Nostalgia: Seven Days to a Brand New Me

Like, what would the nearest thing to a Greek god see in me: plain, self-conscious, ordinary, bland Maddy Kemper? He was Fettucine Alfredo and I was macaroni and cheese. He was vintage champagne and I was Gallo Jug Burgundy.

Once I remembered how much joy Ellen Conford‘s If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti brought me, I wanted–nay, needed–to read Seven Days to a Brand New Me, another book I loved as a teen. My library did not have it, but that is why God invented inter-library loans. Or why librarians did. Whatever.

Anyway! On to the book! Which was just as fun as I remembered!

Maddy is in loooove with Adam, even though she has never, ever spoken a word to him. But the great benevolent locker gods did one thing right: gave her a locker next to Adam. Aw. So she has been mooning over him, sure though she is that he couldn’t possibly have noticed her. Because she’s boring and mousy, see? Which is why she’s so drawn to the plain-covered self-help book Seven Days to a Brand New You. The author promises that anyone can change his/her life in seven days. So Maddy embarks on her plan to transform herself and win Adam’s affections. Or at least get him to say hi to her.

Although I had remembered the major plot, I had forgotten how great all the character stuff in this book is. Karen, the friend who is historically terrible at school; Sandy, the track star;  Terence, the classmate who knows random facts about everything; and, of course, dumb, damn Mary Louise.

The characters in this book are so great. I love Karen, Maddy’s friend. She’s the reason I always remembered what “chercher” meant in French class. Did you know armadillos are the only animals besides humans who get leprosy? Well, Terence does. And Maddy! Maddy is so obsessed with romance novels that she frequently pictures Adam riding into school on a horse and sweeping her off her feet. Love Maddy. She is so fun and funny. And I love that she’s shy and witty (but only witty around her close friends). I also love that she and her mom read the same books, so when her mom burns through the carrots while reading a particular part of the steamy romance novel, Maddy skips ahead to those parts to see why.

So yeah, loved the characters.

And that’s not even mentioning the romance novel within the story about Doña Veronica and Ernesto and their fiery romance.

Also: happy endings! Who doesn’t love a happy ending? A happy ending that reinforces you are fine just the way you are, but maybe, just maybe, you did need to show a little more confidence, natch. Oh, and that the boy you are so in love with is not a Greek god but is, in fact, just a boy.

Totally worth getting the ILL. I wish I still owned it so I could read it when I need a pick me up. The book is nice and short and fun. Oh, Ellen Conford. You are so great. So, so great.

Nostalgia: If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti

I’ve always considered myself a very level-headed sort of person. While my friends struggle through adolescence alternating between moods of rapture and despair, I sail along on a fairly even keel, never–or almost never–going overboard about anything.

So starts “I’ll Never Stop Loving You, Tommy Toledo,” the second of nine stories in Ellen Conford’s If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti AKA The Best Short Story Collection EVER.

Okay, maybe not. But this book was one of the ones I sought out as I made my through the Friends of the Library book sale. I had to have it. What’s so great about it is that as soon as I opened the book and started reading, the details of all the stories came back to me immediately. It’s just so great. SO GREAT.

The stories, in order, are:

“If This Is Love, I’ll Take Spaghetti” — Jamie wants to lose twenty pounds, but what she really wants is for Jeff to notice her. And he does! But before she loses weight. So does that mean she doesn’t need to diet anymore?

“I’ll Never Stop Loving You, Tommy Toledo” — Level-headed Katie does not entertain celebrity crushes, until she falls hard for Tommy Toledo. She becomes obsessed. OBSESSED. So obsessed she drags her best friend to a concert and then on a stalking mission at his hotel. Is Tommy everything she hoped?

“What Do I Do Now?” — A terrifically shy girl writes to an advice columnist about how to get the boy of her dreams who is possibly equally shy to notice her. All of the advice she gets manages to backfire, so she engages in a back and forth with the columnist, which allows the reader to see how it’s all playing out.

“Take My Mom–Please!” — Bonnie befriends Tamara Cherp (yes, Cherp) on the first day of school, and gets to meet Tamara’s eccentric mother who Bonnie thinks is just fantastically amazing and wants her own mother to emulate.

“I Hate You, Wallace B. Pokras” – Barbara sees her boyfriend at the movies with another girl. Everything she thinks (mostly about how she hates him, and he is a lying liar who lies) is outlined in this story.

“The Girl Who Had Everything” – Diane is the girl who has everything. Her best friend is the narrator who tells us what happens when Diane’s boyfriend maybe kind of loses interest in her. Such an outside looking in story.

“Loathe at First Sight” – Alan tries to hit on Anne with disastrous results.

“Your Three Minutes Are Up” – In the world before call waiting, Libby constantly hogs the phone, so much so that her parents put egg timers by all the phones and limit her calls to three minutes each. Oh, and she can only have three calls per day. AND her friends’ parents follow suit.

“Double Date” – Two best friends get separated when one moves to a different school district, but they both manage to fall for a boy whose name is a variation on Richard.

The last story is the weakest, but the focus on friendship makes me happy. I love, love the Tommy Toledo one because it’s so over the top and ridiculous. I just…homegirl does some dedicated stalking. I can’t even imagine her in the internet age. She’d be that girl posting pictures on twitter after finding out where dude lives and then wondering why everybody calls her crazy/inappropriate. I love the message in If This Is Love with its emphasis on doing things for yourself and not so people will like you. And my absolute favorite is “The Girl Who Had Everything.” Probably because it speaks to my inner sidekick.

The point is that I loved rereading this whole collection. IT SPEAKS TO ME. Ellen Conford, you are great.

Now, if only I could get my hands on Seven Days to a Brand New Me

YA of the ’80s and ’90s: 4; YA Reading Challenge: 22/20; Off the Shelf: 7/5

Nostalgia: Sharing Sam

“You know, just because she’s sick, hon, it doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold. Just because something bad’s happened to Izzy doesn’t mean you can’t have good things happen to you.”

Gosh, how I love Sharing Sam by Katherine Applegate. Love. It.

I decided to reread it because I was in a bit of a reading slump–at least where fiction was concerned. I’m so glad I did. The book is so engaging from the beginning until the end. I so love the humor of the first chapter, the way Applegate sets up so well the comedic awesomeness of Sam/Alison and the awkward awfulness of Izzy’s cancer revelation. The balance of the chapter just perfectly introduces the impending conflict as well as the tone. Not only that but it’s clear right away why Alison has that split loyalty.

The duality (or *~levels~*) of the title just hit me during this reread. Alison is not just sharing Sam in the sense that she’s, you know, pretending not to be interested in him so her BFF can date him. She’s sharing the experience of Sam, the heady feel of first love and the joy and bliss of feeling that cared for. Even though Sam is his own fully realized character with his own motivations and desires, he does act as a symbol and a stand-in. Sam could be any awesome experience that someone with a terminally ill loved one feels guilty about having. The difference, of course, is that Sam is a person with his own feelings, which makes everything deliciously messy.

I think Applegate is also adept at handling survivor’s guilt here. When I was younger, I didn’t really know/understand that term, but as an adult, I can appreciate how Applegate deals with it. Contrary to what she says, Alison does feel guilty/bad that she’s going to live while Izzy dies. And Alison does feel like maybe she shouldn’t get to be happy while Izzy is miserable, so finds a way to make herself experience a great loss while Izzy is sick. I love that there are characters who call Alison on it, too. That her mother says, “Hey, it’s okay for you to be happy,” and that Sam’s own situation parallels Alison’s in so many ways.

I also love that the book makes the reader question how selfless Alison’s act is. And that the book asks the reader to question whether or not she could handle such an arrangement

But I especially love that this Love Stories book is as much–if not more so–about the love between best friends, about Alison’s love for Izzy even as it has that Sam element throughout.

YA Reading Challenge: 25/75

Book Review: The Rose That Grew from Concrete

Did u hear about the rose that grew from a crack
in the concrete
Proving nature’s laws wrong it learned 2 walk
without having feet
Funny it seems but by keeping its dreams
it learned 2 breathe fresh air
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else even cared!

I picked up The Rose That Grew from Concrete, a collection of Tupac’s poetry that he wrote from 1989-1991 (so he was 19-21), after Susan over at BES reviewed Jacqueline Woodson’s After Tupac and D Foster. At first, I was going to read Woodson’s book, but then I saw Tupac’s poetry on the shelf and knew I had to read it first.

What can I say about Tupac Shakur? I remember watching the “Brenda’s Got a Baby” video on The Jukebox Network. I saw Juice (and Gridlock’d) in the theater. I remember his road trip with Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice. I remember his guest spot on A Different World playing Jada Pinkett’s best friend from home who didn’t quite get college her and why she was going out with a boy who wanted to wait for marriage to have sex. I remember explaining to my mom how much I loved “I Get Around” even though I knew it was so problematic (and it’s still my favorite 2Pac song).

I remember finding out his mom was a Black Panther (yay!) who spent most of his youth addicted to crack (boo).

I remember when he joined Death Row; I remember the feud.

And I absolutely, 100% remember where I was when I found out he had been killed. It was my freshman year of college, and I was riding around with my friend, her sister, and her sister’s boyfriend. And Tupac Shakur was dead.

But mostly I remember riding around in the car with one of my close friends who loved his music, rapping along with the windows down after work. I also remember when the Don Killuminati album came out, and I was in this boy’s dorm room, listening to the first few seconds of the CD over and over because he was convinced that if you listened closely enough, you could hear Tupac say, “Suge shot me.” Seriously. Over and over again. (This same boy also listened to “Hit ‘Em Up” over and over, but that’s because it’s funny.)

So that’s what reading Tupac’s poetry was for me: a trip down memory lane. It made me remember what I knew about him and about my experiences with his music.

The foreword (written by Nikki Giovanni) promises to show Tupac’s “sensitive soul”—a soul Giovanni says people want to obscure and overlook because “after all, if he loves, if he cries, if he cares, if he, in other words, is not a monster, then what have we done?” (Tupac’s bio is largely about the trouble he got into with the law. Make of that what you will.)

Sometimes when I’m alone
I cry because I’m on my own
It’s painful and sad and sometimes I cry
and no one cares about why.

Here’s what I know: Tupac died too young. But he also expected it. The last poem “In the Event of My Demise” addresses this expectation directly:

I will die before my time
Because I feel the shadow’s depth
So much I wanted 2 accomplish
Before I reached my death

He was only 25 when he died, which I didn’t know at the time. I thought he was much older because, for me, he had been around so long. I knew he was young, but my 17-year-old mind thought he was in his thirties at least.

But my experience of reading the book tells you nothing about the book. It’s set up interestingly with the handwritten poem on the left and a typewritten poem on the right. Reading the poetry online does not provide the same experience because some of the line breaks are wrong, which I discovered when I searched for a link to the book. For example, in the title poem, one site had the first line break after “grew,” which totally changes the meaning of the poem (hello, there’s a reason “crack” is the last word on the first line). So, if you want to read Tupac’s poetry, I highly recommend reading the book, and NOT finding the poems online.

My favorite poems are the ones about his mother because you can totally feel his heartache coming through. One is “When Ure Hero Falls” which lets you see the complicated relationship he has with mom, and then there’s a poem dedicated to crack called “U R Ripping Us Apart!!!” which also talks about his hero. It’s just really sad. I’m glad she got clean and they did repair their relationship before he passed away.

There are also poems about love and women. There’s a poem about his girlfriend’s miscarriage, about his resistance to government assistance. There are a couple of poems dedicated to Jada, which I’ll admit, made me smile. Poems about bravado and heartache. Poems that run the gamut.

I’ll admit, part of the charm of reading the poems it that they’re by Tupac. Because, honestly, some read like emo poetry that a nineteen-year-old might post on his MySpace page or blog or as his AIM away message.

I don’t think the content or sensitivity would really be a surprise to anyone who actually listened to Tupac’s music. He had songs about teen moms and loving his mother and saying good-bye to people.

I’m not so sure how the book would read to a non-fan of Tupac, or someone who wasn’t a participant of his generation of music. As I said, quite a bit of it reads as emo poetry. But I think anyone interested in Tupac as a figure should definitely read this book to hear about Tupac and what he thought as a young man in his own words. It definitely adds a different dimension to the persona of him as a “gangsta rapper” (as soon I typed that “Gangsta Party” popped in my head. True story).

But 2morrow I c change
A chance to build anew
Built on spirit, intent of heart
and ideals based on truth

POC Reading Challenge: 11/15

Nostalgia: Sweet Valley Twins and Friends: The Magic Christmas

I am reading two very serious books (serious in different ways–one is an autobiography, another is just kind of hard to read), so to give myself a break on Christmas Eve, I broke out my copy of The Magic Christmas because I knew it would be easy, and it’s always fun.  The twins get dolls that come alive!  They go to a magical world!  There are riddles to solve!  And magic!

Anyway, there’s not much to say about it except I totally laughed at Elizabeth being self-centered and twelve because her grandmother was all, “Samantha and Amanda stopped speaking because Samantha (I think) framed the love of her sister’s life and got him sent to prison and they regretted it their whole lives” and Liz is basically like, “Yeah, okay, whatever, but Jessica hated my lame Christmas gift so she totally deserves my ire.”  HAHAHAHA.  Oh, Liz.

The book is great because even if you don’t know the twins, it’s easy to follow their drama.  Also, you could cut out all of the details that make it specific to Liz and Jessica and turn it into a story about some other twins.  Plus also, it is kind of creepy cool that each girl basically develops a crush on her sister’s personality doppelganger.  I don’t know how to feel about that except…creepy cool.

Fun way to end the year.  Now I have to finish the other two books.

Diversity Roll Call: The Problem Novel

The current Diversity Roll Call addresses the problem novel as inspired by a Justine Larbalestier post.  More specifically:

Did you read these kinds of works when you were an adolescent? Did you think they were silly or did you gain something from them? Do you enjoy them as an adult? Do you recommend them to students or other teens you’re in contact with? Which titles and to whom would you recommend them? What issues or circumstances would like to see address in YA? What are your recommended best reads and which would you honestly say are poor examples in this genre?

First things first.  I think it’s important to define what a problem novel is to me.  Someone in the comments section over at Color Online said they would call it realistic fiction, but I honestly kind of like the Wikipedia definition of an adolescent’s first confrontation with a social or personal ill.  Which, yes, realistic fiction.  But I would take it a little further.  Since most realistic fiction deals with problems, I’m thinking more specifically of novels I would describe by the social or personal ill first as opposed to, say, the quest the character is on.  Like Monster is about a boy in jail or Out of the Dust is about a girl surviving the Dust Bowl. Because most books require characters to have personal ills on whatever level for the sake of conflict, a problem novel would be more about a social ill than anything.  Meaning that when I think about the novel, I think about it first in terms of that social ill and recognize the ill as a social problem.  (I’m trying to think of realistic fiction, I don’t define as a problem novel, and so far I have True Confessions of a Hollywood Starlet [her sobriety is a big part of the novel, but I first think of it as her leaving her old life behind for a small town], Story of a Girl [double standards, family issues, teen pregnancy, but I first think of it as about a girl who did something and now is trying to figure out what that means for her–maybe the title has something to do with that], and A Northern Light [which, I know, murdered pregnant woman, but I think of it more as about Maddie trying to decide if she should go away to school or not].)

At Color Online, Susan says:

The problem novel isn’t designed to fix life’s ills, but it can help a young person realize they are not alone and possibly find the courage to seek help or gain understanding. The problem novel is sometimes the first time a young person finds identification.

I would go a step further and say that it’s also to help teens gain understanding of people who are not like them that may have stories they don’t understand.  So if you know someone in jail or who has been raped or has an abusive parent, these kinds of books would benefit you.  And if you don’t personally know anyone facing these issues, you’ve probably heard about them on the news or whatever, so the books can personalize the story.

As a teen/adolescent, I read pretty voraciously, but I often don’t remember the books I read back then.  The only novels I remember that dealt with problems, honestly, are the SVH Very Special Topic books:  the one where Regina o.d.’s, the one where Robin is  anorexic, when Ken goes blind, etc.

jacob-have-i-lovedThose, and Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, which is one of my favorite books ever of all time.  I would count it as a problem novel because it’s all about how Wheeze feels slighted by her family, and Catherine is the preferred sister:  she’s prettier and more talented, and more importantly, she almost died at birth.  I haven’t read the book in years, but Louise’s pain is just as palpable to me now as it was then.  Also, I never forgot the ending where Louise makes sure both twins she helps deliver receive equal attention so those babies won’t go through life the way she and her sister did.  OH MY HEART.

monsterIt’s only now as an adult that I can identify that most of the books I read now are problem novels–or realistic fiction.  And for me, the gold standard of problem novels is Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  Not only is it about a boy in the system, it’s also about the problems with the system. It also addresses all of the issues in a non-didactic way.  Everything is just put on the page for you to decide what to do with it.  (I wrote a whole paper on the book, so I’m trying to be concise.  Basically, the heteroglossia of the novel lends itself to the reader making up his/her own mind about the issues in the book.)  I also love that, in any of the classes I’ve taught on the book, there is never any agreement about whether Steve is innocent or guilty, but everybody can agree that the system is messed up.

In fact, I’d classify most of WDM’s books as problem novels:  Shooter (school shootings), The Beast (heroin), etc.  His most didactic book is the one on recidivism (A Handbook for Boys), and while I like it, I can imagine it’d be pretty annoying to a teen (as evidenced by the reaction of my students when I taught it).  The topic is still well handled, but, yeah, didactic.

Anyway, there are lots and lots of books I’ve read and like that fit this topic, but I’m going to narrow it down to five other books I’d recommend that all deal with different societal ills.
queen make_lemonade_new2 living-dead-girl inexcusable hopewashere

The Queen of Everything by Deb Caletti is about a girl whose dad kills his girlfriend’s husband.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff is about a girl who babysits for a teen mom in their impoverished neighborhood.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott is about a girl who is held captive by a pedophile.

Inexcusable by Chris Lynch is about a boy who rapes a girl.

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer is about a teen who joins a campaign to fight political corruption in her town.

I’ll be honest.  I don’t exactly like Living Dead Girl or Inexcusable but I think they’re doing something different and are worth a read.  LDG is extremely disturbing (so very disturbing, so very VERY disturbing), but I seriously could not stop reading it once I started.  Inexcusable is not even a very good book, and it left me with a feeling of incompleteness at the end (needed more something), but it’d make a good companion to Speak.  As for the other books, I’ve taught them, and my students have liked them.  Hope Was Here is probably the least depressing of the books just because it’s so gosh darned upbeat and uplifting even when it’s dealing with heavy issues, which is why I’ve included it on the list.

whaletalkI also feel that any list of books about problem novels without a mention of Chris Crutcher, and specifically, Whale Talk is incomplete.  All of his books are, on some level, about abuse and its effects.

And then there are all of the other books that I’m not going to spotlight, but that I think fit this category.  So, a list:

  • The First Part Last by Angela Johnson (teen pregnancy/parenthood)
  • Shattering Glass by Gail Giles (bullying)
  • The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler (fat acceptance)
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green(death–although, as my students pointed out in one class, it is rare not to have death in YA lit)
  • Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates (media hysteria)
  • Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (rape)
  • Dreamland by Sarah Dessen (partner violence)
  • Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs. Dumphrey by Margaret Peterson Haddix (neglect)
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley (disfigurement/emotional abuse)
  • Don’t Think Twice by Ruth Pennebaker (teen pregnancy)

Nostalgia: Girl Friends #1: Draw the Line

“You know, if you had told me two weeks ago that I’d be involved in a rally and have a whole new group of girl friends, I never would have believed it…I don’t know whether it’s the rally that’s making me feel so good, or the girls…It’s…I don’t know how to explain it.”


“Yeah, but that’s not really strong enough,” Stephanie said. “It’s just…the best.”

Last month I said I was rereading the first book in one of my favorite series, Girl Friends, and I finally finished. This is a book I’ve read lots and lots of times, and what I find most interesting is that, of course, as I reread, I notice different things that I hadn’t before.


When I first read the series back in 1993, I related most readily to Natalie and Cassandra, since they’re black cousins.  Natalie is a lot like girls I knew in school and her situation with a deadbeat dad and knowing pregnant teens is something I could easily grab on to.  Cassandra is a ballet dancer, and since I took dance, though not as intensely,  I totally got that part of her.

I also related a lot to Janis who has a big mouth.  There’s a part in one of the later books (book 3 maybe?) where Cassandra laments that Natalie and Janis have found each other since they’re the two biggest antagonists she knows.  It’s a small detail that I’ve always loved because, yes, Janis and Natalie would have been my friends.  And me and my friends were totally obnoxious and loud in high school.

I had a huge crush on a guy who got high all the time, so I got Stephanie and her relationship with Phillip (although, my pothead was not in love with me, sadly).  I was also writing an epic novel/series of my own, so I loved that Stephanie always referred to Frances, the heroine of all her stories.  Stephanie frequently rewrites scenes she’s living in her head or on paper, and that still is awesome.

I never much related to Maria. I mean, yes, I was on the pom squad in high school, but she’s pretty and popular and her family has money. However, on reread, I find her story the most fascinating. I remember most of the details of her story, of course:  she bucks the popular crowd to hang out with the girl friend; her brother is the front man of a local band; her boyfriend assaults her and then brands her a slut.

What Grey does with Maria that I didn’t catch back then or even five or six years ago is pretty thoroughly deconstructs societal pressures on girls.  Maria stays with her boyfriend that she hates because she is terrified of what will happen in her circle of cheerleading friends if she chooses to break up with him.

This is how she describes Leif:

He was in her way, like a thick, brick wall, preventing her from escaping, making her feel trapped and anxious and she wouldn’t be sorry if she never saw him again.

This comes on page 52, which is pretty early in the book, and is the beginning of an exchange when she realizes she should break up with him because she doesn’t really like him, but it’s nice to have someone to date who is in her circle.  Right as she’s about to tell him she doesn’t want to date him anymore, this happens:

“Leif,” she began, then stopped as an image of Vanessa rose in her mind.  ‘You what?’ the image shrieked, clutching its chest in horror. ‘You broke up with your only squeeze less than a month before Homecoming because he tried for serious sugar? What’re you, nuts?’

Maria then “surrenders to the familiar logic” and instead of breaking up with Leif, politely says good-bye.  And the thing is Maria HATES Leif.  He completely disgusts her.  When they go on dates, she dresses in what is essentially armor because he has grabby hands, and if he can’t get his hands inside her clothes, she ends her dates with a sense of triumph because she’s bested him.  It is pretty thoroughly disgusting, but Maria is all about appearances.  And not only appearances but maintaining the status quo, keeping things on an even keel. She would rather go out with Leif who is disgusting and who makes her feel anxious than risk not having a date for the dance or having to explain herself to her cheerleading friends.  It’s just easier for her, socially, to go along with it all than to dump him.  Because if she breaks up with him, she’ll be bucking expectation, and worse, she’ll have to explain.  Which she says!

Leif would be showing up anytime now and she hated the thought of dealing with him in front of everybody.  Driving home with him after the game on Friday had been a bad move but everyone had expected it, so what was she supposed to do? They were, in a way, a couple and blowing him off now, for no good reason, would be social suicide.

Everyone had expected it!  She knew it was a bad move, but she knew what was expected of her, so she did it.  Way better to deal with Leif and how gross he makes her feel than to commit social suicide.

Then there are Maria’s parents and brother.

Her parents had always taken great pains to protect her.  They had rules regarding what was acceptable and if her rules were stricter than Jesse’s had been, it was, her parents explained, because more harm could befall a girl.  Having fun was one thing, but once a girl got herself in trouble, it would follow her forever.

Jesse, by the way, is a huge slut.  And that’s what the books call him with no qualifiers (i.e, he is not a “male” slut, just a good old slut) who sleeps with groupies who he describes as a “nameless, faceless way to work off energy.”  He also tells his sister not to be like the girls he has sex with.  And Maria knows and understands it’s a double standard, but she can’t help living it.  Her reputation IS everything to her.  And not just sexually, because she knows the boys lie and say they have gotten something from her, but socially.

So Maria plays by the rules.  She doesn’t break up with Leif. She tries to maintain appearances.  And in the second book, Leif assaults her.

SHE DOES EVERYTHING RIGHT.  She tries to please everybody.  And it fails.  And what I think is brilliant is that Grey clearly shows WHY a girl would stay in a relationship with someone who makes her anxious and suffocates her and who she hates kissing and doesn’t want to touch.  I mean, no, Janis or Natalie wouldn’t do that, and even Stephanie has Phillip who loves her, but Maria wants to fit in and wants to belong and wants to not rock the boat.  And she knows she should like Leif, on paper at least, and she doesn’t really have anybody else right now, and isn’t it better to have someone to go to the dance with than not?  ISN’T IT?

And if Maria is doing all of this with a boy she doesn’t even like, what about the girls who love their abusive boyfriends?  (And let’s be clear here: even if Maria doesn’t think of his relentless pawing of her as assault, there is clearly something about him that threatens her and makes her feel panicked and anxious around him–basically fear.)  Taking out the question of love, erasing whether or not she likes him, makes it even clearer how sometimes there are these unspoken expectations for girls.  It’s better to have a boyfriend than not.  It’s better to have a date than not. It’s different for boys.  Boys want it, girls don’t. Etc.  Of COURSE Maria would put up with Leif then.  Of course.

Anyway, that makesgirlfriends1-back the books sound super heavy, and they do deal with some pretty serious topics (like racism, school shootings, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, death, bulimia, drugs), but oh my word, they are delicious to read.  Here it is sixteen years later, and I’m just now getting how freaking brilliantly a lot of these topics are handled.

Another thing I like is that these girls are isolated or loners and it makes perfect sense, but they all have someone to talk to so that they’re not friendless.  Janis is all about her causes, but she has her friend Simon.  Cassandra is all about dancing, so doesn’t really interact with anyone at school…except Natalie.  Natalie is new to the school, but she has befriended Gus.  Stephanie works to take care of her family and maintain straight A’s so she can get a scholarship, but she has Phillip.  And Maria, while a cheerleader, doesn’t really feel comfortable with them or count them as her actual friends.

So, yes, they have these relationships, but none of that compares to the five of them coming together.  Empowerment through female friendships.  I’d be lying if I said that this series hasn’t inspired my dissertation topic focusing on female friendship.  If I didn’t love these books with all of my heart, I doubt very seriously that I would even think about or consider friendships between girls as much as I do.

I am so sad they are out of print.  Because I want to make other people read them.