For the girls at Calvin Junior High, looking for thrills could mean finding trouble…
First off: this is a great cover. The scheming! The outsider! The lurking delinquents! The Mom Jeans! That hair. Aren’t you dying to find out what kind of no-good these kids are up to?
The Plot: Late winter is a drag at Calvin Junior High, located in the Stepford-like Centertown, Connecticut. 14 year old Corey Martin describes the feeling as “the heat”:
But I don’t mean the kind in radiators or steam kettles. I mean the kind of heat that happens between people when something is churning, something’s going to explode. That kind of heat.
Corey has been hanging onto the periphery of a group of girls lead by the preternaturally confident and charismatic Jan Barrington; when the date of the spring dance is announced, Jan sees the opportunity to liven up the joint by selecting an elite group of girls to party with on each of the six Friday nights leading up to the dance. Corey is thrilled to make the cut, and “The Eight” soon become the most talked-about girls in school (the other seven girls kind of all run together: there are two flakes, two mean girls both named Sue, a sycophant, and a wannabe sophisticate).
There is also a ninth member of the group, timid new-girl-in-town Terry McCue, whom Jan invites to the inaugural sleep-over to rescue her from the midst of being harassed by local nogoodnik Johnny Culbers. Still uncertain of her own position in The Eight, Corey and Terry become fast friends.
Corey suffers from classic Permissive Parenting, as her mother constantly refers to a trendy book of parenting advice, quoting such gems as
“Don’t nag your child about her silences or her housework or homework. Support her in meaningful ways like bringing her a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of milk.”
Like pretty much every teenager ever, Corey is up on her teenage-advice-reading and ready to game the system for all it’s worth: she knows that she just has to clam up and she can get away with pretty much anything, including treating her mother as a personal hot chocolate concierge.
Jan’s parents seem to be entirely of the absentee variety, so the girls arrive for their first Friday night supervised by nothing but a freezer full of cheesecake. The high jinks initially include dancing around on the Barringtons’ fancy furniture and making a series of prank phone calls; then Jan reveals that she has made sure that the gossip about the party got to the “right” group of boys, and they should expect to be crashed. However, when the boys do show up, it leads only to an extremely wholesome water-fight in the front yard.
The girls look forward to the weekends, especially coming up with new antics that the whole school will be talking about on Monday. But Corey is uncertain about where this is all going, and it puts a strain on her relationships with her other non-Eight friends. Chief among these is her long-time platonic pal, Paul.
Paul is a genuinely interesting character- repeatedly described as “old beyond his years”, he has sort of become the unofficial Class President, the person the students look to to make stuff happen (like that looming school dance) because of his ease in dealing with adults as equals. However, he stands apart from the crowd, and certainly is not one of the Cool Guys: he and Corey have an unspoken agreement that they only talk outside of school.
Paul is also kind of obnoxiously sanctimonious:
“You think I didn’t hear about Friday night? You know what they’re calling you, Corey? The Eight. The Eight. Just like they call John Culbers and his group the Freaks. You want to be the Eight? A number instead of a person?”
Jeez, calm down, Paul!
Delinquent Johnny Culbers is the other interesting character: a grade-school friend of Corey and Paul, his greatest crime seems to be being A Poor. When Corey runs into him on the way to the Jan’s next Friday night shindig, they reminisce about what good friends they used to be. He also hints that he and Terry are closer friends than everyone realized.
The Eight’s Fridays naturally start escalating: the expedition into the nearby town leads to a night of shoplifting which Corey agonizes over for days afterward. Then they concoct an incredibly elaborate scheme to smuggle beer out of their parents’ house and everyone gets 8th grade-drunk. The boys usually show up to liven up the evening, but they’re the nice boys from the best homes, which you know because they are wearing tweed sport coats, not leather jackets.
Clearly, this is all building to something dramatic and/or tragic, as the girls are on the Verge Of Going Too Far.
It finally happens when Jan upgrades from beer to champagne the week before the dance, and after a few glasses Terry gets carried away and starts performing a striptease as the girls egg her on. The performance comes to a screeching halt when they realize the boys have been spying on them the whole time, and then Jan’s father unexpectedly walks through the front door.
Terry is ruined, socially. The Eight freeze her out once the boys start talking:
“Woody and Ronny managed to tell the whole school, I think,” Nikki said. “On the bus it started: ‘Where’s the striptease next Friday,’ ‘I know a live band that might like to play background music,’ ‘Say, you girls have a knack for keeping the excitement going,’”
“She’s in my first class,” Laurie said softly. We all listened. “Tommy and Duke were calling her Flossy, the Striptease Queen.”
Bonny Jo put her hand over her mouth. “It sounds like she’s some porno queen.”
Corey feels bad, but doesn’t speak up. Terry is absent from school for a few days, and when she returns she’s in the company of that Johnny Culbers, so Corey decides that the judgment of The Eight will stand. Terry is clearly a slutty-slut-slut.
Jan holds her final party the night of the dance, which includes “five different kinds of dips” and more parental supervision than usual. Corey’s date is a boring young man who will not stop yammering about his model railroad hobby (“really ‘neat’ ones with eight switches and five villages and mountains”).
At the long-awaited dance, Corey is ignored by Paul, and Terry is absent entirely- until a car crashes into the front of the school! Corey fights her way through the crowd of gawkers to find Terry, “clearly on drugs” and trying to get away as the police arrive at the scene. Corey is convinced that Delinquent Johnny must be involved, so she is shocked, just shocked! to see Woody and his tweed sport coat behind the wheel!
Nobody is hurt, everyone is arrested.
The dance resumes, but Corey just sits quietly platonically holding Paul’s hand and pondering what has transpired. The end.
Sign It Was Written In 1979 Department: Constant 8th-grade chain smoking barely raises an eyebrow. Jan’s parents just make them take it outside during the party.
Stylin’ Department: “Johnny Culbers walked right in front of me without saying a word. Macho in just a tee shirt with a bolt of lightning which shouted in blue letters: Love me or Else!”
Pingback: Rhapsody in Orange and Brown: 15 Favorite Classic YA Covers | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989
I just found this site and will be here all week.
I prefer the hardcover cover art,as it does a great job of showing Jan as standing out in a picture among a sea of nonentities. I remember hating this book when I first read it, but rereading it enough times that I had to buy it on alibris. It’s the ya version of a Sofia Coppola movie.
LOL, that is a good comparison! (Although Paul seems a little Wes Anderson-y). Thanks for reading & commenting!