Nothing would stop us in our pursuit of perfect grammar, a good body, and true love.
OH, COME ON!
While a frequent theme here is that YA novels from 30 or 40 years ago dealt with topics like drugs and sex in much more frank manner, that cover looks like it was plucked off the rack of a disreputable Times Square “bookstore”.
The Plot: However, the story inside is strictly G-rated, dealing in the most innocuous way possible with 13 year old Sara Libshuzt’s crush on her teacher, Mr. Garfield, and all of the wacky hijinks that ensue when she and her best friend, Emily, set out to “seduce” him, having only the vaguest concept of what that entails.
The outstanding characteristic of this book is instead the aggressive stupidity of every single character. Seriously, how do these people even remember to breathe? The leaps of logic that drive the plot suggest that everyone involved had severe concussions.
Starting with the premise, which is that, since Sara is in love with Mr. Garfield, he must return those feelings and it is only a matter of time that he’ll divorce his wife. Emily, who narrates the story, blames the situation on the fact that, as eighth graders, they are the oldest students at the middle school, citing the fact that there are no “O.B.s” (older boys) to chase. Emily herself is making due by pining away for Jonathan Fisher, who was held back a year.
Mr. Garfield is young and cool, and lets his students get away with stuff like Emily’s report on her “Most Admired American”, Ponce de Leon, having been wholly made up (Jonathan’s report is literally just a tape recording of his Howard Cosell impersonation)… but can we talk about Mr. Garfield for a minute? About how this dreamboat looks like a cartoon Cold War villain?
Seriously, that is a man who would be more at home pointing a laser beam at James Bond’s crotch than teaching middle school English.
The girls’ first setback occurs at the class trip to the roller rink, during which Emily’s mother acts as a chaperone and seems to immediately fall in love with Mr. Garfield herself, and (worse yet!) he seems to return her feelings. While Mr. Garfield blathers on about how “young-looking” and “attractive” Emily’s mother is, she just keeps giggling and calling him “Brucie”.
Sara is crushed, but Emily assures her they can make this work to their advantage:
“Besides being young-looking, what’s my mother’s other distinguishing characteristic?”
“Her dumb clothes?”
I shook my head.
“Her weird husband?”
I had had enough. “Stop. I’ll tell you.” I leaned a little closer. “Her skinniness.”
Emily’s mother actually seems to have an eating disorder, since she’s constantly on diets that allow things like one bite of asparagus for dinner.
Emily seems determined to pass these behaviors on to her friend:
“Sara, this is easier than I thought. You’ll go on a diet, just like my mother, and in a week or two you’ll lose twenty or thirty pounds and that’s it. Whammo- Mr. Garfield will be crazy about you…
“What did you weigh the last time you went to the doctor?” I asked.
“Seventy-Eight,” she said.
“Seventy-eight is much too high for Mr. Garfield’s taste,” I announced. “How does fifty sound?”
“Fifty?” Sara hesitated for a minute.
“Listen,” I insisted. “Fifty is great because my mother could never do as well as that, no matter how much she dieted. I think ninety was her all-time low.”
Going through Emily’s mother’s back issues of Cosmo, the girls select something called The Rubber Band Diet, which yes, involves sprinkling chopped-up rubber bands all over your food.
Following more magazine advice, Emily then decides that Sara needs to improve her bosom situation, and prescribes filling out her training bra with ping-pong balls. Because that’s going to look natural.
In the meantime Sara and Emily have to deal with their frenemy, Allison Barrett, who is only popular because she has a pool, but is now more popular than ever because her parents have put a “bubble” over the pool to allow year-round swimming (Sara loses her ping-pong balls during a Thanksgiving break pool party); Emily’s bitchy older sister, Jennifer, who thinks they are so immature; and Jonathan’s “nurdy” friend Marc Applebaum, who has a crush on Emily, and shows it by constantly trying to lure the girls into a game of strip poker.
It’s all finally too much for Emily, so she schedules an appointment with her father, a Freudian psychoanalyst. He becomes very concerned about his daughter’s “friend” and her attempts to seduce her English teacher and immediately books a winter vacation for his family in Vermont. Sara is allowed to come along, and Emily hopes the separation from Mr. Garfield will do her some good, because she is convinced that he and her mother were totally doin’ it in the cloak room during a parent-teacher conference.
However, Emily is less hopeful when she sees that Sara has brought along a framed picture of Mr. Garfield, and more wacky complications ensue when Emily spots her mother stealing the photo and shoving down the front of her ski pants.
Guys, I can barely even with this book any more. Other stuff that happens:
- Emily and Sara try to spy on their mother by sneaking into the ladies room and taking a Polaroid photo over the top of the stall where they assume she is mooning over the purloined photo, but they pick the wrong stall and instead snap a picture of a terrified Mrs. Garfield.
- Emily and Sara fall madly in love with daredevil masked-skiers who claim to be named Tex and Rex, but who of course turn out to be Jonathan and Marc, who for some reason are on vacation with the Garfields.
- Somebody vandalizes all of the trail markers at the ski resort, leading every single major character to head down an advanced mogul and land in a ditch. The girls, boys and Mr. Garfield pass the time waiting to be rescued by playing strip poker (!!!!)
- Emily’s father arrives with the ski patrol and, apropos of nothing, recites The Sermon On The Mount, which makes Jonathan and Marc feel super-guilty for pretending to be Tex and Rex.
- It turns out that Emily’s mother’s big secret isn’t an affair with Mr. Garfield, but the fact that she’s pregnant, which literally makes no sense after all of that “Brucie” business.
- The girls figure out that it was Jennifer that stole Sara’s photo of Mr. Garfield and the book ends with them holding her down and ripping off her ski pants to retrieve it.
Sign It Was Written In 1983 Department:
Jonathan’s eyes narrowed “What are you, some kind of radical feminist or something?” No doubt he had been watching too many David Susskind reruns.
Good Name For A Take-Out Restaurant Department: “The Liberated Ladle”