I read this book around 1988 at age 13. It is about a girl who wakes up one to discover that she isn’t 13 anymore, but now age 17. She was in a coma for four years. She also finds out that her mother was killed in the same home robbery attack that Stacy was injured in. Even before she leaves the hospital she’s lived in for four years, she finds that the media is completely interested in her story, calling her “Sleeping Beauty”. (Although, Stacy points out that this is incorrect – when Sleeping Beauty goes to sleep, everyone else in the castle does, too, so they really don’t lose out on anything.) For her, she went into her come before really maturing, and in four years time, suddenly lots of makeup, shrunken jeans (remember those days?), and punk styles are in. Her best friend from growing up comes around to introduce Stacy to what being a teen is all about. Stacy has no idea. She’s still just getting used to how different she looks.
If this story took place now, not only would the media be getting pictures of her, etc, but the other teens and young adults at the party she goes to would be taking pictures of her on their phones, and chatting about her via text and IM. This would have made things even worse, as the murderer is still around and he knows that Stacy might be able to remember who was there in their house that spring day.
Most of the plot of the story is about who did it – who killed Stacy’s mother and robbed Stacy of four vital years of her life. She’s very angry throughout the book. Hey, I would be, too! The killer is Jarrod Tucker. At the party, he is the one who gets her drunk. Stacy has no idea there is vodka in her pop, and it naive enough not to suspect. When I first read this book, I had more dire suspicions – perhaps Jarrod would spike her pop with some kind of poison like cyanide. In the end, when Stacy has a gun pointed at Jarrod, she does not shoot him. She had previously thought that if she had the chance to do so, she would take it, but then Jarrod tells her what her mother had told him: “It’s all right. It’s all right.” This is what spoke to Stacy: yes, he’s right, that’s what her mother would have said. Stacy didn’t have it in her any more to killed him. She says, “I didn’t really have a choice. Jarrod’s life doesn’t belong to me.”
Things I really noticed during my re-read this week:
– Mid ‘80s punk: There is mention of a punk rocker “Glory Beans”. Real? I think not. I never heard of her then, and if you Google the name, you get a YouTube video with some people doing some thing Glory brand beans. I have mixed feelings about using fake musicians versus real people in fiction. Both have their negatives and positives .
– Shrunken jeans: I noticed this during my youth when originally reading it, but tight jeans were really still in then, too. However, 1988/89 is when ripped jeans were also in – so tight ripped jeans. Really lovely. I never ripped my jeans on purpose, but when they ripped from regular wear and tear, that was fine with me.
– The name Stacy: That is a name of my generation. I haven’t seen so much of this name in kids born in the last 18 years or so, at least. One of the Babysitter’s Club girls is named Stacy, but these books started coming out around the time this book was released, so generation-wise, it makes sense.
– The name Jan: This is my middle name, so I always thought that was neat. However, even in 1988 I thought this name was untrue for a teenager at the time. I thought it was more of a name for my mom’s generation. Lately I have noticed that a lot kids are getting more old fashioned names that go back to my grandma’s generation, such as Evelyn.
– Donna: Stacy’s sister is about 21, is married and expecting a baby. We hear that she has promised their dad that she will still graduate from college. It seemed to me even then that the name Donna was very old-fashioned. I equated it to The Donna Reed Show, which we’d seen on Nick at Nite, and to a book from the early 60s that my mom had (and I will discuss here on another date) – Donna Parker at Cherrydale. We never learn what the sex of the baby is that Donna (Stacy’s sister) is carrying. I always felt gypped out of never knowing what happened. I always wanted to know if the baby was a girl or a boy.
– The Pasta Salad: Donna makes Stacy a chicken pasta salad. Stacy doesn’t eat it because she has no clue as to what it is. Donna makes a comment that nobody knew what they were until recently, and she’d forgotten that Stacy knew nothing of the previous four years. I always thought this was funny, because I rarely ate pasta salads either, back then. First, I did not like cold pasta. Second, they often had chicken, and back then, I hated cold chicken. Third, there was usually some kind of dressing on it, and I hated the taste of the dressing. The entire combination seemed revolting.
– Jeff: He is the narcotics officer working under cover at the high school. He helps protect Stacy, and seems as if he’s making a move to be become Stacy’s boyfriend. Stacy doesn’t know what to think. He’s very evasive at times when it comes to questions about himself. It is not until the very end of the book when he takes the gun out of Stacy’s hand that he tells her the truth. It also makes for a somewhat satisfying ending when he tells Stacy he will wait for her – because he doesn’t want to be just her “first love”, but the “real thing.”
I just realized that my paperback copy of this book, like other paperbacks from the 80s, have a page listed other books by the author along with a little order form. Each paperback title is listed under $3 each. I do not believe that book companies do this anymore. People can just go online to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, find the author, read reviews, and order what they want. I don’t do that because I try the library first. I think books nowadays still have lists of other books, but not the ordering forms.
Summary: Jennie is in the fifth grade. She hangs around with her two best friends, Diane and Sharon. Their teacher, Mrs. Hanson, asks Jennie to show Elsie, the new girl, around the school. Jenny wishes she hasn’t been asked. . . Elsie is the fattest girl she has ever seen, and doesn’t want associated with her. Through a series of events throughout the book, Jenny learns about Elsie’s life (and Elsie is great in math, and tutors Jenny), and becomes more compassionate. Eventually Jenny and Elsie really become friends.
Doctors making house calls (page 40 – “I’d drink it and throw up. The doctor came. He told mother I was dehydrated”) : I thought it was funny back when I first read this, too. I was aware that doctors used to make house calls back in “the olden days”, but I was around in 1981 when this was published. My doctor didn’t make house calls back then. No, we had to go wait in the waiting room for three hours to be seen finally, because they were always so behind with their appointments. When would the doctor have had time to get in a car and drive to our house? This is something that today’s kids really wouldn’t get at all, either.
Pop Culture References:
They liked to watch “Mork and Mindy”. Even by the mid-80s when I read this book, I really was not familiar with that show. This was first time we had cable tv in our house, and we enjoyed whatever was being shown on Nickelodeon – mostly shows such as The Monkees, as well as programming like You Can’t Do that On Television, Double Dare, etc. Anyway, part of my point is that this could be relevant today, to today’s 10 year olds, but because of the references to shows that were on 30 years ago now, this almost seems like historical fiction at times to someone reading it today. I just looked up Mork & Mindy on IMDB – It was on the air from 1978 to 1982. It seems that the DVDs have been released.
Then there is the music. I love record players and old records. However, it’s funny when they listen to the Bee Gees, and they are changing records. At the time I didn’t blink an eye when Elton JJohn was mentioned, because he was still popular and records were still around though on their way out. Jenny’s mom buys a Burl Ives record for Jenny’s little brother Kenny. Burl Ives? Even as a kid at the time, I had no idea who Burl Ives was.
Jenny’s Dad: He’s very opposed to Jenny’s mom getting a job, even though her job will help pay for a new car, which they need. He wants her there at home when he wants to eat. Also, he wanted her there to be with the kids, because he goes bowling. He’s a very one-dimensional character who is very ’50s TV father-like (like the one brought to life in the movie Pleasantville). As a kid, I thought this was just odd, because of course women could work, and in my experience up until the time I first read this book, my dad never went bowling. I thought that was silly. Dads performed weddings and took moms to wedding receptions. Jenny’s dad didn’t cook. Mine did on occaison, and would make stuff my mom never would – like rhubarb pie.
Elsie loses weight, eventually, as the book goes on. The teacher at school has to help “police” Elsie’s diet, because Elsie would beg for food from her classmates. I am sure this was easier, because the students ate their lunches in the class room. I keep pointing out the weird stuff, but I always thought that would be fun, to eat in the classroom. In none of my schools did we ever have to eat in the classroom. We had lunch room space elsewhere in the school. I always wondered in what school DID kids get to eat in their rooms. I always thought that would have been easier, because then you already have your assigned seating, and you wouldn’t have to worry about who to sit with, and all of the other anxiety-producing issues that come with the lunch room.
There is perhaps more to say about this book, and I will work on it if time allows. The cover above is my own original copy from back then. I wrote my name on the cover page five times with a variety of writing utensils (a multi-colored pencil, blue ballpoint pen, and two Magic Markers – blue and brown). My mother was tutoring a girl one summer, and used this book. I wanted to make sure I got my book back! I was not trusting it with anyone else.
I read this book in early 1988. I was almost 13. I saw a classmate reading this book. (Megan, I think.) I saw the mushroom cloud on the cover. This was also around the time I had become familiar with Weird Al’s song “Christmas at Ground Zero”, and these lyrics: “We can dodge debris while we trim the tree / Underneath the mushroom cloud.” So naturally, I wanted to read it. At the time, if I remember correctly, we were nearing the end of the Cold War, but the possibility of mushroom clouds still seemed very real.
I found the book in the school library in my junior high. The Media Librarian was Mrs. Page, who was previously my fifth grade teacher. I loved her, and in jr. high, she would often save me books that she thought I’d like. However, this one I found on my own. Also, it again points out the power of peer influence, even when it comes to reading selections. Note: It was most likely this book that really gave me a taste for “disaster” fiction. I have to admit that it was already there (e.g. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder), but the disaster in Children of the Dust is man-made. This really woke me up to the idea that people could really be crazy enough to be this destructive.
Seven things about Children of the Dust:
1) The story is told in three parts – “Sarah”, “Ophelia”, and “Simon”. They are each essentially a different generation.
2) It takes place in England, in Gloucestershire. The book opens with a line about how perfect the day was: “It was such a perfect day, a promise of summer with cloudless blue skies.”
3) Sarah does not get along well with her step-mother Veronica. They get along better as the end nears for them. They work together to save Catherine, Sarah’s little sister.
4) Their dad, unbeknownst to them, survives when he is invited to an underground bunker. He pairs with another woman to conceive another child (Ophelia) to help carry on the human race. They mistakenly think that no one will survive outside.
5) Years later, when Ophelia is a teen, she, a friend, and her dad to go out to warn the people in the outside world that the men in the bunker are going to come to steal their cattle. It is then that they discover Catherine. Catherine is covered in radiation sores, but has managed to have two children who survive – they are mutants: the Children of the Dust. They have adapted to the new radiated environment. Ophelia looks so much like Sarah that Catherine thinks that Sarah survived.
6) Thirty some years later – Ophelia’s son Simon has been out with an expedition and is injured. He is taken to the healer in the local mutant settlement where he meets who turned out to be his cousin Laura (granddaughter of Catherine – also known by now as Blind Kate). Laura is a mutant, and at first he finds her repulsive, and then later beautiful as he get to know her and her people.
7) The mutants have mentals powers such as telekenesis that humans always has access to, but never used, and then forgot over time. The mutants have reclaimed these powers. Simon begins to see how the mutants and their powers, and the science that the people in the bunkers have can work together to create a wonderful new world.
Favorite lines from the book:
“They ate by candlelight – fish sticks, crinkle-cut french fries, and green beans, with thawing ice cream for dessert. . . food that Veronica had taken from the freezer and had to be used up quickly” (12).
“Sarah coughed and smiled. Bright blood flecked the back of her hand and she did not worry. Johnson was part of the plan, a man with a vision that she herself would never share. Her part was over, her purpose played out. She had lived for Catherine and now she gave Catherine to him. Finally satisfied, Sarah turned away, leaving man and child together in the rainy darkness” (61).
“From the inner room came a thin baby wail and an echo of girlish laughter, laughter that went on and one, a maniacal glee. Dwight was talking rubbish! Of course the human race was going to survive! Catherine had just given birth to a live healthy child and Ophelia was going to see. . . Gently she opened the shawl for Ophelia to see. The baby was naked, a pale little thing, completely covered in white silky hair, soft and thick as fur. Tiny fingers gripped when Ophelia touched her, and her eyes opened wide. They too were white” (11 7-18).
” ‘Government?’ said Johnson. ‘What government is this? I wasn’t aware we had a government, and I certainly didn’t vote for them. None of us did. You can’t just walk in here, Allison, and expect me to believe you represent some government I’ve never heard of.’
‘I do have credentials.’
‘Credentials don’t count,’ said Johnson” (122).
” ‘Psychic,’ said the girl, as if she had read his mind. ‘I’m a water diviner, among other things, and my name is Laura. You had no need to shoot that dog, you know. I could have controlled it. My mind is stronger than an animal’s mind. Stronger than yours, too.’
Simon sat on the crumbling edge of the windowsill.
There was a throbbing pain in his leg.
He did not believe what she told him.
Laura laughed teasingly.
‘Once people believed that nuclear holocaust would never happen,’ she said” (136-7).
If you liked this book, there is a movie from the early ’80s that you should see titled The Day After. I watched this two or three years ago after a colleague suggested it. It takes place in the US, and does not go into future generations of those who survive, but it tells a story that is very scary, and would be at least as scary as this book. I do have to admit, though, that Children of the Dust really ends very positively for the characters involved who go on to create new societies after the destruction.
(Cover of my signed copy in 1986. It was signed inside on the front cover.)
The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright was copyrighted in 1983. I didn’t read it until 1986 at age 11. I don’t know if I would have ever read it, except for the fact that I had a chance to meet Ms. Wright at the author fair at the Lake Geneva Public Library (Wisconsin) on November 15, 1986. I believe that my mom bought me the book there, and then I took it into the room where the various authors were waiting to sign their books for their adoring readers. At that point in time, I was sure that I was going to be a Writer when I grew up. My mom asked Ms. Wright to tell me that I needed to have another profession, too, so I could earn money and have health insurance as an adult. At the time, I said, no, I was just going to write and become famous. (I know it’s still not too late. I can continue working at this. . . )
Ms. Wright was a very kind and gracious woman. I felt more shy than usual in her presence. She was an Author! I couldn’t believe that Authors were really very real people. It was quite intimidating for me, but she was very nice (which made me think all Author as nice people, which didn’t seem to be the case the next year when I met a different Author – a YA writer – who seemed very put out – but that will be another entry in the future). After meeting her, and reading Dollhouse Murders, I proceeded to borrow the rest of her juvenile/pre-teen books from the library, and to read her new books as the came out even as I got older. I loved her style.
On to the actual book —
Amy finds an old dollhouse in the attic of her aunt’s house. It looks completely like her aunt’s house, too, inside and outside. Lots of strange thing happen, such as the dolls moving on their own (and this gave me a taste for creepy doll stories – in high school I moved on to Ruby Jean Jensen horror paperbacks, particularly her book Baby Doll.) The back cover blurb says, “Amy knows the dolls are trying to tell her something – but she’s terrified to find out what.” I had to read to find out what, of course.
The books begins with Amy with her best friend Ellen, and they are out in public trying to look for Louann, Amy’s younger sister who is larger than she is but Amy has to take care of because she is mentally retarded. She resents having to take care of her all the time (which some things later in this book resolve – things with their mother, mostly), and runs away to her aunt’s house. Her aunt is great, and offers to let her stay there a little while, to get away, even offers to host Amy and Ellen’s joint sleepover birthday party. However, her aunt gets angry and upset when she finds that the dollhouse (which was hers when she was younger) has been played with, and the dolls, who represent her aunt’s murdered grandparents, are in the positions they were in when they (the grandparents) died. She does not believe Amy when Amy says that she is not the one moving the dolls. It is finally when Louann witnesses it and corroborates the story that Aunt Clare finally believes. They figure out that the dolls/the grandma’s spirit is trying to show them where to find the answers to what happened all those years ago. The grandma doll leads them to the house’s library room – and a letter is found in a book. It turned out that Aunt Clare thought that she was responsible for the death of her grandparents – that her boyfriend at the time killed them. It turned out it wasn’t him at all. Aunt Clare starts looking very young again, and stops beating herself up over it.
It was a very satisfying read. I had already liked ghost stories, but this book I would recommend easily to 8 to 12 year olds. I really, really liked the author, too, as a person. It is important for kids and teens to actually meet the author. It’s magical . . .
Since I mentioned this in my previous entry, I thought I would go ahead and write about it. Unfortunately, I do not own this book! Fortunately, it is available at quite a few libraries yet.
Here is the cover. As you can see, the cover looks like a pencil drawing with two other colors involved, yellow and green. It really looks very hospitalish with those colors, too. It was published in 1981, almost two years before I read it for the first time.
When I was 8 years old and in third grade, we were on our weekly visit to the school library. In my elementary school, the library was housed in the cafeteria! The stacks were around the perimeter of the room, with the rows of lunch tables in the middle. Anyway, I remember looking to see if any Judy Blume books were in (no, they were all out) and then started looking for something else that might be interesting. That’s when I discovered this book.
Right away, I was intrigued by the “blurb” on the book jacket. It begins: “Jenna is adamant.” This lined hooked me. What in the world did ‘adamant’ mean? I had to find out. It turned out that she has Juvenile Rhuematoid Arthritis, and would spend some time in the hospital over the summer to get it under control.
I started reading this book, and this is the first time that I actually stayed up really late so that I could finish the book. I even read under the covers. I had to find out what happened to Jenna and Angie. It was also the first book I ever cried while reading. However, there were plenty of funny parts. As a fairly naiive reader, this was also the first time that I realized that someone could write things in a book such as this example from page 19, “When Mrs. Anderson came around the desk to inspect me more closely, I gulped. I’d never seen such an enormous woman. Her breasts were about the size of basketballs.”
It never occurred to me until many, many years later – when I was in my 20s – that cortisone is a steroid and that is could be similar to prednisone. In my preteen and teen years, I took prednison on and off for my asthma episodes. It never occurred to me that this medication could have led to my weight gain. However, in this book, Jenna is on cortisone for her JRA, and she starts looking “puffy”. She and Angie have a whole conversation about this. I thought it was funny at the time.
On the last page (113), there was another term that I did not understand as an 8-year-old (but it never occurred to me to ask anyone about). Here is the quote:
” ‘Maybe I won’t do it today,’ I said, ‘and maybe I’ll need a souped-up wheelchair to do it, but I’m going to fly this kite all by myself.’ “
What did “souped-up” mean? I remember wondering back then what that meant. I didn’t really think that meant a wheelchair covered in soup (although that was a funny mental picture to me), but what else could it mean? And let’s look the the third to last sentence of the book: “Yoyo looked at me like she was trying to figure out what size straight jacket I should wear.” I do realize I was perhaps a very naive 8-year-old, but I really had no idea what a straight jacket was, and why one would be needed. At that time, I figured that if it was like the beautiful Scandenavian wool sweater my aunt had given me that made me break out in hives and was forever torturing me, then I wouldn’t want a straight jacket.
Really, this is a very good book. Jenna learns how to deal with different people in the hospital, and gains a lot of maturity for an almost-12 year old. She deals with making new friends and loses one to death (Jenna screams for a long time when she finds out). I have never met anyone else who has said they’ve read this book, either. I enjoyed it so much. I have to admit, it gave me a taste for Lurlene McDaniel’s books later as well as other tragic stories.
It inspired me to start writing myself. I really saw the possibilities of good writing. Yes, I was also reading the the Little House books, Heidi, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, but it was this one that made me think that I could write! Shortly after finishing this book, I attempted to write my first ‘novel’. It was five written pages long, and really bad, but I was proud of it then. I hid it away in my desk and didn’t let anyone else read it. It was my secret. I was proud that I wrote it, but not confident enough to let anyone else see it. It was delicious to have my secret story hidden away.
Since I have focused on books with autoimmune diseases these past two posts, I think the next post will be about Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders. Yes, I think a nice ghost/murder story would be good change of topic.
I was nine when I first saw the cover of the paperback 13 is Too Young to Die (1980 version). I was in fourth grade, and one of my classmates that I was not friends with had this book. She had probably gotten it through a school book fair. I was immediately intrigued by the title, and wanted to read that book. Badly. (I read Rebecca Jones’ Angie and Me the year before, but that book will be the subject of a future entry. And this was before I discovered Lurlene McDaniel.) The school library and the local public library branch did not have a copy of this book. This was before it was incredibly easy to just look up if any library in the system would have had it. I was too shy to ask the library staff to check at other libraries for me.
So, I kept the title in my head for nearly three years – until the school book fair at my junior high in 7th grade. It was there! Yay! I took some of my hard-earned babysitting money, and bought the book (as well as buying a Lurlene McDaniel book, but that is also the subject of another entry). Then in the early 1990s, in a used bookstore, I found what I thought was just a recent reprinting – but it wasn’t. It has the same name, author, and some of the characters’ names are the same, but the story is different in several ways. More about that later.
Let’s look at the covers first.
(I bought this one to the left new 20 years ago. It looks really beat up now, huh?)
In the first one, the one that intrigued me as a 9-year-old, I learned about lupus. This book also made me think that lupus is automatically fatal. Yes, I am giving away the ending. At age 12, when I finally had the chance to read it, I cried and cried. Very melodramatic! I know this book was written thirty years ago now, but all it says on page 86 is that Lupus is “a mystery disease”. Yes, from what I know, it still is somewhat of a mystery, but this book never says that it is an autoimmune disease. Surely this was known back then. I know this book was intended for pre-teens, but still, it could have been a little more specific. I can also see that this book would be a little out of date these days. There are a lot of people out there living with lupus, and I’ve known some.
Alexa is the main character, and the story is in the third person, but told from her perspective. The story opens with Alexa noticing how foggy the island she lives on is, and then her best friend informs her that the island is “like a Polaroid postcard” (page 2) it is so clear and bright.
In chapter two, her mother gets on her case for not taking care of her skin properly. If she were, Alexa wouldn’t have such an ugly rash on her face. Alexa thinks maybe she just scrubbed her face too hard. She mentions going to a dermatologist, but her mom puts her down for that idea, and insists she just must not have good habits.
Well, finally, Alexa ends up in the hospital. However, they, the doctors and her parents, will not tell her what’s going on. They keep her in the dark until she overhears her parents talking. This is how she learns she’s going to die. She still doesn’t know why. After this, the whole story becomes one question. . . will Alexa make it to her 14th birthday? Because “13 is too young to die”. She goes to her school dance, she goes to Disney World with her friends, and her dad gets her the boat he promised for her 14th birthday.
I loved this book as a 12-year-old.
Later, when I was browsing at a used book store (Old Book Barn in Forsyth, Illinois – the best used book store ever!), I found the second version. It was wasn’t just re-released. It was re-written! Again, the main character is named Alexa and the question is if she will make it to age 14. However, this Alexa is a ballet dancer. She is going to actually be in an onstage ballet! Woo-hoo! Then she starts getting dizzy. It turns out she has a brain tumor.
Really, this second version is better written than the first one. It’s not as (what I perceive as) amateurish, but there is still “wailing” and such other descriptions. ” ‘Just go away, and leave me alone,’ Alexa wailed” (68). If it were me with the brain tumor, I might want to wail, but I would not write it this way. The funny thing is, years ago, as a teen, I wanted to write a book this way – I thought I HAD to write with words other than “said” if even that. Now I know better, and know how to find one’s voice in writing.
I will have to decide soon which book or books to post about next. There are so many to choose from!