Saturday, February 27, 2010

Blue Willow by Doris Gates

I said it would be next and damnit, I keep my promises (sometimes). So here it is, my post on Blue Willow. Now, as a young 'un, I really liked this book. I wish I knew why. Someone obviously thought it was good literature; it's a Newbery Honor book. I read this thing pretty recently and did not particularly enjoy it, and will therefore not be reading it again before posting this. Skimming, maybe. On with the book!

Like the last book I wrote about, Blue Willow is about migrant workers. In this case, the main characters are workers themselves and the book follows their lives. We have Janey Larkin who lives with her Larkin parents. They live the migrant life, moving around constantly. Unlike most of the migrants, they never live in camps, preferring to fend for themselves wherever they can. At the beginning of the book, they're just settling down for what'll be a long stretch in an abandoned shack. Which would be well and good if it weren't for Bounce Reyburn (really his name) who, supposedly acting on behalf of the shack's owner, comes by to collect rent. Which they give him.

The other important characters include Lupe Romero and her family; they live across the street (I think?). They're Mexican and therefore Spanish speaking like practically every other migrant worker I've heard of in literature. Lupe and Janey become best friends.

Just a few plot points: Janey's father enters a cotton picking contest with the help of Lupe's father. They win and I think the prize is $1,000 which is a lot of money. Good for them.

Janey gets to go to school for awhile, but it's the camp school, not the real school where people who actually live around there go. Oh, um, I think "there" is California but don't quote me on that.

The really important thing I forgot to mention is the willow plate which, really, gives the book its name. The willow plate belonged to some ancestor of Janey's (though not of her parents because she's adopted. They kind of make a big deal about this but it doesn't really change anything plot wise). Anyway, the plate is one of those willow plates, you know the type, with a bridge and a house and stuff. Lupe's not too impressed by the plate and I think I'm not either, though it's Janey's most valuable (or valued) possession.

In fact, Janey tries to give the plate to a doctor so he'll save her sick mother. Turns out he doesn't want the plate. Later on, when the Larkins can't pay the rent, Janey offers the plate as rent instead. Old Bounce takes it and Janey cries. Not really. This should be the last month's rent as the Larkins are planning on leaving as soon as Mrs. Larkin is totally healthy.

God, this is getting long. Janey decides she has to see the plate one last time. She finds her way to the shack's owner's house. I think his name is Mr. Anderson and he's a nice guy. When Janey asks to see the plate, he has no idea what she's talking about. As any idiot might have guessed, Bounce was collecting the money for himself and kind Mr. Anderson never would have made poor people pay for the falling-down shack. As a result, Bounce gets fired and Mr. Larkin gets hired. Eventually, a real house is built for the family with the willow plate on display. Just as Janey wants, the Larkins get to stay there forever and ever. Amen.

Any points worth mentioning? I was totally thinking about going with the sarcasms but then I might actually have to read this thing. Okay, I might have a few.

  • When Bounce first comes to collect the rent, Mr. Larkin insists on receipts. Good for him. When he has to sign his name, Bounce says he'll put his John Henry on it. Because John Henry has so much to do with signatures.
  • Janey goes to the fair with the Romeros. While there she spends almost the whole time in the ubiquitous library booth. I'd laugh at her but I'd probably do the same thing.
  • Janey and Lupe get to be in some big May Day festival with poles and all. They dance barefoot and have a grand old time.
  • Before the May dance and stuff, there's a bunch of patriotic-ish stuff. America is great, the flag is great, it stands for freedom, though really, only grownups know what the flag really stands for.
  • In the "score one for feminism category" (which I may make a regular thing), we have this gem, "Janey had learned during her strange life that there are times when only men are important, when even grown-up women don't matter at all." At least this thing was written in 1940. Still, looks like Janey's got a nice future to look forward to.

Okay, that's it. I've had it with this book. I may do some Sweet Valley High next, for something a little different.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Just Party Girls by Jeanne Betancourt

Starting things off with a short post about a book I didn't hate. Not Just Party Girls is the story of three teenage girls who have their own business planning birthday parties for little kids. And the party girls are:

Anne: who's rich and kind of spoiled but a definite do-gooder.
Kate: whose parents are divorced. And that's it. She and Anne have been best friends forever.
Janet: whose father lost his job and turned into an alcoholic.

They're soon joined by Peter, a hot guy who likes to make videos. Of the parties. Oh yeah, Peter likes Anne. At one time, this would've thrilled her but it turns out Anne kinda wants to be a nun.

Anyway, the focus of the book is mostly on Anne. She spends some time volunteering in a camp-thing for migrant workers, sees how horrible their lives are, and decides she wants to devote her life to making their lives better. By becoming a nun. In the process, she totally ignores her friends and their problems. Because life only sucks for really poor people. Yeah, I'm sounding extremely insensitive to the plight of the poor migrant workers. Oh, well.

The Party Girls (that's the name of their business, see) make a lot of money considering they're juniors in high school. However, Anne totally loses interest and decides she wants to quit. After all, work is only worthwhile if it helps other people. And not just your friends who need help. They have to be really poor, otherwise it doesn't count.

Other plots: Janet's been stealing company money to help her parents pay the mortgage. She's afraid to tell the others about her home situation and her family's dire financial straits. Considering Anne would probably snottily tell her how good she has it over the migrant workers, maybe that's a good thing.

Kate's father walked out on her family, got remarried (after cheating on his first wife with wife number two), and had a baby. Kate hates visiting him but does it anyway and actually kind of bonds with her baby half sister (emphasis on half is totally Kate's).

Okay, this is getting much longer than I anticipated. However, I can't leave this out: Anne volunteers at the migrant camp over Memorial Day weekend (totally abandoning Kate in the process since Anne had promised to go along to Kate's father's house). While there, Anne gets the brilliant idea for her and Peter to film a sort of expose (how do you do accents?) about the conditions faced by the migrant workers and the evil evil farmers. When a boy loses a hand, the shit hits the fan because Peter caught the whole thing on tape. Anne didn't know or care that the nuns who try to help the migrants are really careful about their relationships with the farmers and the tape and hand-loss situation looks reaaaally bad.

Anyway, all this crazy action leads to Anne deciding maybe she doesn't want to be a nun. She still does, however, want to dedicate her summer and probably her life to volunteering. Whatever. And that's where the book ends. Finally.

A few quick points:
  • While I get that Anne wants to make a difference, she's an idiot for thinking her only option is as a nun helping migrant workers. I didn't think she was a sympathetic character at all.
  • For the final birthday party of the book, Peter got them the job but didn't bother to get any details. The party was for a 10 year old named Leslie. The girls planned a great makeover party with a beautiful cake that would be perfect for a 10 year old girl. Too bad Leslie's a boy.
  • It's a little too convenient for the Party Girls that their families each have something to offer the business. Anne's house is great for parties, Kate's mother owns a store and is willing to give the girls a discount for party favors, and Janet's mom is an incredible baker.
  • Speaking of Janet's mother, there's sort of a hint that she should start her own catering business. By the end of the book, it seems like she might actually do it. She won't give up dealing with her obnoxious, alcoholic husband, though. I'm not suggesting she leave or anything, just that maybe she shouldn't be such a doormat. But if it makes her happy... (Sorry for being insensitive!)
  • Anne's parents are ridiculous. They're rich, they totally spoil Anne, and they constantly talk about money. It seems like their worst fear is that Anne'll actually follow through with a vow of poverty.
  • The book takes place in a part of New York I know fairly well. I did a little internet research and actually learned a little about the migrant worker situation that really does exist there and I knew nothing about. Not that that's surprising.
  • Jeanne Betancourt wrote the Baby-Sitter's Club TV show! Which is totally awesome.

Giveaway: I guess, if anyone wants it. It's on the as-yet-to-be-made list.

I may write about an old favorite Blue Willow next. Or soon, anyway. It's about migrant workers.


I recently purchased two very large boxes full of children's and YA books. I love reading books intended for people half my age: whenever I hit a used bookstore--which is often--I always head to the kid section first. When I saw these two large boxes that no one else wanted, I knew I had to buy them.

Looking through the books, I found quite a few titles I had read, many that I recognized, some familiar authors, and what looked like a whole lot of crap. Turns out I was totally right about the crap. However, since I bought 'em, I'm gonna read 'em. And blog about them. I'll also be throwing in a few favorites and maybe some least favorites from my previous collection along the way.

For many of these books, I'm guessing one read will probably be enough. With that in mind, I'll be giving some of the books away. Now, I know there may not be a huge market for crappy YA books, even in Internetland. But who knows? Please read, please comment, and please take some of these books off my hands. Uh, details on that to follow, sometime after I've worked them out. Suggestions are encouraged.

Coming soon: a full list of the books, hopefully.