07 September 2005

It's Raining Estrogen

A few posts ago, I gave a glowing review to the first in a new set of girls' books called The Callahan Cousins. In The Summer Begins, 12-year-old cousins Hillary (the athletic one), Neeve (the well-traveled one), Kate (the friendly, rather ordinary one), and Phoebe (the bookish one) all gather at Grandmother Gee's sumptious summer home on Gull Island off the coast of New England, a privilege granted to all 12-year-old female cousins. I fell in love with the old-fashioned cover and found a good combo of old-fashioned girls' adventure and modern sentiments in the volume and was awaiting the next installment.

Boy, was I disappointed.

Home Sweet Home turns into an unbearable estrogen-fest which gets more annoying as the book proceeds.

Girls my age used to complain about the old books where the boys got to have all the adventures and the girls had to stay behind or do domestic things. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden and their ilk were some exceptions, but the majority of adventure stories were testosterone-fests. The men and boys in The Summer Begins were clearly supporting characters, but had various roles that kept them well-rounded. In Home Sweet Home the boys are mostly relegated to being boyfriends and are barely heard from. So much for the author trying to be well-balanced.

The story's main mystery is Neeve discovering a wedding photo of her dad with a woman who is not her mother. This unnerving plot device is like those aggravating romance books (and movies) where the heroine discovers something bad about the hero and, instead of confronting him about it, just stews and ignores him until the situation is cleared up. All Neeve had to do was ask Grandma Gee about the photo. Nope, Miss Independence sits and worries about it throughout the book, snapping at her cousins before finally confiding in them (and none of them advise asking their grandmother, either) and even falling under the influence of snobby Sloan Bicket, the bete noire of this tale, in an effort to get information. In one absolutely astonishing chapter, Neeve finds out that the relationship between her dad and this woman "ended badly" and jumps to the conclusion that her dad killed the woman. Huh? Her dad whom she loves despite the fact that he makes the family move so often? I watched a lot of crime TV as a kid and would have never, ever suspected my dad of murder in such a situation. What goes on in this kid's head?

The rest of the book is a long tedious argument between Neve and Kate about their summer project: redecorating the Dorm where the girls will have the privelege of living for the rest of the time. Even with Neeve's supposed "creative input," the room turns into a confection of mostly pink. Note to author: not all of us girls like pink, particularly when we had another favorite color and got stuck in pink endlessly as small children. The room turns out as predictably as some fluffy little girl's decorating book spec. Neeve also has a long running conflict with Sloan about some photos which she has traded...her makeup bag for. She spends at least a third of the book trying to get her makeup back. Oh, please.

Gee continues to act more like a friendly older sister than a real grandmother (and I don't mean that she ought to sit around and knit and bake cookies—heck, she has a housekeeper for that). At one point in the book she teaches all four girls to drive. Yes, they are twelve years old. She wants them to know in case of emergencies. Wow. Talk about your dream grandmother. She already has a bottomless budget, a big house, a pool, a boathouse, the Dorm, and even a housekeeper so these kids don't have to do a lick of work if they don't want to, and she teaches them to drive, too. I wasn't aware this was going to be a fantasy series.

The next book isn't out until May 2006. In it Kate is on a campaign to become "cool." Groan. Maybe by next year I'll have the bad taste out of my mouth, but right now, I'll pass.