Veronica Ganz By Marilyn Sachs

“Peter Wedemeyer, Peter Wedemeyer, I’ll get you, Peter Wedemeyer!”

veronica ganz

So, this is one of those books where you think you know exactly what you’re going to get, then it turns out to be something completely different, and then it still ends up being what you thought it was in the first place.

The Plot:  …Which is to say, this looks like it is going to be about a tomboy that finally grows up into a young lady, but then quickly turns into a rather grim story about child abuse, spousal abuse, abject poverty, parental abandonment and bullying… and then ends up being exactly the sort of story that Barbara Fisher would hate.

13 year old Veronica Ganz is the biggest girl in her class at P.S. 63, and by the eighth grade she has beaten up every kid in school on general principle. Veronica takes nothing from nobody.

Which is why she is infuriated at the arrival of New Kid Peter Wedemeyer, who despite being the shrimpiest kid in her grade, quickly learns of her reputation and decides to make a preemptive strike by constantly making up rhymes to tease her: “Veronica Ganz doesn’t wear pants” is a typical example. Veronica makes it her mission in life to beat him up, which is where the book opens; by the end of the first chapter Peter has outwitted her and she ends up with a bucket of fish guts dumped over her head. Ha?

Veronica heads home after getting yelled at by Peter’s neighbor:

“Fish, tish,” scolded Mrs. Rizzio. “A big girl like you. Take a bath, that’s what you should do instead of picking on little kids and telling lies. Clean yourself up, and don’t go around smelling like that. If you go around smelling like that, nobody will ever marry you. You’ll see.”

Veronica and her younger sister Mary-Rose arrive home to a 5 year old brother, Stanley, whining about going to the day-old bakery, but Veronica locks him out of the bathroom in order to de-scale herself and yells at him to hang out the laundry before their parents get home.

Wait, has that five year old been home alone all day? Where in time and space is this taking place???

It actually takes a little bit of sleuthing to figure this out: the original copyright on the book is 1968, but references to ice delivery trucks and Stella Dallas make it seem like it was intended as a historical piece; not until we learn Veronica and Mary Rose’s stepfather was a big supporter of FDR, can we place it in the early 1940s.

New York City’s nomenclature causes similar confusion as to the “where”: references to Prospect Avenue, P.S. 63 and the Franklin Avenue subway station had me assuming Brooklyn (I got excited for a second when I calculated that would put Veronica in the Amboy Dukes’ neighborhood), but it turns out that all of those places also exist in the Bronx, putting Veronica in the Morrisania neighborhood of what is now the South Bronx, pre-Robert Moses (Veronica chasing Peter all the way to Boston Road tipped me off).

The reader learns that Veronica gets her bullying ways from her mother, who frequently comes home from the laundry that she owns with her second husband, Ralph, and beats her children. Ralph is a soft touch, who tries to broker peace between wife and children, but he is also  a frequent target of his wife’s anger.

Veronica and Mary-Rose’s father left the family when Veronica was five and hasn’t been heard from since. Their mother insists that she divorced him because he was “weak and spineless”, but Veronica remains haunted by a memory of him saying or doing something to her mother that made her cry on the subway.

So everyone is pretty surprised when a letter arrives from Mr. Ganz announcing that he’s coming from Las Vegas with his new wife to see his children.

The news sends Veronica’s mother into a panic. While she won’t discuss the matter with her children, Mary-Rose specializes at listening through door and vents:

“I think he’s got lots of money.”

“Who has?”

“Papa. Our Papa.  And Mama said she wouldn’t take a single penny from him. And she said he sold his restaurant in Las Vegas, and he’s going to live on ranch, and she says he wants to steal us away from her.”

Mary-Rose, a sensitive, girly-girl who dreams of the finer things in life such as satin bedspreads and painted-white bedroom furniture, immediately starts fantasizing about life with  a rich father out west, where she could have her own room and everything (in Morrisania, Mary-Rose and Veronica share a bed, with Stanley sleeping on the trundle underneath).

Their mother grimly goes about making some improvements to the apartment, such as dying the soiled kitchen curtains dark green and even buying a new outfit for each of the children which must hang in the closet until their father’s arrival.

Unsurprisingly, he never shows and Veronica turns her full attention back to thinking of ways to beat up Peter Wedemeyer.

I know that we’re supposed to understand that it’s Veronica’s homelife that is slowly turning her into a psychopath… but it is really hard to have any sympathy for her, since she silently considers her classmates in terms of punchablity:

Douglas Green, a soft, timid boy, would be a pleasant person to clean erasers on.

Her only redeeming trait is that she excels in French, but even that she uses as a means to an end: when Madame Nusinoff requests additional students to addition for the French Club’s holiday pageant, Peter volunteers, and Veronica puts her grand scheme into motion.

Actually, her scheme doesn’t turn out to be all that grand. Despite the fact that she is both the best student in the pageant and genuinely enjoying herself for once, she still lies to Madame Nusinoff about having to leave the rehearsal early for a dentist appointment and lays in wait for Peter just off school grounds. That is her big plan.

Veronica is ready for a showdown when Peter arrives, but he has two friends with him and they beat up Veronica. Seriously, she ends up with a broken nose and black eye.

A random man on the street puts a stop to it, threatening to call the cops and then smacking the three boys around himself. This book is really violent.

But something is AWAKENED within Veronica.

Peter had gone down in defeat- not because she was stronger than he, or smarter, but because of something more powerful than that. She was a girl. And it was a mighty thing being a girl.

????

Peter guiltily shows up at Veronica’s the next day, offering himself up for a retaliatory beating. But Veronica has CHANGED and refuses to hit him. Especially after she realizes that he was only teasing her because he LIKED her:

What a wonderful feeling it was to like somebody and know he liked too, that maybe he had liked you all along, even though you were a girl, even though you were such a big girl.

And as the small figure across the street clutched his head in mock despair and staggered backward, Veronica, excited and happy at what was just beginning, giggled like a girl.

Sigh.

Sublimated! Department:

“I’ll be pitcher,” Veronica corrected. Lots of kids, she knew, liked to pitch, but that was her position, and whenever she played on a team, it was always understood she would pitch.

“You’re a good pitcher,” Peter said agreeably, “but I think you’d make a better catcher.”

“I’m pitching,” Veronica insisted.

“Look,” said Peter, “how do you know you won’t like being a catcher unless you try?”

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22 Responses to Veronica Ganz By Marilyn Sachs

  1. Susan says:

    Oh goodness, this is a spin-off of one of my favorite childhood trilogies: Amy Moves In / Laura’s Luck / Amy and Laura. I first read Amy Moves In in second grade but didn’t find the others until much later. Amy is nine and Laura is twelve when they move into a new neighborhood. This was my introduction to NYC and apartments (I didn’t understand who was this man called the “super” who lived in their basement!). The book focuses on Amy but includes Laura. In Laura’s Luck they go to summer camp, with the focus on Laura but Amy included. Then in the third book they’re back in a new school year, both growing up, both outgrowing the labels placed on them.
    Veronica bullies Laura, who is a school safety patrol, and Laura’s has to decide how to handle her.

    The books are surprisingly realistic. Early in the first book, Amy gets beaten up by some boys in the park while her two new friends run away. Their family is working-class, not poor, but money is tight. Kids are sometimes rude. There is some bigotry toward a Puerto-Rican classmate. When it snows all the neighborhood women disconnect their refrigerators and store the contents on the fire escapes to save on the electric bill. Their mother gets into a near-fatal car crash, which is why they go away to camp while she’s in the hospital, and when she comes home her timidness and fear play into the situation with Laura being bullied by Veronica.

    Sorry to hijack your review! But I somehow missed the Veronica Ganz book. I just reserved it from the library 🙂 ! It sounds like it takes the realism quite a bit further. I see there is another sequel, Peter and Veronica, but my library doesn’t have a copy.

    • mondomolly says:

      I’m going to have to find some more of Sachs’s books- I really like the 1940s Bronx setting!

      • Susan says:

        When reading it in the mid-60s, I had no idea it wasn’t contemporary. I had the red cover, showing Amy as a blond, so that’s how I envisioned her. There are a couple of subsequent versions, one of which shows her with dark hair, which she didn’t have — it was one of the contrasts between her and her sister Laura.

    • C Baker says:

      There’s another more distant sequel, The Truth About Mary Rose, but it suffers a lot from the distance from the original books.

  2. ninyabruja says:

    There was also Marv, about P&V’s classmate and The Truth about Mary Rose, told from the pov of V’s daughter.

  3. propagatrix says:

    Marilyn Sachs is terrifying. Have you read The Fat Girl? If not, seek it out immediately. Would love to hear your take on it.

  4. Susan says:

    I did get “Veronica Ganz” from the library, and it is terrible. The Amy/Laura books are so much better. The idea (girl is a bully because of family situation) had potential but the character is so one-dimensional and the ending so trite and unrealistic that the book ends up being icky and a waste of time. I can’t imagine giving it to a child to read.

  5. Marilyn Sachs! She was one of my favorites, though the ones I remember the most vividly were The Bears’ House and its sequel, Fran Ellen’s House.

  6. Susan says:

    Marilyn Sachs has a website. Her description of herself will tell you where “Amy Moves In,” her first book, originated :), obviously semi-autobiographical. I emailed her through it a few years ago but didn’t get a response. She was born in 1927 so is 89 now.

    http://www.marilynsachs.com/aboutMe.html

  7. Cee says:

    LOVE Marilyn Sachs’s books. Another really good one is the sequel to Veronica Ganz, titled Peter and Veronica. It’s the story of their friendship from Peter’s POV and what happens when he defies his mother (who dislikes Veronica mainly because she is not Jewish) and invites her to his bar mitzvah. The fallout is brutally honestly dealt with in the book.

  8. Nancy says:

    Oh why oh why did I stumble onto this website . .. now I’m going to go broke buying the books I missed from ABE books. LOL . . . I LOVE Veronica and Peter–I must have read and re-read those books 20 times when I was 12 to 16 years old. I wasn’t that crazy about the later Mary Rose book, except that I found the concept of a grown up Veronica so interesting. I have never hunted for Sachs books beyond these and Laura & Amy.

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