Sunday, January 10, 2016

“A little softball flavoring never hurt anyone.” BSC #101: Claudia Kishi, Middle School Dropout (1996)

OMG. I haven’t even opened this book yet and it’s already made me…itchy.
School is barely back in session, and Claudia has just started eighth grade (…again). Her schoolwork slacker-ism is worse than normal, and everyone involved is concerned that Claudia didn’t get a solid foundation the year before and that her grades are just going to be worse as the year goes on. So they…put her back in seventh grade.
This is so preposterous for a couple of reasons. This would never happen in real life. A lot of decision making goes in to deciding to retain a child in a grade or skip them ahead. It’s not just a matter of grades or ability but of social standing. Kids know when one of their classmates repeats a grade, and they are merciless. Now, imagine if they put a kid back a year in the middle of the school year. Claudia manages to make some good friends, but many kids would never survive.
And then of course there is the aspect of the ongoing Time Warp Stoneybrook exists in. I might—might­—buy this plot line if Claudia hadn’t been through eighth grade approximately 7x1025 times. (I’m only exaggerating slightly.)
Interesting Tidbits
The cover: Just two little things. What in the blazes is Claudia eating here? And what’s with that boy right behind Claudia, just to the right? He looks like he’s about to vomit.

Ha! Claudia gets a phone call that starts, “So, what are you wearing?” Unfortunately, it’s not a dirty caller. It’s just Stacey.
Claudia acknowledges the events of #100, saying that everyone is still formally-polite with one another, not quite comfortable. (For those of you who are wondering, as someone does every now and then, what happened to #100 and the other books I’m ‘skipping’…it’s because I’ve already blogged them.)
Claudia says her IQ is just fine. In fact, I’d bet her IQ is actually pretty high. Claudia says she’s been tested for learning disabilities and doesn’t have any. I know a lot of people disagree with that assessment—sometimes, I wonder about it myself—but I stick by my theory that Claudia was dealing with old-school teachers who didn’t present the information in a way that she could relate. If there were more projects in her history class, she might enjoy it more. (Claudia even says she likes science, because there are so many experiments.)
Even Rosa, Claudia’s tutor, points out how smart she is. She’s smart enough that she can skate by in subjects, learn enough just to pass a test, but never really confine any of the information to her brain. I like that Rosa—who takes college classes with Janine—gets Claudia in a way that Janine and Stacey, who are always offering to help her, don’t.
Claudia wears a clip on nose ring, and only Mallory thinks it’s cool. Does anyone else picture Mal someday with thick eyeliner, dark red lipstick, Buddy Holly glasses and a couple piercings herself?
You know that one of the guys in Claudia’s art class—which is by invitation only—because he wears a goatee and beret. I rolled my eyes so hard when I read that that they still hurt.
Abby likes sitting for the Pikes, because there’s so much chaos and movement there. I buy that. (Mal leaves to take another sitting job while Abby and Jordan are in charge at the Pike household, which I still find weird even though I just read the book where the triplets were promoted to ‘official helpers.’ Oh, and Jordan’s idea of ‘helping’ is to tell Nicky his Halloween costume idea was dumb. He eventually agrees to help him make it better, though.)
The B plot in this oh-so-lovely-not-at-all-a-waste-of-my-time book is that Jackie is still in the hospital and he’s bored out of his skull. (Get it? He had a head injury. I figure that pun is about as good as any Abby ever makes, so get over it.) So Kristy came up with the idea to write letters and cards to all the kids in the pediatric ward. This leads to a whole Halloween party in the hospital and what a hospital I used to be affiliated with called ‘Reverse Trick or Treating,’ which is actually Carolyn Arnold’s idea.
I never stopped to think about this when I was a kid, but now that I’m older—and reading these books back to back to back, I really wonder how they decided which kids should be involved in each project. Adam is the one who made the phone calls inviting people over and he called…James Hobart, Shea Rodowsky, and the Arnold twins. I’ll buy the first two, as there are virtually no other ten year old boys in this series that currently live in this town. (The only one I can think of is Sean Addison.)  And while Marilyn is Margo’s friend and Carolyn, Vanessa’s, they’re also girls and probably, in Adam’s point of view, have cooties. It all goes back to my theory that sometimes, the writers would just throw darts at a wall with all the character names on it, and have those kids be involved in the B-plot project.
The BSC throws a welcome-home party for Jackie, and, among other minor disasters, David Michael drops a softball in the punch. The title quote is Mary Anne’s response.
Apparently, Claudia is soooooo cool that all the seventh graders want to be like her. Everyone wants to sit with her; many think her clothes are really cool and copy her; and the boys are all in awe. (She eventually calls the girls who copy her clothes ‘Claudia wannabes.’ If that were a band, I’d so buy their music.) That’s not even close to the experience I had in school with kids who were held back. They were almost universally pariahs, but I suspect that they were marginalized long before they were ever held back.
Claudia is actually happy to be back in seventh grade—because she’s doing so much better, academically—until she learns about the dance. She’d been planning what she would wear and who she would hang out with…and then she learns that the evening dance is just for eighth graders. I can understand this, but it goes back to my second point in the beginning of this entry: this is at least the tenth time Kristy and company have gone through eighth grade, and never once has there been a dance that the younger grades, including Mal and Jessi, haven’t been able to attend.
Heh heh. Claudia’s mom is that mom—the one who hands out raisins or dried apricots to the trick or treaters. Most people know that fact and don’t even come to the Kishis door any more. It’s like Mrs. Kishi knows that if she buys candy, Janine and Claudia will eat half of it before she gives it out.
Costume time! Mary Anne is Little Red Riding Hood, while Kristy is the Big Bad Wolf. Abby is going to be a soccer player and Jessi, a ballet dancer; way to put so much effort into it, girls. Stacey is going to be a flapper, while Mallory wants to be Emily Dickinson. I love the latter idea, but who would recognize her? It’s like the time I dressed up as Laura Bow—which involved looking a little flapper-y—and no one knew who I was at all. “I wanna marry an archeologist…and keep his artifacts warm!”*
HA! Claudia is depressed about not getting to go to the dance, so she doesn’t feel like doing her homework. She imagines that means she’ll get sent back to sixth grade and then some: “Claudia Kishi, Teenaged Kindergartner.”
More costumes: Alan Gray, the guy from The Mask. (There’s a dated reference.) Cokie, Barbie. Ron, the guy who has a crush on Claudia, is dressed as a knight. Claudia also sees kids dressed as Bart Simpson, Spock and a werewolf. Some of the teachers even get into the spirit of getting dressed up. Claudia sees Dracula, the bride of Frankenstein, Einstein and a gypsy.
Kiddy costumes: The triplets are all pirates, while Vanessa is a hippie and Nicky, a mummy. Margo and Claire are Pocahontas and/or Sacajawea. (They were arguing because they, like many other girls in 96, both wanted to be Pocahontas. Abby suggested Sacajawea instead and then they argued over that.) Charlotte and Becca are a doctor and ballerina, Jamie, a robot, and Jenny, a kitten. Laurel Kuhn was a fifties bobby socks and poodle skirt girl, while Patsy is a fairy princess.
Oh, pizza toast. The best way to celebrate? I guess….
So Claudia’s artwork wins first prize, and she learns her art teacher was held back not once but twice and survived. Suddenly she realizes how good her friends are and that this being-sent-back-illogically-to-seventh-grade thing isn’t as bad as she thought.
*No, I’m not marrying an archeologist. But…I did get engaged this Christmas! So I have that going for me…Maybe I should celebrate with a pizza toast?!
Yes, I am wearing a Hufflepuff shirt!
Claudia: tie-dye leggings, black overall shorts, red high tops; black sweatshirt with the collar cut off, black jeans, purple high tops with orange laces; black wool jumper over red turtleneck; moss green Gap jeans, rust cardigan, platform Mary Janes, Pebbles Flintstone ponytail with moss green scrunchie; punk Halloween costume that she never wears: leather jacket, fishnet tights, spandex miniskirt, colored streak in her hair; black jumper with red embroidery, white turtleneck, earrings with red glass beads
Rosa: overalls, Doc Martens, black newsboy cap; overalls, shirt and straw for a scarecrow costume
Stacey: khaki skirt, white blouse

Next: We get to polish off the super mysteries! Hooray!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! Virtual pizza toast! (no meat on your piece)