Wednesday, March 9, 2011

School Daze; Report to the Principal's Office

Sorry for not updating in almost a year. Some crazy-ass personal shit went down in my life and updating a blog felt... silly. But I missed it. And now that things have settled down, get a load of this entry...

Jerry Spinelli is the genius who wrote the classic Maniac Magee. I truly wish his genius would have extended to his School Daze series, starring sixth graders Dennis 'Pickles' Johnson, Eddie Mott, Sunny Wyler, and Salem Brownmiller. It's not that the series is bad, it's just not as good as I'd expect, coming from Spinelli. The plot feels a little contrived and I don't feel like I'm reading about twelve year olds most of the time. Anyway. I picked this up at the thrift store the other day (with some other goodies!). I had fond memories of the second book of the School Days series, the goofily titled Who Ran My Underwear Up the Flagpole?. In hindsight, I probably only enjoyed it because the title included the word 'underwear' and I thought the character Pickles looked smokin' hot on the cover. But don't take my word for it. Look:

Oh. I guess you're still going to have to take my word for it, as the picture is woefully small. Lo siento. My scanner's broken and I'm using my cell phone for pictures. Deal with it.

Guys. He's like a miniature Pete Black from the Babysitter's Club television series. Some of you fainted just reading that sentence. Those of you who didn't- what's the matter with you? Just look at the stance, will ya? He's jauntily leaning against the wall in his green sneakers with his skateboard tucked under his arm as if to say, "I'm one sexy twelve year old. Yes, I will come over after school so we can do our homework together. Just know you're going to do the majority of the assignment. I'll be in the kitchen, raiding your fridge and while I'm not raiding it, I'll be leaning against it. Like this."

Alright. I'm done perving on a cartoon sixth grader.

To the plot:

Sunny Wyler lives across the street from her best friend Hillary. They've been bffs their whole lives and now, because their little town of Cedar Grove is growing and one middle school can't hold all the twelve to fourteen year olds, they've been sent to two different schools! Who drew up the district lines smack in the middle of a neighborhood, is what I want to know. Who cares. It's a plot contrivance, bitches.

Sunny has decided that she's going to be as gross and gnarly as possible so that she'll get kicked out of the brand new Plumstead Middle School and be sent packing to Cedar Grove Middle. She and Hillary have both decided that until they're together at the same school, neither of them will wash their hair or change their clothes. What. Seriously. Are some girls really still that nasty at the age of twelve? Ew.

We now join Eddie Mott on the school bus for his very first day of junior high. He's stoked and optimistic and tries befriending the sour looking girl who has just sat next to him on the bus. She refuses to crack a smile. Or blow her nose. Sunny literally has a snot rocket dangling from her neb but refuses to sniffle it up, because the grosser she looks, the faster she'll get kicked out of Plumstead. Hoooo boy.

As Eddie is about to get off the bus, he's picked up by a rowdy group of eighth graders and tossed around like a football. He freaks out and becomes super nervous and refuses to get off the bus.

It's Mr. Brimlow's first day as principal at Plumstead Middle School. He's a complete creep (but I think we're supposed to like him) and has been spending the whole Summer studying his new students' permanent records (those so do not exist) and memorizing pictures so he can greet each and every student on their way into the school by their first name. Sunny passes him and, due to the frown on her face, he can't recognize her from all the faces he's studied over the Summer. He asks her name. She replies, "Butthead," and keeps walking.

Eddie's bus driver gets Mr. Brimlow's attention by informing him that there's a sixth grader refusing to get off the bus. A girl with big, curly hair asks if she can help Mr. Brimlow coax her fellow sixth grader off the bus. Her name is Salem Brownmiller and she's a writer. Eddie might prove to be an interesting subject for the story she's writing about a student's first day in middle school. Mr. Brimlow sternly tells Salem that people are people, not subplots, but he allows her to come with him.

The bus driver gets impatient and drives off with Mr. Brimlow, Eddie and Salem still on the bus. The three bond, walk back to school together, and Mr. Brimlow invites Salem and Eddie to his office for lunch. As Salem and Eddie head off to class (first period nearly over), Dennis 'Pickles' Johnson strolls into Mr. Brimlow's office. Pickles received his interesting moniker because of the day he decided to hang pickles on the Christmas tree rather than the traditional ornaments. Yeah. I don't know either.

Pickles is upset because his skateboard doesn't fit in his locker and the teachers are giving him shit about carrying his board around with him. Mr. Brimlow tells Pickles to just leave his board at home... but why can't Pickles just leave his board in the front office during the day? I know this is a fictional book for adolescents, but that kind of shit pisses me off when I read it. I'm a teacher, and if a student needed a place to stash his only method of transportation to school, I'd let him keep it in my classroom for the day. Damn it.

Since Mr. Brimlow has disappointed Pickles by telling him to keep his board at home (damn it), he decides to use this opportunity to suck up and invites Pickles to lunch. Pickles probably realizes he's far too bad ass for this, and doesn't accept the invitation. He just leaves the office.

Mr. Brimlow now turns his attention to the girl who introduced herself as 'Butthead' earlier that morning. He pulls out his files (creepster) and eventually finds a picture. He calls Elizabeth Sunshine Wyler to his office during lunch.

All morning, Sunny as been slacking off in class (writing a made-up essay about what she did over the Summer, writing in teeny tiny handwriting, etc.), acting rude to her fellow students and just being an all-around little bitch. When she gets the call to Mr. Brimlow's office, she's sure she'll be kicked out.

The day continues with Eddie getting a pretend boogie flicked at him by Sunny, spit on in the boy's bathroom and hiding in a closet in the music room because he's lost and can't find his class. Eddie hates middle school and wants to go back to the safety of elementary school. Salem was hiding in the bathroom when Eddie was being spit on (yeah, I don't know) and she's decided that Eddie is going to be the main character in her story.

As Salem and Eddie are walking down the hall, Salem interrogating Eddie ("How does it feel to be spit on?") a hamster comes scurrying towards them. Bewildered, but wanting to keep the hamster safe, Salem captures it in her bookbag. Some eighth graders demand she hand the hamster over, but she refuses to, because it's convenient for the advancement of the plot. They run from the eighth graders into Mr. Brimlow's office. Mr. Brimlow is pleased that they showed up early for lunch. You know, rather than being pissed at them for totally ditching class. Whatevs.

Sunny shows up after the bell rings for lunch. She thinks Mr. Brimlow is about to kick her out. She's confused when she sees that she's there to have lunch. The hamster somehow gets out of Salem's bag and into the lunch that the lunch-lady has just brought in from the cafeteria. The lunch-lady freaks out and tosses the hamster through the air, and it's caught by Pickles, who has decided to grace the world with his sexy presence (guess I'm not done perving on a sixth grader just yet).

The kids have lunch with Mr. Brimlow. He invites Eddie to be the school's flag raiser and designates Pickles as Eddie's helper. He then informs Sunny that she's the hamster's keeper. Also, since the school is voting on a new mascot and each grade must come up with a nomination, Mr. Brimlow puts Salem in charge of a four person committee for the sixth grade.

I'm now very sleepy and all this specificity is giving me a headache. Suffice it to say:

The hamster is nominated as the sixth grader's mascot of choice, and eventually the Plumstead student body become the Plumstead Fighting Hamsters.

Sunny grows attached to the hamster and decides Plumstead isn't so bad. She washes her hair and changes her clothes.

Pickles takes his job as Eddie's helper pretty seriously and plays Reveille on his bugle (oh yeah, Pickles plays the bugle?) every morning as the flag goes up. He also saves Eddie from some eighth graders that were harassing him for his lunch every day.

Salem discovers through her character study of Eddie that the boy has actually become her friend rather than just a subplot. She still writes her story about him and gives it to Eddie as a gift.

Eddie realizes that middle school isn't so bad, especially because he's got two new friends- Pickles and Salem. It's also strongly hinted that Eddie has a monster crush on Sunny, for reasons completely unfathomable. Sunny is super unlikeable. But maybe that's just me.

Mr. Brimlow is proud of himself... because the school hasn't burned down or whatever. He's still a creep in my book. Want proof? Page 59:

A warm tide rose in Mr. Brimlow's breast. He really liked these kids. He wanted more of them.