One of my old rummaging grounds has been put to rest – goodbye old friend! – a bulldozer will be knocking it down soon. It was a bit of an eye-sore anyhow a school-turned flea-market clinging to the side of the highway sporting a row of ramshackle booths with rusted metal roofs. From this spot I picked up a book years ago – entitled The Teen Model fact book – some early 80’s non fiction book aimed at teens wanting to explore that avenue. I glanced at it once and set it aside finding it held nothing but dreary facts and cloudy photos however – I liked the cover of the scrubbed teen holding a Coke and was hoping to tie it into something.
Recently during a cleaning spree, I skimmed through it and couldn’t believe it – she, the model was actually on the cover of one of my favorite books! Best Friends by Shirley Simon.
Hazaah! I could now legitimately tie the book in without bending too much of my 80’s nostalgia
theme. I hunted up some other covers that have been inspired by some strange things conundrums of which there is no real answers just the moment to gawk and enjoy –
Honey by Mary Burchell may not be a typical 80’s series book but I love the silhouette cover and her face looked familiar is it just me or does she look like she’s been ripped off from this Max Factor Pink-a-pades ad?
And check out Michael Behrens book At the Edge I came across this the other day and the girls face was nudging at me my brain grew fuzzy – I had definitely seen her before which is a little weird because she’s drawn. Then I realized where I saw her – on the cover of an early 90’s teen horror I liked by Jeff Hammer called Dying to Know. And I’m Dying to Know who decides to use old clips from past book covers and pastes them onto new ones!
And check out Sleepover Friends – Conway the cover artist has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor – he’s drawn in several rival covers! There’s Babysitters club – Jessi’s secret Language and The Gymnasts and eureka – last months Sleepover Friends – totally surreal! Sweet Dreams even gets into the wink-wink mode by offering a cover in which the model is holding what else? a stack of Sweet Dreams novels!
Kim , a reader , clued me into this one – isn’t it a beaut! Characters flirting among a wire rack full of books (one of which features a previous edition of Sorority sisters) proves the surreal reality that you are nothing more than model on the cover of a series. Cue the Twilight Zone music.
Okay back to Best Friends By Shirley Simon – it’s not exactly 80’s , it’s mid 60’s with a cover that’s early 70’s. But like Beverly Cleary it’s one of those
easy , fun reads whose decade is almost hidden except for some minor formalities , kids who say how do you do , slang words like goopy , and names like Dot ( probably a pet form of Dorothy.)
The book bursts forth with lively well written events never losing sight of it’s theme – is the concept of a best friend more important than friendship? Jenny the hero of the story is a young girl – maybe twelve whose best friend Dot is moving from their apartment building the Towers ( whose reigning features seems to be high front windows very fairy-tale like ) into a posh
building called the Essex arms. Dot is excited about it ( aqua carpeting! ) but Jenny is anxious.
Her anxiety proves viable when Dot meets a gang of girls in the new building lead by forceful Edythe who is bent on making Dot her new best friend. Edythe is an attractive prospect offering fresh excitement ( the Towers to Dot had been become dull, dull ) – in the form of a Charm school run by her mother and something called the Thursday club which is for Essex arms
residents only. Jenny is quickly excluded and can’t even afford to enroll in the Charm school.
Though her home is boisterous: she has a sweet father who quotes a Leigh Hunt poem especially for Jenny , a chess playing younger brother , a fanciful younger sister Pauline who has an imaginary friend Gladie ( who happens to be a kangaroo with a green pocket) , and an organizing older sister Carol who tries to manage the brood , Jenny isn’t as diverse with her friends and tries to hold onto Dot. When Dot is elected to play Alice in the classes marionette production of Alice in Wonderland – Jenny is anxious to be cast as her understudy in order for them to spend more time together , even trying to back out of the juicy roll of the Queen of Hearts. Despite her attempts to thwart change – Jenny succumbs quite naturally to the changes going on around her – as a library is set up nearby Jenny quickly befriends the librarian Miss Kaplan who has a spirited
niece Ruthie and invites both to her birthday party at a Chinese restaurant having the open invitations when Dot backs out of it because it conflicted with her Thursday club introductory meeting.
Dot is observed by the reader as being rather selfish and bedazzled – she ditches her plans with Jenny on New Years when party plans with Edythe sound more inviting and integrates Edythe on outings with Jenny – in some ways that shows that Dot is no more
assuming than Jenny. Jenny has gotten to the point in their friendship where she makes presumes without asking creating a comfortable but dull pattern. When Dot steps out of that pattern she looks selfish and when she tries to create a trio rather than a pair she becomes thoughtless rather than presuming that Jenny is as anxious to have a new friend too. Jenny finds herself falling into a slow friendship with Ruthie enjoying her family – Miss Kaplan , Ruthie’s Jewish grandmother
who makes challah and gefelite fish and crochets handkerchief edges and Ruthie herself comes with a friend gentle Betty Lee , daughter of the owners of the Chinese restaurant. Jenny doesn’t even realize that she is doing exactly what Dot is doing , making friends and spending time with them because always in the back of her mind her goal is to get Dot back.
Complications arise when Edythe transfers to their school and asserts herself aloud as Dot’s new friend by bolding stating she will be playing Alice with Dot. Jenny decides not to argue the point and accepts her roll as the Red Queen finding that the project has become more
challenging working with a smart girl Jean Marie rather than taking a backseat to Dot. To even things out – Ruthie is transferred to Jenny’s class as well ( this would be unbelievable had the writer not set up a possibility that this might happen before Jenny and Ruth became friends.)
Right about now Jenny’s grandmother shows up , a kindhearted woman who loves to help out , scramble a phrase ( the more the friendlier ) but is seen by the kids as rather goofy. She represents Jenny’s freedom from conforming to shadowy types , understudies – when Jenny decides her grandmother is just fine the way she is , it coincides with Jenny’s revelation that having a best friend is not as important as being true to herself. Being best friends had been stifling , exclusive and rather boring. Jenny doesn’t want to be understudy anymore , she wants to develop her own ideas – with her new friends who support her not suppress her. In the play Edythe and Dot battle over the part of Alice neither of them wants to be the understudy – and both want to do the part of Alice in each show with no compromises.
Meanwhile Jean Marie and Jenny share the role offering up their own ideas on how the part should be played.In the end Jenny must make a choice as Dot tiring of taking a backseat to Edythe’s plans asks Jenny to be best friends again but in a way Dot’s proposition is selfish , she wants to be in a friendship that she can steer. Jenny decides she’d rather have lots of good friends and not be worried about focusing all her attention on just one friendship. A terrific story highlighted with great ink drawings by Reisie Lonette. I had thought their was a sequel having ran across a blurb in a back of a book or found it mentioned somewhere but so far my search has been fruitless. Let me know if you’ve heard anything about this , would very much like to know. A sequel would’ve been fun.