70s Spotlight: I Know What You Did Last Summer

I Know What You Did Last Summer
Lois Duncan
First published 1973

My history with this book
I read I Know What You Did Last Summer when I was around 12, but it didn’t leave as big an impression on me as Summer of Fear or Stranger with My Face.

My thoughts
I Know What You Did Last Summer is probably the best known of Lois Duncan’s books because of the hit 90s movie that was loosely based on it. The movie is teen horror, but the book is more of a psychological thriller. (The movie stars 90s teen superstars Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Philippe, and Freddie Prize Jr.)

Last summer, four teenage friends–Julie, Ray, Helen, and Barry–did a very bad thing, and they made a pact to keep it a secret. It’s almost a year later, and guilt has turned Julie, once a sparkling cheerleader, into a serious young woman. She and Ray broke up after the incident, and he left town, but now he’s back and stirring up unresolved feelings in Julie. Julie and Ray aren’t close anymore to Barry and Helen, who don’t seem to be weighed down at all by guilt.  Barry is a douchey frat boy (played in the movie by–no surprise–Ryan Philippe), who’s still dating Helen, his high school girlfriend, but is also cheating on her left and right. Helen worships Barry and is a complete doormat.

IMG_3723When Julie receives an anonymous letter that says “I know what you did last summer,” the former friends have to start dealing with each other as they try to figure out who could be threatening them.

This book was better than I remembered it being. I didn’t really remember many details about, except for the very bad thing the teens did and that someone was after them. The story was fairly suspenseful, and Duncan is good at creating a menacing sense of dread as the teens realize that someone knows what they did and wants revenge.

For me, the best part of the book is how 70s it is. Everything feels groovy. The Vietnam war is still going on, and we meet veterans who’ve recently returned. Helen, who has no apparent job qualifications other than being pretty, is the weather girl for the local news, a job she gained through winning a contest. She’s a major local celebrity, and she has an apartment in a swinging singles complex, where everyone gathers at the pool each night. It’s very “Three’s Company.”

Does it hold up?
Much better than I expected.

Would I want my kid to read it?
I’d have no objections to him reading it.

Is there any objectionable content?
There are some dated attitudes that feel very 70s, and Barry is a total sexist pig, but he’ s presented negatively.

Can you read it aloud?
No.

Availability
It’s still in print. My copy is from the 90s and the movie tie-in cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anastasia Krupnik Is Very Groovy

Anastasia Krupnik
Lois Lowry
First published 1979

My history with this book
None. Lois Lowry is an award-winning author, and her Anastasia Krupnik series was first published when I was in the right age group to read it, but I wasn’t aware of this series until recently. I read Lowry’s The Giver a few years ago and liked it very much, so I decided to give Anastasia a try.

My thoughts
img_3062Anastasia Krupnik has a bit in common with the Ramona books and it also reminded me of some of Judy Blume’s work. Anastasia a smart, funny 10-year-old, who lives with her parents in an apartment in Boston (fitting into the 1970s trend of books about city kids who live in apartments, although it’s usually New York, so Boston is a nice change). Her father is a poet and English professor and her mother is an artist, so they’re slightly bohemian.

Anastasia faces some challenges in her life. Her parents announce that they’re expecting a baby boy, and she’s not thrilled about that. She has conflicted feelings about her grandmother, who’s suffering from dementia. She thinks she may be in love for the first time.

This is a sort of a slice of life book. There’s not a huge amount of plot, and it’s mostly about Anastasia coming to terms with the impending birth of her brother. I really enjoyed the book, and there are some very funny bits, like these two passages::

“Well,” said her father, “my vacation doesn’t start until day after tomorrow. But I only have to teach one class this morning. Do you want to come along?”

“Will it be boring?”

Her father adjusted his glasses so that he could look down his nose at her. “Boring? Dr. Krupnik’s English 202, required for English majors, eighteenth and nineteenth century poetry, three prelims, four papers, and a final exam, boring? He sighed. “Yes, it will probably be boring.”

And this one, where Anastasia’s father responds to a student he clearly finds very annoying:

“That’s very interesting, Miss Eisenstein,” said her father. But he said it with the same voice he used when Anastasia described in detail the plot of a television program. It meant he didn’t find it terribly interesting at all.

There’s a rather rough scene in the first chapter where Anastasia has to read a poem she’s written out loud in class. It’s a pretty amazing poem for a 10-year-old to have written, but Anastasia didn’t follow the teacher’s instructions to write a poem that rhymes, so she gets an F, which her teacher announces in front of the entire class. I was also a creative kid who didn’t always follow directions to the letter, so I sympathize with her.

img_3061Anastasia Krupnik feels a bit dated; there are a lot of things in it that are very 1970s. When Anastasia visits her father’s class, both her father and his students smoke. Anastasia asks her mother if she ever had a love affair before she got married, and her mother tells her all about a failed romance (not that this conversation couldn’t happen now, but something about it felt very 70s). Anastasia develops a crush on a boy who wears in a comb in his hair at all times and likes Roberta Flack. These details were nostalgic for me, but I wonder how they will register for a kid today.

The edition I read is apparently the original cover, and I like how much it references the book. There’s Anastasia, wearing her Amelia Earhart t-shirt and her big 70s glasses, writing in her special notebook, surrounded by lots of discarded poems. It’s very true to the book. And check out how groovy her parents look on the back cover. Her dad could be a minor character in Woody Allen’s Manhattan.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Sure.

Is there any objectionable content?
No.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes, although the chapters are a little long.

Availability
It’s still in print and available as an ebook.

 

 

Sheila Is Pretty Great

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great
Judy Blume
First published 1972

My history with this book
I know I read this book as a kid, but I had no memory of it, so it apparently didn’t leave as much of an impression as my favorite Judy Blume books: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, Deenie, and Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself.

My thoughts
It’s funny that this book apparently didn’t leave much of an impression on me as a child, because I really enjoyed it as an adult. I recently read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for the first time, so I sheiladecided to read Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, which is about a minor character in the former book. My husband read both of these books as a kid, and he still remembers being blown away by an author writing related books from two totally different viewpoints. Sheila comes across as a very annoying character in Tales, and she’s something of a nemesis to the main character (who is painted in a negative light in Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great).

Sheila Tubman lives in an apartment in Manhattan (in the same building as Peter, the hero of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing) with her parents and her boy-crazy older sister Libby. Sheila wants to go to Disneyland for the summer, but her parents end up renting a house in Tarrytown instead. Sheila makes a new best friend, Mouse Ellis, and learns to face her many fears, the most serious of which are dogs and swimming. Sheila is forced to confront her fears during her time in Tarrytown, because their house comes with a dog and her mother insists that she take swimming lessons.

Sheila is a quite a character. She’s something of a legend in her own mind, but she’s also a very anxious child with a lot of fears. She hides her fears behind boasting and bravado, but her bluff ends up being called when she makes friends with the very clever Mouse. Sheila thinks she’s good at hiding her fears and presenting a confident, even brash persona. But Mouse figures her out.

“Sheila, if a person is scared of something, a person should just admit it. Don’t you think so?”
“Oh, definitely,” I said. “And if I was ever afraid of anything I’d be the first to admit it.”

Which is, of course, totally untrue, as Sheila lies constantly in an effort to hide her fears and whenever she doesn’t know how to do something. The lies are kind of hilarious: She used to be really good at yo-yo’s but she hasn’t played with one since she was two, she can’t go in the pool because she had a cold, she’s allergic to dogs and gets hives inside her body, she can run a newspaper single-handedly.

I found Sheila’s first night in the new house very funny. She’s having trouble sleeping, so she turns on the light, which leads to her seeing a spider on the ceiling, so she wakes up her father. The sense of weary resignation from her father’s gives one gets the feeling that this is not the first time this has happened. Later that same night, Sheila is awoken by a strange noise. This time, she wakes her mother, who is annoyed at first but then gets freaked out by the noise as well (which turns out to be the dog howling at the moon).

Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great would be an excellent book to offer to a kid who has some fears. A parent could read along with their child, and use Sheila’s experiences as a good conversation starter.

Does it hold up?
Quite well. Judy Blume’s book are so universal, they don’t really seem dated. The only thing that struck me as odd was that the milkman still delivers milk in Tarrytown. I’m not sure when milk deliveries stopped being common, but I never knew of anyone who had milk delivered in the U.S. (milk delivery in rural Ireland was still common when I was a child).

Would I want my kid to read it?
Yes

Is there any objectionable content?
No, except for some mild fat shaming of one of Sheila’s friends.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes.

Availability
It’s still in print and available in audio and ebook format.

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?
Sure.

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

New to Me: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Judy Blume
First published 1972

My history with this book
I loved Judy Blume as a kid, but I had never read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
My husband loved this book as a kid and recommended it to me.

My thoughts
I feel liked I missed out not reading Takes of a Fourth Grade Nothing as a kid, because I enjoyed it so much as an adult, and I wish that I could have experienced it as a kid. It’s a fantastic and very funny book. It’s quite similar to another one of my favorites, Beezus and Ramona, with a long-suffering older sibling and an adorable but annoying younger sibling.

Peter is 9 and his little brother Fudge is almost 3. Fudge is widely adored, but he’s also a holy terror, and poor Peter feels insignificant and ignored. Fudge’s adventures are hilarious, but being the nice, stable, normal kid isn’t always easy.

Judy Blume is so good at capturing a kid’s voice. Peter feels so real, and there’s nothing precious or precocious about him. The book doesn’t really have a plot. It’s mostly hilarious episodes of Fudge behaving badly and Peter making funny observations. In one chapter, the mother takes the boys to buy new shoes. She’s horrified that Peter has a hole in his sock, but she’s fairly blase about Fudge having a meltdown. “How could my mother have been so embarrassed over a little hole in my sock and then act like nothing much was happening when her other son was on the floor yelling and screaming and carrying on!” Peter’s mother ends up convincing him to trick Fudge into trying on new shoes, and Peter is torn between thinking it’s funny that Fudge is so easily fooled and feeling bad for him.

Fudge’s third birthday party is probably the funniest part of the book, although it does seem slightly dated. Fudge’s father isn’t there, and the other mothers just drop their kids off. Having given and attended of small children’s birthday parties, I can confirm that drop offs are not a thing nowadays, and dads no longer get to skip their own kids’ parties. Attending the party are a crier, a biter, and a kid who eats everything in sight. The party goes about as well as you’d expect.

Does it hold up?
Not having read this one as a kid, I don’t have a point of comparison, but Judy Blume is pretty timeless. There are some minor dated elements (references to daytime muggings in Central Park, their building has an elevator operator, the dad is clueless about most aspects of child-rearing, Peter mentions “dope pushers,” Fudge gets saddle shoes), but otherwise, it holds up well.

Is there any objectionable content?
Just some mild fat-shaming of a chubby toddler.

Can you read it aloud?
Yes. The audiobook would be great for a car trip with kids.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Yes, definitely

Availability
It’s widely available, in print, ebook, and audiobook format.

 

70s YA: Summer of Fear

Summer of Fear
Lois Duncan
First published 1976

My history with this book
I first read Summer of Fear when I was about 10. I remember really enjoying it. I read many  books by Lois Duncan from ages 10 to 13.

My thoughts
Summer of Fear is classic Lois Duncan. Duncan is a prolific writer of lots of different types of books, but she’s best known for her young adult novels, most of which were published in the 70s and 80s. Her most famous book is I Know What You Did Last Summer, which was the basis for the 90s horror comedy.

Duncan wrote YA novels of suspense, often with mild supernatural elements. Summer of Fear is the story of a teenage girl named Rachel whose life is turned upside down when her recently orphaned cousin Julia comes to live with Rachel’s family. Within days of her arrival, Julia seems to be taking everything from Rachel: her best friend, her boyfriend, her family’s love. No one else seems to notice that something about Julia is a little off, but Rachel becomes convinced that her cousin is a witch.

Re-reading Summer of Fear was fun, but it really made it clear to me that young adult books have changed a lot since the 1970s. I remember being blown away by the big twist ending when I first read this book. This time around, the twist seemed painfully obvious to me, with many years of reading mysteries and thrillers under my belt. Compared with more recent YA books I’ve read as an adult, Summer of Fear feels more appropriate for a slightly younger audience. The heroine may be a teenager, but the writing seems more appropriate for a pre-teen audience. I can imagine a 16-year-old being a bit bored by this book.

Summer of Fear gave me a lot of nostalgic pleasure, as it brought me back to a time when I was starting to read what seemed like much more grown-up books. While Summer of Fear may seem a little hokey to me now, it seemed terribly sophisticated when I was 10, and I liked being transported back to that time.

Does it hold up?
Mostly. There’s a very 70s feel to it, and Rachel and her boyfriend talk about going to see the new Dustin Hoffman film, which seems really dated.

Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing too terrible, but it was written in 1976, so there’s some sexism. In particular, Rachel’s parents leave her at home when they go to retrieve Julia after her parents are killed, and her mother says, “It will work best if you stay here and run the house for Peter and Bobby.” Peter is 18, so it seems ridiculous that Rachel should have to make sure he’s fed. But it’s 1976, so there you are.

Can you read it aloud?
No. The target age is past the reading aloud phase.
Would I want my kid to read it?
I wouldn’t push it on him, but I wouldn’t have any objection to him reading it.

Availability
The book is still in print and available in both print and ebook form.

 

 

The Westing Game: A Delightful Puzzle

The Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
First published 1978
Still in print

My history with this book:
I first read The Westing Game when I was 10 or 11. It was one of my childhood favorites, and I read it several times. I was looking forward to revisiting it. That’s my well-loved childhood copy in the photo.

My thoughts:

I loved this book as a kid, and I loved it again as an adult.

The Westing Game is the story of a group of seemingly unconnected people who all move to a new luxury apartment building. Shortly thereafter reclusive millionaire Samuel Westing dies and his will brings together most of the residents of the building. They’re potential heirs to the Westing fortune, but they only get the fortune Westing Gameif they solve Westing’s murder. Thus begins a clever and intriguing game.

Although there are many characters, the most memorable one is Turtle, a 13-year-old girl who’s determined the solve the mystery. She’s very smart, but she’s not very pretty, unlike her beautiful older sister, Angela, whose shadow Turtle lives in.

People being overlooked is a big theme in the book. Turtle is overlooked because she’s just a kid. Another character, Chris, is in a wheelchair and has trouble speaking, so people tend to underestimate him, although he’s also very bright and observant, noticing things the others don’t see. Madame Hoo doesn’t speak English, so she’s mostly ignored. And even beautiful Angela is invisible in her own way. Everyone sees her beauty, but no one sees the misery inside.

An aspect of the book that I really enjoyed is that the terms of the will force the heirs into pairs, and each pair is rather unlikely. But these oddball pairings end up being complementary. Turtle’s angry edges are softened when she’s paired with Mrs. Baumbach, a sweet older woman. Timid Angela and attention-hungry Sydelle bring out the best in each other. Turtle’s slightly racist mother and Chinese-American inventor/restauranteur Jimmy Hoo are a bad match at first, but end up making a connection. I like the idea of showing kids that friendships can be found in unlikely places.

And then there’s the mystery, a multilayered puzzle with many pieces. It’s the kind of story where you can try to figure things out as you read, or you can just relax and enjoy the eventual solution, which is a satisfying one.

Does it hold up?

Yes, definitely. There are some dated attitudes about Angela’s future. She had to drop out of college, because of her parents’ financial issues, and although she wants to become a doctor, her mother is pushing her into marrying a doctor because it’s so hard for women to go to medical school. Ugh.

Is there any objectionable content?

Grace is mildly racist, but her behavior is presented negatively. The word retarded is used twice, not in a pejorative sense, but as a term to refer to the developmentally disabled. I know this was common usage at the time the book was written, but it feels very dated and might require some explanation for kids.

Can you read it aloud?

You could, but a lot of the cleverness is word play, and some of that might not work as well if you’re reading it aloud.

Do I want my kid to read it?
Definitely. I can’t wait to share this one with him.

Availability?
The Westing Game is still in print and is available in physical and ebook form. It should be widely available in libraries.