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!