Monday, December 27, 2010

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Claudia wants to be appreciated. She's the oldest of four kids and the only girl in the family. She has to take out everyone's trash even when her brother empties his pencil sharpener in it. She really is living in appalling conditions.

In an act of upper middle class suburban pre-teen rebellion, she formulates a very detailed plan to runaway from home in order to teach her family to appreciate the sacrifices she makes for them. (The pencil shavings! Good god, the pencil shavings!) The girl plans out her trip more throughly than the Apollo 13 astronauts. She knows where she'll be and when. The plan is to hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You certainly can't expect a runaway to rough it, can you?

Miss Claudia does understand that she'll need funding for meals and her hot chocolate sundae habit. (Claudia Kishi? Is that you?) Because she cares about the welfare of her siblings, Claudia involves her second brother, Jamie, in her plan. Jamie's strength is that he's a third grade card shark and he has a transistor radio. Without much question or consideration for consequences, Jamie agrees to the plan.

The departure is planned for music lesson day at school. That way they can pack extra clothing inside their music cases. Claudia's violin and Jamie's trumpet are hidden away and clean socks and underwear take their places. They sit together near the back of the school bus and hide until the bus driver parks the bus and leaves for the day. From there, they simply take the train into New York and walk right into the museum. Easy peasy.

As always, Claudia plans to stay in comfort. It's not enough that she's living with room after room of after. Nope. Claudia chooses a medieval bed for her and Jamie to sleep in. (Am I just a terrible bed maker or would it be super hard to remake that bed every morning so that the museum staff was none the wiser?) Every morning and evening, they hide out in the bathrooms until the museum staff has gone about their business of opening and closing the place.

The entire runaway adventure is not as much fun as Claudia anticipated. Even at the museum, she's still planning things. Exactly what she was trying to escape. There is no event to signal her that it is time to go home. Instead, she and Jamie spend their days tagging along with class tour groups so they can learn while they're there. Jamie is tight fisted with the money when all Claudia wants is a damn hot chocolate sundae. Every night, they bathe in the museum fountain and fish coins out of the bottom. The routine is still there. Claudia is no more liberated than she was before leaving home.

One day, the museum is having a huge hullabaloo. There's a new sculpture, Angel, that is believed to be a previously unknown Michelangelo. Art experts are trying to prove its origins, and enormous crowds are flocking to the museum to see the piece. Claudia becomes obsessed with it. It is her twelve year old mission to figure out if the sculpture is really Michelangelo's work. Never mind the experts from around the world. Claudia did take an art appreciation course at the Y last summer. She's got it.

An article in the New York Times gives Claudia and Jamie the name of the previous owner of Angel--one Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The museum staff bought the undocumented sculpture at an auction for only $225. If it's truly by Michelangelo, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a fool. Right? Information on the sculpture is gathered. Woo.

Jamie loosens the purse strings to get Claudia a post office box under the name Michael Angleo. Clever, eh? Claudia writes a letter to the museum staff about a clue! she's found. When Angel was moved, an impression was left on the velvet covered pedestal. The impression matches Michelangelo's signature, as discovered when Claudia the slave driver forced Jamie to spend an afternoon doing research at the public library. (She's clearly taking this running away seriously.) The museum staff responds that their art experts are aware of the signature and are investigating its validity. Well. That went nowhere.

The next plan is to contact Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Turns out, she lives way the hell out of New York. Claudia and Jamie hop a train and then a taxi to get to her mansion. (Can you hear Jamie weeping as his hard earned pennies are blown on a taxi when Claudia could have hitch hiked her ass there?) Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler turns out to be a pretty cool old lady. She treats the kids like adults and isn't weirded out when Claudia, who was supposed to be peeing, takes a bath in something other than a museum fountain.

Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler makes Claudia and Jamie a deal. The answer to Angel's origins is in her mixed-up files. She'll give them one hour to find it. Claudia gives a little speech about haste making waste. She outlines the files that Jamie and she should go through. They're pretty obvious choices--Michelangelo, Angel, Renaissance Art, and what not. At the very last minute, Claudia--inspired by Jamie's constant use of "Baloney!"--looks in the files for Bologna, the city that the news article reported Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler bought the sculpture in around WWII.

That's a bingo! Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is in possession of a document verifying that Angel was sculpted by Michelangelo. In exchange for that information, the kiddos had to tell Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler all about how they managed to hide out in the museum for so long.

Mrs. BEF is super interested in the kids' story. So much so that she remembers a newspaper clipping she saved about some kids from the 'burbs that ran away. Her lawyer, Saxonberg, has been fretting about the same kids, his grandchildren. While Claudia and Jamie were looking for the Michelangelo file, Mrs. BEF was busy calling Saxonberg up to let him know that his grandchildren were safe with her and that she would be driving them home the next day. After she gets their story.

In exchange for the story and as a reward for finding the document varifying the origins of Angel, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler promises to have Saxonberg/Grandpa change her will to leave the document to Claudia. After her death, Claudia can decide if she wants to reveal that Angel is a real Michelangelo or to keep the secret to herself. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, though, says that she and Claudia are a lot alike--they both enjoy having a secret--so the choice will not be as simple as it sounds.

Claudia and Jamie get home safely.

  • Confession: I have a terrible attention span. I remember struggling to read anything Konigsburg wrote. Still true. I finished the book and was completely confused. Who the hell was Saxonberg? What did he have to do with Claudia's grandpa? Wait. That was covered the very first page. Yep.
    • I never finished The View from Saturday. I was beat by a children's book. *hangsheadinshame*
  • I'm amused that the running away budget is so small. It's made up entirely of loose change. Every time they find a dime--or a quarter!--in the fountain, Jamie and Claudia say that someone very rich must have made that wish. Pennies really are making a difference for them. Ah, 1964.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Here's to You, Rachel Robinson

Rachel is a super-overachiever. She is orderly and smart and rocks at playing the flute. She has two besties, Stephanie and Alison(!), that you might remember from Just as Long as We're Together. (Confession: JaLaWT is my all-time favorite Judy Blume book. I swear that it has nothing to do with it having a character named Alison. Mostly.) Rachel is still smarter than them. She still lacks the social skills to be tactful about that.

Her entire family is like that. They're obnoxious. They're a little condescending. They're a breeding ground for anorexic kids. They flip a shit when Charles, the middle Robinson child, gets expelled from school for refusing to take tests. (If you're just joining us and never read Just as Long as We're Together (Who are you?! Gah.) Charles is the misunderstood Robinson boy. He's sent away to boarding school for being awesome.) They flip a shit. This is not Robinson-approved behavior.

Charles is the black sheep. He's a rebel. He drinks. He swears. He's not unfamiliar with the joys of recreational drug use. He has a cynical sense of humor. He doesn't care about the urban myth that is the permanent record. He also recognizes that his family is ridiculous. Being an over achiever is not Charles life goal. He's not the idiot that Rachel and their older sister, Jessica, are assuming. Dude can quote Tolstoy. Dude knows his literature. Just because he is rebelling does not mean that he is not as smart or lacks the potential of the other Robinsons.

Rachel and the rest of the Robinsons are upset that Charles is back. (Some homecoming.) They avoid him like a leper. Rachel and Jessica do not make him feel welcome. Everyone makes it clear that Charles is a huge, embarrassing pain in their ass. They don't want to eat dinner with him. They don't want to be in the same room as him. He needs to drink their Kool-Aid and become a National Merit Scholar or something equally impressive.

Because Charles is expelled and the Robinsons prefer to keep him hidden home schooled, Mr. Robinson's student teacher works as Charles personal tutor, Paul. As tends to happen, Rachel develops a crush on Paul the Tutor. Nevermind that she's thirteen (Picture Luca screaming "Thirteen! Thirteen!" to Stacey over and over again.) Nevermind that Paul is student teaching for her dad. No. Rachel is in Stacey McGill approved LUV.

Meanwhile, there's drama at school because Jeremy Dragon and Dana broke up. Jeremy got caught making out with Marcella, the school slut. (Judy's word, not mine. Marcella is sexually liberated.) Stephanie and Alison(!) really hope that Jeremy isn't still wearing Dana's dove pin on his underwear. Me too. Dana starts hanging around the Robinson house waiting for Charles to get done with his tutoring. It's sad and awkward.

Things get even stranger when Mr. and Mrs. Robinson leave for the night. Jessica goes to her junior prom dressed in her mom's "slinky" LBD. (I cannot imagine wearing anything my mother owns to a prom. Or anywhere.) Rachel has Stephanie and Alison (!) over for a good old fashioned slumber party.

And Charles has a p-a-r-t-y. There is a mysterious smoke coming from Charles' room. And noise. Won't anyone turn down the music? Mary Anne Spier Rachel takes it upon herself to be the wet blanket and ask Charles to turn down the music. A peek into his room reveals Dana. And Jeremy Dragon. Oh, the drama.

After awhile, Jeremy Dragon comes up to Rachel's room. He plays Monopoly with Rachel, Alison, and Stephanie. Which is kinda weird. He's in ninth grade. Rachel and her friends are in seventh grade. To me, that's a weird age difference. After a few days, Jeremy tracks Rachel down to return his Monopoly playing piece. (What?) Rachel and Jeremy share a few passionate awkward kisses. Squee.

Mr. Robinson's history class takes a trip to Ellis Island. This is important because Charles has been all about reconnecting with his roots. He changes his last name from Robinson to Rybczynski. (This is pronounced Rib-jin-ski.) Charles is trying to differentiate himself from the rest of the Robinsons. Mrs. Robinson flips out that he dare try to be his own person. Mr. Robinson is quiet about how cool he is. So cool that when Charles is at Ellis Island with Mr. Robinson's class, he finds a listing for his great-grandparents, Rybcyznskis, on the immigrant directory. Sponsored by one Mr. Robinson.

Rachel scores a date with Paul the Tutor to a concert at the university. No one tells Rachel that it is completely ridiculous to think that Paul,who has to be at least twenty-two, would take a thirteen year old on a date.

On the "date," Rachel and Paul run into Tarren, Rachel's older cousin. Tarren is a bit of a mess--her husband abandoned her and their infant son and she's trying to get her degree in education. Now, she's dating a professor that has a "romantic obstacle," a wife. Tarren is at the concert with the professor. The professor's wife shows up. Awkwardness. Tarren is dropped like a prom dress. Rachel takes one for the team by letting Tarren tag along with her and Paul. As Paul is considerably more age appropriate for her, the two hit it off and it's suggested that a relationship has begun.

Jessica gets a summer job working for Stephanie's mom, a travel agent. She quickly becomes obnoxious with all her talk about how incredible Stephanie's mom, Rowena, is. Rowena owns her own business. Rowena wears cool clothes. Rowena jazzercizes. Rowena thinks Jessica should go on Accutane for her cystic acne. The Robinsons want to make Rowena swim with the fishes. They're sick and tired of hearing about how awesome she is. Doesn't Jessica know that the only ass she can kiss is Nell Robinson's?

Charles gets a summer job working in a bakery. He had expressed interest in being a baker, but the Robinsons squashed his ambitions and wrote them off. Being a baker is fine for a summer job. It is not okay for a Robinson career. For the summer, though, he will have the chance to prove himself and to do something that he is actually interested in.

At the end of the book, Rachel is headed off for band camp with her flute. (I think we all know what happens when uptight flutists unwind at band camp.) She's coming around about how awesome Charles is. We're left hanging for that third installment (focusing on Alison (!)) to find out what happens with the Chuckster. So many loose ends!
  • Alison comes to Rachel for a book to write a book report on. Rachel offers her A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Summer of My German Soldier. Alison (!) picks Summer of My German Soldier. Rachel goes on about what a great choice Alison (!) has made. 
    • This Alison (!) has both of these books on her shelf. It's obvious why Alison (!) picked Summer of My German Soldier for her book report. Page count. It's all about the page count, Rachel. No one wants to write or read a book report on a book any longer than necessary. Not even this lady.
      • Although...If you're ever interested in a very detailed retelling of all 1,032 pages of Gone With the Wind, call me.
        • Trolls: I read things other than BSC and other age inappropriate stuff. Ask me about it sometime.
  • I'm going to call bullshit on Paul tutoring Charles two hours a night while student teaching. In my daily adventures, I hang with a special ed teacher and a ridiculous number of people going into education. The general consensus is that during your student teaching term, you have no time. You certainly don't have time to tutor a juvenile delinquent every afternoon.
  • I have a crush on Charles. There, I said it. I'm filing him away with Rhett Butler, Mr. Darcy, and Harry Potter.
  • I support Charles' name change. Last names carry a lot of weight when they're not yours, and you were never intended to have the name in the first place. At the Robinson kids never had to deal with their last names closely resembling a slang term for vagina.
  • I wish that Stephanie's mom didn't encourage Jessica to go on Accutane like it's no big deal. Sure, people have good experiences with it. But a lot of people have terrible experiences. If the Robinsons don't want Jessica to take Accutane yet, that is their business. You don't make decisions for other peoples' kids. That's just not how I roll.
    • I do respect the Robinsons for allowing Jessica to pay for it on her own. 
  • I just figured out that the title is a Simon and Garfunkel reference. Well. That only took me ten years to figure out something kinda obvious.
    • See also: The Stiff Dylans, the band in Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging; that Biggby is quite literally an over-sized letter B; the play on words that is the Dew Drop Inn from The Waltons; 'cunning linguist,' my all-time favorite phrase
  • Judy Blume promised a trilogy. I need Alison's installment. I need to know what happens with Charles! Is he really just misunderstood genius? Do the Robinson's ever accept him for the mysterious bad boy he is? Does Charles conform to the Robinsons' expectations or does he forge his own path?
  • I really loved this mini-series when I was younger. One l Alisons are a rare breed. Everyone misspells it so the one l Alisons have to stick together.
    • Alison's step-dad's name is Leon. My childhood dog's name was Leon. Connection!
    • Also: Alison's best friend is named Stephanie. Boyfriend's ex-girlfriend is named Stephanie! Stephanie's brother is Bruce. My dad is Bruce! Jeremy Dragon=my cousin Jeremy! Rachel's sister is named Jessica! I grew up in the 90s so half the people I know are named Jessica!
      • I could go on, but I think it's obvious. Judy Blume stole names from my life. Or she just picked fairly common names.
  • Remember that one time I went to a super awesome library book sale that literally brought me to tears? Hi.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Looking for Alaska

Half a Plot:
In the first half of the book, Pudge (not his real name, in case you couldn't figure that one out on your own) heads out to boarding school in Alabama. Up to this point, he has been the fairly friendless geek. He drifts between groups of friends, none of which actually count him as a real friend. Boarding school will be the time for him to make friends, have an adventure, and re-invent himself as someone that is not a loser. He plans to go out into the great unknown. Cool, dude.

On his first night at school, Pudge is kidnapped, mummified in duct tape, and thrown in the lake to drown. That's some pretty serious hazing. It turns out that Pudge is being punished for because the Weekday Warriors, local kids that only stay on campus during the week, believe that Pudge's roommate, the Colonel, had two people expelled at the end of last school year. As far as the Colonel knows, though, none of his friends played any role in the expulsion. None at all.

The Colonel introduces Pudge to Takumi, Alaska Young, and Lara. They all become buddy-buddy.

Pudge starts dating Lara, even though he's totes in love with Alaska. This leads to a super weird scene where Lara and Pudge go to Alaska for an explanation on how to give and receive a blow job. Really? Not that I know or anything, but I thought that giving the first BJ was a matter of instinct and trial and error.

The crew is known for epic prank-age. Their plan is to devise the most epic prank in human history in order to get back on the Weekday Warriors for mummifying Pudge the first night. When it comes to epic prank-age, it's better for you to read about that yourself than for me to tell you about it. Let's leave it at that.


What the hell, John Green?! Do NOT make me go bold and CAPSY on you! I am positively outraged by that shit you pulled in the middle of the book. No. Just no. And I can't even discuss it properly because of spoiler issues. 

As soon as I got to the second part of the book, I ran(ted) to tell the roommates. They both have the book on their shelves. I assumed that they would understand and sympathize with me. No. They both go, "Oh, I have the book. But I haven't read it yet." Really? What literary good are you to me then? Get on it. Now.

  • The book is divided into 'before' and 'after.' I like that. It's different than the typical plot map. It gives a more complete picture of the dynamics and what-not. I approve.
  • The dialog feels very real. Those conversations are real. They could be real. I don't know about the rest of you, but I really liked that it felt like I was reading a conversation between my friends. Only with more pranks and intrigue.
  • Alaska has a "Life Library." It's the hundreds of books she's rescued from garage sales and plans to read throughout her life. Me too, Alaska. Me too.
  • I hate that Pudge started a relationship with Lara even though he was very much in love with Alaska. I'm not impressed. Especially after you hauled Lara over to Alaska for a lesson in blowjobs. Classy.
  • I don't understand being completely obsessed with Alaska. I found a tumblr written by someone referring to herself as the "Young Alaska." Really? This girl had issues. This girl had some serious issues. What is there to romanticize about? Of all the characters out there, you pick Alaska Young?