Keeping Score By Marilyn Levy

What’s worse: that your boyfriend is interested in your sister, or that he’s dealing drugs out of his locker?

keeping score

This book may have the honor of “cover copy least-related to actual plot” in recent memory: far from dealing with just a teenaged love triangle and drugs, this is the kind of book that overloads my “topical issues” tag.

And I do want to call attention to the actual cover, which is exceptionally nice, the heroines expressions exactly capturing the tone of the book, the sort of “there are no easy answers/adults are terrible” plot that has fallen out of vogue.

The Plot:  Sabina “Binnie” Tuchman is a tomboy on the verge of reforming: she still lives and breathes softball, but at 17 has finally started to notice BOYS, specifically Harris Evans, the hunky new transfer student from a fancy private school, who is poised to become the new star of the varsity baseball team.

As the book opens, Binnie’s life is enviably free of tribulations. She plays third base for the school team, has a new step-sister and -father that she gets along swimmingly with and is surrounded by a group of sports-minded gals (and one dude). She gets good grades, doesn’t do drugs, and plans for a career in sports medicine. Despite the fact that she and her mother struggled after Binnie’s father walked out on them when Binnie was a baby, her mother put herself through medical school and has gone into practice as an obstetrician. It even seems like Harris maybe will kinda ask her out. What could go wrong?????

Despite the fact that Binnie’s friends jokingly warn her to not let her glamorous step-sister, Heather, near Harris if she wants him for herself, Binnie doesn’t feel any rivalry with Heather. Beautiful, shy (and honestly a little dim), Heather is also a genuinely kind person.

While Binnie tries to get Harris to notice her, rumors swirl at school that there is a DRUG PROBLEM, which Binnie and her friends barely pause to comment on:

“Anybody kicked out yet?”

“One kid, I think. Montgomery.”

“Well, what do you expect? He did everything but peddle it to the secretaries in Peterson’s office.”

“Wrong, that’s how he got caught,” Delphi said. “Selling to Ms. Gregory.”

“She turned him in?”

“Nope. Peterson came into the office during the transaction.”

“Ohmigod,” Binnie said laughing. “Some people are so stupid.”

…and there is the matter of Binnie’s friend Eve, who is being beaten up by her father on a regular basis, until finally she ends up with a broken arm.

…and then there also is the fact that her step-father, a documentary filmmaker, has become involved with helping the refugees from the oppressive political regime in El Salvador, which eventually lands a very pregnant young woman named Rosario in their guest room, which Binnie and Heather are sworn to secrecy about:

“There are people in El Salvador who want to see her dead,” Howard said. “She has too much information. They want to get rid of her- badly. There are people in this country looking for her. Members of the death squad.”

Binnie looked at her mother for a long time.  “You’re going to deliver the baby?”

“Yes,” Maggie said “On the dining-room table.”

“What?” Binnie yelled.

“And I’ll need your help when the time comes,” Maggie said firmly.

Drugs! Child abuse! Political revolutionaries having dining-room babies!

What about Binnie’s womanly awakening????

Harris finally asks her out to a movie, and they seem to really hit it off, even though Binnie won’t go all the way on the first date and she is slightly put off by his recreational drug use during sports-ball season:

Christ! It looked like an ordinary cigarette, but it sure wasn’t. He had dumped out a regular cigarette and filled it with marijuana. Oh well, everybody and his brother smoked a little grass now and then, she wasn’t going to freak out about it and let that ruin her whole evening.

Things are proceeding smoothly for the budding couple… until Heather emerges from the school play’s costume shop to borrow lunch money from her sister. Heather doesn’t even notice Harris, but he stops calling Binnie. When she finds out Heather has a date with him the following weekend, she is furious, both because of his betrayal and the fact that Heather’s head was so far up in the clouds that she was the only one in school that didn’t know that Binnie had a thing for him.

It was an honest mistake, and Heather offers to break the date, but even her parents don’t realize that Binnie is Becoming A Woman:

“Binnie’s too competitive,” her mother said. “She’s just overreacting. I’m sure she’s not really interested in Harris. By tomorrow she’ll have forgotten all about it.”

Ugh, you are the worst Dr. Mom.

Binnie’s friends are more supportive:

“Listen, Binnie,” Eve said. “I’m never going to speak to that bitch again, even if she is your sister.”

“It’s because she’s your sister!” Delphi said. “Unbelievable!”

But of course Heather is so nice that Binnie soon catches Eve and Delphi talking to her anyway, and she snottily turns down a group pity-date to the school dance, instead staying home to stuff her face with leftover lasagna:

Binnie had been ravenously hungry all week. She’d probably put on five pounds stuffing herself every night.

She felt as if her insides had been scraped out and a great hollowness had been left for her to fill. The trouble was she had nothing to fill it with except anger and food.

Are we going to get a late-developing eating disorder plot? Not really, but we do get a climatic childbirth scene (Heather throws up, leaving Binnie alone to help her mother deliver Rosario’s baby); Binnie’s realization that Harris is dealing drugs; and finally the formation of a vigilante gang when the school’s administration won’t take the drug problem seriously.

Seriously! This book has like 3 Sweet Valley Highs worth of plots!

Dawn, the captain of the girls’ softball team takes the War On Drugs with Jack Webb-level seriousness, and calls a meeting with some of the other student athletes to address the problem once and for all. They send Harris a warning note, and when he laughs it off they slash his tires.

Binnie admits that well, revenge, is the best revenge, but she is also finally taking notice of her childhood friend, Tony, who rides a motorcycle with all of the proper safety equipment and is described thusly:

He had also shot up and filled out this past year and was now considered a stud by some of the girls at school. Come to think of it, if Harris looked like a young Robert Redford, Tony reminded her of James Dean.

Wrath cooled by this realization, Binnie starts to wonder if The Partisans (THEIR ANTI-DRUG GANG HAS A NAME, GUYS!) are less “ guerrillas fighting in the war against drugs” and more common vandals.

Binnie and Tony break from the group, and just in time, since Dawn and the others take it upon themselves to beat up (as well as wreck the car of) a suspected drug dealer that they had seen associating with Harris. He turns out to be a friend who (with Heather) had been trying to convince Harris to go to rehab. Oops.

Binnie and Tony turn themselves in, and are suspended from school for a week, avoiding the criminal charges facing the others. Binnie doesn’t even get grounded because her step-father is so understanding:

“I think I put some of those ideas into your head without meaning to,” he explained. “Maybe you got confused about the difference between people like Rosario breaking the law and people like you and Tony…”

Levy avoids clear heroes and villains: Harris kind of seems like a turd, but Heather really loves him and is convinced he can be redeemed; even Dawn’s vicious behavior is explained by the fact that her 11 year old brother overdosed on crack.

There are still a lot of loose plot threads at the end (are Rosario and her baby going back to El Salvador? Criminal charges for The Partisans? Eve’s abusive father? Harris + Heather = LUV? Eating disorder? ) but at least it seems like Binnie and Tony will get a happy ending, those crazy kids.

Sign It Was Written in 1987 Department:

She hated missing “St. Elsewhere”.

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