Monday, December 7, 2015

“Do I look like a pleasant third-grade teacher with a headache?” BSC #93: Mary Anne and the Memory Garden (1996)

Uhoh y’all. This book is a Serious Issue. Better be prepared to be preached at, or offended, or…something. Just don’t be prepared to actually learn anything.
Mary Anne is working on a group project for English, with a couple of kids who have been mentioned once or twice before. One of them, Amelia, is killed in a car accident when her family car is hit by a drunk driver. Mary Anne feels down about it, sees her old therapist, and then decides to create the titular memory garden in honor of Amelia.
In the (extremely stupid) B-plot, Dawn has a trash-filled vacant lot near her. She decides to clean it up, but runs into some trouble from the owner. Understandably, given what happens. Just see the tidbits. This plotline is too stupid to go over twice.
Extremely Serious Tidbits
The cover: Aww, Mary Anne is soooooooo sad. The bench is making her want to cry.

So yeah. I’m being Extremely Serious here.
Sharon loves leaving Christmas decorations up. And singing Christmas carols. Neither one of these things surprise me.
Mary Anne’s new year’s resolutions: Do better in English, write letters to Dawn instead of calling her, and be more outgoing. She doesn’t ask for too much, does she? The one that gets me is the first one. The more I reread these books, the more interesting I find Mary Anne. She’s the kind of girl who takes school very seriously, but although she seems fairly studious, she doesn’t always do that well in her classes. I’m not just talking about her flunking home ec either. This isn’t the first time Mary Anne’s English grade has been a concern. I’m pretty sure it was her English grade that led her to seek out therapy, as mentioned in the Chain Letter. I like the fact that she wants to do well but struggles with it sometimes, because I feel like a lot of girls can relate to that.
Speaking of Mary Anne’s therapist, does anyone think that if these books were written now, she’d be the one on antianxiety meds? I can picture MA needing a prescription of Zoloft. It would be the kind of thing that they’d slip into chapter two: Stacey takes insulin, Mary Anne takes Zoloft, Claudia takes Ritalin….
(I’m not saying Claudia needs Ritalin. But I feel like a lot of Claudia-type kids get diagnosed with ADD simply because school doesn’t interest them and their attention wanders.)
Ooh, Mary Anne had a Teeki moment and couldn’t get her locker open on her first day back at school. I’ve always hated lockers, and even though I know how to open my lock, it always takes me several tries. Alan actually has to help her with the locker.
So what is the English project that MA is working on with Amelia, Barbara (Amelia’s best friend) and Gordon? Her teacher calls it Meet Mr. Bill, but it’s not the good Mr. Bill. She’s talking about Shakespeare. Ms. Simon even names the groups with cheesy Shakespeare names: Will Power, Howdy Bard, Play Bill, etc.
Claudia hands out cookies that say Happy New Yeer! For her, that’s pretty good. It’s almost a passing score.
Ha! Amelia’s handwriting looks like a 1980s computer font.
Claudia’s making a Rube Goldberg machine for art class. I remember kids doing that in my high school…for physics class. If they bring some science into it, Claudia could actually learn a lot.
Awww. MA holds hands with Sharon and Richard, who are holding hands with each other. Family circle! How sweet! (If I were a little less hormonal, this would probably make me want to barf.)
Claudia listens to the radio every morning. Mary Anne suggests this is because she’s hoping school will be cancelled because of snow or heavy rain…or, adds Logan, because of a heat wave. I like the way he thinks.
Dammit! I actually did cry during MA’s English class, the class she shared with Amelia, when the various kids were talking about things like how final death is.
I do like this though: Mary Anne’s not just upset because Amelia is dead, but because she’s suddenly realized that she’s not immortal. When I was Mary Anne’s age, I was obsessed with what my mother called ‘death books.’ Those who grew up in the late-80s/early-90s will recognize what I mean with one name: Lurlene McDaniel. However, the best ‘death book’ was actually Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die. In that book, thirteen-year-old Meg’s older sister is diagnosed with leukemia, which in those days (late 1970s) was still close to a death sentence. At one point, an elderly friend of hers (whose late wife was also a Margaret) recites her part of a poem, about a young girl who is mourning the loss of the leaves in the fall:
            It is the blight man was born for
            It is Margaret you mourn for
(Gerald Manley Hopkins, “Spring and Fall”) That poem has always stuck with me, because it’s the honest truth. When we mourn the loss of others, at least one layer of that is the realization that someday, that will be us that others are mourning. (And the main reason why A Summer to Die is so much better than most of the death books is that the story isn’t about Meg’s sister Molly dying; it’s about how Meg and her family deal with it. Instead of a protracted death scene, Molly’s death is mentioned in passing.)
Oh, look. Let’s counterpoint Mary Anne’s grief with Dawn’s sitting job for the gruesome twosome: Ryan and Erick DeWitt. (Their mother calls them Knights of the Kitchen Table because one of them is dressed as a knight. And the title quote is what she says before she leaves for an aspirin commercial audition.)
Okay, I no longer feel bad about crying, since Kristy is crying. (Yeah, I know. I’m comparing myself to a fictional character. Just…shut up, okay?)
I like this, too: Abby’s the one who tells everyone how to deal with Amelia’s brother and best friend. She should be the one, considering she’d gone through that herself just a few years earlier…
Kristy’s still not back to normal, so it’s Abby who calls the school lunch “Mystery Meat on Toast.”
This book isn’t just a Death book or a Drunk Driving book. It’s also a Depression book. (That’s a lot of Ds, people.) By chapter 11, Kristy—who was teary and at lost ends for a while—is back to normal, planning a SMS chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving. But Mary Anne is tired all the time, doesn’t feel like doing anything, cries at the drop of the hat (of course, she does that anyway, but it’s worse than normal) and when she doesn’t feel like crying, she feels nothing at all. Hmm. I wonder what’s wrong with her?!?
I like Dr. Reese, too. She explains that Kristy was upset after Amelia’s death because it was a problem she couldn’t solve, and now she’s feeling better because she found a purpose. SADD lets her honor Amelia and feel like she’s making a difference, even if it won’t bring her back. She suggests that MA’s feelings are different (grief, not lack of control over her own fate), but that MA find her own way to honor Amelia.
So here’s what’s going on in California. After one of the DeWitts injures himself on a rusty nail in the trash-filled vacant lot in her neighborhood, Dawn decides to clean it up. She writes letters to the lot’s owner, and when he doesn’t respond right away, the We Heart Kids Club and their clients clean up all the garbage, which is fine. But they decide they want to plant a garden there, even deciding to put in a (free) gazebo. Oookay…That sounds nice. Think about flower beds and stone paths and a pretty gazebo. Definitely an improvement, right? But that property belongs to someone, who has the right to do with the property as they see fit, even if they want to leave it as an eyesore. Dawn and her friends have no right. If they just went in and planted a few annuals, no biggie. But they’re talking about making a community garden in a place that’s not community space. (The owner shows up as they’re almost finished. He’s not happy but since he has no actual plans for the lot, he lets them keep going with their garden plans.)
Setting up a later plot: Peaches is pregnant again. Since these books are about one a month (this one is January, #94 is February, #95 March, etc.) then that means that Peaches waited until she was more than halfway through her pregnancy before she announced it this time. I know I said last time that she should have waited a little while before announcing/shopping but that’s pretty crazy. Although, a woman I know who had two miscarriages and a set of stillborn twins waited until she was nearly thirty weeks before announcing her fourth pregnancy, which resulted in a healthy baby boy. (Oh, and Mary Anne says Peaches had a miscarriage, which is never said back in that book. They just say she ‘lost the baby.’)
On a lighter note: I just realized that in her ‘family portrait’ at the end of the book, Mary Anne is wearing spandex. BAD MARY ANNE!
Kristy: sweatshirt and jeans
Mary Anne: Claudia-decorated vest with pins and a silk rose; jean skirt, red sweater, loafers; navy plaid skirt and sweater
Claudia: black and white striped trousers, black long-sleeved t-shirt, red suspenders, red-sequined sneakers, black derby with red and white ribbon
Dr. Reese: chinos, sweater, polo

Coming: It’ll be November by the time I post this. I’m going to be doing Kristy, Mary Anne, Abby and Claudia, in that order, in November. Expect a vlog somewhere around there, too. I only have a couple more vlogs planned, but I’m trying to brainstorm a few other ideas.

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