Tuesday, August 11, 2009

P.S. Longer Letter Later


I've had this written for a while but never got around to posting it. Since it was requested, I decided to finally proofread it and post.

This book was jointly written by Ann M. Martin and Paula Danziger in letter form. It's about two seventh graders who were best friends until one moved away. Now they're sending each other letters and we get a sneak peek. The authors wrote it by writing each other letters as their characters. Ann M. was Elizabeth, an upper middle class girl who makes Mary Anne Spier look like Paris Hilton. Paula was Tara*Starr, a fun loving girl with a wild streak who makes Paris Hilton look like Paris from Gilmore Girls. (Okay, she's not that bad.) Overall, compared to Ann M.'s usual BSC fare, it's great. For Paula Danziger, it's pretty lousy. Anyway, the book is basically these two old biddies sniping passive aggressively at each other in teen girl form.

It starts when Tara*Starr moves away. Tara's parents, whom she calls Luke and Barb, had her when Barb got preggers at 17. They're generally wacky, inexperienced, BoHo types. (So they get points for not naming her Tripp. Tripp*Starr? Trippster?) Apparently Tara pretty much raised herself--but hey, she gets to call her parents by their first name, so it's all good. They're getting their act together now and have a lot more money than they used to and are settling down in their new town. Elizabeth's family, however, is disintegrating. Elizabeth's dad loses his half a million dollar job for doing something skeevey that isn't mentioned (Mr. Madoff? is that you?) and then starts drinking and spending more time ordering off QVC than Big Love's Nicki Grant.

Tara's problems mainly revolve around her getting a little more rebellious. Also, her parents decide to have a new baby and she freaks out over that (see? this is what normal middle school girls do!) until her parents reassure her that everything's going to be okay.

Finally, Elizabeth's parents decide to downsize to a new apartment. Elizabeth moves there with her four year old sister Emma, and her mother, but her dad runs out on the family just before they move. Elizabeth also starts running the poetry magazine and makes two new friends who also live in the area in equally poor digs and love poetry, named Howie and Susie.
  • You can tell Elizabeth is an Ann M. creation. In her very first letter she includes a detail about a girl, Karen Frank, who goes to their school and every first day of school, she vomits in the water fountain. (Ann M. Martin is the only author I know who thinks that being easily nauseated is a character trait. See also Margo Pike.) And everyone at school is busy speculating whether or not a girl named Joelle got a nose job. (See also Cokie Mason.) Damnit, Ann, I thought you were supposed to be boring and wholesome--thirteen year old girls getting nose jobs is really more Gossip Girl meets Dr. 90210, isn't it?
  • Elizabeth thinks that Elizabeth Bennett doesn't sound all that interesting an idea for a costume (Tara's thinking of going as her for a Halloween party). Well, Lizzie Bennett is opinionated, witty, stands up for what she believes in, and gives men what for if they get saucy with her. Yeah, I can't see Elizabeth liking her. Characters Elizabeth probably likes: Beth March, Snow White, Mrs. Tiggie-Winkle. Hey, she says she's loving The Yearling. You know, the book that manages to make baby deer seem dull.
  • Gigundoly huge mistake. Tara talks about what she and Liz wore their first day of school for the past four years. (What, do you guys have meetings and take minutes the night before every school year begins?) She mentions Elizabeth borrowing her mother's pearl earrings for one first day (and at Christmas, Liz's father gives her a pair of pearl earrings). But in a later letter, Tara mentions getting hers pierced again and suggests that Elizabeth get her ears single pierced. Liz says no, that she's not ready. This glaring error shocks the hell out of me considering what an earring fetishist Ann M. is. (Speaking of earrings, I think I waited so long to wear earrings because after reading so many BSC books, I assumed that all earrings had to be things like llamas made from real llama fur or suns wearing sunglasses or dogs hula dancing.)
  • At one point, Tara says she's really glad to have Elizabeth as one of her best friends. Elizabeth writes back, You have friends besides me?! I come home from school and stare at the mailbox until I receive a letter from you, even if the mailman's already come for the day. I'll just be in my room crying while you hang out with all your new, fun friends. Okay, not really, but it's pretty creepy. Here's what she really says: "Do you know that in your letter you called me one of your best friends in the entire world? One of your best friends. ONE of them. [ed note: love the caps locks. Caps locks--when italics just aren't enough.] I thought I was your only best friend. You are my only best friend. So who are all these other best friends you have?" Cut the umbilical, Liz! (By the way, this was HAD to be a veiled insult referring to the time Ann M. found out that Paula was also friends with Judy Blume and E.L. Koninsburg.)
  • Elizabeth whines, "You hurt my feelings. You really did. But I can't concentrate on that for too long because of all the other stuff." Burn.
  • Tara says she feels awful that Elizabeth's dad is an alcoholic, that her mother is AWOL, and that Elizabeth is in an emotional war zone. Liz is a bit peeved: "Dad just has a little drinking problem now, that's all." Denial isn't just a club in McMaynerberry!
  • Tara gets worried and calls up Elizabeth to see how she's coping with all the changes. Elizabeth's father picks up and yells at her and then hangs up. Tara starts crying and Barb calls back and tells Liz's dad off. Go Barb! Now call up Bernie Madoff and scream at him. You know you want to. Though to be honest, I can commiserate with Mr...uh, Elizabeth's dad. (Ann M., you forgot to give your character a surname. No more macrame-ing toy giraffes for your godchildren until you learn to proofread!) I spent the whole book wanting to take the piss out of Tara as well.
  • Tara and Elizabeth compare notes about their New Year's Eve happenings. Tara goes to some party and gets kissed by a guy with braces, and his braces brush against her lip. Ew, ew, ew, do not need to hear about twelve year olds "getting it on"! Liz's doings are more Ann M-ish. She and Emma stay home while the 'rents go out. Emma falls asleep at 9:30 and Elizabeth reads and then works on some cross-stitching. (I wanna party with you so bad, Ann M. Actually that's a bit risque for Ann. On New Year's Eve, I bet she has dinner, feeds the animals, takes the dog on a walk, answers fan mail, crochets, has a glass of sparkling apple juice and then stays up till 10:00 because it's a special occasion.) Anyway, after a thrilling hour of cross-stitching, Elizabeth goes through her parents' things and finds out they're in debt so bad that if Suzie Orman were here, her dad would be hog tied, handcuffed and summarily whipped (and no, not in the manner to which Elizabeth's mom has him accustomed to enjoying).
  • Tara tells Elizabeth that her parents are thinking of having a baby. She asked Barb if they were going to have one, but Barb just said not yet, "but they are 'continuing to practice' so that they don't forget how babies are made." Risque, Paula! I approve. Ann M. (er, Elizabeth) responds: "Tell Barb and Luke to stop practicing and start planning!" Uh...Ann M., in that context practicing=sex, so they can't really stop. Either Ann M. is militantly asexual (that would explain the virtual cornstarch she keeps sending her friends as a FaceBook gift--it's real good for keepin' down the urges!) or that joke just went way over her head. But either way we all need to send her how babby is formed, how girl get pragnant.
  • Though Ann M.'s hatred of all things sex-related does make me think that maybe this is why no BSC characters ever menstruated. They just don't do it. Or perhaps it's because she knows that other, more talented writers, already wrote the book on menstruation (and it was called Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret) and she needs to step down and write the book on thirteen year olds who love to crochet baby booties.
More insults:
  • From Liz: "Look up 'sympathy' in the dictionary. One of the definitions is 'the ability to enter into another person's mental state...' Why can't you do that...I'm trying to remember if you've always been unsympathetic and judgmental or if this is something new.'" Not bad. The bitterness is strong in this one. If I ever get roasted by the Friars' Club, can Liz be roastmaster? It beats variations on "Sadako's vagina so big, things often get trapped in it."
  • Tara mentions that she feels bad that the things she complains about aren't as serious as Elizabeth's problems. Tara's worst issue is breaking up with her short term boyfriend while Liz's problems include hiding behind couches when creditors come a courtin'. Elizabeth shoots back with, "I never said we hide behind couches...I just said we hide. But you make stuff up, Tara, and then you try to build a case on it." Man, Liz, you don't let Tara get away with anything! Where were you when Cochran and the Dream Team were bee bopping and scatting all over Marcia Clark's career with the Chewbacca defense?
  • From Tara: "I don't need you as a friend. I have lots of friends here...I was a better friend that you know. I've always supported you -- when everyone talked about how shy and quiet you are, and some people even thought you were 'snobby' because you hardly ever talk to anyone." Well, replace "snobby" with "bookish, introverted, sexless, cat-loving shut in" and I'm on board.
  • Incidentally, Elizabeth is following suit in the Cult of Baby. (I TOLD you she was an Ann M. creation.) She writes a letter to Barb and Luke congratulating them on the baby: "A baby! A brand new baby! [ed's note: No, Elizabeth, a used, 50% discounted one.] You could name her Mary. It's plain, but it's one of my favorites. [ed's note: YOU like plain things?! Get out! Do you like plain vanilla ice cream, too?] Or what about Emily, Allison, Paige, Grace, or Anna?" Ugh. I like Tara's suggestions better. (Barb says that Tara suggested IT or DemonSeed.) I take it back, Tara, you're all right.
In total, this book was fun back in the day, but even more fun in the light of snark. There was also a sequel called Snail Mail No More where the girls discover e-mail and instant messages. Fun times. I can't wait for the drama of Tara*Starr deciding to block Elizabeth on AIM and then Liz creating a second IM handle to check up on her and then freaking out and writing a thousand "I WILL NOT BE IGNORED, TARA" posts on Tara's Facebook wall. The Internet is for stalking, lalalala! Plus, don't you want to speculate how tacky the color scheme of Tara's MySpace page is, and which lolcats are Elizabeth's favorite?