Tag Archives: Shelf Discovery Challenge

Shelf Discovery Challenge #2: “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” by Paula Danziger

Danziger I have gotten very behind in my reading for Booking Mama’s Shelf Discovery Reading Challenge, for which I committed to read six of the books from Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, by Lizzie Skurnick, that were important to me when I was growing up. I read and reviewed Forever a few months ago, but haven’t read any other books for the challenge since then.

Well, I finally got to book #2 – The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger.

At my age (40) and this age (2010), The Cat Ate My Gymsuit is sort of an odd book. It’s about Marcy Lewis, a thirteen year-old girl who is shy, overweight, and insecure. She’s very antisocial until a new teacher, Ms. Finney, draws her out of her shell. At that point, a few things happen:

  • Ms. Finney is suspended because of her unorthodox teaching practices
  • Marcy is suspended for supporting Ms. Finney
  • Marcy bonds with Joel, a smart boy in her class, though it never turns into a romance
  • Marcy clashes with her father, who is very traditional and also very mean

I remember reading this book when I was young, but I don’t remember it being as dark and depressing as it is. I think a lot of it went over my head when I read it in the late 70s, even though its themes were certainly relevant then. Marcy’s father believes in following the pack, being thin and presentable, not speaking your mind, and women staying home. Marcy’s mother is a lonely stay-at-home mom who is afraid of her husband and unhappy about her daughter’s weight, but the only person she has to talk to is her daughter.

Here is something Marcy’s father says: “You’ve got to learn to stick with the majority, to play the game. And Marcy, now that you are going out, I want you to remember to be a good girl. You must protect your good name.”

When The Cat Ate My Gymsuit came out, I am sure that it was provocative and helpful to young women learning to forge a path for themselves in a world where women’s roles were changing. From a 2010 standpoint, the book feels awfully dated. It’s hard to imagine any father speaking to his daughter the way that Mr. Lewis speaks to Marcy, or a mother sharing the insecurities Mrs. Lewis shares with Marcy.

Marcy’s relationship with her friend Joel is pretty realistic for middle school – no Cinderella story here. She also never really resolves her weight issues – either by learning to accept who she is or trying to lose weight.

In all, it was sort of an unsatisfying read at this point in my life. I wish I could remember better how I felt about it when I was 12. If only I had blogged back then!

Shelf Discovery Challenge #1: FOREVER by Judy Blume

I am participating in Booking Mama's Shelf Discovery Challenge (discussed here). The challenge requires participants to read six books from Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery, a book about the classic young adult books we all read growing up.

Blume My first choice was Forever, by Judy Blume, a book I only read, shall we say, selections of when I was growing up. I remember the book being passed around at camp, where we all read the more colorful parts (such as p. 73 – a page number I've always remembered). I used to think that the world was separated into two different group of girls – those who had read Forever, and those who hadn't. When I went to the library last week, I swear I was embarrassed to check it out. I didn't make eye contact with the checkout person, and I felt like I was using a fake ID to buy wine coolers.

Forever is the story of the romance between Katherine and Michael, two high school seniors in New Jersey. It's Katherine's first sexual relationship, and the book is a good introduction to sex for teenagers. Katherine is responsible (though the book takes place pre-AIDS) and approaches her physical relationship maturely, but realistically. This being a Judy Blume book, other topics are tackled too – depression, death of a grandparent, teenage pregnancy.

I guess we all liked Forever in the early 80s because it wasn't gross (like The Joy of Sex), and it wasn't creepy, and it wasn't preachy. It was informative and told in a relatable tone. Reading it now, though, I found it somewhat unfulfilling. Katherine fell "out of love" with Michael pretty easily after a few weeks around a handsome fellow tennis instructor at summer camp, which made their relationship seem a bit dubious. I realize that they were 18 years old, but I never got much of a sense of why they thought they loved each other. Reading it as an adult, I was definitely struck by how young – and relatively self-absorbed – the characters were.

I am curious to see if I will have the same reaction to the other five books I am going to read for the challenge. I am definitely glad to have finally read Forever cover to cover, if for no other reason than my daughters probably will in due course, and I want to know what they're being exposed to. And, maybe, because I feel like one of the cool kids now.

Booking Mama’s Shelf Discovery Challenge

Lizzie I have never entered a blog reading challenge before. I don't like to feel constrained in deciding what I am going to read next, and I don't get to enough books that I feel like I can join challenges that have deadlines and expectations about how many books you have to finish. At any given moment, there are a lot of compelling challenges happening around the book blogosphere, but I just haven't been tempted to join one.

Until now.

Booking Mama is hosting the Shelf DIscovery Challenge, which asks participants to read the collection of essays in Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading - a book by Lizzie Skurnick about the books that changed our lives as teenagers – and to choose six books featured in Shelf Discovery to read over the next six months.

How exciting to revisit some of those YA books that I treasured and dogeared as a young reader in the 70s! (OK, and early 80s). I scanned through the table of contents (I haven't read the book yet, but I do have it thanks to HarperCollins (hi FTC!)), and there are so many to choose from.

Should I read one of the books that I read OVER AND OVER again as a kid, that I have practically memorized? Like Harriet the Spy or The Westing Game or All of a Kind Family? My daughters have been listening to All of a Kind Family on tape in the car, and I swear I can recite what happens in The Westing Game from memory. I think I will add Harriet the Spy to the list – I just bought it for my daughters a few months ago. Maybe we will read it together.

How about the ones about being a teenage girl that I read 30 years ago, but which I don't really remember that well… like The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit or Deenie or Jacob Have I Loved or Starring Sally J. Freedman As Herself?

Then there are the really sad ones, like Bridge to Terabithia (which I LOVED), or Island of the Blue Dolphins or Summer of My German Soldier?

Or I could go for the sci-fi books I loved when I read, but which I would never read now? Like A Wrinkle In Time or Ghosts I Have Been?

The rules of the challenge say that I have to choose 6 books now, but I can always revise the list as the challenge goes on. (And, of course, I am not limited to 6!). So, here is my initial list, which I am sure will change after I read Shelf Discovery:

1. The Cat Ate My Jumpsuit, by Paula Danziger (I remember loving this one).

2. Forever, by Judy Blume, which I don't think I ever read all the way through, only the dirty parts at summer camp when the counselors weren't looking.

3. Ghosts I Have Been, by Richard Peck, which I don't think I read.

4. Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson, which I know I read, and which is about twins, and because I don't think I can stomach Bridge to Terabithia.

5. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene, which I never read.


6. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh.

I am excited for this challenge! Click over to Booking Mama's post to see who else is participating – and consider joining it yourself! (You don't have to have a blog to participate.) You can also follow the tweets at @bookingmama, #shelfdiscovery.