Wishing Star’s The Great Lakeside Experiment – Neil R Selden – 1982 – Offbeat , fun make-over story with slinky 70’s fashions!


       The Great Lakeside high Experiment - Neil R Selden - smaller

     A wonderfully offbeat , lol funny – totally unsuspected I-even-cried-at-the-end read! Who is this Neil R. Selden? How could he take such a time-worn idea as the make-over and make it seem so touching and relevant! I guess some of the magic lay in the fact that make-up really had little to do with Maude’s transformation! A new favorite.  P.s. Two eagle eye’d readers brought it to my attention that this was an after school special – I knew a couple Wishing Stars had been made into them – but not this one  – check it out You Tube has it complete! I can’t wait to watch it!

    The Plot
    There are two heroine’s in this book not just one! Because the book has a unique set up ( later used in Babysitter’s Club super specials ) where the I p.o.v. is traded off every other chapter. So you don’t get confused Jen or Maude is under the chapter heading letting you know which one has taken over. But this is totally unnecessary – each character has her own distinct voice.
    We start off with Jen ( I’ll give her billing as #1 heroine – because the Great Lakeside Love Experiment is her idea and the book does start with her ) whose an ego maniac! She’s also beautiful how do we know this – she tells us via her immodest observations [Next to me, a gray little apple dumpling lady smiled shyly. It was obvious she thought I was terrifically pretty..] and own kooky admissions to having frizzy-dizzy hair and far-out make-up. Having returned to her hometown of Lakeside after a dull summer in Las Vegas ( but she won’t dare admit to anyone it was less than exciting. ) she’s set up a confusing conundrum – that all teenage girls try out at some given time – of having told her mother not to let anyone know she was arriving and being frustrated when first off it looks like not one of her friends has showed up. But her boyfriend Larry knows her too well and he’s arrived with two of their mutual friends Dolph and Wayne. Dolph is a football player like Larry who has an annoying habit of talking in groan-worthy cowpoke-ese ( like – seein as how you aims to lasso that Maude critter – ) but it’s played for laughs and he’s not a big part of the book, so it’s tolerable. Wayne is a singer-song writer wannabe whose trying to escape taking over his fathers belt factory after grad. What’s so odd about this book is that Jen has no bff! She travels in this all-male pack though admits she’d like to have a true friend she can tell-all to ( something she doesn’t even have with Larry – hmmm- gives you a little hint of where this ones going! )
    This group heads to a supermarket to pick up some grub for a late-nigh beach cook out with Jen racing shopping carts down the aisles with Wayne. It’s then that she noticed slump shouldered , dowdy Maude.
    But it’s not until the cookout – with the foursome again that Jen hearing about Larry’s summer working as a janitor at a science lab that works on psychological animal experiments that she wonders if they could practice a genuine love experiment on a human. Take a nobody like Maude and put her in with the in-crowd ( there goes immodest Jen again! ) and everyone will be thinking she’s got some ultra hidden attractions and start buzzing around. The boys groan at her choice – Larry believes Maude has as much personality as a bar of soap. But they all agree. Perhaps seeing how much it means to Jen who’d been feeling as though her entire senior year stretched before her as blandly unpromising as the fun-filled previous years. ( Seriously the girl had too much , and at the same time nothing at all – image )
    As this idea catches on the boys agreeing hey this could be like The Emperor’s new clothes – dynamite idea for a musical – thinking after a while Maude will become so hot everyone will imitate her. First things first – to befriend Maude – easier said then done.
    Maude is a complete klutz – she’s also turned into a homebody mainly because under the fear that she must prove her place in the household after Nancy her mother died. Er – Adopted mother died. Maude was adopted at the age of six mainly by Nancy and she’s felt she has to insure her usefulness in the household by cooking , cleaning and managing her younger brothers. That nobody just wants Maude for herself.  Definitely a more complex character for a thematic series but Wishing Star always tackled juicer subjects than Wildfire or Sweet Dreams and Maude’s a nifty break from the norm. 
    Opening the door one afternoon to find the most popular girl in school on her doorstep ( Jen ) whose making a pretense of selling beauty products door to door – Maude having come with hands full – glass of apple juice and a comic book ( confiscated from her brothers ) winds up spilling the apple juice on Jen’s beautiful pearl gray suede high heels. After that she is mumbling and incoherent and Jen chirps away as if nothing had happened. Later Maude is hopeful but also dashing her own hopes that she’ll never change. But…Jen attempts another trick – this time pretending to have fallen outside Maude’s house on the sidewalk and twisted her ankle. Dolph , Larry and Wayne come speeding up on bicycles and Maude so overwhelmed runs off declaring in gasps Ace bandage – pharmacy.
    As we switch to Jen’s pov – Wayne declares Looks like Maude’s headed for Afghanistan. The group goes into Maude’s house to wait for her return and while the guys impress Maude’s brothers , Jen goes through Maude’s things just to see how dire the situation looks – no LP’s no 8 tracks , no sexy underwear! It’s serious. Jen decides for Maude’s look they’ll have to go ultra-ultra mysterious. Slinky clothes. She copies Maude’s schedule and arranges run ins with the boys all week.
    Maude’s reaction – in her chapter is panic – sheer panic. Though she wants to respond like a normal teenager , she’s also wants to pretend she’s sick. When she does decide to respond – [ Lamebrain that I am, I waved back with the hand supporting my books. My books went bouncing down the steps , pages from a looseleaf exploding in all directions. ] she releases her inner klutz.
    Jen introduces her officially to Wayne , Dolph and Larry and learns they agreed to let her brothers sit on the sidelines at their football game – roping her into coming. She’s excited and goes out for her nightly ritual of taking her dog Linda running across the golf course but her feelings are complicated! It’s just not as simple as accepting this olive branch of friendship. She gets more accident prone. And when Dolph and Wayne ditch the school’s most voluptuous twins to talk to her – Maude is so stunned she can only escape to the safety of the girls washroom after giving them a cockeyed smile.
But the chapter comes to a head when Maude ignores a note passed to her by Jen in class. She knows she should at least look at it but can’t and leaves the classroom , and ignores Jen’s call even breaking into a run to avoid her – though in her mind wished Jen would catch her!
     Jen we learn was boiling over being ignored ( probably a first.) She also thinks Maude is letting her social life swirl down the drain , and after all their help, she’s hopeless! But Jen is no quitter – she’s determined – and when Maude runs – Jen kicks off her heels and gives chase!
    Maude thinking about the incident imagines writing notes to apologize and the second she bumps into Jen manages a rather formal one. But Jen is a sweetheart and pretends it was nothing. Meanwhile to speed things up Wayne driving Maude and her brothers home from the football game – leans over and tells her he’ll pick her up Friday – wear something sexy. Maude is flabbergasted – Wh-wha-what!
    Before she can fathom this idea he’s zoomed away and leaving her in a state of stunned awe. But Dolph takes her out for pizza the next day and she relaxes. Jen comes over asking is she can borrow Maude’s typewriter – and I love this scene. With each change of conversation it’s noted that they get one more snack plowing through – cold chicken and sodas , leftover jell-o and asparagus , chocolate pudding and yogurt. Maude is astounded that she manages to find things to talk about that would interest Jen.
    But Maude is still capable of disasters – at the end of the chapter as the in-crowd is waving her over to their table she arrives accidently dumping her mashed potatoes in Larry’s lap – who says – oh how I love this – [“My lap was so lonely until it found your mashed potatoes.”]

         The great thing about this book is there is no hidden meanness! They’re not discussing Maude in scientific terms or anything. Instead it’s as if they know deep down that they’re helping Maude the experiment blossoms quickly into friendship. And though egoist Jen can be a little hard to take at first , she’s no cookie popped out of a cookie cutter , and her problems – like Maude’s, allow the reader a rare shifting sympathy for both of them. Usually the rich twit looses out. 

        When it’s Jen turn at pov – she goes out with Wayne shoe shopping and they’re discussing whether or not he should kiss Maude on the first date. Wayne’s all for it [“..I’ve been told my kisses are habit forming. Maude might become addicted. She might overdose!”] But Jen thinks absolutely not she’s inexperienced. And anyway what kind of kiss was he thinking of? He shows her. Jen is not amused.
    The kiss rattles Jen enough to send her off to Larry for some romantic snuzzling and Jen wishes she had at least one problem that she could confide in Maude and help her to open up! She doesn’t have one problem , Not one? sheesh! It occurs to me – writing this that Larry telling Jen he doesn’t have a problem – way back here – the reader will discover later on he’s lying. Even Jen is lying to herself in a way.
    Meanwhile it’s back to Maude whose bought out the drug store with a truckload of  cosmetics to prepare for Friday but she’s so overwhelmed she pays her brother a dollar – wow I can buy pizza! he crows – to let her practice on him in a truly lol moment! In the end however her make-up is truly frightening – Maude what have you done to yourself – dear old dad says – and she ditches it. She should’ve ditched her high heels too , because one sinks in the lawn and pitches her face first into her brothers plastic pool, full of water and plastic submarines. Wayne’s pretty understanding. Later when he catches her staring at him he says [ What are you staring at? Your face. What about my face. It’s beautiful. ] This is the books turning point – Maude is beginning to come out of her shell – she’s a good listener and isn’t a wise-acre like Jen and the others who are always so jokey. People are starting to respond to this new Maude , the other popular kids are waving and talking to her , even her brothers are in awe of her friends. But she still gets jittery jumpy like when she calls up Jen and asks her to go hiking – the first time she asked anyone to go anywhere with her.
    Jen is discovering that being with Maude allows her some freedom , not to constantly yak , or be under pressure to be so dazzling – not expecting so much from the other person. She also learns that Maude isn’t just sensitive but intelligent and unusual and she worries that the experiment is bound to go wrong. She asks the boys if they want to cool it a bit but they are enthusiastic saying Maude can handle it. A hint that they actually like Maude. They pile into a truck to go to an audition Wayne managed to wrangle. And Maude in an attempt to seem cool pulls out a pack of super long cigar colored smokes and ends up burning a hole in Wayne’s new pink satin pants ( it is the early 80’s ) and his quite nearly his leg. Wayne is still pretty understanding. And when he doesn’t get the gig and is even embarrassingly cut off by the owner mid-song. Though the others laugh at his jokes to shake off the incident keeps looking at calm Maude who is the only one who gives him assurance.. By now it’s quite obvious, the guys are getting addicted to having Maude around.
    Larry in a loopy move asks Jen to marry him but she is full of anxiety about even the offer though later on finds herself agreeing to an engagement.
     Maude finally gets her physical make-over , only Maude is still so shy about showing off the new her , that the girls  have practice runs at out of town places and even an out of town dance where they take on dazzling new monikers – Carlotta Sutherland for Maude and Ingrid Barrymore for Jen. Ingrid – I mean Jen is taken by an arrogant red head by the name of Sonny Goldhammer but he’s too self assured so when he asks for her number she gives one to match her phony new name!
    Jen throws a picnic for Maude’s fashion debut – inviting the boys and even Maude’s family. She’s wearing purple hot pants which Jen doesn’t doubt turns Wayne on for real , but Dolph she can’t tell. But nobody really flips for the ‘new’ Maude – she’s become their friend and the day proceeds as usual with only the revelation that Maude can run like the wind – she admits she runs at night with Linda – a fact that intrigues Larry.
Who later on parks his car and spies on her.
    I better stop because this is the half way point and there’s still so much that happens. Needless to say the book begins to change. First- as Jen under pressure to conform to a image she doesn’t want – cheerleader becomes housewife – rebels. Secondly as Maude becomes such an significant member of their group that Larry turns to her for support with a secret he’s keeping – this results in a kiss.  Jen who has gotten more and more jealous of Maude guesses that they’ve kissed and flips out. She drives over to Maude’s and tells her coldly that everything they did was a set up for the great Lakeside high experiment. When Maude pleads , she doesn’t want to hear anymore – Jen says -[ Don’t knock it. We worked hard giving you a free ride. ] Maude stricken packs up her things, leaves a note and heads for the bus station. She buys herself a one way ticket out of town and waits. ….then she looks up and sees Larry sitting nearby , then someone lowers himself into a seat at the far end of her row – Wayne. And then Dolph takes a seat a few over from Larry. Nobody looks at her or says anything. But when her bus announces it’s departure.  They follow her silently to it before explaining her brothers called them about the note. And they know Jen told her about the experiment. She still gets on the bus – by now my eyes are brimming with tears – Larry writes with a magic marker – WE LOVE YOU DUMMY! On her bus window. The bus pulls away – Maude stops it and stumbles off – sees the boys running to her. Nope it’s not the end. *** here’s a spoiler *** Jen actually gets into a car accident with Sonny Goldhammer , he’s survives unscathed but she breaks her ankle , and her face is scarred. She’s so upset she doesn’t let anyone but her parents visit her and though the boys eventually give up trying to visit her Maude stays all night. The first night anyway.  The following days Maude spends all her free time ,  at the hospital waiting to see if Jen would relent. The experiment may have started as a prank but nobody could destroy what Maude had become or the bond that had developed between the girls.
    Jen realizes in someway her and Maude have changed each other – while she helped Maude come out of her shell , Maude touched off areas in Jen and that though she still felt betrayed by Maude longed to talk with her.
    Months go by and then a few weeks before graduation a year book arrives with a bookmark – she turns to the page – It’s entitled – The Great Lakeside high love experiment
among photos of their group is an interview with Maude telling about the funny , talented and kind person called Jen Robbins who had gotten the wonderful idea for the experiment.
    Right now I’m tearing up again.
    But the next chapter sends me over the edge.
    Maude and Jen meet at the beach Jen is still wary – Maude tries to apologize. Jen can’t believe Maude sat there everyday when no one else would – [ “I never had a friend, Jen. I didn’t want to lose the only one….. “You gave me a real life, Jen.”]
    Jen is wracked with broken sobs by now and needs to hear why Maude likes her. Would you tell me. Maude laughs of course – there’s so many reasons!
    The book ends with the girls going to their graduation and Maude holding Jen’s hand through the entire ceremony becoming the strong one of the pair as Jen has to become brave because of her cane and her cast and her scars. As Jen rides off with Sonny Goldhammer on the last page she can leave without stopping the car to give Maude a kiss goodbye.   

    I laughed and even blobbed up with tears on this one ( okay I’m a bit of a cornball I admit it ) – But it’s a good sign for a ya series book when it can actually get a reaction out of you. Oh , it maybe a little dated but that’s half the fun. I couldn’t quite capture the deliciousness of Selden’s lingo you’ll just have to grab herself a copy , it’s worth it – definitely ****!

    OTHER OODLES
* Dirty Star Wars glasses in the sink.
* Wayne is – mucho depressed
*[ Maude and I both began shaking because we really had come close to having our hairdos busted open..] this is after a brawl at a local hangout. The book is pepper with puns like this – [ “my parents kept dropping polite little hand grenades..] i.e. subtle hints.
* [ “Maude may you eat of this fruit of the Big Mac tree” ]- Larry comes bearing gifts – when Maude is sitting up all night in the hospital
* Jen’s shiny metallic skin tight pants – Grease!
* Maude’s hilarious first date which throws her father for a loop – Wayne gets two flat tires , Dolph who happens by on a bike offers to give Maude a ride home on the cross bar , picks up a pseudo date in the backyard , Wayne comes crawling over the fence – his tires weren’t flat someone let the air out. Vamoose to Dolph – meanwhile her father having questioned – that’s not the same boy who took you out is it? When Maude came home with Dolph – leans his head out the window to say getting kinda late folks – notices Wayne and – [ “ Hey you’re not the guy who brought her home!” Dad snapped. “You’re the guy who took her out! What happened to the guy who took her home? No, forget it! I don’t want to know!” ] Ha!

For the 80’s tie in Jen’s decision to put Maude in ultra-ultra-mysterious slinky clothes , I dug out this 1979 fashion layout lot of jewel toned glamour outfits!  

1979 - purple dress with gold trim

1979 - satin striped dress

1979 - skull cap and vivid red sweater - big

1979 - Slinky purple dress

1979 - two wild prints

1979 the groovy rolled head band

1979 -Vivid satin dress

1979 - wild print quilted jacket

1979 - glitter and velvet

1979 - Close up of Gold glitter and vivid blouse

1979 exotic dress

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4 Responses to Wishing Star’s The Great Lakeside Experiment – Neil R Selden – 1982 – Offbeat , fun make-over story with slinky 70’s fashions!

  1. boadicea23 says:

    I know that I remember a similar plot in a movie that I saw on HBO in the 80’s. I know they tried to make the ugly girl popular and it worked and then backfired. I don’t think there was a car crash though. It was a feel-good ending with everyone at the grocery store again, Maude was back to shopping for her brothers and they all apologize.

  2. book chick says:

    Didn’t they make a movie or afterschool special of this?

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