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.


Anonymous said...

found your blog through the link at dairiburger & have been reading your re-caps all day...much to the horror of my boyfriend, who is also named jared! which is why i had to comment on this one. jared actually is an awesome name. it is the bane of my jared's existence that the subway sandwich shop dude ruined it for everyone. but remember jared mullray, from "the ghost at dawn's house"? jared is still sometimes a mark of awesomeness.

Unknown said...

awww don't be ashamed of hating this book. this book is actually my favorite lurlene mcdaniel book simply because it was so realistic and so sad and touching.

not to mention this was the only book that actually made me want to cry.

my god is terri's family just awful.

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