“Who says I’m too young for love?”
Just as a public service, I feel like I should warn you the metaphor gets extended to the point where you might go into anaphylactic shock.
The Plot: 14 year old Marianne Mandic goes looking for a job the summer before her freshman year of high school, so that she can chip in to pay for her ballet lessons and buy fashionable clothes that her parents can’t afford. Her father works as a doorman in a posh Chicago high-rise, and through his connections she gets an interview for a babysitting position for the young daughter of a wealthy widower who lives in the building.
Marianne feels like she’s a long shot for the job when she’s interviewed by the family’s housekeeper, Mrs. Johansen, who thinks she’s too young to be trusted with 8 year old Catherine (called Catsy), who was born with brain damage. She is surprised when she gets a call that evening from Mr. Kranz, offering her the position, which she accepts, despite the lack of support from her mother and younger brother, who jeer at her for associating with a “reetard” [sic].
Marianne’s boyfriend, Joel, also isn’t supportive, since Marianne having a job will take time away from the hours she could be spending pining away for him while he is an assistant crafts counselor at a summer camp. Joel’s existence turns out to be completely inconsequential to the plot.
Marianne’s first day of watching Catsy goes smoothly, despite the fact that Mrs. Johansen seems kind of weird:
“Don’t be spilling food all over the place do you hear? The spirits won’t like it, and they’ll be after you.”
The only crisis comes about after Mrs. Johansen leaves for the night and Catsy accidentally breaks a glass when she’s helping unload the dishwasher and panics, claiming that Mrs. Johansen will do “somethin’ awful” if she finds out:
“What would she do?”
“She’d smack me. She’d smack me so it hurts.”
“But you didn’t mean to do it. You were helping.”
“She’d smack me anyway. Marianne, I gotta get rid of this.”
So, we’ve got a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, intellectual disability, malevolent spirits and child abuse. There are so many ways this plot could go. Enter Toby.
All of a sudden something takes hold of my arms from behind. It’s hands, somebody’s hands. I hear myself hollering. The thing that owns the hands doesn’t make a sound. I break loose and whirl around. There’s a guy standing there. He’s grinning.
“Hey, who are you anyway?”
“I’m Toby,” he says. “I live here.”
When my heart stops pounding, I give him a drop-dead look. I mean, what kind of jerk will grab you from behind like some kind of rapist and then grin at you for hollering?
Toby is Catsy’s older brother, 18 and bound for MIT in the fall, who is spending the summer working at his father’s plastics plant. Catsy joins Marianne and Toby for a snack of rootbeer and what will be the first of many bowlfuls of metaphorical peanuts. Oh, also it turns out that their mother totally isn’t dead, she just ran away from the family with a podiatrist when she found out her daughter was born with brain damage:
“Mom took me and left Dad when Catsy was two. Mom couldn’t stand to be around Catsy. She never wants to see her.”
“It’s terrible on Catsy. She knows she’s a reject.”
Still, it must be awful for her to not to know what made Catsy the way she is. She’ll never know if it was because she ate pickles while she was pregnant, or maybe because she fell and landed on her behind.
Marianne and Toby start dating, and he takes her on many sailing dates at the Yacht Club, even though her parents disapprove. As you have probably figured out by this point, this book is all over the place. Is it about a cross-class romance? Is it about child abuse? Is it about learning beautiful lessons about life from the “reetarded” [sic]? WHAT ABOUT THE EVIL SPIRITS? It mostly turns out to be about sex, and about how Marianne wants to do it and Toby keeps pushing her away:
“It’s not fair. I keep wanting to get closer and closer to you. Lord, I don’t think I can stand it.”
“I can’t help it, Toby. And I can’t help getting all excited too.”
“But you’re only fourteen. Fourteen!”
“So what’s wrong with getting close?”
“Because with you and me I don’t want anything going wrong. See, I—” He doesn’t go on.
Marianne’s parents still don’t approve, despite the fact that she invites Toby on a family outing to the 4th of July parade and he is a perfect gentleman and even brings an entire hamper full of Arby’s for everyone! Marianne’s parents have an extremely awkward conversation about it in front of her younger brother:
“This Toby is much too rich for her. Why doesn’t he stick to his own kind?” Mom says.
“He probably just wants- well, you know.”
“You mean sex?” says Dad. “He knows he’d get into trouble with me if he tried anything funny.”
Marianne gets some sympathy from her Aunt Sis, who has come to Chicago for a visit with this whole complicated backstory about how her husband was tragically killed after they had a fight about boiled eggs.
After Mrs. Johansen violently shakes Catsy in front of Marianne over spilling some food, Marianne works up the nerve to tell Mr. Kranz, who fires her. Then Toby intervenes and she gets un-fired and Mrs. Johansen is sent to Florida with a pension to retire. So I guess this is not a book about secret child abuse.
However, on her last day at work, Mrs. Johansen does let it slip that when he was sixteen Toby knocked up one of the girls who he worked with at his father’s company and Mr. Kranz paid for the abortion. Which I guess is the least-sinister of all possible outcomes in literature involving poor factory girls and young men who enjoy boating dates. Toby leaves for MIT, and Marianne doesn’t mention what she learned because
It hurts to think of his being that close to another girl. But at least I know. Besides, it happened long before he met me. Hey, it happened two whole years ago, for heaven’s sake.
And somehow his feeling rotten and my feeling rotten and his loving me and my loving him are melting together so I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins, and even though I’m miserable, I feel all clean and new.
This book is so confused that I’m not even sure what the message is supposed to be, but I’m sure that I don’t approve of it.
Ladies And Gentlemen, We Have A Title! Department: “I mean, she seems to think that love is like peanuts, that once you get started, you want more and more.”