“Senior high!” she whispered. “Can you really believe it? We’ll actually be in tenth grade, going to Summerfield Senior High School!”
Back to school! Let’s double down with a
good attitude cautionary tale wacky scheme inspirational message epic wish-fulfillment fantasy slightly anachronistic feminist career romance Eh, whatever, let’s just do another Lois Duncan kick off to Whitman Month 2018!
Background: When last we left 14 year old Donna she had, over the course of a a year, restored the faith in humanity of a disposed French count(and earned an electric sewing machine for doing so!); won a scholastic journalism award and thwarted a group of communist spies; kept house while Donna’s parents set off on a whirlwind tour of Europe and India and dealt with some pretty heavy issues at home, then rushed off for a long-promised trip to mid-century California, land of palm trees and “voice culture” lessons, and squeezed in a summer job as a dramatics counselor.
The Plot: It’s actually not quite back to school time for the Summerfield gang, as it is noted without further explanation that “school is starting late this year”, so the Parkers have time to squeeze in a quick trip Quebec before school starts.
Ricky is along for the ride, having returned from her trip to Europe, the consolation prize for having a tragically dead mother. The Parkers are going to pay a visit on the Stackhouse family, whose matriarch is the daughter of one of Mrs. Parker’s mother’s school chums (which actually seems unnecessarily confusing). Ricky is mostly excited about the prospect of Jeff, the Stackhouses’ teenage son.
After a late arrival (due to lack of hotel vacancies in Vermont), Donna and Ricky barely get a glimpse of him, and Ricky is kinda harsh in her assessment:
“Did you see that boy- what’s his name?” Ricky pointed to the lower floor as she prepared to climb into bed. “He doesn’t look so bad at a distance, even though he’s sort of all arms and legs. But up close, you couldn’t call him handsome.”
After a breezy travelogue of Quebec City, the Stackhouses make their big announcement: Mr. Stackhouse has accepted a position at a company in New York City, and they will be looking to buy a house in suburban Summerfield! Only Jeff is slightly reticent about the move, which is still a few months away, meaning he will be starting at a new school in the middle of the term. But wait!
“I know!” Donna clapped her hands. Her eyes sparkled. “Why doesn’t Jeff come home with us? Then he could go to Summerfield High School when we go.”
Improbably, the parents agree to this and the Parkers will be heading back to Summerfield with a new surrogate son. Even Ricky manages to muster up some enthusiasm:
“After you see how nice Jeff is, you forget that he isn’t especially handsome.”
Donna gets the idea to throw a welcome party for Jeff before school starts, so he’ll know the whole gang, including Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul, who is back in the series at last.
Once again, Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul has A Problem, that only Donna can help him with:
“I have an awfully big decision to make,” Paul began. “You’ve given me good advice before, Donna, so I thought maybe you could now, too.”
Good heavens! Did Paul want to leave school again? Donna wondered.
No, his father has been offered a better job in Manhattan, which would require the family to relocate, and for Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul to change schools, and for some reason his family has placed this decision upon their son’s narrow shoulders.
When he says that he’ll be going to a private school, Donna comes through with the needed advice:
“Maybe you could write to some of the schools for their catalogs, and see if there’s any special one that appeals to you.”
Paul nodded. “That catalog thing is a good idea, Donna. I knew you’d help.”
Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul, how are you going to survive without Donna telling you what to do?
In gratitude he tells Donna, who has worked for the school newspaper and won a scholastic journalism award, that he’ll recommend her to his boss for a part time job on the local paper…
Oh, wait, no he doesn’t. He tells her that he’ll recommend Jeff for the job. Because Jeff is a random dude from Canada, but at least he’s not a girl. Sheesh.
Unfortunately, Donna’s little talk with Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul derails her plan to turn in her application for the cheerleading team on time, so she sends hers with Ricky, who promptly forgets to hand it in. Adding insult to injury, Ricky, who was never particularly interested in cheerleading, makes the team.
Instead Donna joins the Program Committee, which sounds like it is about coming up with fun programming for the students, but actually literally is just about printing and distributing programs for the school’s football games.
The Program Committee does launch Donna into the orbit of Janie Ingersoll, a popular Senior who is dating Rudy Hinkle, the school’s star quarterback. Janie quickly takes Donna into her confidence, telling her all about how her parents don’t approve of her relationship with Rudy:
Donna felt uncomfortable. She hardly knew Janie. Why should the girl be talking to her like this?
You know, one of the things I love about this series is that the author doesn’t shy away from making Donna sometimes puritanical and emotionally constipated: WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME YOUR BIZZNIZZ WE JUST MET.
Donna is also moping over her “fight” with Ricky about the cheerleading application, but Ricky remains cheerfully oblivious to the fact that they are having a fight, inviting Donna over for a slumber party and ignoring her sick burns:
She searched blindly for an excuse, “I don’t think we have any extra pillows or things for me to take.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that! We’ve got plenty here. Will two pillows be enough?”
So, going on in the background of all of this is the fact that Summerfield is having a Social Problem, because the high school students are throwing rowdy “open house” parties after every football game. I knew that throwing napkins was the first step on the road to delinquency! Marlon Brando and his motorcycle gang will be rolling into town any minute.
After a particularly boisterous party is crashed by football rivals from Snug Hollow, Donna and Jeff decide to solve all of the town’s problems by opening a Teen Center. Jeff explains that they had one in Quebec, in a mansion that was donated by a millionaire hermit. Does Summerfield have any of those lying around? No?
Luckily, Donna’s old friend from the Junior High newspaper, Joyce Davenport, and her parents are on the same page, and invite Donna and Jeff to speak on behalf of the students at a town meeting. Since they are baby boomers, the town parents are more than amenable to giving them whatever they want, which in this case is a tax hike to pay for the teen center.
But what can they do until they ballot measure is passed? Election day is weeks away! Luckily the solution rolls up to Donna’s house in a limousine one night: out steps Janie Ingersoll’s rich parents, who want to talk to Donna about their concerns about their daughter. Ha ha Donna, no escaping from other people telling you all their private family secrets!
And since this midcentury suburban New York, there is always a supply of country manors with gatehouses just going to waste: the Ingersolls volunteer to donate theirs to Summerfield’s teens to keep them out of trouble.
Donna also makes the acquaintance of Rudy Hinkle’s mother, who comes to sew new slipcovers for the Parker’s living room set. Even Mrs. Parker seems tired of listening to Mrs. Hinkle yakking about her family business, so she pawns her off on Donna, who learns how hard Rudy studies every night so he can stay on the football team after flunking several classes last year.
Donna and Jeff organize several fundraisers for the teen center, including a rummage sale that we only hear about after a fact and a brunch for the entire school that Donna volunteers her mother to cook for:
“Why, Donna!” Mrs. Parker sounded shocked. “Breakfast for almost a thousand people? How could we possibly?”
“It won’t be bad, Mrs. Parker,” Jeff said. “Donna suggested dividing it up by classes, the way we do at school. That means only about three hundred at a time.”
“Three hundred!” Mrs. Parker sank down into a kitchen chair. “Good heavens, it takes me half an hour to get breakfast ready just for the five of us!”
I wouldn’t blame Mrs. Parker one bit if she ran off and joined a commune one of these days.
What else happens? Rudy gets kicked off the football team for failing grades, and it turns out he’s not studying after school, he’s sleeping. It seems that he and Janie will learn zero lessons from this experience:
“How could they keep me out? I’m the star player. They wouldn’t even have a team without me. English- English- don’t I talk good enough for them?” Then, exhausted by the effort of his speech, he sank back in the chair and closed his eyes.
Janie turned to Donna. “You’d better go, kids. I’ll stay and talk to Rudy.”
“Nuthin’ you can say,” Donna heard Rudy mumble.
Another member of the Program Committee gives Donna the scoop:
Carol leaned forward. “I live right across the street from the Hinkles. I think it’s a crying shame, the way that boys acts. He’s lazy and terribly spoiled, and not even bright, and- well, I just don’t know what Janie sees in him!”
“But his father-“
“His father isn’t allowed to say a word,” Carol answered. Mamma’s baby boy mustn’t be scolded, because his precious little feelings might get hurt.”
And after all that, we don’t even learn the outcome of the Big Game! Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul shows up from his fancy private school, everyone sings the school song and Donna realizes she’s just a week away from her fifteenth birthday. The end!
This is the final volume in the Donna Parker series, and I am sad to see her and the rest of the gang go.
Sign It Was Written In 1964 Department:
“Cross my heart and hope to become radioactive!”
Nominal Mystery Department: While the series drifted away from having “mysteries”, in this one a number of the Parker’s household items go missing, including the mini fridge that Mr. Parker got to keep “cold drinks and snacks” for his office. It turns out that Donna’s little brother Jimmy took them for the clubhouse he built. End of mystery.
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