Thursday, February 28, 2008

Skip that company picnic, or the Girl Death Left Behind

You guys, I have a really shocking confession about the Girl Death Left Behind (published 1999).

Sure, Kristy only sent it to me because it has perhaps THE GREATEST TITLE EVER, but what you're going to find simply unbelievable about this one is, I'm sure, completely fucking unexpected:

I sort of enjoyed it!

Oh my god, you guys, I'm not kidding. I want to be kidding! But I can't hate on it; I can't hate on even A LITTLE of it.

Obviously I totes thought I was going to! First there's the title. Then? The cover:

I mean, nothing's WRONG with it, per se, just combined with the title and the longing glance over her shoulder, I thought it was more suited for, "Oh, um, hey, Death? I think you... yeah, do you feel like you left something behind? Like... like ME? No, no, I get that you're busy and all, I just thought maybe--oh, no, it's cool, I'll just keep going. Cool, no, totally. Cool." Also Beth is wearing a cardigan, and if any of you have spent any time with me lately, you'll know the one thing I'm in search of is the perfect cardigan. This one looks pretty nice!

According to the back of the book, this one's about:

Beth's world has been torn apart. She cannot figure out how to go on when a car accident claims the lives of her entire family, and she is the only survivor. Things seem to get even worse when she moves in with her aunt and her spoiled cousin, Terri. But with the love and support of her aunt and some unexpected friends, Beth struggles to overcome the despair that threatens to consume her. Will she be able to move past the painful memories without feeling guilty for being a survivor?
So I opened up the book, ready to snark on what lied within. And, please, of course it didn't take me long. We meet Beth, who's shooting baskets with her next-door neighbor and friend Teddy, while his boombox is tuned into "A ROCK STATION". I hate that crap! (Not rock music, guys, don't worry, I'm totes down with the rock and/or roll.) Spend two seconds around kids and you'll learn no one says they listen to "rock music". Whatever, I know all grownups think kids listen to the rock and roll and talk in stilted phrases!

So Teddy's reeeeally hoping Beth's BFF Marcie comes over, because Teddy is super into Marcie. It's kind of cute, yeah? He's Beth's next-door neighbor and plays basketball with her and dreams of her best friend, and everyone's cool with this. I mean, I'm not sure how realistic this is, because I know a lot of kids in Beth's position would feel threatened by this (I totes would have), but I like that Beth isn't shown as being jealous (even though I would have been!).

So Beth's fam shows up, totally spoiling all the fun. Beth has a younger sister, Allison, who's a soccer champ, and a little brother, Doug. Beth has to go along to most of Allison's soccer games with the whole family, which annoys the heck out of her. Yeah, remember when you were fourteen and all you wanted to do was hang out with your friends so you could listen to "rock music" and all of a sudden your parents had become super interested in your life and you could never escape them? Fourteen is not an easy age, folks! YES I AM RELATING TO A LURLENE McDANIEL CHARACTER SHUTTTT UPPPPP.

So Beth's mom takes her aside to see if Beth wants her cousin Terri to spend a month with her during the summer. Beth is NOT cool about this, because Terri's a heinous spoiled wench, and also because Beth's BFF will be out of town so she'll have to endure Terri on her own. Wait, what about Teddy? Anyways, this is one of the few parts that raises my hackles, because it's basically said that the reason Terri is a spoiled brat is that she's an only child, and there have been TONS of studies done that only kids don't fare any worse than any other kids. But, whatever, I'm sure it's easier to slip into spoiling your kids if there's only one of them. HERE'S A PASS LURLENE JUST TAKE IT!

Beth's mom lays on the guilt about it! See, her and her sister Camille had A DOUBLE WEDDING.

(OH MY GOD YOU GUYS A DOUBLE WEDDING! Do people really have double weddings? Let's set aside the rest of this post and just chat about double weddings. If I had a double wedding I would make it the tackiest effing* thing ever, not that it wouldn't automatically qualify as such, once it becomes A DOUBLE WEDDING. OH MY GOD! It's amazing!)

Okay, anyways, so Beth's dad and Terri's dads were BFFs in the military, and then they married sisters, and then Beth's mom and Camille GOT PREGNANT AT THE SAME TIME AND THEN HAD GIRLS AT THE SAME TIME. My roommate Dawn Rochelle and I always joke that we are super codependent, but I think we found a new ideal to which we should achieve. Y/N?

Obviously Beth pretty much HAS to say yes to Terri staying there, and then on top of that her mom is all "oh and YOU have to invite her so it isn't so glaringly obvious we forced you to" which, geez, Beth's mom, that just sucks for Beth. It's not her fault your codependent sister raised a heinous little jerk.

So the parents are going on and on about Beth's dad's company picnic, and I get kind of nervous, because, c'mon, I've seen the title of the book. Since I doubt plague is a possibility, I figure the fam sans Beth must get into a car wreck, and I bet this is gonna be it!

Oh, yep, and now it's the day of the picnic, and Beth's sick so she can't go. OH NO YOU GUYS. You know it's coming! So Beth's mom offers to stay home with her, but Beth refuses (OH BETH!) and they all leave. Beth takes a nap, but's awaken by a knock on the door. It's her dad's secretary (yeah, Lurlene, lemme tell you, most companies have stopped having secretaries, nowadays we call them assistants and lots of them are boys) and two cops. COPS! WHAT! Yeah, there's been a bad accident.

So everyone goes to the hospital, including Teddy's mom, and no one will tell Beth what's going on. Finally hospital staff insists Beth has a family member there, so she calls Camille, who flies in. When Camille gets there, a doctor takes them aside to let them know everyone died! It's, like, the least comforting scene like this I've read in forever:

"According to the police," the doctor said, "the van swerved from the road and careened down a hill, rolled over, and smashed into a tree. [Holy shit!] The impact was severe. The Jaws of Life had to be used to open the car and extract the passengers."

Beth shuddered. "B-but they're all right, aren't they? You fixed them up, didn't you?"

Dr. Higdon looked her in the eye. "No, Beth. They arrived at our emergency room DOA." His voice was soft, terribly soft.

"DOA?" Her voice quivered.

"Dead on arrival. [DUDE SOME COMPASSION!] I'm very sorry, but there was absolutely nothing we could do for them. Nothing at all. [DUDE STOP IT!]"
Dude, a future word of advice? DON'T SAY 'DOA'! There are ten thousand better ways to say it.

But you know what? That's that. There is no medical talk, no descriptions of tubes and machines and internal injuries and organ donations and Glasgow scores. Nope, they're dead, and this book is about Beth, not injury fetishism. That's basically fucking amazing, yeah? It's so refreshing.

So there's a sad funeral (OF COURSE), which Beth's BFF doesn't even attend because she's still out of town! Man, that would suck. Beth finds out afterwards that she has to move from Chattanooga to Florida to live with Camille and her husband Jack, and of course the terrible Terri.

I feel now is as good a time as any to tell you guys that not only is this totally the kind of plot I would use for a young adult novel (I basically would write about anything that involves a restructuring of family, ask anyone about my current project if you doubt me), I totally wrote something really similar when I was fourteen! In that book, though, only the parents died, the sibling wasn't in the accident either, and the aunt and her kids lived across town. Also the sisters spent, like, two minutes mourning their parents and the rest of the time talking about boys. I'd like to tell you guys it was the worst thing I ever wrote but that would be such a big lie that you'd never trust me again.

Okay, so back to the story. Of course Beth hates Florida. Terri is a royal beotch to her, of course. I believe the conflict; I believe the specific dialogue a bit less:

Terri entered, her gaze darting everywhere. "Um--my friend LuAnne is having a pool party Saturday night and she wants us to come."

"I don't want to go."

"Why not?"

"I don't feel like partying." Beth turned away.

"It's the last party before school starts. Everyone will be there. It'll be fun." [Wow, check out that enthusiasm! It sounds like a blaaaast.]

"Fun for you, maybe, but not for me."

"How do you know?" [How do YOU know anyone DOESN'T talk so lamely? MAYBE SOME DO.]


"You never want to do anything." Terri sounded pouty.

"Look, I just don't feel like going to some party. Don't you get it?"

"You could have friends." Terri's tone turned cajoling. [Cajoling always sounds fun to me.]

"I have friends. They just don't happen to live in Tampa."
I mean, who are these people who talk like this? WHOOO?

But Beth DOES go to the party, and she meets a super hot and nice boy named Jared. I used to like the name Jared, but now it just reminds me of commercials I hate: losing weight via submarine sandwiches or a badly-named jeweler who apparently thinks people know what the fuck they're talking about when the script calls for a lady to shriek "HE WENT TO JARED!" I always imagine the dude rolling up to Jared from Subway who's got a bunch of diamond rings and meatball subs in the trunk of his car. Luckily, the Jared in the book is neither of these things!

(Mmmm, meatball subs.)

Jared totally hates Terri too. He calls her Mouth of the South and Terri the Tattler, which are pretty lame putdowns, but at least his heart's in the right place! Unfortunately, after the party, Terri confides in Beth:

"I wanted to point out Jared Harrison to you."

Beth's head snapped up. "Why?"

A gooey [GOOEY??] smile spread over Terri's face. "I have plans for him and me."


"Absolutely. I think he's totally buff, and this year I intend to make him my guy. Count on it."

So occasionally we get little excerpts of emails sent between Beth, Marcie, and Teddy, which BLEW MY FREAKING MIND. I had no idea technology was present in the Lurleneverse. It threw me off guard SO MUCH. It's nice, though! I like that they keep in touch, even if of course the emails all sound like they're written by the same person. Lurlene isn't great at making her characters sound like different people, I mean, of course, unless they're uneducated African Americans.

It's the first day of school, and it sucks, of course!! You know who's there and nice, though? Jared, of course! Beth's kind of uneasy, though, with the whole "TERRI WILL PROBABLY MURDER ME" thing weighing on her. I wouldn't put it past Terri!

So Beth's in the bathroom and in wanders this girl who has:

  • spiky orange hair
  • a pierced nose
  • garish makeup
  • a tattoo

I kept picturing her as Jael from America's Next Top Model!:

So I am totes waiting for the big life lesson about how spiky hair is the work of the devil, and nose piercings are the fault of working women, and tattoos are tangible proof of a slutty lifestyle, but instead the girl is just snotty to Beth and then stomps off. Beth later mentions her encounter to Jared, and he tells her the girl is named Sloane, and to give her a break. Sloane's parents suck, and she basically has to live at the school, and all the kids keep hush-hush about it so that Sloane doesn't get into trouble with either the school or her evil dad. Once Terri turned her in, and that's one reason so many kids hate Terri.

So... WAIT. Sloane is a decent kid? The person who picked on her is the bad kid? OH MY GOD YOU GUYS I HAD NO IDEA THIS COULD HAPPEN WITHIN THE LURLENEVERSE. This made me so unbelievably happy!

Okay, so life goes on, Beth is sad and misses her parents as well as her friends back home. Terri's a, ya know, terror. So time passes and it's the last day of school before Thanksgiving break. Beth is leaving the bathroom as Sloane tries to settle in there with all her crap, and gets caught by the faculty. Beth covers for her, says that Sloane just has all her crap because she's spending the weekend with her. OH MY GOD BETH I LOVE YOU! So Sloane has to follow Beth outside, and Beth delights in, in front of Terri, telling Camille her friend Sloane needs a place to crash for the weekend. Camille's not going to refuse anything to the girl with the dead family!

So Terri's all on high alert for Sloane to steal stuff, and it kind of unsettles Beth, but she soon realizes Sloane is a decent girl with a shitty life. They don't have a lot in common, but they get along okay. I love that Beth doesn't try to teach her any lessons about how to dress or behave, and Sloane isn't miraculously transformed through contact with a normal kid. They both have dealt with some shitty circumstances, and that's enough to tie them together. Man, it's so nice. I loved everything about this plotline!

So by the end of the weekend, Sloane's man Carl is back in town, and he picks her up from Beth's. I figured he'd be some asshole too, using a girl who has a bad life, but, no, he's decent. I KNOW RIGHT? This is amazing.

So Camille has a party for Beth's birthday, and only Jared comes, which is okay because he totes kisses her. It's a really sweet scene, you guys:

"Happy birthday, Beth." Without warning, he lifted her chin and kissed her full on the lips. The kiss was quick; she didn't even have time to close her eyes.

Her breath caught, her heart thudded, and the world seemed to tilt.
This is also good because back home Teddy and Marcie are totes together. CUTE! Fourteen-year-olds and romances are adorable to me, especially when they seem (wait for it) pretty realistic.

So Beth learns that her old home has to be sold for the lawyers to settle her parents' estate. She is so not okay with this, but Camille keeps telling her over and over that it's the only thing that can be done. Beth lets it drop, but with Jared, Sloane, and Carl, makes a plan to get back to it. Carl and Sloane will drive her back up so she can figure out a way to stay there. She's sad about leaving Jared, but knows this is what she wants.

Camille and Jack will be out of town for the weekend, but Beth needs to convince Terri to keep quiet about it to give her a few days of lead time. Terri grumbles a lot, and Beth is like, "yeah, remember, you hate me? Isn't this what you want?" Finally Terri agrees to hide the truth from her parents, and Beth is off on her way! Sloane and Carl seem like good people to take a roadtrip with; they're so understanding about this!!

So they drop her off, and tell her they're actually going to settle in Atlanta on the way back, as there's nothing good left for them in Florida. There is no big lesson about them needing to accept family, or get married, or clean up their looks. Nope! They helped out Beth, and now they're off to find their own ways in the world. Sloane and Carl, call me, we will totally hang out if we're ever in the same city!

Beth explores her old house, but of course it's no longer the same, and it doesn't actually feel like home anymore. She does get to hang out with Teddy, but Marcie is conveniently out of town again. The fuck? Is Lurlene afraid to write dialogue for Marcie? Does she not understand how to have two friends in the same scene with the protag? Except... except she had Jared, Sloane, and Carl all in one scene! I'm so confused.

Of course, guess who shows up??? Camille and Terri! Camille is all "you are soooo coming back with us" and Beth tries to resist. But her and Terri finally have a heart-to-heart, where they're honest about how they feel about each other. I mean, it's not like Beth was ever that nice to Terri either, yeah? Terri says now she feels like Beth is her sister, and Beth is all, "yeah, not possible, you're a wench to me." Terri points out that she was a wench to Allison all the time! Go Terri! Terri also explains that her parents were on the verge of divorce but then the accident happened and Beth moved in, and they made things work, and her dad started taking less business trips (Oh my god!!! The MAN is the one who had to change for his family to work!!!), and that really fucking hurts that they could manage that for Beth and not her. Beth sees how that must have felt, but gets Terri to see it wasn't actually FOR Beth, but simply the circumstances that resulted from the tragic deaths.

And Terri and Beth know they will never be BFF, but they're family, practically sisters, and they feel comforted by this. Beth also knows that now, Florida is home, and she's ready to say goodbye to her past and follow Terri and Camille back to her present and future.

And, shhhhh, I got a little choked up there. You can all shut your mouths now.

*Did you guys notice that this week on Project Runway that Tim actually used "effing" to describe something? OH MY GOD. I couldn't love him more; I wish he was my uncle.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuning Back into the Lurlene Channel

I hope you guys love neon green!!!!

Oh, man, you guys, so as soon as Lurlene starts comparing her books to her children with regards to the subject of picking a favorite, I was totally waiting for her to say, "so, you know, Sean!"


I hesitate to admit this to you guys, because I wouldn't dare yet compare myself to Lurlene (I'm not being snotty, seriously, she's published and I am not, also she tends to FINISH projects whereas I...) but I actually totes get the whole "my favorite is what I'm writing now" thing. I mean, if it's not, how do you get any work done? No, instead you turn into Narcissus, but instead of staring at your reflection all day, you keep paging through your own work while shouting out stuff like "girl, you friggin' rock!" and soon a decade has passed and when people ask about your new projects you have to lie or run away.

So of COURSE Lurlene likes Jodi Picoult and EVEN MENTIONS MY SISTER'S KEEPER which is so effing a grown-up Lurlene book if I've ever read one! I mean, it's heads-and-tails above Lurlene in quality, but, please, it's about a girl with cancer and her family! (Also I really tried to like it, but there are about seventy-two points of view, and it felt like a cheap way out of actually portraying what each of the characters are feeling. WHY DON'T YOU JUST TELL ME WHAT THEY'RE FEELING, JODI, OKAY!)

Favorite line from this episode: A TIE!!

"The Harry Potter stuff is very interesting to me."

[on her favorite kinds of books] "Murder mysteries, who-dunnits... real thinking books about figuring it out, because my mind doesn't work that way."

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Lurlene Channel

You guys, I basically made the most awesome discovery ever: Lurlene has her own channel on YouTube. You totally think I'm kidding, right? I mean, you see that that's a link right there, but you almost don't want to click it, because you do not believe the words I'm saying could be accurate.

But, also, you are afraid I'm telling the truth.

The good news is that Lurlene's videos have an average length of about forty seconds, so it didn't take me long to fly right through them. But in case even forty seconds is too long for you to handle, I'm going to take the liberty of blogging these as well.

Let's start with the first video! This one's called "My Son, My Inspiration":

Dude, it's always weird finally seeing an author talk, isn't it? Just like seeing a picture of your favorite radio personalities. Y/N?

Anyways, hello, Lurlene! If I met you I would totally think you were a normal woman, not all weird and disease/death-obsessed at all!

That said, oh MAN. First of all, how the hell much time was she going to devote to Sean's soccer-playing? I mean, sure, go Sean! You totes managed that diabetes! I love that she felt the need to specify indoor AND outdoor soccer. IT MADE MY NIGHT. I expected her to get off on some sort of soccer-playing tangent, but she whipped that under control pretty quickly.

So the thing is, I know Lurlene SAYS she'd give anything, INCLUDING HER CAREER, if only Sean didn't have diabetes? But her tone and facial expressions, to me at least, say otherwise. It's kind of creepy, yeah?

My favorite line: "He's a business man, but he coaches youth soccer, and I'm very proud of him for that." Yeah, because there is nothing good that can come from business!!

Who is Lurlene?

Author bios vary a lot. Sometimes they take up a whole back cover, sometimes we learn little more than university attended or city born. With Lurlene, I knew to always expect basically the exact same bio, with the exact same picture:

I like how she's just chillaxing in that lounge chair. "Hey there, girlfriend," she seems to be telling me. "Sit right back and let me spin you a tale of death and disease." Um, all right, Lurlene, I'm onboard!

Lurlene McDaniel began writing inspirational novels about teenagers facing life-altering situations when her son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. "I saw firsthand how chronic illness affects every aspect of a person's life," she has said. "I want kids to know that while people don't get to choose what life gives to them, they do get to choose how they respond."

Lurlene McDaniel's novels are hard-hitting and realistic [if there are two descriptors I would never, ever use to describe Lurlene's books, they're "hard-hitting" and "realistic"], but also leave readers with inspiration and hope. Her books have received acclaim from readers, teachers, parents, and reviewers. Her recent novels, Angels Watching Over Me and its companions, Lifted Up by Angels and Until Angels Close my Eyes, have all been national bestsellers, as have Don't Die, My Love; I'll Be Seeing You; and Till Death Do Us Part. Six Months to Live was included in a literary time capsule at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Lurlene lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Okay, the time capsule thing is waaaaay too good to resist; it is seriously the GREATEST THING EVER. I did a little digging around online and found out that this capsule is to be opened in the year 2089. And in the year 2089, people will wonder just what the fuck we were reading, and why cancer was alllllll the rage. I mean SERIOUSLY. THE HELL. This is the craziest thing ever, you guys!! Like, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to witness this and cry for the level of literature their ancestors had to settle for.

Can you imagine? Seriously? You open a time capsule, looking for clues to your culture's past, and you pull out Six Months to fucking Live? Oh, holy hell, that's amazing.

So as a kid this is basically all I ever knew about Lurlene (except that time capsule thing, that's totes new info). And I must say, even though back then I thought these were really quality books, I thought it was kind of weird this whole thing took off for her just because her kid had diabetes. Now, listen, I'm not downplaying diabetes. Stacey McGill was my idol! But, like, it's manageable, you know? It's a whole different bag of bears than, say, cancer, right?

According to Lurlene's official web site (well, one of them):

McDaniel began writing about young adults when her son Sean was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 3. His illness changed the lives of everyone in her family forever. “I saw what life was like for someone who was chronically ill, and I experienced how it affected the dynamics of the family,” says McDaniel. She says she found that writing about the trauma and its effects was therapeutic.
I mean, I get it! Writing is totes cathartic; I've been there too, Lurlene! But you know? She didn't have a kid who died in a car wreck, or a kid who died from cancer, or a kid with AIDS. She had a kid who got this totally manageable illness. Yeah? I wonder how Sean feels that his diabetes spurred like fifty tomes of death, angst, destruction, and working mothers! Man, Sean, I'd be weirded out, if I were you.

On the site I also learned that Lurlene attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, where she actually got her B.A. in English. Dudes, for serious! I guess to be fair I've never found TECHNICAL fault with her writing. Also that was before her mind was opened up to the possibility of KIDS WITH DEATH, so who knows what she was writing back then.

Also I've gotta admit I'm always totes intrigued by ladies with jobs that involve them speaking out against other ladies with jobs!

Oh, so you guys want to know more about Lurlene's research process? Okay!:

To make certain that her books are medically accurate, McDaniel conducts extensive research. She interviews health care professionals and works with appropriate medical groups and hospice organizations, as well as the Tennessee Organ Donor Services. “I study medicine and traditional grief therapy techniques to give the novels a sense of serious medical reality,” she says. “I also study the Bible to instill the human element—the values and ethics often overlooked by the coldness of technology.”
I will say that I always felt like I was getting the full medical story with Lurlene. Hell, I probably could step in for a medical professional for Very Important Talks thanks to all I learned from the Lurleneverse.

As for the bible, I am not sure an ancient text is necessarily the BEST place to look for the human element ("the human element" totally sounds like a sci-fi movie, Y/N?), though to be fair it's not like I ever have caught her plagiarizing bible verses or anything. Okay, Lurlene, I'll give you a fair pass there.

Some readers—and their parents—have wondered why McDaniel chooses to write about sad situations. “I tell them that sometimes tragedy hits people—kids, too. They want answers. They want to know ‘why.’ By using novels, I show ordinary kids confronting and overcoming great odds.”
"Overcoming"? LOTS OF THE KIDS DIE.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Clowns are never wrong, or Time to Let Go

You know what's sort of amazing about the cover to Time to Let Go (published 1990), the sequel to Somewhere Between Life and Death?

No, not that dude's wonky eye! The girl who's supposed to be Erin is actually the same girl from the cover to Somewhere Between Life and Death!:

Consistency in book covers to YA novels? PRACTICALLY UNHEARD OF SO GOOD WORK PUBLISHERS!

These days, the two books are packaged together for your book-carrying needs:

I think I actually prefer the soft pastel Erin of the first editions, even though she sort of looks like Beverley Mitchell from 7th Heaven...

...except SHE appears to have a wonky eye! WHAT! And, wait, 7th Heaven... poorly-written, unrealistic, convinced of its moral superiority? I'm suddenly reminded of something....

Okay, back to the book. Last we saw Erin, her sister Amy had just been taken off of life support and then died. Sadness! But Erin and her family were handling it totes well, yes?

Apparently not! We open with Erin IN THERAPY. It's one of her first appointment, and she does NOT want to be here!!! In an exposition-packed first chapter, we learn that Erin is having MONSTER HEADACHES and therapy is her last option because the doctors can't figure out what's wrong with her.

Uhhhh, I'm not a medical professional or anything, but right away I'm all "ooooh, pick me, pick me, I think I know the answer!", jumping up and down with my hand in the air. "Do you think maybe because of her sister's tragic and untimely death that Erin has a lot of stress and depression and guilt that leads to monster headaches?" But apparently they're just gonna gloss over all of that for awhile. Argh! I hate it when I know the answer to the main plot by the end of the first chapter.

Not that I was reading Lurlene to be SURPRISED or anything. Really, the beauty of Lurlene was generally you knew EXACTLY what you were getting into.

Actually, considering this is in the Lurleneverse, I thought maybe Erin was coming down with a case of the coma, or a bit of brain cancer. You know! In fact, I was a little disappointed she wasn't, because especially back when I read these VERY SERIOUSLY, I was coming in expecting disease and death. If I wanted a book where a girl needed to cope about death and family and life blah blah blah, I would have, I dunno, read a respectable author. Yeah? I came to Lurlene for medical fetishism, not all this real-life crap, so it was definitely a letdown back in the day, no matter how cuckoo I was for sequels (still am!), I expected more.

So let's check in on Erin's family? What's that, you say? Erin's mom is putting in too many hours at her boutique? OF COURSE SHE IS OH GEEZ HERE WE GO AGAIN! Also her parents yell at each other a lot; without Amy to hold them together they all just kind of flail hopelessly. Such is the power of Amys?

What's up with school? AUDITIONS! Aw yeah. Don't you guys wish this was more like Center Stage or something? I know I do. Anyways, there's going to be a big production of West Side Story in conjunction with the neighboring boys' school, and Erin is trying out for the DANCING ROLE OF MARIA. That's right, some kids will sing and act only, and some kids will dance only, and some will do it all. WHAT THE HELLLLLLL. This sounds AWFUL. If you can't sing and dance and act, you know what? You have no business being in a musical! Well, okay, you can be in a musical, but pick one where you can just be a chorus dancer or be a singer who doesn't have to dance. I mean, how messy must this look on stage???

So Erin is damn well convinced she's going to be Maria, and she hopes this total hottie named Seth will be Tony. Unfortunately some loudmouth clown (yeah, that's right, I said that on purpose) named David keeps running his mouth that HE is going to be the lead. That's right, arrogant fucker! Wait, Erin, aren't YOU convinced you're getting the lead? How is this any different at all?

Ohhh, and Erin and her therapist ACTUALLY HAVE THIS EXCHANGE:

Dr. Richardson leaned across the desk and added, "I hope whoever gets the role of Tony is gorgeous."

Erin hadn't thought about the male lead until then. "It doesn't matter to me. Just so long as he's good."

"Do you have a boyfriend? Maybe he won't want you to play opposite some other guy. Would that be a problem?"
DR. RICHARDSON WHAT THE HELL! Hell YEAH that'd be a problem, a problem WITH THE BOYFRIEND. Geez, don't encourage jackassery.

Obviously David is totes like Amy: he's a loud-mouth bitch and a big talker. WE ALL SEE THIS, ERIN, EVERYONE EXCEPT YOU. So of course she gets headaches whenever David gets all Amy-y (Amy-esque?), but STILL she's not sure why she's getting them. Erin, get a freaking clue or a much better therapist, okay? Mine would have knocked this out of the park on my first appointment.

Erin also figures out that she met David once before: he was the clown she worked with when she stepped in for Amy. Clowns ALWAYS come back, don't they? For some reason, she doesn't tell him this. Maybe because she hates him now, or maybe because she doesn't want to talk about Amy. Or both.

Also, David is always all "OH ERIN YOU ACTUALLY LOVE ME" and Erin's all "NO I DON'T" but Erin's protests mean little, because her BFF Shara is all "I have a date for the big dance, so we should double and you can take David!!!!" Ugh, Shara, you're not a good friend at all. Last time someone I called a friend wanted me to date a guy I hated, it didn't go so well.

So Erin randomly runs into Beth (remember her?) and finds out things are not so shiny in the Clark household. Beth's mom's new kidney is faaaaaaaailing! OH NOES! Is this because she's a single mom? I am sure that's at the root of it. Also Beth is totes skipping school so she can help out with her younger siblings and such. Poor Beth! I'm, uh, actually not sure of your purpose in this book, Beth, but, man, sucks to be you!

Oh, right, so later Beth calls Erin and is all "OMG IF I DON'T GET OUT OF THE HOUSE I'M GONNA GO NUTSO!" so they meet up at the mall, and Erin is so desperate to give Beth something to be happy about that she tells her about the dance and lets Beth help her pick out a dress. So this is Beth's purpose? A lameass plot contrivance to get Erin and David at the dance together? Man, you can totally go to the dance without a date, Erin! Also I bet you can cheer up Beth via shopping for, you know, tons of other clothing options that aren't a freaking formal gown. Whatever, plot contrivance Beth helps Erin pick out the perfect dress, and now it looks like Erin and David are totally goin' to the dance together.

Okay, so this is the thing, and I apologize because I'm bringing up Sarah freaking Dessen yet again, but this book reminds me a lot of several of hers. In fact, this scenario happens so often in her writing that I'm dubbing it Sarah Dessen Syndrome. In SDS, our girl protag has some issues (I mean, don't we all?), and the ONLY PERSON WHO KNOWS THE ANSWERS IS A BOY.

Listen, I do believe people come into our lives to get us through stuff, to help us discover who we are, to show us that thing right in front of us that we can't see. But in that list of people, I wouldn't just include boyfriends, I'd include friends and teachers and coworkers. But, nope, not here, these poor girls would just be helllllllllllpless if not for the all-knowing boy. Why the hell are boys the same age so much more knowledgeable? Why do they hold life's answers? I mean, seriously, if this was really how it worked, it'd be pretty awesome to either be a boy or to have a boy, but, uh, hello, it's a really sexist notion.

Also I think YA authors should be a bit more vigilant and not produce lit that tells girls their bossy-ass boyfriend is TOTALLY RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING. Hello, gateway to emotional abuse!

Yet here we have David, who is never too goofy or too overconfident, who always knows what's best for Erin, who IS ALWAYS RIGHT. Erin just needs to, ya know, bow to his will and she'd be a lot happier. Luckily, David is a good guy and doesn't take advantage of this. But godDAMN I hate the implications of a boy who knows your life better than you do.

Another situation that appears a bit less often in Sarah's books and happens here (SDS2?) a boy comes along who is not at ALL what our girl protag wants (or THINKS she wants). He's wilder or he's calmer, he's hotter or he's less conventionally-attractive, he's louder or he's quieter. In short, he's nothing like the hypothetical dude on her hypothetical list, and she is sooooo not interested. He keeps pursuing her. He tells her she DOES like him. He basically stalks her.

And you know what happens? No, she doesn't call the cops on his ass, SHE FALLS FOR IT AND BECOMES HIS GIRLFRIEND. Hello, terrible life lesson #2! Man, this makes me angry. All y'alls, promise me the next time you get stalked you won't date him? Okay? Okay. Whew. You are so lucky you aren't a character in one of Sarah's or Lurlene's books. Oh, crap, wait, what if we are, and we just don't know it? What if Lurlene or Sarah is like Tommy Westphall? SHIT.

Okay, back to the story, sorry for taking you along with me through the tangled paths of my brainskull. So Erin goes to the dance with David, and he totally embarrasses her for many reasons. One is because of this:

In the hall her mother said, "If you weren't going with Shara, I'd never let you go out with this boy, Erin."

"What's the matter?"

"See for yourself."

Erin hurried into the living room. David stood facing her father but turned and flashed his high-voltage grin. He was wearing a tuxedo jacket, ruffled white shirt, paisley blue cummerbund and bow tie, and faded jeans. Down the side seams he'd sewn a blue satin ribbon. He wore red high-top sneakers and a black top hat, and a vivid red scarf poked from the upper outside pocket of his jacket. His bright red clown nose covered his real one.
Man, I hate Erin's mom here. I mean, there are plenty of reasons not to let Erin go out with David, like that he stalked her until she gave up and said "OH FINE" but, geez, let the boy dress like a weirdo. It doesn't make him a bad person.


Perspiration stood out on Seth's forehead, and David reached in his outside top pocket for the red hanky and pulled. Seth took it, but it didn't stop coming. The four of them stood transfixed as the material kept sliding out of David's pocket. Around them other couples stopped dancing and closed ranks. Giggles started, then swelled into laughter, as the "hanky" looped and draped to the floor in an endless stream of multicolored cloth.
I mean, honestly, David seems way desperate for attention, but I'd find that more annoying than embarrassing. Then again, I don't date my stalkers, so, seriously, Erin, you got yourself into this one.

After the dance, they take a walk on the beach, and Erin totally breaks down, and David makes her tell him anything, and she does, and she feels all emotionally naked, but it's a good thing, right? David's a good guy. Whatever, I guess. I'm so sick of boys having all the answers (though I do like David a hell of a lot better than that pompous ass Owen). Do you guys want to read my imaginary line of YA novels where stalkers never get dates and boyfriends don't know all the answers and working moms have awesome relationships with their kids and spouses/partners and all the roles in the school musical are played by one person only? Awwwesome.

I guess Erin has soooo seen the light that she gets in touch with former lust-object Travis! Oh, Erin, just when I want to hate on you, you do something like apologize for freaking out, and forgiving him for his shit behaviour:

"What do you want, Erin?"

What did she want? "I think I want to tell you that I'm sorry."

"Sorry about what?"

"Sorry about... the way I treated you, you know, last year when Amy was... was...."

"It was a hard time for all of us," Travis said quickly. "It's all right, I understand."
So everything turns out okay for everyone! David and Erin totes like each other, Erin's parents stop retreating from each other, Beth's mom makes her stop cutting classes and sign up for community college in the fall, and Erin's headaches GO AWAY HUZZAH. Oh man, you guys, this was a boring book. When your main plots are headaches, a musical, and a stalker-turned-boyfriend, you'd think you could wring a bit more of excitement, yeah? Lurlene, stick with disease and current-not-former death, and things'll go a lot easier for you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Don't ever run out of soda, or Somewhere Between Life and Death

Somewhere Between Life and Death (published 1990) is very special, not only because this blog is its namesake, but because one of the main characters is named Amy! AW YEAH.

Back in the day, this book was all on its own:

Um, what the hell is the thing to the left of that girl's face? Is it the floating face of her comatose sister? If so, why does it look more like a puppet wearing a cheap wig? I mean, I've never seen anyone in a coma except on some episode of Chicago Hope; is that how they look?

Anyways, now it's being packaged with its sequel in one convenient volume, the End of Forever!:

Listen, people, my posts are long enough as it is; I'll recap the second book later. Hopefully you can hold your horses in the meantime. Also, this cover makes the book like a normal modern YA book. Like, I'd pick this up, right? I mean, if not for the glaring LURLENE McDANIEL branding across the top.

This is another book I read as a kid, and I remember liking it, though not as much as all the cancer books. To be fair, I'm not sure there's anything I liked more back then than a good cancer book. Coma books hardly stood a chance!

Oops, did I spoil this one for you? Well, here's what the publisher wants to tell you about it:

The celebration isn't supposed to end in tragedy. The night of their high-school drama group's cast party starts out as fun for sisters Amy and Erin.

Their lives come crashing down when Amy takes the car to get more food and has a horrible accident. Erin and her family pray for Amy to awaken from her coma. But as the monitor bleeps and the respirator hisses, Amy lies somewhere between life and death.

Erin and her parents must find the courage to accept the fact that Amy's life-support system will never bring her back. When she dies, can the family give some meaning to her senseless death? Can Amy's dying become the hope for someone else's living?
It is kind of creepy reading a book about a girl with your name who's in a freaking coma!... especially because I was totally that kid who read about a disease/condition and was convinced I had it too. That said, there's not much danger of fearing you're in a coma when you're actually not, so this book was fairly safe.

(Other safe books include those about kids BORN with conditions! Though sometimes, to be honest, I'd worry maybe doctors had just missed my lifelong condition for thirteen years. YOU NEVER KNOW.)

Anyways, of course since this book features siblings, protagonist Erin and her younger sister Amy, we're treated to all the deets of their oppositeness:

Amy flounced on the bed, sending pillows and clothes flying. "One of us is neat and orderly, and one of us isn't." She smiled innocently.

"It's nothing to brag about, you know."

Amy jumped off the bed and hauled Erin next to her in the mirror. "Look at us, Erin. You're tall, blonde, and graceful, and I'm--well--short, round, and fully packed." [FULLY PACKED??? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?] She patted her hips. [OH MY GOD THAT ISN'T HELPING MATTERS.]

Erin tried not to smile. "What's your point?"

"We're different, that's all. You got the looks, talent, and brains, and I got"--Amy tousled her shoulder-length curly dark hair--"dandruff." [EW GROSS AMY.]
Obviously, this is literature of subtlety. Also I'm surprised Amy didn't mention she looks like a floating dollhead. Oh, wait, is that just post-coma? Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So Erin is a dancer and Amy is an actress (if Lurlene was really going for the polar opposites thing, I would have thought she'd make Erin an aspiring accountant or something, but I guess that'd eff up a bunch of plot points). Amy also volunteers as a clown to cheer up sick kids, and she has a superfantastically hot boyfriend who Erin secretly lusts after. We're probably supposed to help Erin serve some haterade to Amy, because she's too loud and never on time and always blowing off her responsibilities, but, honestly, she sounds like a freaking blast. (Or maybe I'm just showing solidarity with curvy girls named Amy who are way too loud and rarely on time for work.)

So Amy and Erin are working on this performance piece where Amy monologues, Erin dances, and Erin's BFF Shara sings. I don't quite get it, but I have a marketing degree, so take that as you will. Whatever, the whole point is these ladies are all super at what they do! Good work, ladies. I am not good at ANY of those things (okay, I can rock a badass karaoke, but let's be realistic here) so of course I totes envy them. Don't we all!

The performance is a big freaking smash hit (isn't that always the way? smash hit or disaster, nothing in between) and everyone parties it up at the cast party afterwards. WITH SODAS YOU GUYS NOT BEERS THESE ARE GOOD KIDS. They party it up SO MUCH that they RUN OUT of soda OH NOES. Erin is all set to go out and get more, but Amy, who JUST GOT HER LICENSE, begggggggs to go.

Do you guys remember those days? Man, back when I was sixteen, there was nothing I didn't want to drive to. You could have said "Hey, Ames, there's a big line of killer bees flying up from Mexico" and I would have DRIVEN TO THEM because HELLO I just got my license! And nowadays I do things like calling for delivery because driving five minutes to pick up a burger is waaaaay too much work.

Anyways, Erin's all MISS RESPONSIBLE and doesn't see why Amy should go, because:

  1. It's Erin's car.
  2. It's RAINING out.
  3. Amy is NOT an experienced driver.
  4. Erin is a big ol' stick in the mud who doesn't want anyone else doing ANYTHING THAT MIGHT BE FUN FOR THEM.
But finally, as always, Erin relents, and Amy is off on her merry way to get more soda. YAY SODA! You guys, you know I'm getting old and lame, because sometimes all I really do want at a party is a nice can of soda.

The party, uh, rages on into the night, and guess who shows up? AMY'S HOT BOYFRIEND. Apparently he was just going to pick her up awhile into the party; Erin is soooo pissed about this. Listen, Erin, if you had the option of being the last one to leave a party or cuttin' loose with the hottest boy in school, what would you do? Also, I'm sorry, I hate staying for a whole party. Get there, hang out for awhile, mingle, LEAVE. Geez, Erin, this is not awful of Amy.

Amy doesn't return in a timely manner though! YOU GUYS I SAW THE COVER OF THE BOOK SO I'M THINKING THINGS AREN'T GONNA TURN OUT WELL. Of course no one worries at first because, c'mon, it's Amy, she's never on time. But the time ticks by, and people get a little panicky. AND THEY SHOULD BECAUSE:

A blast of wind and rain blew in with a short, plump woman. [Uh, that's basically the best sentence I've read in forever. I wish every time I entered a room that I'd bring in a blast of wind and rain. Could that be my superpower? AWESOME.]

Erin blinked. "Inez!" she cried, recognizing her mother's sales assistant from the boutique. [Oh, yeah, Erin and Amy's mom owns a clothing boutique; this is more important in the next book. I'm glad she has a full-time job though! Of course, it's a total LADY job. Whatever. This is an improvement.] "What are you doing here?"

Inez wrung her hands and grabbed Erin by the forearms. She was crying. "Erin, there's been an accident."

"Mom and Dad?" Erin almost gagged. ["Gagged"? That is a weird-ass reaction. Also, hello, Erin, at this point haven't you been freaking out about, let's see, A) the weather, B) Amy's lack of driving experience, and C) the fact that Amy's been gone forfuckingever at this point? And yet you think this is about YOUR PARENTS?]

"They're at County's emergency room. It's Amy, Erin. Amy's been in a terrible wreck."

So things really don't look good for Amy. This book isn't too big on the medical fetishism but they do explain the Glasgow test, which is how they measure status in coma patients:

"What's a Glasgow test?"

Ellie showed Erin the paper with numbers neatly written in small boxes. "It's a standard for measuring a comatose patient's progress."

"Progress? But she never moves."

Ellie smiled. "Let me explain. We take temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. We check respiration -- in Amy's case she's on a ventilator -- and we do a few neurological tests and grade her on a scale."

"Like what?"

"For instance, we chart whether or not her eyes open. 'Spontaneously' equals a four, while 'none' equals a one." Ellie pointed to the bottom of the chart where the criteria was printed. "On 'Verbal Response' -- you know, whether she reacts when you talk to her -- there's a scale of one to five, with five being 'oriented' and meaning fully conscious, and one meaning 'no response'. For 'Motor Response' a five means she 'obeys commands', and a one means 'no response'."
Oh, man, that is the Lurlene McDaniel I loved! MY MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY, LET ME SHOW YOU IT. Always a relief to get some hardcore medical textbook info out of a young adult novel. Hello, why else did I read these back then?

(Sadly, I am not really kidding.)

So it goes on for a bit with Amy still in the coma, and Erin hanging around the hospital just, ya know, waaaaaaaiting. For anyone who's ever had a family member in the hospital, this part is actually pretty realistic; there's more waiting and stressing and worrying and hoping and bargaining than actual, you know, medical stuff.

But, of course, while waiting in the ICU waiting room Erin has this AMAZING encounter!:

"Sorry I didn't mean to scare you," the girl said. "I'm Beth Clark, and I saw you come in the other night."

Erin mumbled a self-conscious greeting and wished Beth would go away.

"Why are you here?" Beth asked.

Erin told her then realized that it was only fair to ask, "And why are you here?"

Beth stared off in the distance. "It's my mother." Her gaze found Erin's again. "She's dying, and her only hope is if somebody else dies before she does."
That is the CHAPTER END PEOPLE. How amazing is that?

In case you were thinking Beth's mom's life depends on murder or something, it turns out she actually just needs a kidney transplant. That makes more sense, though it's less interesting. Wait, is this FORESHADOWING???

So Travis, the hot boyfriend, stops by to see Amy but of course, being a normal kid, freaks out a bit and can't take it. He runs off and won't return. Erin is pisssssssssed. The thing is, I'm with both of them. I doubt that in high school I would have handled this particularly well, but in Erin's shoes I wouldn't have thought well of Travis at all. Yeah, realism again! This book is actually decent with that.

So Amy had a clown gig scheduled to cheer up sick kids, and Erin decides to be a good sister and follow through with it. Of course she doesn't know what she's doing, but she gets dressed in Amy's clown clothes and clown makeup and shows up. There she meets a dude clown named David (this is SUPER IMPORTANT FOR NEXT TIME GUYS REMEMBER THIS) and they do a great job!!! The clown stuff is kind of cringe-worthy-cheesy, but only because I always think that of clown stuff. I mean, is there an adult who doesn't? Whatever, it's cute, Erin's out of her comfort zone for a good reason, and David is sweet and good with kids, two qualities I tend to like in boys.

Amy is getting worse, not better, and everyone's pretty mopey about it. I don't blame them! It totally sucks. But Beth's mom lucks out because SOMEONE DIES so she gets a kidney AW YEAH. But that is the ONLY good news in the Lurleneverse. An organ donation organization rep shows up to talk to Erin and fam about taking Amy off of life support and donating her organs.

Guess who's not cool with this?

"Retrieve?" Erin said the word bitterly. "Is that what you call killing somebody so you can take their organs?"
I don't know how I feel about this. I mean, I get the whole point of having Beth in the book is so Erin learns how freaking AWESOME organ donation is. So how realistic is it that now she's all "OH HELLLLL NO THAT'S DISGUSTING YOU BEASTS"? Then again, I give her some leeway because she is really just now really understanding that Amy isn't coming back, isn't getting better, isn't doing anything but lying there hooked up to machines forever. I guess I just wish Lurlene would have dwelt more on the "I THINK AMY IS ACTUALLY GOING TO BE FINE" aspect than "YOU AWWWWWFUL BODY-SNATCHERS!!!!!" because I don't think it fits with what the book's been leading up to.

On top of all this, Erin discovers hot Travis is taking ANOTHER GIRL to the big dance. Ugghhhh, this kind of makes me hate on you, Travis, even though I totes get it. If you're ready to move on, great, but maybe not so publicly?

Erin handles it reaaaally badly:

While she waited, she carefully plotted her strategy. Travis lived in a fine old house on Bayshore Drive. When he pulled into his driveway, she'd call to him and make him cross to the bay side of the street, where she'd confront him. They'd be alone, and she'd say everything that was on her mind. He was a louse and a creep, and she'd make him pay for abandoning Amy.

When his headlights turned into the driveway, her mouth went dry, but the hard, cold knot of anger gave her the courage to call to him. Travis hesitated, so she called again, then watched as he jogged hesitantly across the deserted avenue.

"Erin?" he asked, coming closer. "What are you doing here?"

"I want to talk to you."

"Now? It's one in the morning. How long have you been waiting?"

"Never mind. Did you have a good time at the dance?" Her question was laced with acid.

. . .

"You don't know, do you? If you'd been up to see her, you'd know that yesterday they declared her brain dead."

For an instant he looked as if he might be sick, and Erin stepped back, rubbing her arms and feeling confused. It was the reaction she'd wanted, wasn't it? Hadn't she come to hurt him? He said, "I--I didn't know."

"Well, with your big date with Cindy and all, I can see how it might have slipped by you." She reached inside her jacket and extracted the teddy bear [he'd given Amy previously]. "Here's a little something I thought you'd like to have back," she said, holding the bear toward him. "Maybe Cindy would want it."

Travis knocked the bear from her hand, then turned and braced his hands on the cement railing. "You've got a mean mouth, Erin." [OH MY GOD A MEAN MOUTH I TOTALLY WANT TO SAY THIS TO SOMEONE NOW! Okay, let's be honest: I want someone to say this to me. New goal, yay!]

She wanted to leave him alone to think about how he'd wronged her sister, but her feet suddenly felt like lead weights. "I told them that they weren't going to cut up my sister and give her away. I said that I didn't care what their stupid tests showed, I wasn't giving up on my sister." She paused. "Like some people have."

The thing is, this is totally the kind of crazy-ass mentally-unhinged thing I would do. OH MY GOD DID I JUST RELATE TO A LURLENE McDANIEL CHARACTER?

Luckily at this point Erin's parents help her to realize what's going on with Amy, for real, and they come to the mutual decision to remove Amy from life support and donate her organs. There's a nice memorial ceremony for Amy, and everyone's as peaceful as they could be about it.

And while I'd hardly call this a literary wonder, I must say that I didn't hate this book. It's sort of boring in stretches, and the dialogue makes me criiiiiiiiinge, but I related to both Amy AND Erin, and no one suggested anything like WELL MAYBE IF AMY AND ERIN'S MOM DIDN'T HAVE A JOB AMY WOULD NEVER HAVE DIIIIIED, and when the protagonist is being a brat, she's called out on it and learns her lesson. I can't believe I'm saying this but... thumbs up?

Everyone's a little bit racist, or Baby Alicia Is Dying

Baby Alicia is Dying (published 1993) has the distinction of being the first Lurlene book I read first as an adult, never as a teenager. My friend Kristy, who has amazing access to things such as Lurlene masterpieces, gifted it upon me, but under one condition: "I want a full review of the Of Course The Black Baby Has HIV book".

Desi thinks it's totally unfair that innocent baby Alicia was born HIV positive. Now the eight-month-old Alicia lives at Childcare because she was given away by her sick teenage mother. Desi can relate to feeling unloved. Her parents give her all the material things she needs, but there seems to be a wall between her mother and herself.

Working at Childcare has opened Desi's heart and allowed her to feel the love that she's been longing for. But Alicia is not her child and there is no cure for her condition. Can Desi cope with the harsh realities and still believe in love?

Like, oh my god, you guys, totally unfair! I am always onboard with a book that employs Valley-speak in its synopsis. Let's jump in together!

Who's our plucky and perfect protagonist this time around? Hello, Desi, you've sure got a weird name! Oh, it's short for Desila? Yeah, that makes it better. (You know who else would totes name their protagonist Desi? I'm looking at you, Sarah Dessen. You haven't done it yet, but I bet you want to, I mean, seriously, Remy? Shut up.)

Desi's big sister Val (thankfully short for Valerie, and not Valkyrie or whatever else you believed possible once you witnessed Desila in print) is going off to college on a tennis scholarship. This is because Val is a dumbass, whereas Desi is a science genius! Have you noticed in all the books you read as a kid that this is how you tell siblings apart? Elizabeth was punctual and Jessica DIDN'T EVEN WEAR A WATCH THAT WHORE. Claudia loved art and had some sort of learning disorder while Janine wore career-wear from Talbots and aced her LSATs or whatever at fifteen.

Like, right off the bat, we learn that Desi and Val's mom only loves Val. Okay, this is so weird, right? What the hell kind of childhood did Lurlene have? I have known a lot of people with some royally effed-up homelives, but the consistency of moms who just don't really like their kids in McDaniel books is fucking astounding. I mean, this is only my second recap, and the second to feature a mom who isn't really that interested in her kid. At least this one doesn't make any mention of "pretty clothes", though Desi's mom IS an interior designer!! OF COURSE SHE IS. What a good job for a lady!

Desi also randomly exposits that there was a middle child, a baby boy, but he died at a very early age from SIDS. Okay, Desi Downer, way to bring down the party.

Desi's only fourteen, and her parents want to stay with Val for the whoooooooooole first week of college. (??? Did anyone's parents do this? I commuted to my university, so I've no idea what's normal, so please speak up if your parents hung around your campus for a week and totally cramped your style.) Desi's pissed, and rightfully so in my opinion, because she's starting high school the same week, and she wants her parents around! I've got your back here, Desi; Val doesn't need them sniffing around campus once her crap's been dropped off and they give her some cash or a credit card, while starting high school is generally easier if your parents are around.

Anyways, that's really all just convenient plotting so that Desi can spend some time with her Aunt Clare who is a spinster! Aunt Clare actually seems pretty cool, bcause unlike her sister, Desi's mom, she likes Desi! So Aunt Clare wants to show Desi her new project, and of course Desi wants to check that shit out.

The new project turns out to be Atlanta's ChildCare House. Desi sees plenty of cute babies who were all born with HIV and also most of them with DRUG ADDICTIONS and then ABANDONED by their crappy moms. The babies are also all African-American or Hispanic, because you know what white people never ever do? DRUGS OR BABY-ABANDONMENT. Oh my god this part makes me so angry you guys! Let's watch all these fantastic white folk swoop in to rescue all the hopeless and helpless minority babies.

Okay, so Desi falls in love with Alicia right off the start. She's the cutest baby in the whole entire world, and she is sooooo sweet around Desi, and of COURSE she has HIV. Her stupid mom just LEFT HER. Let's spend some time, Desi and other ChildCare volunteers, talking about this shitty mom who just WALKED AWAY from her baby! GodDAMN, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't, right? I think it's pretty safe to say Lurlene would call herself pro-life, so shouldn't these volunteers be singing the praises of a woman who got knocked up, didn't want the kid, and still brought it to term and gave it up? Isn't that what you would have wanted? Or does that only apply to drug-free white people? Lurlene, you've got me so riled up now.

Desi isn't wild about high school. She rarely gets to see her best friend Corrine, though it's confusing because apparently they have the same lunch period, they're both just really busy? Ames, stop trying to apply logic within the Lurleneverse. Anyways, at first Desi is all excited about her Biology class (remember, she's a science genius!!) but then she finds out the fast-track Frosh have to take the same class as the held-back Sophs. Hi, Desi, welcome to high school and SHUT UP. This is what Desi has to say about her lab partners (bolding mine):

The teacher, Mr. Redding, arrived as the tardy bell sounded. He took attendance and assigned lab partners. Since there was an uneven number of kids, Desi found herself in a threesome. [OH MY GOD LURLENE THANK YOU.] She was grouped with a girl, Shaundra Johnson, and a boy, Brian Connley. Desi thought that Shaundra wore too much eye makeup and that Brian didn't look like a "serious" student.
Screw you, Desi, I wear way too much eye makeup, and I graduated with departmental honors! Also I bet I didn't look like a "serious" student. Also why is "serious" in scare quotes? Does that mean something else in the Lurleneverse?

Whatever, though, Desi doesn't care about school, she cares about AIDS babies! She's spending all her spare time with them, a fact which doesn't please her mother upon her glorious return from Val's college. There's lots of arguing between Desi's mom, Aunt Clare, and Desi, but somehow Desi and Aunt Clare prevail, and Desi gets to keep helpin' out.

People start avoiding Desi at school, including Corinne, and Shaundra even drops out of the class! Listen, I'd like to say "BECAUSE DESI IS FRICKIN' STUPID SHE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON" but the truth is that hopefully all reasonable people wouldn't suspect because they work with AIDS babies that people would fear them and run from them and think they could catch AIDS from them. Sadly, this is not the case in this book (and probably in real life, at times, too). (To be fair, maybe Shaundra actually just needed more time to put on eye makeup.)

This doesn't stop Desi, or even make her falter in her desire to help out, which, okay, means I stop hating on her a little. I do like YA heroines who don't crumble under peer pressure. She finds an unlikely ally in Brian, who is chill to her about the AIDS stuff, and promises to pull his share so they can get a good grade in Biology.

Oh, also, this isn't that important a plot point, but Val visits home and is all pale and tired, and I totes thought she got AIDS too! Or leukemia! Or... diabetes? I mean, hello, we're living in the Lurleneverse, people don't just get pale! But apparently it's just because she's working too hard at the tennis and at the studying to be healthy. Damn, tricked by Lurlene! I guess there's a first time for everything.

OH NO BAD NEWS. Alicia's filthy disease-ridden drug-doin' mommy wants to see her. THE NERVE. Because Desi is a nosy beotch, she gets Brian to help her trail the social worker dropping Alicia off for her visit, and they spy on poor Alicia's mommy. Apparently Alicia's mommy is the same age or so as Desi, which totes shocks her!! Finally between Brian's protests and her own conscience, Desi leaves the scene of the spy, whew.

OH CRAP MORE BAD NEWS. Alicia's sick! She's in the hospital! People, you're reading a Lurlene McDaniel book, you so know how this one's goin' down. Desi, unaware of her location in the Lurleneverse, hopes Alicia will recover. Oh, Desi, for god's sake, check the title of the book! This doesn't surprise ANY OF US.

Brian totally comforts her without hitting on her, which is actually pretty cool, all things considered. Sorry I keep bringing her up, but if this were a Sarah Dessen book Desi and Brian would be makin' out by now. Anyways, he's great, but he does refuse to do their science project about AIDS. This pisses off Desi (it would have me too, please, that's an easy A!) until she learns Brian's uncle died of AIDS. I'll let him tell you guys about it:

"Ever since my uncle died from it, two years ago." Brian was staring down at his hands.

"Why didn't you tell me? I would have understood."

"Would you? My uncle was gay. He loved men. [I am so freaking glad you cleared up what gay means, Lurlene!] He caught AIDS from having unprotected sex, and he died."
A newspaper writes a big story about ChildCare, and all of a sudden everyone's cool with Desi working there. Even Desi's mom is finally NICE, and she sits with Desi at the hospital while, ya know, baby Alicia is dying. She also has a big confession for Desi. After losing baby number two to SIDS, she threw herself into Val's life, trying not only to make up for the son she lost but the life she'd always wanted. (OF COURSE SHE WANTED TO BE A TENNIS STAR; THAT IS A NICE LADYLIKE SPORT.) So then she got pregnant accidentally with Desi, and tried never to get attached so that if Desi died it'd be cool. OH MY GOD YOU ARE A SHITTY MOM!

So Alicia does her part in fulfilling the title of the book and actually dies. Everyone's sad! They go to the funeral! Guess who's there? Filthy whore mom! I really didn't think I'd be MORE offended at this point, but here we go (bolding mine).

"I don't want you to be thinking I was a bad mama. I loved my little girl. I couldn't take care of her 'cause I was sick for a long time. I'm not using drugs no more, and the doctors... well... they got me taking AZT and other medicine to keep my sickness in control."

With a sinking feeling, Desi realized that Sherrie was as infected with HIV as Alicia had been. [She's just fucking realizing this? I thought you were a science genius, Desi!] As Brian's uncle had been. The fact that the girl had cleaned up her life wasn't going to take away the terrible illness that faced her. Desi swallowed hard and mumbled, "I'm glad for you."

"I don't want you thinking that I meant to give my baby AIDS either."

"I never figured you did."

The wind blew Sherrie's short hair, and she reached up and poked it behind her ears. [POKED IT?] "I've been getting myself back together. I'm going back to high school this summer." She held her head high, as if proud of her choice.
Where to begin? The shit grammar? The fact that we should all giggle that whore mom is proud of going back to high school? Hell, she has HIV (or AIDS) and obviously has no support from her family, and she's going to suck it up and try to get her diploma? THAT'S AWESOME. WHORE MOM I AM PROUD OF YOU.

Oh, yeah, so time flashes forward, but Desi isn't volunteering anymore because she can't bear to lose another baby! I guess I can understand that. Her and her mom have patched things up because, get this, HER MOM IS GOING TO SWITCH TO WORKING PART-TIME ONLY. Apparently this is the way, kids, this is how you fix a broken mother-daughter relationship. Geez, women, if you would just STAY HOME and TEND TO YOUR KIDS then things would be fine. This book isn't quite as disgusting on the subject as, say, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, but, still, gross.

Desi stops by ChildCare to plant a rosebush to memorialize Alicia, and discovers her mom has interior-decorated the crap out of the place! Now it's all super-nice! Also, Brian takes care of the gardening. (In this book we should really be grateful a white person does the gardening, lemme tell you.) So of course Desi goes inside, and sees all the cute babies that need her, and she's going to keep volunteering. Everyone gets a happy ending!... as long as you're white, female, disease-free, and working part-time only.

The only thing worse than cancer is a working mother, or Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

It was a fateful day. I was thirteen and prowling the back corner of the local used bookstore. I can't tell you what inspired me to pull a book by an author I'd never heard of before from the shelf, but I recall the excitement I felt upon reading the synopsis of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (published 1991).

I mean, really, who could resist this?:

Sometimes Carrie Blake feels she just can't stand life's problems or pain. At fifteen, she's had leukemia for three years, and although the disease is in remission, she's never sure when things might change. Her parents, whose bitter divorce has left Carrie feeling torn between them, don't seem to understand how much harder they make her daily life.

When Carrie meets Keith Gardner at a cancer support group, everything seems brighter. Keith and his loving supportive family are wonderful to Carrie. Then Keith's illness worsens and he knows he can no longer fight off dying. Armed with love of family and friends, Keith chooses to participate in a hospice program, which allows him to remain at home instead of in the hospital. Carrie feels helpless as she watches Keith slip away. Will Keith's courage help Carrie to face her own uncertain future?
Lurlene gives us quite an expositiony start. We meet Carrie, who we're supposed to like. Listen, people, Carrie is strong! She's only fifteen! She friggin' beat leukemia! Have YOU beat leukemia lately? Yeah, that's what I thought.

You know who has been no help at all with this leukemia crap? That's right, Carrie's family. Carrie's family, in four words, both sucks and blows. Listen, I know there are some crappy parents out there, and I know there are lots of people who deal with illness really badly, but I don't buy this, Lurlene. Bad parents might drop a kid off at the mall and not check in for awhile, but I find it highly unlikely they'd, ya know, drop a kid off at the freaking HOSPITAL and not hang around. This, Carrie, is a legitimate complaint.

Carrie, however, also hates that this leukemia stress lead to her parents getting divorced because now her mom only seems concerned with WORKING FULL-TIME. Uhhh, Carrie, would you like to explain to me how a single woman is supposed to support a teenage daughter (as well as, I dunno, provide some resources for Carrie's younger brother who lives with Carrie's dad and stepmom) without working full-time? I only have to support a dog, and I need to work full-time! What kind of magical world does Carrie live in?

I love this description of Carrie's mother:

Carrie looked at her mother, at the stylish blouse and new-wave haircut, pearl earrings and expensive heels.
NEW-WAVE HAIRCUT? What does it look like? This?

Or this?

Also, is she just wearing earrings, a blouse, and heels? GET SOME PANTS WOMAN!

At first I thought Carrie was just being bratty and that we were supposed to realize that.

"What do you want, Mom?"

Mrs. Blake closed her eyes and leaned against the sagging porch railing. "I want to succeed in my job. I want to travel and dress pretty and be with exciting people."
These aren't actually unreasonable wants, yeah? I mean, just because a woman has kids doesn't mean she can't have other desires on top of, ya know, that her kids are happy and provided for, etc. But that's not what Lurlene thinks! Carrie's mom cares about work INSTEAD of her kids! I mean, geez, can you imagine anything more selfish than a woman who has a job and ENJOYS IT?

Does Lurlene actually believe that single women work full-time so they can wear hot clothes and escape parental responsibility? I'm offended on two levels. I mean, right away there's the fact that most people who only have themselves to support have to work, yeah? Where else are you going to get the money for rent/mortgage, car payments, food, clothing (and I'm not talking "pretty clothes", I just mean that we're living in a society where nudity generally isn't an option), etc.? It's not some big selfish choice! Trust me, if I could support myself writing blog posts and working on my book while I catch marathons of America's Next Top Model, I'd be doing it. There's also the fact that many people ENJOY their careers! Carrie's mom says she loves her job! Oh what wicked ways! I guess only dudes can enjoy their jobs without being selfish jerks.

Carrie goes to spend the weekend at her dad and stepmom's place. Her dad is all manly-man, which means he isn't into stuff like feelings or talking. In the Lurleneverse, this is fine. Her stepmom, Lynda, is basically the most perfect person to have ever walked the face of the earth. She cares about Carrie, doesn't mind shuttling her around while Carrie's mom is content for fifteen-year-old Carrie to ride the city bus. See, depending on where this is supposed to take place, that's either terrible parenting or "meh". I grew up in St. Louis, and I wouldn't put a kid on a bus alone, but in cities where public transportation is better, that's fine, yeah? Whatever, just remember, Carrie's mom bad, Lynda AWESOME.

At her cancer support group, Carrie talks to Keith, who is a baseball-playing hottie from her high school. Also, obviously, a cancer survivor too. He's all into baseball and classical guitar, and she tells him how she's into stand-up comedy. They plan on appearing on the Tonight Show together. Is Carrie ready for the big leagues? You tell me:

"What's soft and white and covered with hair?" she asked.

"I give up."

"Your pillow after two weeks of chemo."

Keith groaned.

"Why did Dracula ignore the boy with cancer?" She didn't wait for his answer, saying, "Bad blood between them."
I'd like to believe that even my own case of cancer wouldn't make me laugh at those jokes.

Keith is also into his super family. His parents, of course, are still married, and he has tons of sisters and a little brother. He goes on and on about how superfriggincallifragiawesome they are, while Carrie's all ashamed about her broken home and her shitty parents. I thought this section was to teach us that Keith should shut his big yap and learn families are all different, but actually this is just so we know without a doubt how much Carrie's parents suck.

Of course Keith's whole family comes to the big cancer picnic thrown by the cancer support group, while Carrie is stuck there alone. Luckily the Gardners totes include her, BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFECT, which is awesome timing because this happens while Keith is pitching in the baseball game:

Carrie saw the ball leave his hand. She heard the bat crack against it, saw the ball head straight toward the pitcher's mound and strike Keith hard in the shoulder. She heard Keith's wail of pain and saw him collapse onto the dirt mound like a broken doll.
For some reason, I recall this section really vividly, the whole imagery with Keith collapsing like a broken doll. I've a feeling at thirteen I believed that constituted good writing. Okay, to be fair, it - unlike most of the rest of this book - doesn't entirely suck.

Keith is rushed to the hospital, there are tons of tests, and it's discovered he has cancer!!!!! Don't worry, guys, you can't catch cancer from sports activities, the doctors just discovered a mass in his abdomen WHILE THEY WERE FIXING HIS SHOULDER. I guess that's good doctoring! I feel like a lot of doctors probably wouldn't have checked, so lucky you, Keith Gardner. Oh, except for the part where you have cancer and you're going to die.

Keith's dying wish is to spend time at his family cabin in the country. He asks along Carrie, of course. You know, I have to say, I like that they're good friends who obviously would have dated under different circumstances but don't. A lot of writers wouldn't have been able to resist that hook-up. I mean, Carrie still does basically let her life revolve around a boy, which I don't love seeing in YA lit, but at least it's because he's dying and not because he has perfect blue eyes or something.

Anyways, they get all in touch with nature (minds out of the gutter, kids, I told you there was no hook-up!), and Keith teaches Carrie guitar. Also, this brilliant exchange happens:

Keith rose slowly, painfully, by Carrie's estimation. But his voice was light. "So they send out a hound dog to find us."

"A dog!" Holly cried. "You call me a dog? Prepare to die, fiend!" She ran toward him, feigning terrible retaliation but stopped short in front of him, realizing what she'd said.

Keith reached out and touched his sister's cheek. "That's why I came here to the cabin," he said tenderly. "That's why I came."

Carrie gets back from the trip and has to hang out with her mom's boyfriend. He is totes awful! He is super into money and finance and organization! Because I totally know real dudes who have conversations like this:

"I've been telling your mother that she needs to consider some investments so that she can contribute toward your future and her retirement," Larry said, as if Carrie hadn't spoken at all. "Everyone needs a nest egg, and saving even a hundred dollars a month can add up over time." He'd cut his meat into small, neat squares and was now methodically slicing his potato. [Like a serial killer?]

"Let's see," he mused. "You're fifteen now, and say you begin college in September, three years from now. That's approximately thirty-nine months [no, it isn't...?], and at one hundred a month, why that would be close to four thousand dollars saved." He smiled at Faye. "That plus federal assistance would give Carrie a good start toward a top-notch education."

. . .

He glanced thoughtfully around the room. "You own your own home, and that's an asset. It seems like quite a large house though. How much room can two females living alone
[whyyyy would you phrase it like that, Larry, you are sooooo creepy] really need?"
The thing is, he does have a good point about the house! But that's the last time I'm taking your side, Larry.

Carrie spends more time with Lynda, who is always good for a ride to see Keith. Lynda tells Carrie she TOTALLY GETS IT because she too is from a broken home!:

Lynda sighed and added, "That's why I put off getting married for so long. I'd promised myself that I'd never get divorced, and that if I ever had a family, I'd stay home with them."

So of course Keith dies all peacefully, and the Gardners handle it perfectly! Carrie's mom, selfish bitch that she is, sells the giant house to get a smaller place. Carrie decides to stay with her dad and Lynda. Given those options, I think I'd hop aboard the only-bad-moms-make-you-ride bus and get the hell out of town. Then again, I'm one of those selfish single full-time-employed jezebels.

welcome, folks!

Oh, the internets! You have provided me with glorious individuals who are setting aside their own sanity to recap the books I loved as a child. How shall I repay you?

I suppose the answer is by tackling the mothership of death and disease, the woman who inspired countless cancer scares in young girls, the writer who loves nothing more than a good bible verse except a well-timed death.

That's right, internets. I'm recapping Lurlene McDaniel's books so that you don't have to.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The McMaster List

I get lots of emails and comments asking me if I'm planning on recapping favorite Lurlene books. Why, yes, I plan to!... just as soon as I obtain all of them!

Here's the master list of all Lurlene books I'd like to recap. I'm leaving off stuff written for much younger readers, as I don't think their format is well-suited to this blog. (I'm always up for being persuaded though!) Please feel free to comment if you can point me in the direction of some of the books I'm missing, or if I've got ten listed as upcoming and you'd like me to hit your favorite first.

Angels in Pink:
Kathleen’s Story
Raina’s Story
Holly’s Story

One Last Wish Series:
A Time to Die
Please Don’t Die
- upcoming
Mourning Song
She Died Too Young - upcoming
Mother, Help Me Live
All the Days of Her Life - upcoming
Someone Dies, Someone Lives
A Season for Goodbye - upcoming
Sixteen and Dying
Reach for Tomorrow - upcoming
Let Him Live - upcoming
The Legacy: Making Wishes Come True - upcoming

The Dawn Rochelle Series:
Six Months to Live
I Want to Live
So Much to Live For
No Time to Cry - upcoming
To Live Again - upcoming

Angel/Amish Trilogy:
Angels Watching Over Me
Lifted Up by Angels
Until Angels Close My Eyes

Companion Novels:
Angel of Mercy
Angel of Hope
Somewhere Between Life and Death
Time to Let Go
Too Young to Die
Goodbye Doesn’t Mean Forever
Till Death Do Us Part
For Better, For Worse, Forever - upcoming, only once I obtain the first volume

Other Novels:
Hit and Run
Letting go of Lisa
Briana's Gift
Last Dance
The Time Capsule - upcoming
Garden of Angels - upcoming
A Rose for Melinda
Telling Christina Goodbye
How Do I Love Thee - upcoming
The Girl Death Left Behind
Starry, Starry Night
I’ll Be Seeing You - upcoming
Saving Jessica - upcoming
Don’t Die, My Love
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Baby Alicia Is Dying
When Happily Ever After Ends

Older Novels:
More than Just a Smart Girl
If I Should Die Before I Wake
A Horse for Mandy
My Secret Boyfriend
Sometimes Love Just Isn’t Enough
Mother, Please Don’t Die
Why Did She Have to Die?
What’s It Like to Be a Star?
Head Over Heels
I’m a Cover Girl Now
Where’s the Horse for Me / Three’s a Crowd
The Secret Life of Steffie Martin
Hold Fast the Dream - upcoming