This Place Has No Atmosphere By Paula Danziger

In the year 2057, zits and cliques are still around, but people live in malls, take classes in ESP, and get detention from robots!

Paula Danziger is best remembered for The Cat Ate My Gym Suit, a bright and funny book about serious issues typical of the 1970s (terrible dads, fatness, inspiring teachers who insist upon being addressed as “Ms.”), so I was surprised by both how lightweight the premise of this one was and the fact I had never heard of it.

The Plot: It’s a one-joke premise: Valley Girl on the moon.

Fifteen year old Aurora Borealis Williams is a sophomore at Alan Shepard High, and a member of the most popular clique on campus, the Turnips, so-called because they “turn up” at all the most happening places. Her parents are dentists who work for the government and she has a bratty younger sister named Starr. So, when her parents announce that the whole family will be moving to the moon as pioneers in the new space colony, Aurora thinks that it’s, like, totally unfair!

There is not too much to this one. Aurora and her family complete  moon-pioneer training camp, and then she has to adjust to being one of the 500 colonists under the glass dome of Luna City, and then convinces the city council to let her mount a production of Our Town with her classmates, and maybe learns some valuable lessons about not being so mean to people who are not pretty or popular.

So, what is life like in 2057? Well, it’s a lot like 1986 only moreso. Danziger gives us a vision of the future with moon colonies and civilian space travel…

When they wanted me to take computer lessons, I did. After I learned, I used my new skills to break into fifteen bulletin boards to leave the message “Aurora loves Albie.” I thought it would impress Albie. He said it made him want to puke.

…But we’re still dialing in to BBSs and saving data on floppy disks, so the future is kind of a mixed bag.

It is instructive in what moral panics were going around in the mid-80s: Aurora’s parents long for the days of individually owned homes, farms that “grew their own food” and wary of overcrowding at The Monolith, the mega-mall where Aurora is content to spend her days (and over-spend her allowance), playing Pac-Family at the arcade and seeing Rocky 415 at the mega-megaplex:

We’re on the fifteenth floor, the one where most of the junior and senior high kids hang out. There are one hundred and forty-four floors at the Monolith.

The top twenty are for recreation and are taken care of by the government. They are there to make up for the loss of public land that was sold to private developers by politicians years ago. The space is really great. There are swimming pools, roller- and ice-skating rinks, hiking trails, a zoo, a bird sanctuary. My parents say it used to be better when the wilderness was outside the malls, but how should I know?

(Moral Mall Panic was a real thing, and I especially recommend checking out Charles Kuralt’s 1982 report on the subject, which the passing years have turned from Dawn of the Dead dystopian warning to rose-colored, wood-paneled nostalgia piece)

Remember what I said about 2057 being 1986, but moreso? Let’s check out what the young people will be listening to 39 years from now:

“Let’s go to Vid-Sound,” I suggest, to get her mind on something else. “They have Rita Retrograde’s newest holograph, ‘Robot Love.’”

Entering the booth, we put the token in and watch as Rita holographically appears in the booth with us as the music plays around us. A robot image appears also, doing the latest dance, the vertebration-automation. It’s the ultimate.

There are two viddisks that I really crave. “The Quarks in Concert at the Astrodome” is one. It’s this group of really cute guys who play a combination of synthesizers and petri dishes. The other is by the Jackson 127, descendants of a group once called the Jackson Five.

GUYS! We need to hurry if we’re going to make 408 more Rocky sequels and spawn 122 more Jackson brothers in the next 40 years! Yes, I am counting Randy!

More:

Some other kids from school are also looking in the window.

One is Brandonetta Simmons, who is wearing Walkperson earrings, tuned to a frequency that only she can hear.

Danziger tries to milk as much humor as she can from people’s future-names, which are either really future-y (Cosmosa) or poke fun at trendy 80’s names (Brandonetta, Joandrew, Grandma Jennifer, who was born “in the late 1980s”)

Danziger also uses far more puns than I have seen in any other book. One of the other families on the space shuttle has four year old quadruplets, thanks to fertility treatments:

Mrs. Mendez says “Little did I know that fertility drugs would turn into ‘fourtility.’”

“Some days it feels like futility” says Mr. Mendez.

On their first morning in the domed Luna City, the quads start throwing breakfast biscuits at each other, so Aurora’s father can comment “People who live in glass bubbles shouldn’t throw scones.”

While her parents have committed to stay with the project for five years, Aurora tries everything to get out of being a moon-colonist, mainly because the floppy disks the Turnips send her with “vid-letters” seem to indicate that life is going on without her, and her boyfriend has started spending time with an annoying new girl named Tapioca (????) Finally, her parents agree that at the end of the school year she can decide if she wants to stay or return to earth and live with Grandma Jennifer and Grandpa Josh.

The plot comes to a rapid conclusion as Aurora’s production of Our Town is a big hit, despite losing the role of Emily to a rival and having to perform with a pair of twins named Vern and Julie Verne, who she has dubbed the Barfburgers, a turn of phrase that I hadn’t heard in about 30 years (and one that Danziger uses so frequently that I hope not to for at least another 30). She also acquires a new boyfriend in studly Moon High senior Hal, who I am really hoping turns out to be an antagonistic computer. But alas, we never find out, because the book ends with Aurora choosing to stay. So, totally tubular for everyone.

Truly, Truly Outrageous Department:

She’s changed into this great outfit, a pink and gray fluorescent minitoga. On her ears she has her flickering-light earrings.

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Amy Moves In By Marilyn Sachs

“They’re laughing at me, those stupid girls. I hate them!” Amy decides.

I often point out how a good YA historical never fails to address the disease and death that lurk around every corner in the 19th century… but even books set in the 20th can tend to be unsentimental, taking a casual attitude towards physical violence and emotional cruelty. Lurking behind the innocuous cover (a Scholastic reissue) is another tale from Marilyn Sachs, about a childhood where everyone’s just looking for a fight.

The Plot: At least that was my takeaway, again. Sachs is the author of a number of interconnected novels set in a pre-Robert Moses South Bronx, including Veronica Ganz, in which a 13-year-old bad seed overcomes her psychopathic impulses to become a proper young lady (ok, a slight exaggeration). Continue reading

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Dawn Of Love #2: Wild Prairie Sky By Cheri Michaels

How could she fall in love… with a young man as wild as a mountain lion and as free as the prairie wind?

I’m a big fan of Scholastic’s Sunfire series- in which orphaned teenage girls have to choose between two suitors while dealing with historical disasters and occasionally-anachronistic feminist ideals, so I was all-in on this rival series from Archway/Pocketbooks, featuring some of the largest hoop skirts ever imagined on its covers.

And although I did not like this one as much as most of the Sunfires I’ve read, it still has a lot to recommend it.

The Plot: The reader joins the plot in progress, as 15-year-old Betsy Monroe and her older sister, Willa, guide their team of oxen and covered wagon west, three weeks after the death of their parents. Continue reading

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To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie By Ellen Conford

For Sylvie, movies weren’t just stories. They were a way out.

A few years ago I reviewed Conford’s And This Is Lauraand recalled it as pleasant, but largely unremarkable. So I was surprised to find Sylvie a much more sophisticated piece of work, with a sympathetic hard-luck heroine (who is infuriating nonetheless), an ambiguous ending (in which maybe she doesn’t learn all the obvious lessons) and a real eye for detail in a specific time and place.

The Plot: It is also pretty blunt about the situation 15 year old Sylvie Krail is in as the novel opens. Practically an orphan (she is rumored to have an alcoholic mother in an asylum near Rochester, NY), she is on her third foster home in the New York City suburbs, and it’s the third one that she’s had to fight off the lecherous advances of various “uncles”. So, in the spring of 1956, she’s been saving her babysitting money for three years, hatching an elaborate plan to escape to Hollywood where she will be “discovered”. Continue reading

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Kiss Me, Creep By Marian Woodruff

Is Richie really a creep- or is he someone Joy can love?

So, this seems as a good a time as any to talk about how this blog got its start: in the summer of 2011, I acquired a large lot of Wildfire romances, and posted the cover of Superflirt on Facebook, because… well, obviously.  That turned into a featured cover-of-the-day, highlighting the best and weirdest Wildfire, First Love and Sweet Dreams had to offer, which eventually turned in to a weekly review, which a year later turned into this blog.

In conclusion, it may take a while, but apparently I do eventually get around to fulfilling all reader requests. Sometimes it just takes, like, seven years.

The Plot: …Is extremely slight. High school seniors Joy Wilder and Richie Brennan have been like oil and water since their first meeting, when Joy and her family moved from Seattle to picturesque Piper’s Point. Continue reading

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Seventeen & In-Between By Barthe DeClements

At seventeen, things aren’t so simple anymore…

I got a number of requests for the final book in DeClements’s series featuring Elsie Edwards, as she evolves from gross 5th grade pariah to a beautiful but emotionally scarred high school student while dealing with a neglectful mother, bratty younger sister, absentee father, and newfound popularity with her male classmates picks up halfway through Elsie’s junior year of high school.

While the middle-reader Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade pretty much solved all of Elsie’s problems by putting her on a starvation diet (and successfully escaping from a kidnapping attempt….), DeClements added more nuance when telling the story from Elsie’s point of view in its YA sequel How Do You Lose Those Ninth Grade Blues? And like its predecessor, this one benefits greatly from Elsie’s point of view, as an imperfect heroine with no easy answers.

The Plot: While Elsie had successfully overcome some of her insecurities and established a relationship with hunky senior football player Craddoc Shaw, the astute reader might have already been thinking that Craddoc wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. Continue reading

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My Darling, My Hamburger By Paul Zindel

Senior year isn’t the end of high school- it’s the beginning of Life!

This week’s reader request comes from literally my oldest friend, who sent me an Instragam  screen shot with the caption HAVE YOU SEEN THIS????

(LOL OF COURSE!!!!)

(Also I am counting that as a “request”)

Background: I have a vague impression of Paul Zindel as an author whose YA work became extremely dated in the 20+ years between its publication and my becoming a YA myself: too aggressively zany, too much casual drinking, too many parents threatening to make you join the Army, too much wrestling with too many vague existential questions. There is also the fact that by the time I had gotten to my freshman year of high school, teachers of a certain age were embracing the fact that standards had relaxed enough that COOL and EDGY novels such as Zindel’s The Pigman were now allowed as part of the curriculum (Catcher in the Rye was another), without considering that anything being taught as part of the curriculum was automatically deeply uncool, and also I already read The Pigman when I was like 11, so I really lacked enthusiasm about Making A Poster To Illustrate The Themes…

Sorry, slipped into Annoying Autobiographical Pause-mode for a second.

(…but are we really cultivating and love and appreciation for literature by making us all pretend to have a TV talk show about Alienation?)

The Plot: Which despite all that, I actually do love Zindel’s work and his disaffected 1970s Staten Island teens- I still think about John and Lorraine every time I’m headed for the Goethals bridge and see the exit for Victory Boulevard. Continue reading

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