Thursday, January 5, 2012

One Track Minds or: We Hate Everything But Boys

Story Order: #4
Publication Order: #1 (1985)
Time Covered: 6th Grade

Here we go. The book that started it all. Without precedent or fanfare came We Hate Everything But Boys in 1985. It was the simple story of Linda Berman and her two best friends who try, desperately, to get their "own-true-loves" to like them back.

According to Linda Lewis's website, WHEBB sold 300,000 copies (which I know, is like nothing compared to Twilight, but whatever). As simple as it was, something about the book spoke to pre-teen girls and thus, a series was launched.

Plot Summary
Just like 2 Young 2 Go 4 Boys, this books begins on the first day of school. Linda is looking for Jeff Davidson, "the most important boy in her life". We are given a brief recap of how the former Tomboy lost her heart on the basketball court when Jeff knocked her down and then graciously took her hand to help her up. Linda hopes that she and Jeff will be in the same sixth grade class, but oh fie! Jeff is in 6-3 (along with Linda's bestie: redheaded, voluptuous Darlene Mason) and she is in 6-1 with her other bestie: chubby and giggly Suzy Kletzel. Also in 6-1 are Harley Silver and Kenton Wolfson, Darlene's and Suzy's respective crushes.

After a flirtatious (?) run-in with their guys after school, Linda laments being an eleven year old girl in love with an eleven year old boy.

"Love!" giggled Suzy. "Do you really love Jeff Davidson?"
"Well, put it this way--I'm crazy about him! He's so cute in his lovable chubby way. He's got a great sense of humor and is always doing something that makes me laugh. When he smiles, it just sends shivers through me!"
The trio then decides to do the most sixth grade thing ever and start a club whose one goal is to learn how the boys really feel about them. They name their club We Hate Everything But Boys or WHEBB for short. Then they buy sailor hats and write the name of their crush on the inside. You see, they figure the boys will get curious about what "WHEBB" means and...start to like them...(Oh, sixth graders and their logic!)

Naturally, the plan backfires and instead of being mesmerized by the sailor hats, Jeff, Harley, and Ken steal them in a game of keep-a-way. The girls' secrets are revealed and everyone is humiliated. WHEBB decides to lay low until the whole thing blows over.

Weeks later, things seem to be okay when Jeff smiles at Linda from the pitcher's mound during a baseball game. However, Jeff has another admirer in snotty Sue-Ann Fein. And then Darlene gets sexually harassed by some older guys. She and Linda run away but Darlene is naturally upset that her over-developed figure brings her such negative attention. Linda reassures her that the other girls are jealous and in time, she won't stick out so much.

Over the next few months, nothing big happens. Nerdy Jan Zieglebaum has a birthday party without boys, so WHEBB starts prank calling their crushes in one of the bedrooms. They get in trouble. Then the sixth grade girls take an entrance exam for Huntington, a prestigious all-girls private school. Linda wants to do well on the test, but can't imagine going to an all-girls school and being away from Jeff.

After the first snowfall, she and Jeff have a snowball fight which brings them closer together. Linda gets herself invited to his birthday party, but then gets uninvited after getting into a fight about something so stupid and forgettable that I refuse to look it up even though the book is sitting right in front of me.

Then Ken has a party. A boy-girl party. (Seriously, drink every time someone has a party in this series.) Lawrence Carlson, a new and apparently "mature guy" likes Darlene. At the shindig, Linda is asked to dance by  Jeff, but she realizes she has chicken pox and doesn't want to get him sick. (Yes, yes, she did the right thing. But if I had the chance to slow dance with my sixth grade crush, he would have gotten infected.)

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold...

Linda learns that she--and Jan Zieglebaum--passed the Huntington test. Of course, her parents, principal, and teacher, Miss Delaney, want Linda to go to Huntington but her friends want her to stay with them at 515, the pubic junior high. If only she had a boyfriend to help her make that decision...

As the school year winds to a close, Linda, Suzy and Darlene each buy an autograph book with the intent of getting their guys to sign their sixteenth page...which is meant for the one you love...and everyone knows this, according to Darlene, and if not, they're living in the dark ages. Darlene's is signed by Lawrence who she's decided is more of a man than Harley.

Linda succeeds in getting Jeff to sign her sixteenth page:

        The door is locked; the key is in the cellar.
        There's no one home but Linda and her feller.

        Seriously, I hope this graduation is the foundation of
       your education whether you go on to Huntington or 515.
                          Your boyfriend,
                          Jeff Davidson

Then he turns right around and signs Sue-Ann's sixteenth page.


Not long after, Linda decides to go to Huntington, mostly because her parents stress the importance of education. Suzy and Darlene are pissed, but Linda claims nothing will change; they'll see each other plenty after school.

Hotshot Lawrence has a--you guessed it!--party to celebrate graduation. This one is formal which means Linda needs a new dress and, gulp!, a BRA. Lawrence orchestrates a game of Post Office and even though Linda is peeved at Jeff for jerking her around, she still wants to go in the closet with him. First she gets called by Marvin Haven who kisses her on the cheek and then Lawrence who gives her her first real kiss. Then she is called by Jeff!

        He bent down and kissed me hard on the lips. I had just started to enjoy it when he started laughing again! I shoved him away. Enough was enough! He hadn't paid attention to me all night and now this!
        "So that's your idea of a Special Delivery kiss! Well you can just call Sue-Ann's number from now on!"
        "Hey, wait a minute!" He was still laughing.
        "Just this!" He bent down and kissed me again. 
        This time it was a real kiss. It was kind of awkward. It was not as sexy as Lawrence's. But you could tell meant it. I closed my eyes and wished it could go on forever. But neither of us knew how to make a kiss last.
        "Better?" he asked.
        "Much better," I said breathlessly.

And if that doesn't seal the deal for you, Jeff gives her note written on a napkin before leaving the party:

Open this up and you will see--
That I like you better than Fein,
really I do.

So, everything worked out for the best. Jeff likes Linda, not Sue-Ann. Lawrence likes Darlene, to hell with Harley. And Suzy...well, there isn't anything about Suzy, but one assumes that nothing ever happens between her and Ken. Semi-happy endings for all.

Sort see, a few days after this party, Linda goes to a baseball game and notices a ninth grader named Sheldon who is hot. She forgets all about Jeff for a second and wonders if an older boy will ever replace her own-true-love. (My guess is yes if she's already thinking about someone else days after she kissed him!)

The novel ends on a sort of downer note. Linda graduates. She remembers everything she went through and then...
Closing exercises are over. I'm walking out of the auditorium. No one is holding hands now. I'm walking by myself.
Christ, where to start? First of all, I've read We Hate Everything But Boys more than any other book. I had always been a, how can I put this?, romantically charged young lady. Some call it boy crazy, but I wasn't crazy for all boys or even several boys. I found one and then stuck with him for years--yes, years--on end. In the fifth grade, I didn't have any friends who were like me in this respect, so I turned to literature. On the bookshelf of my classroom's piddly library, probably next to a copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins, was We Hate Everything But Boys.

I devoured it in one sitting, much like I did yesterday for this review. For the first time, I found characters who felt what I felt. Boys were the whole reason they got up and went to school. Every waking thought was spent on that one guy. Besides this book inspiring my entire writing career, it also helped me through sixth grade.

That being said, WHEBB just doesn't do it for me anymore. Oh, I still like it and all, but you know...I sort of grew out of it. This time around, I couldn't help but cringe at some of Linda's behavior. And I was a little bit harsher on the pacing and plot points.

First of all, Tomboy Linda is gone. There isn't even one throwaway comment like "I used to be a Tomboy but now I love boys!!!" She isn't completely a girly girl; bras and periods still freak her out and she never misses the chance to be physical with Jeff...and by that I mean, she chases him, steals his stuff, and has two snowball fights with him.

Oh, Jeff Davidson...I do still like you, you irritating little shit. You like Linda, then Sue-Ann. You're nice, then you're a dick...Suddenly, my entire romantic life makes sense to me...

Anyway, analysis...Linda, Suzy, and Darlene start a club devoted to learning the true feelings of Jeff, Ken, and Harley. Great. I'm sure many a sixth grade girl has done something better. But the sailor hats? Fashion aside, why the FUCK would you write "I like [insert crush's name here]" inside anything you take out in public?? Seriously, they were just asking for it.

And along with this, I was so surprised how many people knew Linda liked Jeff. She cheers for him (and against her own class's team) OUT LOUD. Repeatedly "shapely legged" Rena and rival Sue-Ann tease her about liking him. Having been in the position of having everyone know who I liked myself, I can't understand why Linda doesn't just lie. Or act. I guess liking someone at PS 373 isn't as much cause for gossip as it was at Oakesdale Elementary circa 1999.

Anyway...analysis. I was also surprised by Darlene being sexually harassed. Following that scene, Darlene also describes a similar situation when a son of her mother's friend attacked her in his bedroom. I know it happens and probably more often to girls as developed as Darlene, but fuck, you don't find it in light-hearted YAF of the 80's. Who would think something with this cover would contain sexual assault?

Second edition cover. Circa 1990.

Now, about that ending...Maybe this says too much about me, but there is no way in hell I would have ever gone to an all-girls school. Especially not at age 11 and especially not if I had a "boyfriend" like Jeff claims to be for Linda. But we most follow our own paths and if Linda wants to do it, I'm sure it'll work out for her...

But that wasn't the only thing that irritated my eleven year old heart after reading and re-reading WHEBB. Sheldon. Sheldon. That random guy Linda briefly eyefucks. Just who is he and what is he doing disrupting my happy ending? Linda and Jeff are meant to be! Elementary love is pure and forged before hormones completely take over our common senses. Go away, Sheldon! Linda doesn't need your straight black hair and muscles and deep, post ball-dropping voice.

Oh. Oh, yes. I see now.

At eleven, I still hated the ending. I even ripped out the last pages so it ended right after Jeff gives Linda the note at the party. Seriously. I had to buy a new copy in 2006. So, after spending one year coming to grips with her romantic side and another year pining and chasing after the Jeff Davidson, Linda finally gets him. But already it's not enough.

Useless Character List For My Enjoyment
  • Linda Berman - Protagonist (1-4)
  • Suzy Kletzel - Linda's giggly best friend (3, 4)
  • Darlene Mason - Linda's mature best friend (3, 4)
  • Jeff Davidson - Linda's "own-true-love" (3, 4)
  • Marvin Haven - Creep from Linda's building (3, 4)
  • Ira and Joey Berman - Linda's twin brothers in the second grade (1-4)
  • Mr. and Mrs. Berman - Linda's parents (1-4)
  • Mrs. Birnbaum - Teacher of Jeff and Darlene's class (4)
  • Mr. Wohl - Principal of PS 373 (3, 4)
  • Miss Delaney - Strict teacher of Linda's class (4)
  • Harley Silver - Conceited and handsome crush of Darlene's (3, 4)
  • Kenton Wolfson - Harley's second banana; Suzy's crush (3, 4)
  • Steven Warshinsky - Nerd in Linda's class (3, 4)
  • Rena Widmark - Bossy girl with shapely legs in Linda's class (3, 4)
  • Jan Zieglebaum - Mousy, nerdy girl in Linda's class (4)
  • Lisa Finklestein - Snobby, beautiful rich girl in Linda's class (3, 4)
  • Sue-Ann Fein - Stuck up girl who likes Jeff (3, 4)
  • Roger Hall - Older bully who harasses Darlene (4)
  • Georgie Johnson - Roger's buddy (4)
  • Mrs. Zieglebaum - Jan's mother (4)
  • Mrs. Davidson - Jeff's mother (4)
  • Mr. Wolfson - Ken's father (4)
  • Miss Chester - Substitute teacher for Linda's class (4)
  • Lawrence Carlson - Mature sixth grade boy who likes Darlene (4)
  • Sheldon - Older boy that Linda thinks is hot (4)

Linda's Kiss List For My Enjoyment
  • Lawrence Carlson (4)
  • Jeff Davidson (4)

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