warm for Spark Plug's form and tells her that he must think she's a square because she sits in a treehouse eating cake. 

Patty falls down the treehouse ladder and it brings the boys running. We learn that Patty will flirt with anything and Spark Plug's real name is Elston. When Tim and Patty go off to take care of her tree wounds she learns that he was sent away because he was going steady and my goodness, going steady is bad. Tim and Patty decide to be confidential friends and he says she has a lot of common sense. But I've read BOY WANTED already and I know that is completely untrue!

CHAPTER 12

It turns out that Patty has made the gossip column of the high school paper and it's AWESOME!! "What little freshman is rolling her big blue eyes in another direction now? And why doesn't the guy know enough to carry her books like his predecessor used to?  Sh! She's the little sister of a big shot, and the new fellah's a foreigner in these here parts. Give her time to train him." Doug says he wanted to scrap it, as the editor of the paper, but "other kids get razzed, why shouldn't [Patty]." He has no idea her social stock just rose a ton due to that mention.

Doug and Mrs. Palmer chat about the [minor] changes in Patty and consider it a victory over the evils of going steady. And yet the last sentence is Patty answering the phone, "Then she rolled over on her back and held her breath while she waited for Tim's answer." Same old Patty...

We will be back with these wacky teens after a trip to Haiti with the Campbells. See you there!

WE'RE GOING STEADY chapters 5-7


CHAPTER 5:

We're back and Patty's lipstick is on point. Dark enough to be interesting, but not so dark as to cause trouble. And Bonnie has taught her how to apply it so she doesn't look skanky. She meets Steve to walk to school and he sweet talks her. But she is pissed. She spent all day Sunday waiting for him to call and he was in Philly with his folks. She acts highhanded and then picks away at his cheerleading skills. Wow, Patty, way to drag a fella to his knees. They plan to meet for lunch.

After school, Patty and Ginger are at Ginger's and we hear of two people who will play a larger part in the Patty and Ginger saga - Spark Plug, Ginger's neighbor who is a motor-head junior grade with a carburetor where his heart will be and Mary Lou whose defining characteristic is that she is fat. And single. Yes, in this particular crowd I am definitely the Mary Lou.

Mary Lou is starting a club and having a slumber party to kick it off, but Patty can't join. It's a Girls Who Don't Go Steady club. Miss Maxwell, their homeroom and Latin teacher is sponsoring it. It's a movement! At this point we find out that the Palmers are Republicans and Ginger's parents are Democrats, but they're both Presbyterians (of COURSE they are!) so it's okay.

They have a fight about the "frumpy club" and as things are escalating, Tim comes to the door bearing flowers. Patty thinks it's a "date" but he's all like, "Who dates in the afternoon??" and says he saw Steve "hot-footing to the dancing joint" meaning the teen center, and assumed Patty would be there like the steady-going ball and chain she is. She haughtily says she doesn't go there every day and Ginger does not roll her eyes on the outside but they are opened wide in amazement of this bald faced lie. She invites Tim to Spark Plug's to work on the car. Patty goes home regretting her life choices. 

CHAPTER 6:

Patty heads home feeling unwanted only to find her brother and his girl being all weird and writing stuff. Douglas busts her chops about talking to Tim and she points out that he and Bonnie seem to have an open relationship. Oh Patty, you don't even understand what it is like to be on their level!

When Mrs. Palmer comes in, Bonnie goes bonkers telling her that Douglas has been offered a job writing editorials for the local paper. Doug tries to give Bonnie credit, but she won't take it because he is the MAN. But she says she imagines that someday they might "have permanent seats on a panel show." Which seems adorable. But the gender role stuff is so prevalent, "When I get going, I'll do a woman's column and leave the political and psychological end to him," she says of her own future journalism career. 

Apparently the Doug and Bonnie beat is the mind of the teenager. Doug has a column ready to go - "What the Young Fry Think About" and from the way Bonnie is acting it is not going to make Penny happy. However he has"some others ready. One on the importance of going out for sports, one on having a hobby, and a feminine slant on filling your time that Bonnie's working on." Is it just me or do these sound ripe for an MST3K makeover?

Patty leaves the room and Janet Lambert steps in, with Bonnie as her hip, young mouthpiece and gives a speech about how stupid going steady is. She nails it. "They're just out for the thrill." is as sexy as it gets, but the subtext is there. Doug informs his mother that the tack everyone should take is to press on Patty how important it is to be connected to Steve at the hip and Steve's essential dullness will take care of the rest. Along with some good old fashioned shunning. 

Mrs. Palmer - who surely has a rich full life outside her children's', but not in this book - talks with Patty in the kitchen about that old, fat Mary Lou's party. But there is no sympathy there. And what is worse, Steve has an itching issue so he might not be available for dates this weekend. Oh well, sickness and health, right Patty?

Finally Mary Lou calls, explains that the cool teachers are helping with the celibacy club, and it is going to be cool and exclusive, like a sorority! Patty is flummoxed and says, to her mother, "Something's wrong somewhere...Because Mary Lou's a square. Not much of one, but sort of. She's fun, but she's fat.  And Ginger has braces on her teeth. Not a single girl in our own special little crowd ever has real dates but me, so they're trying to make me think I'm wrong." And frankly, I am kind of impressed that Janet lets her main character be this much of a bitch. Her mother refuses to get drawn into her drama and you think that would be a clue. But Patty is just swirling in her own head. 

CHAPTER 7

Patty is hiding her disappointment at being left out by hanging out with Steve 24/7. Her parents miss her friends so much that when Ginger, Tim and Spark Plug show up on Sunday, they practically throw together a pop-up rave. They pull out records and give up two dollars worth of fruit for the cause! Then they decide to go to "the club" for dinner and leave the kids the house. Mrs. Palmer knows it will be trashed tomorrow but the cleaning woman will be coming so she can take care of it. You know, if it weren't for that dud, Patty. I might enjoy being Mrs. Palmer. 

There is good, wholesome, Sloppy-Joe-fueled fun going on. News of a hayride is bandied about and things are awkward for a minute until Ginger fixes is so that some steady-going girls are allowed to attend the GWDGS Club event, like missionary work. There is some gross talk about selling off girls to the highest bidder that is reminiscent of Jane Purdy's ill-fated kiss in FIFTEEN.

The Palmers come home and Patty is so excited about the hay ride. She nearly gets her dad to spring for some new pajamas, "the kind with silk slacks and a quilted silk jacket?" But her mom says Christmas is coming and the jammies can wait, but in the meantime Patty can borrow her read silk set for the slumber party after the hayride. 

Patty is ecstatic and calls her parents "cute" over and over and Mrs. Palmer thinks, "Please try to find some other work with which to express your feelings for us. Sometimes I think I'll scream if you call me 'cute' again." But she doesn't say it because she doesn't want to spoil Patty's happiness with criticism. I feel you, Mrs. Palmer. I really do!

.........................................................

image DGS= Don't go steady accessed at https://res.cloudinary.com/teepublic/image/private/s--WrjlkRe4--/c_crop,x_10,y_10/c_fit,w_903/c_crop,g_north_west,h_1038,w_1038,x_-70,y_-149/l_upload:v1565806151:production:blanks:vdbwo35fw6qtflw9kezw/fl_layer_apply,g_north_west,x_-181,y_-260/b_rgb:ffb81c/c_limit,f_jpg,h_630,q_90,w_630/v1574817056/production/designs/6909433_0.jpg


Sunday, January 16, 2022

WE'RE GOING STEADY - chapters 2-4


We're back!

Before I get back to Patty and Ginger, this gorgeous girl is my mom, Janie, she is a wee bit older than these girls. She's probably their age in this picture, but it was a few years earlier. Still, a cute high school girl (who was GOING STEADY with my my future dad) and a Christmas tree, it kind of fits. 

I have decided to just put bullet points of the action for each chapter. If you want a better narrative, well, I might be the only game in town for this one. The only Goodreads review said, "I have loved every Lambert book that I've read but this one is just okay. " and that kind of sums it up. It is still fun to read, but sometimes reading Lambert I realize that I am in her mindset, but not today. 

Here are my observations/recap for Chapter 1. I am using bullet points because I am too lazy to tie sentences together. 
  •  The high school is described as "the Mecca of her day."
  • Patty is fixated on the popularity that going steady brings. Even though she'd rather just walk with Ginger, she'd miss the "envy of all the chattering groups of girls." when she gets to school with old Steve holding her books. 
  • Patty and Ginger have a fight about how dull Steve is and Patty by extension. 
  • We also learn that Steve is a cheerleader. I can't even... Because he has practice after school, he won't be at "the Cent" (the teen center) she can't go because she can't dance with another boy because she's GOING STEADY!!
  • When she gets home, she tries to vent her frustration on her mom by complaining about her brother and his girlfriend being so aggressively physical. Her mom responds by pointing out how much more acceptable their brand of GOING STEADY is than Patty and Steve's.
  • Steve calls to let her know that he is at the teen center waiting for her. Patty hops on her bike at his command and big brother Douglas and Mom start talking PDA. Steve says, "What do you want me to do? Act as if I don't like the girl, then go off and neck in the car." To which Mom replies, "Yes, son. Then we can all pretend it isn't happening." JK
  • Douglas sets out an argument about how his love is forever and Patty is boy-crazy. And he isn't wrong.
  • Patty comes back later with the happy glow of a girl who is completely fooling herself.

Chapter 2

  • Patty is complaining about costumes for the dance while her parents are watching TV. She (and I am not making this up) "scowled at the screen where a foreign correspondent fought off an Arab." Why, Janet? Why??
  • Patty has a great Christmas tree costume, but she wants to be Raggedy Ann to Steve's Raggedy Andy because they are GOING... oh never mind...
  • I guess Patty bought herself a chrysanthemum to look cool, but it backfired because a bunch of girls had flowers from their beaux in the freshman section. An entire week's allowance pissed away.
  • She turns down Ginger's offer to go to the drugstore to see the team, but when Steve asks, she's all in. 
  • After, at home, she has a shoe emergency and her mother lets her borrow some heels and she practices walking in them. It's pretty cute.
  • Bonnie, her future sister-in-law helps her put on a non-skanky lipstick and gives it to her as a little gift. Call me crazy, but I think that Bonnie is going to be a good influence. 

Chapter 3

  • They get to the dance and Janet describes it wonderfully. 
  • Ginger's date, Tim, is dressed as a polo player and he and Patty have a moment when they are introduced.
  • But when he confidently asks her to dance, Steve informs him "Patty's my steady date." and it sounds so awful, even I start believing that going steady is wrong!
  • Ginger is having a grand time with her blind date, even though her balloon girl costume keeps getting popped. 
  • Patty looks great, but she's bored to tears just dancing with Steve in a desultory way, even though she claims otherwise. 
  • Then Patty win's "most original girl" in the costume parade and "the evening became suddenly wonderful." She has won a diary - weird prize, but okay.
  • Her brother asks her to dance and while it sounds like it would be embarrassing, it is the highlight of her night - after her win, of course. She gets to hang with "Bonnie and the older crowd" and is disappointed when she has to go back to Steve the snooze. 
  • When she gets home Patty tells her parents basically what I just said in the last bullet point. Then she writes in her diary before bed and it's kind of adorable how Janet captures the teenage girl writing voice.
So we are about a third of the way through and I can't help but think the excitement of going steady is already wearing off for all of us. Steve seems like kind of a buzz kill and that Tim is dreamy as heck. Do you think Patty is going to be able to put two and two together here? I sure hope so!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

WE'RE GOING STEADY by Janet Lambert [chapter 1]


Janet Lambert REALLY hates going steady. She has a definite game plan for her girls and that involves playing the field, even if they do have a young man already picked out. It goes without saying that her heroines don't do anything physical except maybe the occasional kiss, but NO TONGUE! She is a prude, no getting around it. But here's the thing, she's not entirely wrong. 

I just read BAD GIRLS NEVER SAY DIE by Jennifer Mathieu and it shows how dangerous it could be to "go all the way" in a pre-pill USA. An unmarried pregnancy was no joke. And many an unhappy marriage came about because of one. And don't get me started on homes for unwed mothers. 

But not Janet's girls. They stayed squeaky-clean. Hence Patty and Ginger. These two ninth graders are best friends, but oh so different. Patty is very pretty and very invested in being in with the in crowd. Even if that means she's going steady with someone she can barely be bothered with.  Ginger is a good time girl - not that kind, get your mind out of the gutter - she gets caught up in fun and doesn't care what her hair looks like if she is laughing and enjoying herself. 

The book begins exposition-ing us into Patty's world. She lives in a nice - but not too nice - rural suburb outside of Philly which does not appear to exist in real life. She is a bit self-centered and loud and obsessed with the telephone. Your typical 1958 teenager. One thing I love about Janet is that there is no judgement here. She remembers that the typical teen isn't out to hurt her parent's feelings, they are just a hot mess of hormones. Hormones that they can and WILL conquer!

She loves the after school dances at the teen center. I mean, they're not real dances they are really just the equivalent of a group-hang. Unless you have the misfortune of GOING STEADY. Spoiler: Patty is going steady. 

It is amazing how things changed even with the advent of the cordless phone. I have said many, many times that I am glad that there were no cell phones in the 1980s - and they were rarely seen in the 90s. I got into enough trouble with the regular old phone, thank you very much. Someday I will write the stories of my early cat-fishing days. What?? I could have been a cute college girl and not a pudgy 15 year old nerd when I called all those late night disc jockeys to flirt. It's just that I wasn't. Anyway back to Patty.

She has a jones for phone, but her mother will only let her talk on the extension in the master bedroom if she calls Ginger and doesn't call Steve, like a fast girl. It's okay, Patty far prefers to talk to Ginger and it doesn't even make her think about the health of her relationship with Steve. Oh, Patty, I remember so well learning to figure this shit out. It's a process, honey, don't worry.

They talk about Steve, then there is a family dinner worthy of an MST3K short at which older brother Douglas' girlfriend Bonnie allows him to hold her hand - "OPENLY,  RIGHT ON THE TABLE BESIDE HIS DESSERT PLATE!" (all caps, my edit...) Bonnie is nice girl, poised and headed for Vassar when they graduate high school at the end of the year.

The family has a full house that evening: the parents are having the Allstairs over for bridge. Oh I could write another chapter of my memoirs about bridge night! How I loved it! My parents would have 3 other couples (and their kids) over for cards and we would all watch Nanny and the Professor, The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family with some rando kids we only saw once a month at bridge club. I remember VIVIDLY a trip to the grocery store to get snacks for Bridge Club and I could not have been older than 10. It loomed large - classiest thing my parents ever did! No, just kidding, my mom was, and usually remains, pretty classy.

But I digress... 

Patty is resigned to the bedroom when Ginger comes to sleep over and they pick up the conversation right where they left off. Horrible news - Ginger has a blind date (it deserves all caps, but I really must learn to restrain myself) It's her rich aunt's best friend's grandson. And since Aunt Mag is the rich relative that helps pay for stuff, Ginger has to put out. And by "put out" I mean put out the hand of friendship to welcome this young man to the dance.  It's sure to be a mess! Stay tuned...

...........................................................................................................................................................................

So I just recorded myself reading the first chapter and am putting up the video so you can hear the whole thing. Or if you prefer my reading aloud without as much of my face, feel free to just listen to the audio. 

I have this idea for a podcast,  called THE FIRST HIT IS FREE, where I read the first chapter of a bunch of old books, probably most of them out of print. If the writer is still around, maybe I invite them to talk about it. Maybe if I learn a bit of editing, and how to be more interesting, I even add some commentary. Who knows! But for now, it is much easier to just upload a video to youtube. 

I firmly believe that I may be the only audience for this and that is okay, I love the sound of my own voice and I love to read out loud. But if you want to hear the whole megillah - well, here's your chance. And be warned that I didn't do any editing so, it's basic. But I had fun!

To be clear, I have been taught that 10% of a work is fair use for copyright. And hopefully, if you like what you hear you will go to IMAGE CASCADE PUBLISHING at https://imagecascade.com/ and buy the heck out of some 20th century girls' books! They are not an advertiser - And how sweet of you thinking that I would have an advertiser! - but they are awesome and I love them. 

SO here is the link to the video - https://youtu.be/LjSMKe9-_jA

And here is the audio file* - https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YH5l4jy5UnFLGRZ0-hvzIhRfk2zIT6lW/view?usp=sharing

*Upon listening, I realize I only love the sound of my own voice in my head. Recorded...well...maybe your standards are lower than mine. 



Friday, January 7, 2022

Patricia Clapp Makes Me Love America part 2 (But it's only a little bit about Patricia Clapp and mostly about BEAUTY by Robin McKinley)

About 5 years ago, when this blog was just a young whipper-snapper I wrote a piece about how much I love Patricia Clapp. And in it I bemoaned the fact that she didn't have a Wikipedia page.

Well, I just did a search for Robin McKinley because I was trying to find a story I KNOW I have written down somewhere but can't find anywhere about how her book BEAUTY had an impact on my life. Alas, I will write it again. With feeling. 

But before I do, I must revisit my Patricia Clapp post to say that I wrote a Wikipedia page for her right after I wrote the blog post, and with the help of a 9th grader at my school got it put up. 

You're welcome world 

And now, on to BEAUTY.


Back in the summer of 1977 my family moved from a post-war subdivision in the Cleveland suburbs to an upper-middle class town on Long Island. Not super-rich, but fancier than I was used to. Also, I was going from an elementary school where I was about to have my top-of-the-heap sixth grade year and it was going to be amazing. 

I don't know if any of you lived through being a chubby girl with glasses who loves to read and is maybe a little bit too much of a know-it-all for her own good, but I did. At Spruce School, I was popular, it took a lot of work, a lot of pretending to care about the band Boston and stealing my dad's cigarettes, but I had made it. I was in the cool crowd.

At New York Avenue Junior High School I was NO ONE! I was just another new sixth grade baby, but one that NO ONE had gone to elementary school with. I was going in there friendless. My beautiful older sister had it easy. Our whole neighborhood was filled with teenagers and she had a horse. And her acne was clearing up. She was effortlessly cool. 

But this is about me. And Robin McKinley. Back to the story. 

So I made some inroads. I had some funny, smart friends who I occasionally ate lunch with, but the summer before 7th grade one moved away, one went to private school and the other two made kick-line and got super popular, and frankly, kind of mean. (I hope that someday you read this Missy and Diane and that you are REPENT!)

So I started eating lunch in the library. Alone. I didn't really mind being in the library, I loved being able to read, and I didn't mind having to sneak-eat my lunch because of the no food in the library rule that Mr. Costello, the librarian, didn't seem to care too much about. But I didn't like the feeling of having no friends. 

Mr Costello was an old man in a cardigan who sat behind the desk and nodded and said hello as I came in. I didn't pay him much attention, he was a bachelor in his 40s - far too ancient to be interesting.  

Anyhow, there I sat, sad, alone and sneaking raisins out of my purse. And one Friday Mr. Costello came over to me and handed me BEAUTY by Robin McKinley. He said he noticed I was a reader and he asked if I would be interested in reading this new book and letting him know what I thought about it. 

It looked cool (see the large original white cover above) so I said sure, I'd give it a try. 

That weekend I read it and, of course, I adored it. A Beauty who isn't really beautiful meets a Beast who isn't really a beast - what's not to love?

Monday lunchtime I was back in the library. I gave the book back to Mr. Costello and told him that I thought it was great and he said he would put it in the collection since I thought it was worthy. Just like that! My opinion was enough for him to put this book on the shelf of the library for anyone to read. I felt amazing. 

It seems so simple looking back. That book is a no-brainer for a middle school library even today and he was definitely going to put it on the shelf anyway. But he took the time to notice a sad, lonely kid and not just take an interest in her, but give her tangible proof that she mattered. 

So now I am a high school librarian and I see kids sitting alone and I remember how important it was for me to be seen and valued and I try to be like Mr. Costello and notice those kids and while most of them would probably not enjoy me handing them a book and asking them to read it, it costs nothing for me to ask what they are watching on their computer and taking an interest. Just treating them like fellow humans. 

When I decided to go to graduate school to become a school librarian, I thought about why I wanted to do it, and my mind went back to the memory or being handed BEAUTY and all that it meant and that is what I wrote me application essay about. Which I really wish I could find, but alas... It was 17 years ago. And in those 17 years I have been working at the best job ever. So thanks, Mr. Costello for the inspiration.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Barb's Best Books of 2021

Welcome to my 2021 round-up, friends. Every single book on this list that wasn't written by Janet Lambert is damn near perfect. I put them in order of how much I personally enjoyed reading them, not in any order of quality. I try not to be too enthusiastic and use the word "adored" too much, but you know how I am. I adored every single one of them. Now I am a super-easy grader, but also, if I don't like something, I just put it aside. Life is too short. 

This year, at the beginning of December, I began reading for the Mass. Teen Choice Book Award committee and it is making me stick things out a bit longer and stray from my comfort zone a bit, at least in YA and Middle Grade. My adult fiction is still straight up Middle-Aged Lady books, and I am okay with that. And this year I have pulled out middle grade fiction and audiobooks and given them their whole own posts! (That is mostly because I had planned to do whole posts for every subset, but that died on the vine due to my inherent laziness.) So here are my favorites - enjoy!

YA Fiction


Young Adult Fiction - it is my bread and butter. I love it most of all! This year I have read 41 new (to me) YA titles. Okay, 20 if you don't count Janet Lambert, but still, that's a lot.  So my top seven (I chose seven for no other reason than the pictures look cool in groups of seven.) are thus:
  1. NOT MY PROBLEM takes place in a foreign country and even though I usually stick to American writers because I am incredibly lazy with regard to reading about other lands, I loved it. Okay, the foreign land is Ireland. They speak English there and I've seen DERRY GIRLS so I know what it looks like. But honestly, Ciara Smyth doesn't explain any of the deep Irish stuff like Camogie and Gaelic and Craic. (I knew the last two, but barely.) This book is a combo of a screamingly funny high school caper, a look at socio-economic disparity, a sad tale of a girl having to parent her alcoholic mom and a sweet lesbian romance. But it doesn't feel busy. It is a freaking gem.
  2. IN THE WILD LIGHT is the story of a teenaged boy and his best friend who go from Appalachia to a Connecticut prep school. It is also the story of him losing his mother to an opioid overdose and watching his grandfather struggle with emphysema. Doesn't that sound like a fun read? Right up my alley? Despite the many sad bits, which I have been trying to avoid in these covid times, it ended up being a favorite in a very strong year. 
  3. THE GIRL'S I'VE BEEN is probably the tightest book I read this year. Most of it takes place in one barn-burner of a day. There are also some flashbacks and a wee epilogue-ish bit. The many-named heroine is the daughter of a con-artist and when she gets caught up in a bank robbery, well, it is not the bank robbers' lucky day by a long shot. The story has a lot going on and yet it doesn't feel over-crowded. And it is damn near impossible to put down because it just keeps going. I am going to need to reread it because I read it SO FAST because I just needed to know how it turned out. 
  4. BAD GIRLS NEVER SAY DIE is by Jennifer Mathieu who wrote MOXIE, another favorite. This is not a re-telling of THE OUTSIDERS, but it is set in the same era and in the same size city - Houston to S.E.Hinton's Tulsa - and it has the same soc vs. greaser vibe. And it is from a female perspective. I think Mathieu is a genius at showing the way society treats teenage girls without making her characters victims. 
  5. LOVE, JACARANDA is a sweet retelling of DADDY LONG LEGS that I read quickly on my road trip and I don't remember much about it other than it went down like a cold beer on a warm afternoon and I kept giggling as I read it. 
  6. To say I enjoyed LAST NIGHT AT THE TELEGRAPH CLUB would be imprecise. It has a touch of sadness that never quite dissipates, but it was a fascinating look at life in a time when gay Chinese girls were pretty much punished 24-7 for just being who they were and how love sneaks in anyway.
  7. And finally, PUMPKIN! Oh, how I long to put an apostrophe at the end of the word, but if Julie Murphy can resist it, so can I. I adore Murphy's take on being fat. She empowers her larger than life characters, while not shying away from the emotional impact of the world constantly telling us that we are not enough by virtue of being too much. Oh, did I just make this about me? She does have a way of making me live her characters' lives. This is the story of Waylon who is a fat, gay, twin and all of those definers take their turn in propelling the story. He lives in Clover City, Texas - setting of Murphy's other YA novels - but plans to kick the dust of that one horse town off his cute boots and go to Austin for school ASAP.  But in the meantime, he dabbles in drag, mistrusts others and runs for prom queen. Characters from DUMPLIN and PUDDIN make appearances - which adds to the fun. 

Middle Aged Lady Fiction Tier One


I love everything I read. But I love these just a little bit more.
  1. MARY JANE was a gift from a friend and I usually hate it when people give me books because I can pick my own damn books. But this one was a doozy! I wrote a full review here - feel free to read it!
  2. Everyone loves Stacey Abrahams because she helped save democracy. But I ALSO love her because she wrote WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS which was another book I read on my road trip that kept me hooked from the first chapter. It's a Grisham-y thriller about a young clerk at the Supreme Court with a messy past who ends up, well, saving democracy. 
  3. THE GUNCLE was the rarest of rare things - a book club book that I actually adored! Patrick takes in his niece and nephew when his sister-in-law dies and his brother goes to rehab. He is currently mourning the loss of his partner, while trying to live mostly anonymously in Palm Springs despite his former sit-com fame.  Spoiler - everybody, except the people who are already dead, gets better. 
  4. THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO was wonderful. Everybody has already read it, for good reason. You can google it. 
  5. GOOD COMPANY was also pretty popular. It slams around in time and is the story of a cadre of actors, two of whom are married, perhaps not as happily as they thought. 
  6. THE OTHER BLACK GIRL got a ton of great press and, while I am thrilled it did, it also did a bit of a number on me. I read it kind of lazily. (I'm sure that comes as a huge surprise.) It turns out that it was something completely different than I was expecting, the ending blew my mind, and now I have to wait until I have forgotten much of it before I can reread it and see how it all came about. 
  7. Ooh, fat girl romance, I love you so! IF THE SHOE FITS is a lovely, reality TV creampuff. I don't watch the stuff (well, I was a little indoctrinated into the Below Deck franchise this year, but I insist on calling it Below Decks so that people don't think I take it seriously) but I do enjoy it as a backdrop to novels. 

Middle Aged Lady Fiction Tier Two


These ones are all tied for eighth most enjoyable read of the year. 
  1. THE HOUSE AT TYNEFORD, in which a wealthy Jewish girl leaves Vienna to become a housemaid during WW2 and finds love, was another book club book that really hooked me.
  2. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY, in which a suicidal woman enters a library that contains all the possible iterations of her life and finds love (sometimes), was a little sad for me, but also joyful. 
  3. HOW LUCKY, wherein a young man with a medical condition that leaves him nearly immobile possibly witnesses a crime and tries to solve it with the people he loves, was a nice little thriller with some great dialogue. 
  4. HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA, wherein a lonely elderly woman decides to leave her fortune to save some penguins and instead finds out that she has a grandson and decides to take an interest even though her life has been virtually free of love, made me rethink my "no books set in the arctic" policy.
  5. THE SUMMER SEEKERS is pretty much HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA except with driving Route 66, and no penguins or grandson. And since I am a sucker for Route 66 I ate it like candy.
  6. ON TURPENTINE LANE involves some prep-school faculty shenanigans, a late midlife crisis of a Dad and a new house all told with Elinor Lipman's perfect sharpness this was my middle-of-the-night-read-on-my-phone book. An ebook! How modern!

Graphic Novels & Graphic Nonfiction
















I love reading graphic novels because I whip right through them almost always in one sitting. But that is mostly because I just read the text and don't pay much attention to the pictures. But I still love the format, and I am getting better about looking at the art. 

  1. DANCING AT THE PITY PARTY made me cry a lot. It is Tyler Feder's story of the loss of her mother. It was also hilariously funny. It's frankly the best. 
  2. SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS was also extremely funny. And had some sad bits. Is this a theme with graphic novels? Are they trying to give me whiplash? 
  3. DRAGON HOOPS was the story of a championship basketball team, but also about the history of basketball, and a slice of life at a high school and an illustration of a man coming into his genius as a graphic novelist. It's all kinds of interesting. 
  4. NUBIA REAL ONE is a super-hero story with a strong black female bent and a lot to say about being involved in social justice.  
  5. ALMOST AMERICAN GIRL is an immigrant story that feels incredibly true because it is. 
  6. ON TYRANNY scared the living daylights out of me, but I am glad I read it and I think everyone in America should. 
  7. WENDY MASTER OF ART started out annoying me and I almost put it aside, but darned if that little cloud of doom, Wendy didn't charm me by the end. 
  8. DISPLACEMENT was a beautifully drawn and interesting to read look at the internment camps that Japanese-Americans were forced into during WWII. I liked it, but I did keep catching it trying to teach me things. I like books that just let me learn things without looking like they are trying. 

Nonfiction & Memoirs


.              
Okay, they were all memoirs. I read some nonfiction, but it was all boring crap for Jeopardy. But I am a fool for memoirs! So I messed up the sizes in the picture here, but the order is the same. 
  1. My favorite was NOBODY WILL TELL YOU THIS BUT ME because it was a weep-fest! Beth Kalb tells writes in her her grandmother's voice as she tells her life story and it is to die for. 
  2. YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED TO LACEY is the funniest thing I read all year. Lacey is comedian Amber Ruffin's sister and she lives a regular old normal live where people behave bizarrely around her. Seriously, she is a magnet for weirdness. I hurt myself laughing. 
  3. Shockingly, in YEARBOOK I don't remember a ton of belly laughs, although I am sure they were there. But I love Seth Rogan. He is my celebrity little brother. I remember seeing him in FREAKS AND GEEKS and it's not that I thought he'd be as successful as he has been, it's just that I found him fascinating as a performer. Go figure. And his memoir didn't disappoint. 
  4. MY LIFE AS A VILLAINESS is straight-up the best written of this group because Lippman, is an actual writer of novels, unlike the rest of these authors. And you can tell. Her prose is magnificent, but I like my memoirs more sparkly and famous. I once had a drink in a bar with Laura Lippman at the Betsy Tacy convention a few years ago.  (Sure, there were a bunch of other people there, but still...)  And just like US magazine says - Stars: they're just like us! 
  5. I WANT TO BE WHERE THE NORMAL PEOPLE ARE is my favorite cover of the year. Seriously Rachel Bloom, it's like you read my diary. 
  6. WE'RE GOING TO NEED MORE WINE reminded me of how much I love Gabrielle Union. I read a review of her new memoir in the New York Times (which I read every day, cover to cover, and brag about to the point of absurdity) and while I was waiting for my interlibrary loan of that one, I read this in one sitting.
  7. A VERY PUNCHABLE FACE is my favorite memoir title of the year. I couldn't have given a fig for Colin Jost before I read this. Someone donated it, I love a celebrity memoir and I didn't have anything to read in line when I was going into the post office and I grabbed it. Could not put it down. 

Rereads - 


I love all these books - hence the rereading! 
  1. THE FIRST FEW FRIENDS I read fairly often when I was younger but I haven't reread it in a few years so it was lovely to learn that I still adore it. And as an extra treat, I got to meet Marilyn Singer (via Zoom) to interview her for a talk I gave at the public library
  2. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is second because I haven't read that since I was in my 20s and had completely forgotten how hard it makes me cry! It was also for the talk, but only because I needed to read RILLA OF INGLESIDE and couldn't jump into it without reading the other books in the series. 
  3. ELLA OF ALL OF A KIND FAMILY is my least favorite of the series, but a friend told me that it holds up and when I read it, independent of its better sisters, it did. 
  4. I was a group-read leader for DADDY LONG LEGS on the Betsy Tacy listserv and also experimented with recording myself reading it aloud. I think I did a nice job, but I read WAY too fast. If you'd like to read my take on it, it begins here. 
  5. FIFTEEN was another group read books which has always been a favorite. Reading it along with the many, many Janet Lambert books I read this year gave it a bit of a boost.
  6. ALL OF A KIND FAMILY UPTOWN was both a group read lead AND fodder for my public library talk! It has always been my favorite of the series, my reading experience of ELLA this year notwithstanding. 
  7. I reread ELEANOR & PARK because my book club at school was reading it and those girls are brutal when I don't read the book. Plus, every time I read it, I am thrilled by the delicate work Rainbow Rowell has done of illustrating first love at the same time she shows the cruelty that can exist alongside the happiness. 

Children's and Middle Grade


You can read a separate post about these here.

Audiobooks


You can read a separate post about these here


and finally... Janet Lambert -

I have read a bunch of these they are just in chronological order because, well, because I'm me. If you want to read the reviews, just click the title! (Ya big nerd...)
We're Going Steady - still haven't recapped it yet because it was a LOT. I will just tell you, Janet Lambert HATES going steady!
I also put most of this together before I read these two -

and they were both lovely.

That's it! If you want to look at my actual stats here - feel free.
Or I can just tell you it was 34,659 pages.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Children's and Middle Grade

Here are my top 5 children's and middle grade books of 2021. Spoiler - they are all middle grade. Usually I find a lot of children's gems in December when I pillage the public library so that I can up my numbers. But since I had such a respectable year this year, I only read four picture books. And they were fine. But it's just not my area of interest. Moving on...



My fifth favorite was this adorable epistolary novel. When Bett and Avery's dads fall in love, they decide to anti-parent-trap them out of it.  I love a summer camp setting, and this is a great one. I also love letters (or emails, in this case) and I love kids trying to manipulate grown-ups. OOH! There's also an awesome granny and a theater subplot. So much to love here. 


This cover is dreadful but FAMILY SABBATICAL, my fourth favorite, is a pure delight! Carol Ryrie Brink was heretofore known to me only for CADDIE WOODLAWN, but a group read on the BETSY TACY listserv introduced it to me. It was published in 1956 and the tone reminded me of Rosamund and Judy duJardin's JUNIOR YEAR ABROAD. But this was also very, very funny. It feels its age a bit, but the interplay of the kids with their new surroundings and acquaintances is timeless.


The next three are all damn near perfect and it is hard to choose the order so I am going in order of how much suffering they contain. BLACKBIRD GIRLS is set during and after the Chernobyl disaster, so, lots of suffering. It also has a sub-plot set during the Holocaust so Blankman really doubles down. She creates the feeling of what it was like to be a tween in the USSR from the ingrained antisemitism to the mistrust of everyone. It is also a beautiful story of kindness and friendship, so go figure. 


I am a huge LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE fan, and yet I was not at all conflicted at the ALA decision to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. I can love and appreciate those books while still seeing their flaws. I thought this book, set in the same era, performed that same magic of setting me into another time. I read some review on Goodreads that said basically that there weren't enough "history lessons" in it to which I reply - GOOD!! Park builds the world, she is not trying to indoctrinate children. She is showing not telling. We have the freaking internet now, kids can google whatever they have questions about. Anyway, it is the story of Hannah who is half-Chinese, new in her unwelcoming South Dakota town and longing to be a dressmaker. I am usually such a story-girl. I read ravenously just dying to find out what happens next. This book made me slow down and look at what was going on in the corners. It was beautiful.


My favorite middle grade book of the year was recommended by Janet Dawson of A Kids Book A Day and it has so many of my favorite things going for it:
  • Scrappy orphans - gotta love them
  • Lonely librarians - ditto
  • Terrible foster parents - in fiction ONLY, please!
  • WW2 evacuees
  • Books, books and more books

A friend described this as THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE but not quite as painful. And I concur.  I mean, Anna, Edmund and William don't have parents, but they do have money. (I know it's not a fair trade, I've seen Good Will Hunting!)  William, at least, remembers a loving mother and he passes these memories on to his siblings. When their grandmother (who has raised them competently, but coldly) dies, they are evacuated out of London with other wartime refugee children. Albus does a great job showing the prejudices against the evacuees. The kids are scoping out possible families at the suggestion of their solicitor, but the pickings are slim. I just loved the way that this played out. I worried for these kids, but I also knew that they were going to be okay because they have each other.