This is one of those books where I go into it hoping that it’s not nearly as bad as I expect it’s going to be. Look at the cover for a second. Yes, Tess wasn’t exactly fashionable for 1997, but neither were some of these other kids. And the back cover is so condescending toward Tess: “Why won’t Tess wise up? Doesn’t she want Stacey’s help?”
(Really bad cover copy, sorry.)
Umm, no. I’ve never read this, but I’m pretty sure Tess never walked up to Stacey and said, “Look, the kids are all making fun of me. Can you give me fashion tips?”
I was way more of a Tess than a Stacey in middle school, believe me.
So Tess Swinhart is new at SMS, and Stacey and the other kids think she’s strange. After she accidentally ruins the papier-mâché Stacey and Barbara* were working on and then dumps some papier-mâché on Alan, he nicknames her Swine-heart the Destroyer, because her upturned nose and taste for pink clothing make her look vaguely like a pig. It gets worse and worse until a football game where it all comes to a head. Everyone is voting for a new school mascot, and one of the choices is pig. Someone pastes a picture of Tess over the pig picture, and Stacey doesn’t realize it before she holds it up. People start throwing things at Tess and she falls out of the bleachers, breaking her ankle and spraining her wrist. She then tells Stacey off, because she figured out some time back that Stacey didn’t really like her for her. She does let Stacey help her get back at a boy who was trying to embarrass her, and she ends up good friends with Barbara. And Stacey realizes she was kind of a jerk.
Meanwhile, Jackie and Nicky have been acting odd, with Nicky putting on fake muscles and acting like Jackie’s bodyguard. Eventually, Jackie is able to ‘use his words’ to sort out the disagreement with the three boys, and they’re all friends again. So intellectually stimulating, it hurts.
*Unlike last week, when I couldn’t place Ethan, I remembered Barbara right away. Even if I’d forgotten, she’s introduced as, basically, the girl whose best friend died in the drunk driving accident. (#93)
Right off the bat, when we meet Tess, one of the first things that gets described is her outfit. Stacey hates it, but I thought two things. 1. I love retro clothes, so I drooled at the white blouse with Peter Pan collar. 2. If Claudia had worn it, Stacey would have thought it looked great. (C’mon, you know you were thinking it too!)
Also, Tess is described as ‘five foot nine and big boned’ and I was wondering, who’s that big in eighth grade? Then I remembered that my best friend from school was even taller (she’s now six foot) and had a solid frame like that, so I shut my mouth.
HA! Claudia: “I’m sure some people think I’m strange because of the way I dress.” Truer words have never been written.
Stacey’s English class is studying The Canterbury Tales. I really hope they’re reading the sparky bits!
King shows up in the story, subtly continuing the pig theme by calling Tess Babe. It actually worked, because he acted like he was flirting with her, calling her Babe because he was interested…not because of the then-current pig movie.
Tess wears huge black-framed glasses, so Stacey tries to drop hints to her, suggesting she should get contact lenses. These days, Tess would be so fashionable and hipster! (Oh, and Stacey brings it up by asking Barbara if she knows Mallory, since Mal wants contacts. Barbara thinks that Mal is cute, which goes along with my theory that Mal actually is a lot cuter than she thinks she is…she’s just awkward and not sure of herself.)
Claudia spelling! Defanately, sumthing, bruther, secrut, ajent, mishon, wut, culd. She also uses wright for right.
Ooh, I love when they reference old plot points! “Shannon thinks Shea has a crush on Claudia.” Not only is this a great referral to #63, but Shannon did hang out with them quite a bit (and still does on occasion) so it’s fun to bring in her point of view.
Mrs. Rodowsky got a new cell phone (cellular phone, of course)! Next thing you know, they’ll talk about emailing each other. Wacky! (That’s what Shea keeps calling Jackie, who actually stole his mother’s phone and took it to school with him. These days, I know kids about his age with cell phones….)
“Glasses are easier. Besides, I like them.” Yes! I feel that way about contact lenses, too.
Stacey keeps trying to help Tess…but only behind the scenes. She keeps pushing her to wear makeup, dress more fashionably, and be more social. Yet she doesn’t really want to be her friend; she just sees her as a project. This becomes clear when she doesn’t invite Tess to sit with her and her friends, but I don’t think Stacey even realizes it. When Kristy asks her why she didn’t invite Tess to sit with them, Stacey knows she should have but can’t figure out why she didn’t. This is it, right here. This is exactly why I never read many of the later Stacey books until now. This aspect of Stacey—the condescending idea that she has that because she’s pretty and popular that everyone wants to be like her—is exactly why I hated the Staceys of my high school.
You know it’s bad when even Claudia suggests that Stacey’s not really helping Tess. I wouldn’t say Stacey is as bad as Alan and Cokie, who keep calling Tess names and making comic strips making fun of her, but trying to force someone to fit in to one narrow view of how a middle school girl should be isn’t exactly being nice, either. I was a very square peg at that age, and, like Tess, I didn’t want to change to fit in. I had a couple friends who accepted me for who I was, and that was all I really needed.
Stacey says you can’t feel mascara, but she’s wrong. Tess says it makes her eyes itch and her eyelashes sticky, but Stacey says you can’t feel your eyelashes. Well, I have very long eyelashes and they hit my skin and glasses on a regular basis. If they’re sticky, I know it, and when I first started wearing mascara, I put on too much of it and it was very sticky and clumpy.
By chapter ten, the following people have all questioned Stacey’s motives with Tess: Claudia, Kristy, Mary Anne…and Tess herself. King is still subtly mocking Tess, and even asks her out on a date to a restaurant called Hog Heaven. But since Stacey knows he’s teasing her, she keeps telling Tess not to fall for his crap. Tess thinks Stacey has a thing for King and that’s why she’s so set on Tess not talking to him. Honestly, if Stacey really wanted to help Tess, instead of trying to make her conform, she should have told her, “I don’t want to be rude, but I’d want to know if it were me…” and then tell Tess that everyone’s making pig jokes about her (based upon her looks, last name and love of the color pink), and tell Tess she thinks King’s part of it. Stacey just keeps deflecting Tess from the jokes instead of explaining them.
It gets even worse when, during the football game, Stacey catches Tess sitting and reading a magazine while everyone else is cheering. She decides Tess is pigheaded (and then gets mad at herself for it) but then says the following: I sighed. Maybe this was all my fault. If I’d sat with her at least I could have taken the magazine away and made her stand up and cheer. I had my work cut out for me. Aaaaaand this is where I want to bitch slap Stacey.
Stacey is the one holding up the pictures of the mascot choices, so a lot of people think she and Barbara—who was reading the choices out loud—are responsible for the Tess picture. Stacey didn’t know it was there until she held it up, and as soon as she realized, she dropped it so no one else could see it, but she still feels guilty about it. She assumes Barbara does as well, but Barbara says she feels terrible for Tess but has nothing to feel guilty about. I liked that because it’s true. Barbara didn’t take that picture and paste it on the poster; she didn’t know it was there. She’s actually been nice to Tess and never tried to make her conform, which makes her a nice contrast to Stacey.
The title quote is what Tess says when Stacey tries to find out why Tess is mad at her. She says she doesn’t need Stacey’s pity, because she’s happy the way she is. Go, Tess, go!
Stacey discovers that Tess’s fashion tastes are what is currently trendy in Paris, where Tess lived until recently, and suddenly she feels a little differently about Tess. Once again, that’s what bothers me about Stacey. If, as Tess said, she’d ever just had a real conversation with her, she might have found out they liked each other and they could have actually been friends. The whole thing is totally Stacey’s fault, and it takes her a while to acknowledge that.
This could have been way worse. If Tess had had less self-esteem, she might have not stood up for herself, and this might have ended very badly.
Tess: short pink cardigan, white blouse with lace trimmed Peter Pan collar, brown corduroys, black boots; hot pink sweat suit with lace trim; pink, red and yellow plaid polyester pantsuit; baggy pink overalls, satin shirt with pink and green daisies, pink barrette; blue jeans, blue sweatshirt; pink corduroys and pink nubby sweater; pink blouse with puffy sleeves, short black skirt
Next: Mystery #31