|[||Tags|||||ann hates, ann m. martin wrote this book, ann's non-bsc works, ann's wet dream, bad parenting, non-bsc snark, parody of itself, racism, rageragerage, slam book, this shit just got real, this will not end well, what in the deep-fried hell?, where does ann get these names?, why am i doing this?, wtf?||]|
So after I finished the Ann bio, I spent a night at my parents en route to visiting my brother, and I dug up my copy of Slam Book, to see with fresh eyes if it was as horrible as I remembered. After all, this 1987 classic featuring high school freshman (so just slightly older than the BSC!) presumably was something Jean Feiwel read in offering Ann the fated (or fatal) BSC contract, deeming that she knew “what writing for children was all about.”
It wasn’t as bad as I remembered.
It was worse. Like, not only clueless and stupid and implausible but actively offensive in so many ways I had to lie down halfway through.
And I promise after this, I will stop dedicating myself to exposing and eviscerating the dark slimy underbelly of the Ann Martin canon, and recap something about which I have no complex feelings—Claudia and The Genius of Elm Street, perhaps, or Kristy and the Middle School Vandal. Even Mary Anne’s Book. (Or requests, if you have them!)
Content note: this book contains (deep breath) references to drug abuse, alcoholism, racism, suicide, attempted suicide, bullying, fat-shaming, and child abuse/neglect. On my part there’s likely to be some swearing and sputtering. Also my feels, illustrated through cat memes.
Anna, the budding sociopath, manages to blame the horrible, shitty things she is to do over the course of the book on attending a family picnic. I already hate her. She self-righteously yells at her sister Hilary for telling (the sister’s son) that he’s “already had enough junk [food] today to last you until World War Three,” because Anna thinks that it’s wrong to use words of more than one syllable around a small child because it makes them feel left out. I call bullshit—Hilary said the important part to Seth very clearly (the dessert wasn’t ready yet) and besides, talking to little kids in something besides baby talk a) is fun, b) keeps caretakers sane when they don’t have adult contact for hours on end and c) actually builds their vocabulary and comprehension. So shut up, Anna, and Ann, your knowledge of child development was already shit. Of course, Anna really means that she has angst about being the family “caboose” or something because her siblings are all grown and out of the house (like Hilary, who at 23 is married with a three-year-old and another on the way.)
Anna and her cousin Peggy raid the desserts (Anna only eats vanilla ice cream--which is also the favorite of Ann, so think about her little avatar here) and flee from an elderly Aunt, who has committed the horrible crimes of smelling like cough drops, having whiskers on her chin, and wearing a hair net, so God forbid these two girls suffer a moment of pleasantries to make an old lady happy. Really, Anna hates her because apparently Sophie looked like Anna as a girl, and Anna I guess is afraid that she will suddenly start stuffing Kleenex up her sleeves and wearing baggy stockings instead of being popular, which is pretty much the sole ambition of her life.
Anyway, Peggy shows Anna the slam book she started at her high school, which apparently is the key to popularity, filled with such hilarity as “Says she wears a 36B. Really wears a 34A. Stuffs cups.” Peggy praises the joy of anonymous commenting to “say what you really think,” which will blossom to full fruition in the age of reddit and 4chan. Peggy’s page says she is the funniest girl in the class, tortured a “jerk substitute” (I’m pretty much on his side on principle) and “needs to lose some weight.” Anna notes that this is not very nice, and Peggy is basically, “yeah, duh, check out this dork’s page.” Apparently Garrett Greeson didn’t think “most likely to father a geek” was humorous. Clearly he must die. Anna decides she will start a slam book to show that she’s “not just a little nobody at Calvin High.” Peggy warns her to keep the book out of the “wrong hands” and away from parents, but Anna ignores her.
Just for the record, I may be writing this recap with the hindsight of adulthood, but I’m pretty sure even at age seven, I was like, um, this is mean and a bad idea.
But who listens to me? I’m not popular. And I’m kind of fat. Also I have red hair and social anxiety. How much does Ann hate me?
Anna gets her mom to drive her and two of her BFFs to the mall, and calls the third, Rich Bitch Paige Beaulac, to meet them there because Mrs. Wallace doesn’t approve. Paige will just have the chauffer drop her off.
We get some backstory on Anna’s other friends now, and this is where I really begin to think she’s an asshole. Anna’s friend Jessie throws herself into school activities to stay away from her home, with an (allegedly) workaholic jerk father, doormat and possibly-abused mother, and drug-addicted older brother.
Now, I think it’s mostly fanon, but reasonably supported, that this is at the root of at least some of Shannon’s over-achieving. I also think it’s pretty clear in the series that Shannon does NOT generally want the BSC to know about her less-than-ideal home life, which is frankly further evidence of her good judgment, IMO. However, at least the BSC are more or less supportive and impressed by all the things Shannon does. Anna, her mother, and sometimes Randy, who know exactly what Jessie’s doing and why, are either condescending or resentful of her. And I say WTF.
About the Smith household: we’re told a lot that Mr. Smith is horrible and oppressive and sexist and possibly abusive, but pretty much any time he appears he just seems overwhelmed, frustrated, and exhausted to me. I mean, I’m not really going to hold it against a distraught (albeit fictional) teenager that her view of her family is skewed, but the supposed omniscient narration in this book is disgusting. Anna shows her support of her friend by goggling at her wide-eyed when Jessie vents about the fighting between Mr. Smith and her brother.
Next they pick up Randy, and here someone REALLY should have told Ann not to try to write about racism, because. . .ugh. So Randy grew up in Calvin as basically the only black kid in town, and in Ann’s white bread world, that was all totally fine and no one even noticed she was black. I bet Ann has a lot of black friends.
Then the Taylors moved to Chicago for a few years, and Randy was rejected by black kids who thought she was an “Oreo,” (Ann is fascinated by that, isn’t she) and white kids because she was black. This “wounded her,” like, no shit, Ann, and when the Taylors returned to Calvin, Randy was “cynical” and worrying about whether or not she was an “Oreo” was “the focus of her life.”
I just think it’s super creepy and gross that Ann is suggesting that Randy’s problems with racism only occurred when she met other black kids, and if she’d stayed it Whitey McWhiteVille, she’d be totally fine. Like, wtf is that even? And the tone of the narrator is definitely that it’s an unhealthy or even silly obsession on Randy’s part and just OMG shut up Ann.
That said, Randy is probably the best person in the book.
Anyway, Mrs. Wallace drops them off after extracting a promise that they stay out of the video arcade, which I totally don’t get, but it is funny when Anna (and Ann) pronounce video games “passé” in 1987. They go to meet up with Paige, who is busy shoplifting for the lulz. Randy is not pleased with this, but Anna and Jessie think it’s super-cool when Paige shows off her ill-gotten gains. Anna flashes an annoyed look at Randy for her lack of enthusiasm, and Randy goes on ahead to the stationery store, which I suppose might be passive-aggressive, but is totally what I would do, were I forced to hang out with these idiots.
The rest of the girls follow, while Anna frets about how Paige and Randy don’t get along and admits it’s because Paige is a snob who thinks Randy is “worlds apart” from her and must be jealous of her poor little rich girl status—all the unlimited credit cards, none of the parenting. For the record, it’s made clear later that Paige is at least somewhat racist, and that Anna and Jessie know this, so their insistence that Randy should “get along” with her is even more gross and devoid of any kind of empathy or common sense. Anyway, Paige snots at Randy for buying too many school supplies, and I may be a geek, but I am totally Team Randy on this, too. The beginning of the year, when all your notebooks are clean and color-coded and the folders are all crisp-edged and you have new pens and clean erasers. . .man, working year-round bites. Raiding the supply room at work is not nearly as satisfying. Er, not that I do that for anything besides work-related reasons, of course. And Anna buys a composition book to use for the ill-starred slam book.
Oh, Ann! You tell us Anna spent hours picking out a look that was neither “too babyish nor too matronly, too plain nor too punk,” and you don’t even describe it!
Jessie is all excited about school and her friends are kind of smug assholes about it. Paige gets dropped off in a silver Cadillac and makes a huge scene about how embarrassed she is and how Dwight the Chauffeur wouldn’t drop her off on a side street, although since she basically does whatever else she wants I don’t get why not. This scene was better in Sport. And next to Anna Wallace, Harriet and her notebook are angelically adorable.
They wander around looking for their homerooms and Anna is the last one. A “handsome, concerned” boy gives her directions which are obviously wrong, although it doesn’t occur to her until she’s practically down in the boiler room (and passes the “school dietician’s” office, like, is that a thing, and why aren’t there any adults around?). She forces herself to ask for directions, and she approaches a red-haired girl with some friends, so you know shit will go down. They point her towards the boys room and then force her to polish their shoes with a Kleenex, and while she’s on the floor, they write a big red F on her face with lipstick. And then Anna realizes she was literally in front of her classroom the whole time.
Now, I can’t say this kind of hazing never happens, but it’s totally foreign to me (the lipsticking kinds of stuff; I can kind of buy the bogus directions.) Then again, my high school had between 500-700 people per class, so you’d have been hard-pressed to even identify a person you didn’t know as a freshman. But I may have gone to a suburban stereotype rich kid snotty school (where I knew people who cried because they only got $30,000 cars, not $50,000 ones, for their sweet sixteen), but this seems beneath even us.
They make it to lunch and we meet Griswald “Gooz” Drumfield, like, what were you smoking when you came up with that name, Ann? He is handsome and rich and smart and athletic and rejected Paige for some girl named Casey, who commits the myriad crimes of having an airy voice and being too cute as well as dating the class hottie. Who, I repeat, is named Griswald. So Casey gets the first page in the brand new slam book, which is “practically calling to” Anna, like, it’s a damn notebook (blank at this point) so get a grip, you freak.
Total pov change to Cheryl Sutphin, who reflects that high school will be no different than middle school. Her father is drunkenly snoring as Cheryl gets “heavily” to her feet. Because she’s fat. Fat, friendless, and unaccepted since elementary school and she has no expectation of this changing. She proceeds to break my heart by putting on a green housecoat that belonged to her dead mother and attempting to spruce it up with a peacock brooch and a bathrobe sash. (And in apt Ann form, the text acknowledges that she gained more weight after her mother died, like maybe this is an emotional issue? Huh? Ann? But will never acknowledge this any more when it can just suggest she is “fat becuz she eats two much.”). Also, you know Claudia could wear that and everyone would wet themselves with delight. She eats Captain Crunch and two Oreos, which is awful because she’s fat, and braces herself for the jeers on the bus.
The thing is, a lot of the writing is really affecting, but I’m pretty sure that’s in spite of Ann, not intentional. The situation is heart-breaking to anyone with an ounce of soul, but the narrator is firmly in an “ew, gross,” camp.
First week of school sleepover Chez Beaulac. Anna packs the slam book “reverently” on top of her Lanz nightgown. Items: Paige was totally planning to snub Randy, which Anna “fixes” by inviting her herself, and Anna whines more about how her parents don’t like Paige, although apparently not enough to do anything about it.
Huh, Paige has a “compact disc player.” I’m pretty sure the BSC were limited to cassettes well into the 90s. Mrs. Beaulac is on her “third martini,” which I guess to Ann equals a vaguely argumentative tone that collapses into giddy giggles. Paige hides all the gin and vermouth after looking up “martini” in a bar guide, and I don’t drink much myself, but I’d think an alcoholic like Mrs. Beaulac is supposed to be wouldn’t be foiled by her first choice in cocktail vanishing.
Randy arrives and reports that Jessie is late at school for a newspaper meeting and Anna complains that with all of Jessie’s activities (you know, the ones everyone knows she does to stay away from her house) they’ll never see her. Paige calls her crazy, Randy starts to defend her, and is cut off by Anna.
So they discuss the slam book, and you know, if Anna’s plan is to get noticed by upper classmen, I don’t really know why they would care about “the smartest girl in the freshman class”—who is named Dale Rice, like, really Ann? But apparently they are, and the slam book includes the four girls, Gooz, Casey, some other people we will never see, and “shlumpy Cheryl Sutphin, the loser of their class—dumpy, not too bright, and a terrible dresser.” Apparently none of them have read their own pages yet.
Mrs. Beaulac brings Jessie in, and she’s gone from vaguely unpleasant to sloppy, barely coherent drunkenness by now. Paige takes her off to bed and Anna and Jessie gossip, while Randy, who is like a freaking saint now, tells them to knock it off and they start watching Ghostbusters. Finally they read the damn book, starting with Gooz, and just reading his name gives Anna goosebumps. Then they read Cheryl’s page, which is full of such witticisms as “buys clothes at the Salvation Army” and “once broke my camera just by posing.” Randy makes a token objection to the first, but laughs at the latter.
Anna goes off to read her page in private, and everyone thinks she’s wonderful and popular, “all-around nice” (hah!) and has beautiful eyebrows. Paige goes next, and after comments about her being rich, beautiful, and snotty, someone with “shaky handwriting” has written something about Paige graduating from CHS with a “double degree in drinking and shoplifting” and seriously, that doesn’t even make sense. You don’t graduate from high school with a major, Ann. It is someone who knows about Mrs. Beaulac’s drinking, though, and I kind of thought it might turn out to be Paige herself or Randy, but it’s never revealed. Paige arbitrarily decides it’s Casey, with disguised handwriting, and punishes her by writing on Casey’s page, in disguised handwriting, “What a liar. Everyone knows you didn’t really do it with Gooz.” Randy is shocked, shocked! Jessie thinks it’s just a joke. Paige goes for sodas, and Jessie starts to read her page and freaks out, turning red, wiping her eyes, and then flings the book at the wall. Compassionate Anna’s response? She yells at her, because God forbid someone damage the sacred text. Jessie announces she’s leaving and Randy offers to call her mother. Paige comes back and Anna thinks she smells liquor on her breath. I’m not sure what it says that they think Paige’s shoplifting, numerous school expulsions before Calvin, and general snottiness are cool, but they can’t imagine her drinking.
Anna wanders by Jessie’s house to check on her bestie, and “feels a wave of nausea,” when she hears fighting from the Smith house, like, I’m so sure, drama queen. Mock Mary Anne’s self-absorbed sympathy sobfests, but she also wouldn’t be running a slam book to gleefully profit from others’ humiliation, so. I guess we’re supposed to think Mr. Smith is awful because he tells his son to shut up while yelling at him for staying out all night, and while I don’t think Mr. Smith has much of a grip on what to do for his kids, it hardly makes him seem monstrous to me. In fact, as an adult, I’m downright sympathetic to him here.
Anna hears glass breaking and shrieks, Jessie runs out in tears, and they go back to the Wallaces, where Jessie blames her dad for the fight, and claims that her mother’s whole life is taking care of her father, like he’s a “dictator.” This causes Anna (and the shitty narrator) to finally reveal what upset Jessie in the slam book (sorry, but as a writer I find withholding information that the characters obviously already know for a supposedly dramatic reveal to be hack work): “Meet the Smiths, the all-American family—Hitler, Houdini, Cinderella and the addict.” (Hitler=Mr. Smith, Houdini is Jessie, the escape artist, Cinderella is the mom.) The handwriting “oddly” looks somewhat like Paige’s (whose distinctive handwriting is a major plot point, but nothing comes of this observation here.) I do have to say, while that is mean, it’s a lot more clever and cutting than “stuffs her bra” or “possible head lice?” so. . .good job?
Jessie says that her mother knows Jack has a problem (or at least is “difficult”) but wants to let Mr. Smith handle it his own way. Jessie thinks this is because she is scared, but honestly, based on the rest of the book, to me it comes off as apathetic. Jessie and Mrs. Smith claim that if she got a job, Mr. Smith would divorce her, but again, based on the rest of the book, I kind of think Mrs. Smith is full of it. It’s not that the abuse, psychological or physical or whatever is subtext, it really seems to me not to be there at all, based on every scene we actually see.
Way later that night, Anna has the first twinge of doubt about the slam book. So apparently her friend fleeing the slumber party in hysterics didn’t make her doubt it? Sociopath.
Anna thinks she is awesome because she is mobbed by girls who want to read about themselves in the slam book. “This was the way things should be, she thought. She and Jessie and Randy and Paige were the center of attention, or at least connected to the center of attention, which was the slam book.” I hate her so much.
Anna notes with satisfaction that even kids not at her table seem drawn to it, including, of course, Cheryl. “She was wearing a faded, shapeless housedress that she must have made herself. Her father, who held various odd jobs, earned barely enough to pay the bills, so Cheryl was forced to cut corners wherever she could. Judging by her weight, however, she didn’t cut many corners when she went grocery shopping for herself and her father.” I just want to point out that it really doesn’t make sense for Anna to know all this, so I’m pretty fucking sure this is the omniscient narrative voice of Ann, who also adds that Cheryl is eating a mayonnaise and baloney sandwich on a hamburger bun. And I’m really, really restraining myself from a rant about food costs, particularly when you don’t have the opportunity or capacity to comparison shop or buy in bulk or have cooking skills or whatever. I bet a million dollars Ann is one of those people who thinks everyone has access to a farmer’s market year-round.
Sigh. Casey Reade is also eating alone and Randy “grimly” reports that she and Gooz have broken up. They assume it’s because of what Paige wrote in the slam book, and Randy (probably correctly) suggests Paige might have pushed the rumor to make sure it got out over the weekend. Gooz sits near them talking to a friend of his, and basically shuts down Paige when she tries to talk to him. Paige flounces off and “all-around nice” girl Anna gets all gossipy with her friends and all accusatory when Randy comments that she knew Gooz didn’t like Paige. Randy retorts that Paige “barely tolerates me as it is. She thinks I ought to clean her house, not visit it.” Anna clutches her pearls, but she and Jessie “both knew it was probably the truth.” Yup, it’s super-nice how Anna pressures and forces her alleged BFF into being nice with a racist.
Not even this, Ann(a).
Gooz comes by and notes that they’ve all gone quiet, all “Three beautiful women all talked out?” like what high school boy says that? Randy replies teasingly that he’s “treading hard on the thin ice of the women’s movement,” and I don’t know whether that means that the women’s movement is fragile, or that women are hypersensitive dimwits who love to take insult at inane things, but either way, STFU. More totally un-teenage flirtation ensues, and Anna ventures to suggest that the rumor was just a rumor.
And Gooz blushes, because high school boys just HATE it when people think they might have gotten laid. Seriously, Ann, I know you went to high school—between snotting it up in your horticulture classes and manhandling autistic children, did you ever actually meet a teenager?
This goes on, because Gooz reports that Casey “blew up” and denied it when he confronted her, which kicked off a big fight. This is obviously meant to make it OK for Gooz to be Anna’s love interest (spoiler!), because they sort of maybe might have broken up for other reasons, but seriously, this is so stupid. So, in Ann’s world, high school boys are mightily offended when someone supposedly insults their virtue (as they should be, because boys are regularly labeled sluts or prudes, and regularly experience harassment accordingly. . .oh wait), and a girl who reacts in anger when her boyfriend accuses her of spreading rumors about their non-existent sex life, based on anonymous shitty graffiti, is at fault. What in the deep-fried hell indeed.
But none of that matters, because Gooz asks Anna to work on a history project with him, squee! And Paige glares at her with “pure hatred.” Supposedly Paige and Casey both angrily stalk the lovebirds through the hall, but Casey does nothing wrong the whole novel, so this is just meant to make us think she is evil and crazy and unworthy of Gooz’s. . .goo. (And I just grossed myself out.)
The rest up next, if my computer stops screwing with me. . .