Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Emotional abuse will kill you, just not how you think, or Telling Christina Goodbye

I always feel like it's bad news for a recap when I sort of shrug and say "oh I guess that wasn't so bad!" And it's with this confession I bring you Telling Christina Goodbye.

What's it about, you ask? Okay, actually, you didn't ask that. You are currently assuming it's about telling someone named Christina goodbye. People, you would be CORRECT! But let's dive a little deeper!:
Trisha Thompson and her best friend Christina are having a great senior year. Trisha and her boyfriend, Cody, are making plans to attend Indiana University together in the fall, while Christina has already received a scholarship to the University of Vermont. Everything would be perfect if only Trisha got along with Christina's controlling boyfriend Tucker, who is trying to convince Christina not to go away for college. But suddenly their lives change one night when Tucker is driving the four home from an away basketball game. When his car hits a patch of black ice and overturns, Tucker walks away with barely a scratch, but Trisha is injured, Cody is in a coma, and Christina is dead. Those left behind must learn that it takes time for their scars - both visible and not - to heal. And they must find the courage to move on with their lives.
You know, between that and the cover...:

Thanks, back-cover-copywriter! Thank you cover designer! Now I already know the plot of HALF THE BOOK. I mean, I guess the second you start reading, with a title like Telling Christina Goodbye, once you meet a character named Christina you're picturing death over her shoulder. So basically everyone involved at this stage of the game should have been fired.

This isn't to say that one is ever really THAT surprised getting immersed in the Lurleneverse. You know there's gonna be death or at least severe injury/disease. Yeah? But that's more like knowing if you pick up a romance novel there's gonna be some kissing, a plot contrivance to separate our lovers, and then ANOTHER plot contrivance to bring them back. Wouldn't the equivalent be a book called Getting Engaged to Bob Loblaw where the back-cover copy listed exactly the steps to Bob Loblaw gettin' down on one knee and pulling out that ring from Jared? Sure, that was to be expected BUT DID YOU HAVE TO LAY IT ALL OUT FOR US GEEEEEEZ.

Okay, back in the Lurleneverse, we meet Trisha and her best friend Christina, both high school seniors. Oooh, Christina, despite your young age, I'm worried about your fate! Anyways, Christina is locked in a bathroom stall crying about her dumbass of a boyfriend Tucker. I HATE TUCKER!!! See, these kids live in the middle of nowhere, Illinois (hey, I used to live near there!), and Christina just got this awwwwesome scholarship to the U of Vermont. Her and her parents and Trisha are jazzed. Good for you, Christina! I was so friggin' envious of all the kids like you who got those kind of deals while I was working at TJ Maxx to put myself through community college.

So what's the problem? Christina's asshole boyfriend WHO SHE'S BEEN SEEING SINCE EIGHTH GRADE totes DOES NOT APPROVE. He says she has to stay near him. Why can't he just go with her? Well, Tucker gets shit grades so he can only go to a nearby crap school. He thinks it's fair for Christina to go to a shit school to.

Okay so I know I rag on Lurlene a lot for her supposed lady-hatred demonstrated by, ya know, writing how working mommies are the devil's handmaidens, but I love that this is totally not approved of! Tucker is shown to be an asshole just during this short little conversation, and Trisha's disapproval speaks for all of us, yeah? Good work, Lurlene, pushy dudes who inflict emotional abuse are NOT COOL.

Christina is all "WELL I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'LL BE DOING BOTH SIDES HAVE COMPELLING ADVANTAGES" and we're all "UH HELLO NO ONE IS A CRAP SCHOOL WITH AN ASSHOLE BOYFRIEND WHILE THE OTHER IS PAID FOR AND AWWWWESOME". God, Trisha, I feel your pain. I don't know how I could reason with this lady! Haven't we all had friends with douchey boys? At the end of the day it just sucks.

Trisha is at her little brother Charlie's basketball practice when stupid Tucker sits down next to her. GODDAMN TUCKER! He's all "HEY I GUESS YOU DON'T LIKE ME VERY MUCH" and Trisha is all "uhhh YEAH" and I seriously hate Tucker so much already! I'm just relieved that for once I'm SUPPOSED to! I'm not saying Lurlene is some beacon of revealing truths about gender relations in our culture but at least she recognizes abuse when she sees (writes?) it.

So we meet Trisha's boyfriend Cody, who I guess is okay. Lurlene couldn't write a realistic high school boyfriend if one came up and bit her on the ass, but he's fine. God, you guys, I am so sorry for that mental picture. I myself can't shake it, but my pain is your pain, all right? The one thing I don't love about Cody is he is all about excusing Tucker's behaviour. Like, he's a much better dude than Tucker (most dudes are) but he doesn't seem to get that crazy jealous and controlling behaviour is NOT okay. It makes you worry, doesn't it?

Also, of course, Trisha and Cody have TOTALLY NORMAL AND REALISTIC couple chats and, like, schticks:
[Cody's] smile lit up his eyes and made them crinkle at the corners. She loved it when he came up behind her in the halls, put his arm around her shoulder, and whispered in her ear, "Who loves you, babe?"

And she'd say, "Have we met?"

And he'd say, "Don't tell me you're spoken for. Am I going to have to take some guy out before we can live happily ever after?"

And she'd say, "No. You're the one I want."


Gross! Also how many typical high school kids are all hung up on this notion of "forever"? Dudes, you're like seventeen or eighteen; forever is a long-ass time away. Maybe you should go to college and experiment with your sexuality first. Oh, wait, except Trisha and Cody are going to the same nearby state school. I guess it's okay to do that when a big move isn't required? Ugh.

Jackass Tucker shows up at Trisha's house, and he's all I TOTES FIGURED IT OUT BEOTCH CHRISTINA WILL NEVER EVER EVER LEAVE MEEEEEE and he shows her a diamond ring. Yep, that's right, Tucker's gonna propose on Valentine's Day, and of course since Christina has no backbone where Tucker's concerned, she's gonna say yes, and there goes her scholarship and good education. GodDAMN.

So the four kids all double-date to an away game (Christina used to be a cheerleader but she quit right after football season SHE SAID to focus on her studies but Trisha knows it's because Tucker didn't like other dudes "ogling" Christina in her cheer gear OH SHUT UPPP TUCKER YOU ARE SO ONE-DIMENSIONAL AND CLICHED). Of course some guy Christina IS FRIENDS WITH does the unthinkable and TALKS TO HER and of course this is a guy Tucker's already WARNED so he beats down this poor dude's ass. Our foursome leave the game in pissy moods, obviously for different reasons. Tucker's, of course, driving like the jackassy bastard he is, and gets into some sort of road rage regarding some dudes from the rival school. You guys saw the cover so you know how this ends:


Trisha wakes up and she's hurt and bleeding and was thrown from the car. Tucker is there and he seems fine OF COURSE. Some guys have all the luck! He's also lucky because Trisha can't remember any details of the wreck so she's unaware it was his jackassy driving that caused it.

Trisha is airlifted to a hospital, and from the helicopter she sees two bodies lying near the wreck. OH NOES.

She's examined at the hospital (cuts and a sprained knee, nothin' too bad all things considered) and gets some craptastic news: Cody is in a coma, and Christina is DEAD. Oh HELL. Of course, if you looked at the picture on the cover or read the synopsis this DOES NOT SURPRISE YOU.

It's all pretty sad! Cody is at a fancy hospital in Chicago, because they have a super head trauma department, so Trisha can't visit him right away. Boo hoo! And when she does, he's just, ya know, comatose, though at least that gives Lurlene an excuse to squeeze in all this medical knowledge about comas and shit. Lurlene must loooove Wikipedia.

More sad stuff! Trisha goes to Christina's funeral. She's really freaked out about seeing her friend in a casket, as I think most of us would be. Luckily, she gets this bit of comfort:
Panic raced down Trisha's spine. "I--I don't--"

"She looks pretty," Christina's father, Nelson, said. "Don't be alarmed."
WAIT WHAT? Was that actually what Trisha was worried about, that Christina wouldn't be pretty? The hell? Nelson, you're probably not a very good father, are you?

So Trisha goes back to school way earlier than anyone thinks is wise. They ask her to say a few words at a memorial service for Christina, and of course she freaks out and flees the scene - as would most of us, I assume! - and Abby, a girl who is on the yearbook staff with her, comes to get her. Whyyy? Trisha wants to know the same thing:
"And why would you do that?"

"Because I know what you've been going through."

Trisha unlocked the door, threw it open, and glared at Abby. "People say that all the time. But it's a lie! [This is my favorite line right now. It's fun to shout; try it! BUT IT'S A LIE!] Nobody knows how I feel. How could you?"
Whoa, Trisha, way to harsh Abby's mellow. Also WAY TO GUESS INCORRECTLY. Abby knows EXACTLY what you're going through because when she was little, her brother was in a car accident AND DIED. Sorry, Abby!

So Tucker is all up in Trisha's grill about whether or not she exactly remembers the accident. She doesn't! But she knows SOMETHING is up. I started to get the same feeling, in that way that I'd totally read this plotline before... but not in the Lurleneverse. Actually there's a whole plot in a book I loved as a twelve-year-old called Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt. In that book, Izzy totes knew a drunk driver was responsible for the car wreck that claimed one of her legs, but the guy and his girlfriend WHO WAS A FRIEND OF HERS put all this pressure on her not to tell. Considering Izzy, Willy-Nilly is the kind of book you just KNOW Lurlene wish she wrote, this feels a little plagiarizy. Sorry to put it out there, I'm just saying. Then again, I guess there are so many post-car wreck scenarios to write about, so maybe it's just an honest overlap. Also, Izzy, Willy-Nilly is an interesting book to reread as an adult. I'm really not sure I recommend it!

So OMG YOU GUYS Cody is awake from his coma!!!!! Unfortunately, he thinks he's in middle school. And that means he doesn't remember Trisha (OR the details of the crash OR that the others in the crash were also his friends) because:
No wonder he didn't remember her. They'd only started dating in high school.
You guys, how weird is that "only"? So because Christina and Tucker got together in eighth grade it was way late in the game to couple up in friggin' HIGH SCHOOL? It's funny because in a lot of Lurlene's books the one thing I can't complain about is that she seems to have a decent grasp on the fact that young kids might know each other for awhile before actually dating or hooking up or whatever, so this seems kind of inconsistent and weird. Alas!

Cody freaks out since he doesn't know Trisha, and she flees in tears. When she gets back from Chicago, Abby comes over to cheer her up. Trisha dishes the full story and this is Abby's response:
"Low blow," Abby said, patting Trisha on the back and handing her a wad of tissue.
LOW BLOW? That doesn't even really make any sense. Thank you for being a friend, Abby.

Cody comes home from the hospital, and Trisha spends time with him, hoping the old Cody will come back. Good ol' Tucker does the same thing, because apparently now he's a good person. Whatever. I hate you, Tucker. He promises to keep visiting Cody:
"Will you come back?" Cody asked.

"Do you want me to?"

"We were friends. I'm not sure I had that many."

"You did," Tucker said. "You were a regular guy. Everyone liked you."
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? People like regular guys only? Is that, like, shorter Tucker: you weren't a weirdo freak? Also, godDAMN has Lurlene skillfully captured the way eighteen year old dudes talk to each other.

Christina's mom Julia calls Trisha, and she finds out they're moving. Bad Dad Nelson got a new job, plus they're ready to leave this place behind. Don't blame you guys! Julia suggests to Trisha that she take a few things from Christina's room to remember her by. This part got to me a little, guys, only because, okay, imagine your best friend is dead and her mom is pushing you to take things so you're surrounded by all her crap except you're never seeing her again and, oh, man, did we all just think of the items we'd take? Just me? All right then. Anyways, this awkward exchange occurs:
"I should go. I told Mom I'd be back by lunch."

"Certainly. Of course." Julia didn't move. "May I ask a favor?"


"Would you let me hold you for just a minute?" Tears shimmered on Julia's lashes.

"Hold me? Well, gee, sure."

Lurlene gives us this great totally meta moment between Trisha and Cody, while they're hanging outside at his place:
"They say this is bad for us," Trisha commented. "That the sun causes skin cancer." [CANCER CANCER CANCER YAAAAY IN A COMA BOOK!]

"I don't care. It feels good, and I'm going stir-crazy being stuck inside the house all the time."

"I don't care either." At the moment, cancer didn't seem like half the threat that everyday life did.

Trisha's life IS getting better, though, despite her obvious impending visit from the cancer gods. She's hanging out a lot with Cody, helping him, and even though he's probably never going to be the old Cody again, he's pretty cool. She takes up Christina's old volunteer position at a nursing home, and she's working hard on the yearbook and hanging out lots with Abby. But:
She even filled out a job application at Home Depot, but her parents had a fit and forbade her to turn it in.
Um, do they understand what Home Depot is? It's not like she went and got a job at Hooters or, I dunno, Hustler or something. What the hell, parents?

So the police investigation ends, and the wreck is declared an accident, not vehicular homicide. Trisha is not thrilled at that news, because that means Tucker's in the clear. But does she actually, deep down, think he's guilty? Or does she just want to blame a jackasshole for the tragedy? DUM DUM DUMMMM!

Cody returns to school, and it's totes rough on him. Oh Cody! Ensuing gossip gave me basically the best example of Lurlene's dialogue trying its hardest to pop with realism and, well, hissing to the ground like a pricked balloon:
When she walked into the bathroom and overheard two junior girls gossiping about it, she glared at them and said, "Don't you two have anything better to talk about?"

One said, "Gee ['gee' again??], we didn't mean anything by it."

"Then shut up about it."

"It's a free country," one girl dared to say. [Oooh! A dare!]

"Then I might just take advantage of my freedom to stick your head down a toilet." [Uh, Trisha, her gossip is covered by free speech. Sticking someone's head in a toilet is NOT free speech nor constitutionally guaranteed.]

The girl's eyes widened [at the lameness of that threat?]. "No need to go postal about it. We were just talking."
So Trisha and Cody go to the prom as a double-date with Abby and her boyfriend. Yay! Trisha and Cody's parents go in together on a fancy limo because they can't stand the thought of the kids not having a driver on a double date. Yeah, can't say I blame you, parents. Luckily this night does NOT end in a car crash! Whew!

In talking to Cody about the car wreck, Trisha has a chilling sensation. She's all, "there were nights when the wind was so cold that my body froze in bed if I just listened to it right outside the window. There were days when the sun was so cruel that all the tears turned to dust and I just knew my eyes were drying out forever. IT'S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW!"

Trisha runs to confront Tucker. She accuses him of not being able to pass the other car on the left, so passing it on the right ON THE SHOULDER where he hit black ice and spun out. He's all, shrug, yeah, I know, sucks, right? Tucker's actually confessed this all already, it just doesn't change the fact that it's categorized as an accident, not vehicular homicide, especially once Christina's parents dropped all charges against him. Trisha's all BUT PEOPLE DON'T KNOW THEY THINK IT WAS TOTES JUST NORMAL ICE NOT SHOULDER BLACK ICE YOU BASTARD and he's all WHAT WOULD IT CHANGE and Trisha knows basically she just wants everyone to hate Tucker too. Trisha, I feel your pain.

Actually Tucker does tell everyone at school though! Thing is, it actually makes people feel SORRIER for him. Ruh-roh! I kind of liked the way this was handled, actually. The whole book led me to think there was going to be big-ass law drama for Tucker and his stupid ass, but it just sort of fizzled - it pains me to say - much like real life.

So Trisha gets accepted into a good state school, but Cody can't graduate because he missed too much and had trouble catching up once he came back. So Trisha's all, that's fine, I'll stay here and go to the community college next year and take care of you! After the whole thing about Christina giving up the opportunity in Vermont just to stay near Tucker, I thought we were in for a super life lesson about how Trisha needed to go away after all and hopefully Cody would understand. But, nope! That's just fine! And that's how it ends, kids:
She laid her cheek against his shoulder. "I love you, Cody."

He kissed her temple. "And I love you. I may not remember many things from before the accident. I may never remember all of my life from before. Truth is, I don't even try to remember it all anymore. I'm just taking it day by day. And the best part about every day is finding it in you." [Finding WHAT in her? Dirty.]

Goose bumps raced up her arms, and her heart filled to overflowing. [Her heart totally goes to eleven.] "Well, get used to it. I plan to be around for a long, long time."

"Forever?" he asked.

"Forever," she answered.
And there you have it, folks, thus ends our life lessons on how to royally screw up any chance of a functional adult relationship! Oh well. This jaunt through the Lurleneverse gave us more good lessons than bad, only nice mothers, and the stern warning that emotionally abusive assholes are dangerous. I'll take it.


Sophia said...

I recall this as being the very last Lurlene McDaniel book I read...and as a 16 year old that had never been in a relationship, I thought Cody and Trisha were cute in their little banter...but looking back on it now, it was fucking CREEPY. Shudder!

I was always so confused why Abby decided HEY YOU CAN BE MY FRIEND WE BOND OVER LOSING LOVED ONES IN CARS. Like wtf?!

I think we all hated Tucker...though you gotta admit, the drama was hilarious. You just wanted to hit Christina after a while for being so stupid.

ames said...

Yeah, it is so weird revisiting books from your childhood and discovering how frigging creepy they are. I totes thought having a boyfriend at sixteen who was gonna love you FOREVER was a super-awesome idea. No wonder we all enter high school with these bizarrely unrealistic relationship expectations!

The Abby thing is DEFINITELY weird. I mean, it would be fine if that brought them together, but it's so I KNOW WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH THEREFORE I AM YOUR NEW BFF OKAY. Also geeeeeez could it have maybe been a SIMILAR tragedy, not ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME THING? Stupid! Though I guess in the Lurleneverse there are fatal car crashes like every other weekend!

Anonymous said...

Haha, thanks for posting the snippets of "banter." I always wondered whether these old writers actually talked this way when they were kids, or if they just imagined that's how we talked.

I remember when I read this one, I picked up another book 2 weeks later called "Now that Andy's gone" with a similar plotline - I think that's when I started to find Lurlene, um, less than profound (Haha - I used to bawl my eyes out with these books) because the latter handled things a little less affectedly. It still did that thing in books where they set up the dying person to be all bubbly, and wild, and "full of life" before they off her, but the aftermath felt a little more genuine... lots of boring moping around in bed for weeks, and calling her dead friend's answering machine to hear her message every day, and getting angry and depressed, etc. There was even a PSA at the end of the book with a grief hotline. Haha

Anyway, I try not to pay attention to how much these books might have warped my young, impressionable mind. Otherwise, I'd have to blame Elizabeth Chandler for ruining my first relationship. (Damn you "Dark Secrets" series!) It's better to read funny blogs like this one, and laugh away the unhealthiness...

Anonymous said...

Hey, I grew up in podunk Illinois too!