Wednesday, February 20, 2008

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.


snappleaddict said...

I, too, was like, "Desi? WTF kind of name is that? Was her dead brother named Lucy?" I loved this book hardcore, though. Something about mothers who irrationally hate their children makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Anonymous said...

Since this is old I doubt anyone will reply, but was Desi's ethnicity ever discussed? I always pictured her as Hispanic. Probably because the only Desi I ever heard of was Cuban. And a man. Seriously, Lurlene, DESI?

I'm glad I never caught on to the blatant racism in the book as a kid, because it was one I really liked. But at the same time, I wouldn't have been bothered by the white girl helping these kids thing, because *I* was a white girl (still am, actually) and it sounded like something I'd have liked to get involved in (I did on a couple of occasions, actually). Also probably because I didn't really picture all of the babies as nonwhite - I always pictured Anthony and Heather as white for whatever reason.

Even as a kid, though, I thought Desi was a superbitch for being so judgemental about Alicia's mother, though. I love how no one can do right in Lurlene's world except for the married stay-at-home mothers. Luckily I never really caught on to that either (I always just figured we needed an EVIL PARENT in these books and that was the extent of the thought I gave it.)

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