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.


snappleaddict said...

I love it when they actually use the same models for book covers! It seems like Lurlene McDaniel books are really good at that, because the OLW books about Katie, Lacey, and Chelsea all use the same girls, and my ancient set of Dawn Rochelle books do, too.

ames said...

I remember when I was little that it used to drive me crazy with books like the Babysitters Club that the girls wouldn't look the same book-to-book, so Lurlene's covers were a godsend to me. Consistency, yay! I mean, how hard is it, really???

snappleaddict said...

BSC covers are all sorts of messed up. I don't know what kind of crack the cover artist is smoking. Same thing with V.C. Andrews books.

Tiny Pants said...

The crazy thing abt the BSC covers is that I read -- I think on stoneybrookite -- that the artist (Hodges Soileau, um embarrassed I know that) worked from models. Like, the same models every time. And somehow, in spite of that, the BSC cover illos display zero continuity (and often very little master of like, basic anatomy, it would appear! Lots of embarrassing bulges).

ANYWAY. In the spirit of books being repackaged together, I was in B&N the other day and saw that, in the spirit of a fast buck (technically a fast six bucks), the death/dying/catastrophe/medical whatever series Med Center is also being reissued in a 2-in-1 format. So instead of just getting classic titles like "Virus" or "Flood," you can now treat yourself to "Virus and Flood"! Very unfortunately, they've changed the cover art -- the originals feature some excellent '90s teens in distress, plus have great taglines like "Who will be the next victim?"

ames said...

Don't worry, tiny pants, me and Hodges are on a first-name basis too. (I think it's the name. How can you EVER forget the name Hodges Soileau? Those'll probably be my dying words.) But you are so right! It's not just the inconsistencies (though, egads, awful), it's that a basic grasp of anatomy is often missing. Dude, Hodges, girls don't have crotch-al area bulges, okay? I don't think I'd have to take any art classes to figure out THAT one.

As for Med Center, I must track it down! I am so freaking intrigued by it.

Anonymous said...

About Sarah Dessen: I can think of three books where the boys suck, and it's made clear. That Summer had the protagonist all caught up in the fantasy that her older sister's ex bf was the answer to all life's problems, only to find out later that he was a bit of a tool.

Someone Like You's protag's bf started out promising before getting all sex-pressuring and teenage boyish.

And Dreamland's bf was an abusive, controlling jerk.

Haha, I haven't read any of her books since high school, but the ones I did read didn't have the all-knowing boys you referred to. What did I miss?

ames said...

mizzmegan, check out Just Listen or This Lullaby for examples of this! Since they're two of her newest books, this concerns me. I also really liked Dreamland up until the point it was implied that it wasn't as if she shouldn't have dated the abusive jerk, but that she should have dated that jock instead. Why did it have to be one or the other? Argh! That passage irritated me SO MUCH. C'mon, Sarah, let a girl be single and okay too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, ames! Okay, the new books, that explains it - the last book I read was Dreamland when I was 17 (gah! Have six years really passed since then?), and I can't seem to recall the "she should have chosen the other dude" moment.

I am disappointed to learn that she sold out to the Damsel in Distress nonsense, though - I was so madly in love with her YA fiction before I made myself start reading more "grown-up" books. She was my favorite author!

Haha, and now I'm convinced - as I've just finished reading Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream - that she followed the nation's post 9/11 return to backwards (and false) ideals of the helpless, vulnerable female and her manly, "John Wayne-esque" protector.

And I had such high hopes for her!

ames said...

The Terror Dream is on my shelf right now, actually, so I've got to read that soon.

That Lullaby probably made me angriest of all of Dessen's books, because this guy basically stalks her until she says yes, and then the way that it's obvious she's in love with him (v. not with all the other dudes she's dated) is she DOESN'T have sex with him. C'mon, Sarah, can't you give us a pro-sex book? Of course then it hit me her books are pretty anti-sex. Sex is either because you're with an abusive dude (Dreamland) or it leads to pregnancy (Someone Like You) or, here, as the lack of it signals... wait, maturity? Argh. Frustrating.

Also I read this interview with Sarah where she says she likes to write Y.A. lit because she's not over that part of her life yet? I thought that was sort of strange. Most Y.A. authors I really like seem to just grasp that inherent drama in being in your teens straddling that gulf between childhood and adulthood... whereas Dessen just isn't ready to grow up? Weeeeird.

(Also I will admit I have all her books and will continue to read them. She just makes me crazy.)

Anonymous said...

See, this is tough for me, because on the one hand, I really agree with every complaint about Sarah Dessen in this post, and in the comments. (The anti-sex message in THIS LULLABY is a really good point, by the way.)

On the other hand... I freakin' love her books. I mean, I love them. I read THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER, no joke, more than once a year. And it drives me nuts when I'm reading it, and yet... those scenes where Wes and Macy are falling for each other and it escalates just a little bit... they get me every time. As in, I can't stop thinking about them and they make me happy.

I tried to work through this over on my blog, but the truth is, I think I need a support group.

ames said...

Elizabeth, as a radical feminist who really loves Sex and the City, I totally understand. And - don't get me wrong - I read every single Sarah Dessen book! (Could I have written this much about her if I haven't?) I tear through them! (I just requested an ARC of the newest from my bookstore-workin' mama.) Her prose is sometimes too removed/detached for my taste but it's also LOVELY.

Wes and Macy actually annoy me way less than the couples in Just Listen and This Lullaby because Wes doesn't seem to solve all her problems or have every single answer for her. I am cracking up at your entry because I too was like "UM IS MONICA RETARDED" because WTF was Dessen thinking writing her that way?

Um I think I need to email you because I have so much more to say than this comment can contain.

Anonymous said...

I am eagerly awaiting your email.

And yes, I think JUST LISTEN is her best book, but it is really annoying how Owen is like this Zen master whose wisdom is all Annabel needs to heal.

...I was going to write more, but it's really just making your point about this conversation not fitting in the boundaries of a comment.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Elizabeth pointed me here! The new book Willow has major Sarah Dessen Syndrome. You'd like it!

Diana said...

Lenore, I read Willow recently and I couldn't remember where I had heard the term "Sarah Dessen Syndrome"! I had to skim through my blogroll to remember that it was this one. That book drove me crazy. The relationship between Willow and Guy was flat-out creepy.

And Ames, come back!

Anonymous said...

I just read TTAF and I'm reading Willow right now, and it's hard from reading about Macy and Wes to Willow and Guy. They didn't seem real, and it was creepy reading about him. I mean, the only reason he was in th relationship was to stop her from cutting. Did he have ANY character at all?

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