Betsy Haynes steps on the heels of Judy Blume and Paula Danziger like a kid sister
for this , probably her best known masterpiece. It’s got all the Blume / Danziger touches – the lippy heroine , the angst of puberty and zingy slang. If you haven’t read it pick up a copy – I dare you to just read one Taffy Sinclair book without wanting to read another! In fact as I dug out my copy I strained to remember back to my childhood – which came first for me Taffy Sinclair or The Fabulous Five? – It’s a bit of a puzzler because though I recall having glimpsed or heard about the upcoming series Fabulous Five – I can’t find an ad predating the series. Sometimes publishers will put ads in the backs of similar books – i.e. Bantam was pushing Sweet Valley High through Sweet Dreams and Scholastic’s Apple pushed Sleepover Friends through The Babysitters Club and though Sweet Valley Twins ( Bantam/ Skylark ) did advertize The Fabulous Five – I can’t seem to find one predating the series hmmm. Maybe if I had my original copies of SVT’s. I have the original covers but some copies admit to be a second printing.
So when could I’ve jumped on the Taffy band wagon? My best guess would be Blackmailed by Taffy Sinclair ( published a year before the Fab 5 ) – the cover sticks out most in my mind – probably cause I wanted Taffy’s white fur bomber. The rest followed – but sort of backwards – The Against Taffy Sinclair Club was one of the last ones I read.
Did I save the best for last? You decide.
*** Before you continue if you’re a fan of the Fabulous Five – you’ll note some differences and continuity errors – this was published in 1976 – a full decade and 1 year before the series started – and things were probably added and changed to make the series more interesting. You may also notice one of the biggest changes is that the p.o.v. ( point of view ) in the Taffy books were all from Jana’s p.o.v. ( it’s I said rather that Jana said ) with the exception of 1 book ( The Truth about Taffy Sinclair ) through Taffy’s p.o.v. and 2 that continued in the style of The Fabulous Five and became omnipresent – Taffy’s I said – became Taffy said. ***
The Plot –
Jana Morgan is a brash alarmist , and borderline neurotic. She doesn’t mince words. She’s fixed her evil eye on the school’s most beautiful girl Taffy Sinclair and even started a club against her – and it’s only function seems to be finding ways of bugging Taffy like by ordering a free sanitary napkin sample in her name or sending her a rude joke card or reporting every little thing she does scathingly slanted in the club’s notebook. Taffy Sinclair doesn’t seem to be doing anything really to deserve this behavior – but we’re told she purposely drops things in order to bend over in front of boys and show off her underwear and wrote Jana has B.O. on the chalkboard – last year. But since it’s never made clear which came first the club or Taffy’s chalky slur – the reader is never sure if Jana is justified. The only friend Taffy’s got is a tag-a-long called Mona whose as ugly as Taffy’s beautiful. Part of Jana’s problem is that she’s harboring hurt feelings from spending all summer expecting her screw-up father to take her on a promised trip out west that he oh-so non-chalantly offered to take her on at Easter. She still has the card in her boot box and can’t understand a thing about her parents divorce – especially when her mom only has good things to say about him. Jana looks for faults to justify and blame. She soothes herself that Taffy has one fault – a crooked bicuspid.
She’s about to find out crooked bicuspids won’t cut it. Not this year.
Beth Barry her best friend calls her up to blurt you won’t believe it – Taffy Sinclair has you-know-whats!
Alert the papers! ( I kept thinking what if Taffy had to deal with the Unicorn club hating her, Jessica probably would’ve slipped that tidbit into the Sixth Grade Sixers – under Liz’s name of course. And it probably would’ve backfired. )
Of course Jana is horrified and calls for an emergency club meeting which helps to introduce the characters – Beth Barry her best friend who in the Fabulous Five will be peppery and outrageous a bit of a big mouth starts off very subdue and sensible here – but what can you do – she could never out-do Jana’s tone here ( plus. there is a general rule in p.o.v. that if the I character is wild most of the surrounding characters will be rather passive but if the I character is laid back most the characters can be more outspoken. ) spunky Melanie Edwards is merely fat here described as probably eating Brownies 24 7 , Christie as usual is dismissed as being suspiciously smart as if her mother being the principal had something to do with it. And Katie is a radical feminist – she’s all sharp edges here ( in the Fabulous Five – they softened her a bit ) but she’s a real hoot.
Jana is embarrassed because when Beth arrives both are trying to see whether the other has breasts. Jana breaks the earth shattering news. Taffy Sinclair has you-know-whats. Everyone is duly horrified. Beth however has a plan – she’s found an ad in the back of a magazine promising a four inch upgrade on your bustline – the gimmick is called the Milo Venus ( ha! Ha the Venus deMilo ) and for only 19.95 they too can at least have something to put in their training bras.
But 19.95 they shriek and though this was a small fortune.
But remember it’s the 70’s , I did the math – and compared to today’s standards they probably were looking at a little under a hundred bucks.
Lets put it this way their weekly dues were five cents.
They decide they’ll have to raise money – or wait till they grow their breast au-natural , and also that they’ll need some code word to talk about this with no one knowing. Beth , who has a sister in college ( not in Fabulous Five Brittany is only sixteen ) , suggests Lambda Rho greek letters that can stand for anything starting with L R. What do they pick? Little Raisins. I kid you not!
Oh , Jana has to call up Katie because she wasn’t there. I assume it was because Katie wouldn’t have gotten through one moment of that meeting! When Jana tells her Taffy has you-know-whats , Katie could care less but is disgusted. Do you mean breasts! Then call them breasts that’s the problem with women today they don’t face reality! Jana gets her to simmer down by slyly saying – in order to be a bona fide bra burner you have to at least own one. Katie laughs. But still thinks she’s crazy.
The first day of school comes and Jana winds up showing up in the exact same purple dress as Taffy – only with that horrible smocking front – hers clings to her flat front – while Taffy’s swells to reveal her budding bosom – how awful! Oddly enough Taffy is only glaring at her for the fashion crisis , she doesn’t even bother to mock Jana’s bosomless state.
It occurs to me how odd this all is when I rediscovered what grade they’re entering , not sixth as I thought – but fifth grade! Did anyone worry about breasts in the fifth grade? I mean
technically Jana and her gang are ten years old! Maybe 11. Oh well – I guess it’s like hair clips if one person’s wearing them – everyone else has to have them.
Their teacher turns out to be dreamy Mr. Neal who Taffy makes a point of allowing her elbow to brush his jacket in a manner that says nyah nyah I touched Mr. Neal – Jana can only counter with blurting out a meeting of Lambda Rho – the girls think she’s crazy anyone can know about Greek letters she might even guess what it means – Honey , nobody’s going to guess that one! But if Taffy did – Jana’s thought is – I’m be so embarrassed that I’d die. Which is a phrase used in this book about as often as Are you there God it’s Me Margaret in Are you there God it’s Me Margaret. Incidentally, I don’t think Jana ever acts this over dramatic in The Fabulous Five – she gets kind of a personality transplant – trading her mania for Melanie’s mellow tone , but for Melanie the mania has been toned down to exuberance and over the top dramatizing usually about boys.
While waiting for the Milo Venus they decide to speed up their crop – first they measurement themselves and record it in the back of their notebook – geez these girls are brave! And then hey start in on the bust exercises – I must – I must – I must increase my bust ( just kidding – that’s a line from Are you there God it’s me Margaret )
Mr. Neal assigns How I spent my Summer reports and goofy Jana rather than making up a small lie – makes up a colossal whopper – all about an exciting wild west trip with her dad. He’s so impressed, the report is going to be printed in the school newspaper. Meanwhile the girls have decided Melanie’s gorgeous brownies are the way to make their money. There’s even a hilarious scene of Jana trying to get her hands on one of her mother’s cook books to find a brownie recipe without her mom knowing and asking a lot of questions – she finally has to skulk through her apartment in the middle of the night. And during the cooking of the brownies Jana blurts that her report is a big fat lie and is about to be printed in the school newspaper.
What are you going to do? Beth asks
Blow up the school – Jana replies – I kind of got a shiver reading that now – I mean it’s humorous then when crazy stuff like that never happened but it’s loony to know the reality that now exists behind that statement – I wonder if they’d edit that out in reprints?
The brownie sale is a huge success and even Taffy buys one via Mona.
But later the dooming high heels of the lady come to deliver the school paper has Jana up and running and not quite making it – she barfs all over her shoes in front of everyone – but consoles herself at least she got out of class. Beth calls her after school and tells her don’t worry nobody knows the report is a lie but …well Taffy’s up to something. Jana’s convinced Taffy’s going to tattle and not even the news that Beth has ordered the Milo Venus can perk her up.
However the next day Taffy shocks her with something worse than tattling, I found a notebook belonging to you she grins, so I gave it to Mr. Neal for safe keeping. Horrified Jana gathers up the others and tells them. They’re full of suggestions from the simplest – ask for it back – I’d rather die! – to steal it back – and get caught! Stumped they can do nothing. But Beth creatively says lets get Mr. Neal to believe the book is a fake – they’ll all be nice to Taffy. If this book wasn’t so dang funny , and if I didn’t catch Jana cringing at her own behavior this story might be as bad as Judy Blume’s Blubber. Fortunately it manages to make a point ( sort of ) without becoming didactic.
To celebrate be-nice-to-Taffy day – Jana stuffs two cotton balls in her training bra! ( who starts fifth grade in a training bra? ) Sensible Katie takes one look and bemoans – [ “What in the world do you think you’re doing? Nobody is going to believe you grew those overnight.” ] Beth eagerly wishes Jana brought extras. But Jana learns wearing falsies takes better preparation than shoving in a couple of unanchored cotton balls – one of which naturally wiggles loose and plays peek-a-boo with Taffy who laughs. Jana nearly dies of course.
And Betsy Haynes manages to work in a swear word without actually spelling it out, when Jana tells the reader that her life has officially turned into a four letter word she’s not allowed to say ( but every reader can guess. )
By now Jana turns to her mom who pegs what’s really wrong with Taffy – Jana’s prejudice and jealousy. Stung that her mother sides with the enemy , she runs out with a can of paint and sprays- TAFFY SINCLAIR HAS HER PERIOD – across the cement entrance to the school. I don’t see how she can justify – red spray paint which is practically permanent against a chalk slur , Jana has B.O., written a year ago and which could be immediately erased but that’s Jana for you. Naturally she feels regret and in the morning wakes early to blot out the slur with more paint only to find the janitor scrubbing it off with turpentine.
Reformed, she stalls her club members who are awaiting another scheme to get the book back. But before that can happen- the Milo Venus arrives – hazzah! – bigger boobs here we go ….hmmm go is right – there’s a cone shaped thing , a booklet and cream – she pitches the whole creepy lot out. ( It’s officially becoming a habit – Jana showing better judgment after the fact! )
As to the book, no sweat , it comes to Jana’s apartment in the hand of the rampaging gorilla-like Mrs. Sinclair. In the other hand she’s dragging a red eyed Taffy whose terrified. Okay , now Jana can sweat. Mrs. Morgan stays very calm – and I have to admire her restraint. Learning you child is the president of a club against someone would be pretty humiliating. The mothers leave the girls alone and Taffy blurts that it wasn’t her idea , she never wanted anyone to see the those horrible things written about her. Jana’s apology is halfhearted – I guess I don’t feel too hot having written them. And Taffy as though she wasn’t talking to her mortal enemy ( but someone whom she’d like to befriend ) admits her mother has had plastic surgery. The Sinclair’s leave and Mrs. Morgan gives Jana back her book , which crumbles Jana into confessing all – even about the Milo Venus. Her mom makes milkshakes ( how understanding can you get! – I’d have been grounded for a month! ) and they talk. Her mother warns her to stop turning people into villains to take the blame for uncomfortable situations ( like her father.) However in the Fabulous Five , I thought he was turned into an alcoholic not merely irresponsible. Anyhoo – Jana tells the others the bust machine was a bust – ha! Ha! Couldn’t resist. So Katie suggests a self improvement club and Jana is the first to raise her hand.
Not a bad read – but the message is definitely muddled. Having just witnessed five girls decide to wage a hate-club against a girl simply because she’s a little snooty ( which we’re never sure is a result of being ostracized or not )and there’s not enough depth ( other than a cover illustration – definitely in Taffy’s favor ) to make us feel too sorry for Taffy, leaving Jana almost justified. As for Jana , she constantly denies her feelings about her flaky father to the point where everything becomes sketchy almost numb in it’s narrow mindedness ( can we trust her assessment of Taffy when she’s so wrong about her dad ) with the exception of one feeling which permeates the book – embarrassment. If we’re to assume Jana gets the message – why then is there a second book in which even the self improvement club sounds as if they got their results before they’d done the work – i.e.The Fabulous Five.
But I’ll give it ***½ just for the zaniness.
* When Jana’s hoping that Mr. Neal didn’t read their notebook – I love Katie’s reply – [ “Are you kidding?” said Katie. “Of course he read it. Teachers are the nosiest people in the world outside of parents. They read everything they can get their hands on. They’re always trying to find out if their little darlings are up to something.” ]
* How crazy is this – Jana grabs a book in reading that she’s read many times before – Cowslip – which is guess-who’s book? Betsy Haynes! – you gotta love her for that!
* Jana reads Mad magazine – Pink brings her two of them – I just can’t picture Jana from the Fabulous Five reading Mad – Betty and Veronica maybe but Mad!
* What’s the deal with the name Wallace? – Pink – Jana’s soon to be stepfather , his real name is Wallace – which is the same name used for Kristy’s step father in The Babysitter’s Club.
* Dated touches – the kids think Jana’s report is swell , Katie thinks the Milo Venus scheme is far out. Groo-vy!
* I don’t think one fifth grade boy is mentioned in this entire book! Which makes the jealousy thing even odder – usually people are jealousy of gorgeous girls because they’ve got the admiring eye of teachers , and boys especially , here Taffy doesn’t have anything or anyone – it’s almost pathetic to be so jealous of her , here.
* Some continuity errors – Beth has an unnamed sister in college ( in TFF – she’s called Brittany and she’s 16 ) , though it’s not stated it’s almost is implied that Melanie has no siblings ( in TFF – she has a little brother Jeffy ) ,and Beth is extremely low key in this book.
* In the 80’s baby name book Beyond Jennifer and Jason – the name Taffy is mentioned in a list of names ‘better suited to a parakeet’ under the heading – Not enough to live up to – with other gems like Bubbles , Flip and Pepper. Ha!
*Was there ever a Milo Venus?- not that I know of …there was however a Mark Eden – premier bust developer of the 70’s! Check out these goofy ads – circa Jana Banana’s time – 1975-1976.
* And this one dream on girls….!
* Okay now check out some groovin’ fashions from 1976! – Eatons Barbie patchwork line.
A smocking top dress!
* The one in the corner is dubbed Pow Plaid and they ain’t kidding – talk about sock-it-to-you color!
* When I first read The Against Taffy Sinclair club and it got to the part when it says how Taffy bends over to show all the boys her underpants, I thought how short is this girls dress? I forgot about the date thing ( 80’s dresses weren’t that short ) – but these dresses other than the maxi-length skirts are super-short like babydoll short , I get it now.
* Yikes – pepto pink argyle pants!
* Hold it – I think I found the purple dress – or near enough about…
* Close enough – just imagine the smocking.
* Back in the 80’s I assumed Jana was the one on the far left – holding the red book. But now after rereading it – and knowing Jana’s dark hair in the Fabulous Five I’m pretty sure oddly enough – Jana is in the short sleeved purple dress , Melanie is the chubby redhead. I think Katie is the girl glaring at Taffy. Beth is looking at Jana in the white blouse and Christie – because she’s usually out of the loop is naturally faceless. Taffy reminds me of Charlene Tilton here. Whaddaya think?