Then Kelsey discovers Magical Male Grabbers…
So, giving a plot overview for this one is going to make it sound so generic that I can’t imagine why anyone would bother even reading the summary: a late bloomer and former-fatty undergoes a radical image and personality makeover, wins the guy of her dreams, and then discovers it is her longtime pal whom she was really in love with all along!
Well, that basic plot gets reflected through a funhouse mirror-maze of gender politics so complex that I can’t even begin to to guess if the 2016 reader is supposed to boo or cheer the heroine at the end.
The first time Taffy Foster called me Pig Woman in front of her friends, I vowed I’d get thinner.
The second time she did it I vowed I’d get even.
Thus opens Leroe’s novel, as senior Kelsey Marshall, now a member of the Mannequins, the high school modeling club, starts the extremely complicated wheels of vengeance turning.
Taffy and Kelsey (and the rest of the female population of the school) have a shared object of lust in hunky senior Cal Lindsey, described as a cross between Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood and referred to by Kelsey as both “The Sex Machine” and “His Studship”.
Cal, on the other hand seems to have eyes for no one, which is no surprise when it comes to a nobody like Kelsey, but his spurning of pom-pom queen Taffy’s attention is something of a mystery, preferring to spend all of his free time with the football team, and waiting around to be photographed by the hotshot sports reporter for the local paper, it seems like Cal isn’t interested in girls at-
Nope, sorry it’s not that kind of book. Onward.
After Taffy and her friends taunt Kelsey as a “Pig Woman” (which strikes me a particularly vicious slur) during the Mannequin’s fall fashion show, Kelsey calls a meeting of Ugly Ducklings Anonymous, the secret club she has formed with her friends Sonia and Beverlee, and honorary male member JP. Kelsey talks a reluctant Sonia and Beverlee into an EXTREMELY COMPLICATED AND EXPENSIVE plan of revenge against Taffy.
In the week leading up to the Sadie Hawkins Day dance (at least this book places Sadie Hawkins Day in the correct month…) Kelsey convinces her two girlfriends to act as moles within the school’s administration, with shy-but-talented Beverlee volunteering to make the morning PA announcements and Sonia assisting the Principal’s secretary, so she gets first look at all kinds of confidential memos that need mimeographing.
JP, of course, is the voice of reason, stating outright that he thinks Kelsey is wasting her time and energy on the project, and assuring her that nobody thinks she is a Pig Woman. Kelsey’s having none of it, noting only vaguely that JP has been acting SO WEIRD lately, and their parents keep hearing all of these rumors that they’re going to the Sadie Hawkins dance together!
Kelsey and her friends spend the week leading up to the dance deluging Cal with embarrassing gifts sent to his homeroom: flowers, balloons, candy, a giant teddy bear, all signed with Taffy’s name, of course. They place a personal poem in the classified section of the newspaper. Beverlee and Sonia create a distraction in the principal’s office, so Beverlee can get on the PA system doing her best Taffy impersonation in order to sing Cal’s praises.
Cal becomes more and more aggravated by the unwanted attention, but Taffy barely seems to notice:
If the Pom-Pom Queen had heard the rumors that were spreading through school about her and her insane attempts to attract Cal Lindsey, she didn’t act concerned. And that was fine with me.
Finally, at the school pep rally, Kelsey has planned the culmination of her revenge scheme, in which Cal will publicly reject Taffy once and for all:
It just happened to be one of the sexiest female strippers from our town’s Peel-O-Gram service: the highly personal Western Union-type message, stripped down, so to speak, to the bare essentials!
The boys in the crowd went primitive as the vision weaved sinuously up to Cal Lindsey and kissed him.
“Hi, I’m Wanda LaBlue; I’ve got a striptease message for you! This comes from the heart of a secret fan, who wants you to go to the Sadie Hawkins Dance as her sexy man! Love and kisses, Taffy.”
Kelsey’s plan backfires, spectacularly. Cal thinks the stripper is hysterical, and ego bolstered by the solid week of attention that “Taffy” has been paying him, he accepts the invitation that she never even made.
Brooding, Kelsey accepts an assignment from JP, the school yearbook editor, to work as the photographer at the dance, which of course he will be covering in a professional capacity…
But Kelsey never makes it to the dance, because her older brother is home from college, and he has brought his new girlfriend for Thanksgiving dinner. Despite her mousy appearance, Mike is gaga over Priska Rogers, who proves to be a very sympathetic confidant for the devastated Kelsey.
Priska introduces Kelsey to concept of Magical Male Grabbers, which…
Let’s pause a minute. “Magical Male Grabbers” is the most hilarious phrase ever. I am picturing something between a speculum and a pair of barbecue tongs, which is an analogy I promised my husband I wouldn’t say out loud again (sorry).
…are a lengthy list of tips designed to make any woman an alluring sexpot. Kelsey is worried that it sounds an awful lot like lying and manipulating to get a man (Kelsey is especially concerned that Priska has been using MMGs on her brother), but after Priska takes her out for a new wardrobe, punk-rock haircut and makeup makeover, she is on board.
JP is upset that Kelsey never showed up to photograph the dance and Kelsey feels WEIRD when she starts hearing that JP had been paying a lot of attention to a cute freshman girl. But after Kelsey puts the MMGs to work and works her way into Taffy’s inner circle, he gets a little gross:
“What happened to Sonia or Beverlee – or even me- to talk to anymore? What happened to the Kelsey who was confused and insecure, but who was still a special friend?”
Ugh, boys who only want to date you when you’re insecure are literally the biggest kind of asshole. Also I kept picturing JP as 1990s Jon Hamm:
There is a late-developing Harriet The Spy-type plot where Kelsey’s notebook of Magical Male Grabbers goes missing, and pretty soon she suspects everyone in school, including JP, of being in on her secrets.
Apparently to get back at Kelsey, JP hires Taffy to be a second yearbook photographer, forcing her and Kelsey to work together. In the meantime, Taffy has started putting the moves on JP, either to make Kelsey crazy or to keep Cal jealous and therefore interested (as a character, Taffy’s motives remain interestingly opaque throughout the book). Finally, to complete the change-partners quadrangle, Kelsey and Cal put their heads together and scheme to make JP and Taffy jealous, and win back their desired mates.
While her ardor for Cal has cooled, his and Kelsey’s friendship is never entirely platonic, and they share a kiss and go on a date to Ernie’s in San Francisco (which is the restaurant from Vertigo, so maybe not an auspicious place to start a relationship…) But their friendship is one of the most appealing aspects of the book, as Kelsey discovers that Cal is a genuinely nice person, albeit dumb as a sack of hammers behind that Clint Eastwood squint. She feels very protective of him, and worries that Taffy is going to eat him alive.
When the mismatched couples show up at the school’s Sno-Ball, Kelsey is in on Cal’s plan to win back Taffy: he’s a shoo-in for Sno-Ball King, which will allow him to choose a girl from the Court of Princesses to be his Queen. But when the time comes, he instead chooses Kelsey, praising her for being a kind and compassionate human being. He then goes a step further and corners JP and argues him into giving Kelsey another chance. Order is restored to the universe!
Sign It Was Written In 1985 Department:
“It’s easy envying Taffy and drooling over Cal Lindsey like an 11-year old with a crush on Michael Jackson.”
“I’ve never seen JP look so cute, Kelsey. You should see him, all dressed up in a nice colorful sweater outfit.”
You still have until Tuesday, May 17, to bid on the Spring Cleaning Charity Auction of 55 featured Lost Classics of Teen Lit to benefit Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library!