Original Publication Date: 1998
Ghostwriter? Yes, Peter Lerangis.
Christopher "Ducky" McCrae is 16, a high school sophomore at Vista. He has trouble fitting in with his peers, most of whom are Manly Men, Into Sports And Other Manly Pursuits. Ducky privately calls them Cro Mags, as in Cro Magnon, the prehistoric version of early man. He has a couple close friends, although one (Jay) has recently been drifting away to the Cro Mags. In fact, he and Jay have a falling out after Jay won't accept that Ducky doesn't want to be dating and keeps trying to force girls on him. The other (Alex) has been very distant lately as he struggles to deal with his parents' recent divorce. And more than the divorce: it comes out that he's always felt depressed and has been seeing a therapist since he was five or six. Ducky tries to connect with Alex, but it's hard when Alex wants to be alone. Ducky has been hanging out with Dawn and her friends since the beginning of the school year, causing much rolling of eyes from his male classmates. He also doesn't feel quite at home in his own skin; he's unsure of how to describe himself and wonders if he even really knows himself.
Ducky lives with his college-age brother Ted, who acts as his guardian since their parents are so often out of the country for long periods of time, researching or teaching. During this book they're in Ghana. Ted and Ducky aren't exactly great housekeepers, and suddenly the horrible state of the house forces Ducky to realize that. He starts cleaning the filth and mentions his efforts to Jay, who shocks Ducky by insisting he come help, with his girlfriend and one of the Cro Mags...and the four actually get along well and make a lot of progress. Ducky even feels okay accepting Jay's invitation to a party, and Alex comes along too. For a little bit it seems like things are going okay, but then the alcohol starts flowing and Cro Mags are back to their nasty selves (Jay tries to get them to behave, for what it's worth). And then Alex, drunk, tries to take a shower in his clothes and passes out with the drain plugged. Later it hits Ducky that it wasn't just an odd drunken act, it was a suicide attempt. He calls Alex's therapist to tell him about the attempt, which is the right thing to do (calling a medical professional with concerns like this is always okay; usually you won't get to talk much about the patient's confidential information, but it will allow the professional to take appropriate action). Alex takes this as traitorous, and now it seems Ducky is left with only his eighth grade friends.
Established or continued in this book:
The Girls (and Ducky):
Ducky likes to wear vintage clothing.
At least one of the girls uses suntan oil, which has almost no SPF. By 1998 I remember skin cancer getting a lot of press. While some people go overboard and then don't get enough vitamin D, I'm surprised that they're using the oil rather than sunscreen when they're at the beach and presumably in the sun all day.
Dawn gets mad at Jay for questioning her eating preferences, but she made the first move by glaring at the meat on his plate and saying, "Ew." Jay was rude, don't get me wrong, but Dawn was rude first and isn't innocent.
Sunny is very thoughtful in this book and able to recognize when people are trying to be nice, moreso that I'm used to seeing in the other California Diaries. Not that she's totally oblivious, but she puts up a strong front so often that the softer side of her gets obscured.
Sunny's mom is losing her hair, and losing weight. She's thinner than Sunny, who's probably not finished with puberty yet.
When you pick a font type, be careful with the all caps ones because sometimes an L and an I next to each look like a U and when the word you're trying to spell is something like flickering...
This book takes place around Valentine's Day (and the several days after), which is on a Saturday instead of Friday like the Valentine's Day in Stacey and the Stolen Hearts. It was a Saturday in 1998, when both books were published.
Gotta say, I'd wonder about a therapist not making progress with her patient after a decade of sessions. I know that a lot of mental illnesses are long-term or life-long, but it seems like a long time for a kid to be in therapy, especially if he's doing so poorly. Especially when that same therapist forgets to renew anti-depressant prescriptions.
Starting 8th grade: 9
Halloweens in 8th grade: 6 (plus one in seventh)
Thanksgivings in 8th grade: 3
Winter holidays in 8th grade (that BSC members celebrate, not just reference): Christmas-3, Hanukkah-1, Kwanzaa-2
Valentine's Days in 8th grade: 3
Summers after 8th grade: 10
BSC Fights: 11
SMS Staff and Faculty: 67
Students (other than the BSC): 209: 119 8th graders (not including Amelia Freeman, who is deceased), 26 7th graders, 47 6th graders, 15 unspecified. Baby-sitters' Winter Vacation tells us that SMS has about 380 students.
Clients: 37 families
Types of candy in Claudia’s room: 130