About David By Susan Beth Pfeffer

He didn’t think there was any other way…

aboutdavid

I have not compiled any statistics, but my general impression is that as YA fiction moved out of the 1970s and into the 80s, the subject matter tended less toward shock value (drugs, cults, weird sex stuff) and more towards internal/identity crises of the protagonists.

Coming in with the dawn of the new decade, Pfeffer manages to take in both of these aspects.

The Plot:  Told in the form of 17 year old Lynn’s diary over the course of four months following the murder-suicide of her oldest friend, David Morris, and his parents, Pfeffer chronicles the fall-out among her classmates as they try to go on with their lives and Lynn desperately searches for answers.

The book opens with Lynn’s arrival home after spending an evening with her BFF, Steffi, to find the neighborhood in chaos as police and the press descend on the house across the street. Lynn learns that her parents were the ones that had called the police when they heard gunshots, and as the Morris family’s lawyer, her father had identified the bodies.

These events are especially devastating to Lynn’s family, who had had Bob and Lorraine Morris as neighbors for almost 15 years and cultivated an almost unhealthy closeness with the family.

More is revealed when the investigating detective pulls Lynn out of class the next day to interview her about her relationship with David:

“Did David know he was adopted?” Donovan asked.

“Yes,” I said, startled by the question. Donovan obviously meant to rattle me. I warned myself to stay on guard, to keep protecting David.

“When did he find out?” he asked.

“He always knew,” I said. “His parents never made a secret out of it.”

“Did you regard yourself as David’s best friend?”

“No.” I said “I was his oldest friend. Jeffrey Green was his best friend.” I wondered briefly how Jeffrey was. I’d hardly thought of him since last night. But of course I never like Jeffrey.

“He and David were very close then?”

“Yes.”

“Were they lovers?”

I stared at Donovan, my mouth wide open. “Go to hell,” I said. Let him arrest me.

Donovan is the first in a long line of Terrible Adults, who have no idea how to handle the situation; when the English teacher Mr. Glick decides to “provide a catharsis” by dwelling on 18th century English poet Thomas Chatterton, who had committed suicide at 17, Jeffrey (who Lynn comments “has never been my idea of an emotionally stable person”) has a breakdown, terrifying the class, which Mr. Glick abandons in search of the school nurse, leaving Lynn’s classmates to try and talk down a hysterically screeching Jeffrey.

Jeffrey is committed to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of the school year, and that’s where the gossip starts, as Steffi reports that even the teachers are gossiping about how the Morris tragedy had something to do with a love triangle between Lynn, Jeffrey and David.

Lynn starts having terrible nightmares, and becomes convinced that David had given her some sort of indication about his plans when they had lunch together the day of the murders, but she has a mental block about the conversation: she can recall every other detail of the day, including a vague sense of disquiet after the lunchtime conversation, but what David had actually said remains terrifyingly blank.

Lynn starts secretly calling her older brother, away at college, at all hours of the night, which helps; but when the month’s phone bill arrives she’s found out and her parents gently coax her into seeing a psychologist.

Initially distrustful, Lynn starts to reveal more about the families’ strange relationship, and David’s anger towards his adoptive parents. The Morrises put constant pressure on David to achieve academically, as well as to pursue more “masculine” activities than the music and photography that he enjoyed. Lynn’s parents tried to mediate, but more often just let David live with them for weeks at time to try and cool things off between him and his parents.

Things had come to a head earlier that year, when David’s parents insist he attend a “wilderness camp” in Montana, instead of signing up for photography classes, and Lynn’s parents refused to take his side.

And her parents are still entangled in the Morrises’ affairs, since as their lawyer, it has fallen upon Lynn’s father to try and straighten out the estate, which is now being fought over by a bunch of squabbling relatives. When her father opens the Morrises’ home safe, he discovers that David had written a will for himself, dated the day of the murders.

David indicates the Jeffrey should get his photography equipment, but he leaves his “notebooks” to Lynn, who after much searching finds them hidden in her own attic, along with years’ worth of tests and papers with sub-par grades.

As Lynn reads through Jeffrey’s journals, chronicling the year leading up to the murders, life starts to get back on track for her classmates, especially after a handsome transfer student shows up in Jeffrey’s old seat in English class and starts paying a lot of attention to Lynn.

Bill Newman is cheerfully oblivious to the events of the previous months, and genuinely (if ham-handedly) tries restore some normalcy to the senior class.

But Lynn still can’t cope, especially after reading to the end of David’s journals and learning the secret he’d been keeping:

Lorraine is pregnant.

The Morrises had been extremely (and in Lynn’s parents’ opinion, inappropriately) open about their years of fertility treatments and quest to have a biological child. David’s motive has become suddenly, terribly, clear to Lynn.

But! Double twist! When she turns over the journals to Det. Donovan, he lets her know that an autopsy had been performed and Lorraine Morris had not been pregnant at the time of her death.

But the revelation does finally trigger Lynn’s memory regarding her last conversation with David: what had left her unsettled was David’s response to Lynn’s innocent inquiry into plans for Lorraine’s upcoming birthday:

“I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”

I even think he deliberately did it two days before Lorraine’s birthday as a kind of present. She was vain about her age; by killing her when he did, he erased a fully year from her obituaries.

Miraculously, the end of the school year arrives, and Lynn even begins to gain some sense of closure, when she receives a letter from Jeffrey, who is doing well and set to graduate from the program at the psychiatric hospital, even being provisionally accepted to Princeton, (“they get to change their mind if I have a psychotic episode between now and September”).

Pfeffer pulls off a balancing act: while David’s parents are awful, they certainly didn’t deserve to get what they got; additionally, David is never too sympathetic himself, leaving the reader wondering if his final confession about Lorraine’s pregnancy was a terrible mistake, or a deliberate manipulation from beyond the grave.

Posted in Vintage YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Up In Seth’s Room By Norma Fox Mazer

How can she convince him to wait until they are both ready?

sethsroom

Norma Mazer (arguably the more famous half of the YA Mazers) output was at its height during the 1970s and 80s, primetime for dealing with sex, drugs, terrible parents and other difficult situations. In comparison to some of her other work, this one is less weird and salacious, although the heroine’s attempts to assert her own personality and preferences wear pretty well 35+ years later.

The Plot: 15 year old Finn Rousseau has been playing peacemaker in her working-class Syracuse, NY family ever since her older sister Maggie moved out to “shack up” with her boyfriend, much to their parents’ disapproval. While they haven’t outright forbidden Finn to see her sister, they both constantly bemoan the fact that Maggie is bringing disgrace upon their family. Continue reading

Posted in Vintage YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wrapping Up The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Carrie By Stephen King

(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the September selection, Stephen King’s Carrie.)

carrie

So, to wrap up the season (only a few weeks past Halloween!), we end with a book so well-known, I hardly feel like it needs a plot summary, having been the subject of innumerable adaptations, homages, parodies and general cultural references in the 40+ years since its publication. Briefly: the late onset of puberty for 16 year old outcast Carrie White coincides with the latest, and most vicious, instance of locker-room bullying, as well as a sudden uptick in her latent telekinetic powers. In the wake of this incident, more malicious teenaged pathology (and a few misplaced good intentions) result in Carrie using her newly discovered powers to burn the place to the ground. Continue reading

Posted in Movies, Non-YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Polly French of Whitford High (#1) By Francine Lewis

Never before in her fourteen lively years had Polly French found herself in a predicament as delicious and ticklish as this one.

Polly French WH

And in the third and final entry in our annual look at Whitman hardcovers, I give you the first volume of four in the Polly French series.  And, constant readers, it’s not good.

The Plot: The perils of these shorter-lived Whitman series is that they tend to fizzle out for a reason: two-dimensional characters, meandering plots, ponderous prose. Polly French has all of these problems in spades.

I don’t even know where to start. There is a stolen circus horse. There are mysterious hobo-tunnels under an abandoned house. There is a student body election that the ENTIRE TOWN seems way too involved in. Continue reading

Posted in Vintage YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Donna Parker In Hollywood (#5) By Marcia Martin

“So this is California!” Donna thought. Pools, studios, celebrities, blue skies! And, for a girl on her first trip west, more excitement, more fun than seemed possible.

donna-parker-hollywood

In our second installment of our 2016 Salute To Whitman Hardcovers, we again pick up with the extremely pleasant Donna Parker series.

Background: When last we left 14 year old Donna and her BFF Ricky West they had over the course of a 6-month period 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; and kept house while Donna’s parents set off on a whirlwind tour of Europe and India and dealt with some pretty heavy issues including dead parents, poverty in the suburbs and snobbery in the other suburbs. More strictly serialized than most contemporary girls’ series, Donna is at last ready to take her long-promised trip to California to visit her formerly long-lost uncle Roger and his wife, Summerfield Junior High’s former Journalism teacher.

The Plot:  The Parker family, Joyce Davenport, and Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul are all absent from this adventure, as Donna finally heads for the west coast for a long-promised visit with her Uncle Roger and Aunt Adele. Ricky West (“called Fredericka only by her mother”) (who you may remember is now tragically dead) makes a cameo appearance on the ride to the airport, having to turn down an invitation to accompany Donna: Continue reading

Posted in Vintage YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Meg: The Treasure Nobody Saw (Meg Duncan #5)

It was a dark, stormy night when Meg Duncan saw the mysterious figure in white entering the Haywood house. Who could it be? 

Meg Treasure Nobody Saw

Background: From the 1950s through the 1970s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hard covers, separately targeting boys and girls. Some of these were based on TV shows, some were based on celebrities having imaginary adventures and solving crimes (Annette Funicello! Patty Duke!), and some were original series about plucky eponymous girl-heroines solving mysteries, having adventures and learning valuable lessons: your Trixie Beldens, Ginny Gordons and Donna Parkers.

While Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series is probably the only one of these that can be considered a certified classic, the others are, generally, satisfyingly solid efforts.

Again this year, we’ll be looking at these series over the next few weeks, starting with tweenage suburban sleuth Meg Duncan.

The Plot: “Holly Beth Walker” is a Whitman “house name” for an unknown number of ghostwriters- while Gladys Baker Bond has been identified as the author of the first book in the series, the other writers are unknown and the books sometimes vary wildly in terms of content and tone.

An unusually feminine and retiring girl-heroine (at least for Whitman), Meg has been left home alone with the Wilsons, her housekeeper and gardener, for the summer. Her widowed father, as usual, jetting around the world on top secret “government business” and her BFF, Kerry Carmody, is away with her family on an epic road trip: Continue reading

Posted in Vintage YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: The Love Boats By Jeraldine Saunders

(Click here for information on the 2016 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature.  This month, the August selection, Jeraldine Saunders’s The Love Boats.) 

loveboats2

I was somewhat reticent to get into another swingin’ travel industry expose, after the jaw-dropping tastelessness of Coffee, Tea or Me?, but those fears proved unfounded, because despite the hype, The Love Boats proved to be much milder than its predecessor.

Despite Jerry Saunders bragging upfront about conning her way through life, first into a top fashion model position for designer Howard Greer and then, boring of that, into a hostess position on an ocean liner, I am fairly confident that she did actually write this book… mainly because the anecdotes are all pretty boring. Continue reading

Posted in Non-YA Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment