A 70s Time Capsule: Freaky Friday

Freaky Friday
Mary Rodgers
First published 1972

My history with this book
I loved Freaky Friday as a kid, and I read it multiple times. I remember thinking it was very funny, so I was curious to see if the humor would hold up.

My thoughts
I had a lot of fun re-reading Freaky Friday, and I still found it very funny, but the book feels a bit dated to me, because it’s very much a 70s time capsule. I was a kid in the 70s, so this was a nostalgia trip for me, but there are a few elements that might seem odd to a kid in 2016. The 70s aren’t quite far enough in the past to make this feel like historical fiction, and the dated bits may need some explaining.

In case you’ve not familiar with the book (or the two film versions), Freaky Friday is the story of a sullen 13-year-old named Annabel, who wakes up one morning in her mother’s body. Although she’s thrilled at first by all the freedom, the day quickly turns into a series of hilarious misadventures, and Annabel learns that life isn’t necessarily easier for her mom.

This book is genuinely funny, and parts of it made me laugh as an adult in a way that I don’t think I got as a kid. For example, Annabel’s idea of a typical day for her mother is convincing her father to take her (as her mother) out for dinner and an R-rated movie, trying on dressy clothes, and watching TV. Of course, the day actually involves Annabel being condescended to by her father, being harangued by the family’s racist cleaning lady, and being judged by everyone she meets for wearing a velvet pantsuit.

There are so many things in this book that are very 70s. Annabel is a liberal, socially conscious kid, and she makes a lot of references to “women’s liberation” and “male chauvinist pigs,” both terms I remember from my youth, but which may takes some explaining today. Annabel picks up the phone (a landline of course) at one point and refers to crossed wires, another relic of the past. When Annabel (as her mother) goes to a meeting to discuss the problems she’s having at school, the principal smokes during the meeting. Annabel mentions a classroom “rap session,” and her crush talks about beautiful “chicks.”

Of course, Annabel learns some valuable lessons: thatimg_2956 being a grown-up doesn’t necessarily make life easier, that her little brother isn’t nearly as annoying as she thinks, and that she’s the cause of a lot of chaos in her life.

There was one scene that really bothered me. In it, Annabel’s father, thinking she is her mother, speaks very condescendingly to her. He had given her (the mother) $50 the day before and when she can’t account for every penny spent, he treats her like a child. It’s  an unpleasant scene, and I wish Annabel had called her father out for being a “male chauvinist pig.” Instead, although she feels momentarily bad for her mother, she wonders why her mother isn’t nicer to “such a cute man.” I don’t recall this scene bothering me as a child, but as an adult, it was weird. (Also, the mother has to ask her husband for cash for her daily expenses? Ugh. That felt very retro.)

Does it hold up?
Pretty well, despite the super-70s groovyness.

Is there any objectionable content?
There are two instances of offensive racial terms, but in both cases, Annabel is quick to point out that this is inappropriate. In her mother’s body, she takes the family’s racist cleaning lady to task and fires her.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes, but the target age might be past the reading aloud stage.

Would I want my kid to read it?

Still in print, but not available in ebook form. I like my old 70s paperback with the Edward Gorey cover.

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