Friday, February 12, 2010

Childhood Challenge: SLEEPOVER FRIENDS

In January, I started a new challenge for myself: to read one book a month that I remember reading as a child and that had an impact on helping to build my current 'joie de lire'.  In the left-hand sidebar, I'm creating a list as I go for the year of the Childhood Challenge books I've chosen.  Each entry in the list is a link to that post.  Since I'm on a series kick for the week (see Wednesday's post), I chose a book from a series to focus on for this month: Sleepover Friends.

Sleepover Friends by Susan Saunders was my series as a kid.  I was the only one in my house--even in my circle of friends--who had books from that series sitting on my bookshelves.  Looking back, I’m not sure if I liked the series because it was that good or because it was the first series that was actually mine and not a series that belonged to my sister.

From My Memory
In thinking about the books, I remember that my favorite was Book #27, but I have no idea why or even what that book was about.  Maybe it was the first book I got in the series or maybe it really was my favorite of all the stories.  I’m not sure.  What I remember about the series as a whole is that there are four young girls (I don’t remember their exact ages) who are friends and formed their own “Sleepover” club of sorts.  They spent the night at each other’s houses all the time, and they made their sleepovers fun with activities of all kinds.  I know two of the characters names: Patti (because she made me want to change my own name to Patti, but I’m now thankful my parents wouldn’t listen to my “Patti protests”) and Lauren.  I don’t remember the other two names…  For this month, I will be reading Book #27 of the Sleepover Friends series.  For this being my "favorite" series, I'm realizing I don't remember a whole lot.

Even though I don't remember a lot about the books, I thankfully kept them for posterity's sake.  After browsing my bookshelves, I found #27 and took it down: Where's Patti?

Just looking at the book opens a trove of memories from the era when Scholastic books all included order forms in the backs of the books, books only cost $2.50, and it was fashionable to wear puffy shirts and neon-colored clothes.  Ah, sweet memories.  Also sweet is the fact that the book is only 85 pages long.

Current Re-Reading
First, I appreciate that this is the kind of series that uses the entire first chapter to remind its readers who the characters are and how they know each other.  It means you can pick up any book of the series and not be lost, or you can pick up the series again after two decades and not be worried by the fact you can't remember much more than the basic premise of the books.  So after a whirlwind re-introduction to the four Sleepover Friends (who I now know are Lauren, Patti, Kate, and Stephanie, four fifth-graders who have sleepovers every Friday night).  As a kid, I think I missed the cleverly disguised cultural references: Tommy Hepp is the hot TV actor (er, Johnny Depp) and the newest Jangles song is mentioned (er, the Bangles).  As an adult, those make me chuckle.

The book took me back to a time when the most complicated things I had to worry about were bratty boys, kite-flying contests, and ruined sand castles.  It took me less than an hour to read, yet that short hour took me down memory lane, which I appreciate.  The story is told from Lauren’s perspective (if I remember correctly, it’s mostly from her perspective).  Because it’s told in the first person, the thoughts, dialogue, and narrative are all written from a 10/11-year-old point of view.  Language included, “so you know what happened next?  That’s right!” and “That was totally unfair!”  In other words, the language was overly dramatized, just like the thoughts of a fifth-grade girl often are.  The plot reminded me of those feel-good 80s sitcoms that build up a problem primarily through overreactions and then have a resolution within the last five minutes of the show (e.g., Family Matters, Full House, or other "TGIF" shows).  As an example of the type of overly dramatized situations in the book, here is a line from page 74:

I think she realized that maybe she had kind of overreacted.  Mindy Sue really was different, and all that old third-grade stuff didn’t matter anymore.

This line was part of the resolution of the book--the very short resolution, mind you.  I think it perfectly reflects the level of the plot with the phrase "all that old third-grade stuff didn't matter anymore."  Isn't that the truth?  Perhaps that's good advice for readers of all ages.

Another aspect of the book that made me chuckle was the detail mentioned when it came to fashion, primarily because fashion sense has--thankfully--changed since the late 80s.  Here are a couple of my favorite fashion mentions from the book:

“I think I’ll wear my denim skirt and purple tights,” Kate said.
“I brought my new turquoise sweatshirt with the pink and yellow splotches on it,” I said.
“And I’ve got my red-and-black striped wool pants,” said Stephanie.

Robert was wearing a green-and-black plaid shirt, faded jeans, and loafers, and he looked totally fabulous. … Becky Levy … had on a hot pink blazer, black jeans, and black sneakers with lime-green laces.  Very hot.

Both excerpts come from around the same area of the book; the first (from page 57) is when the girls are planning out what they'll wear to a neighborhood dance, and the second (from page 60) is when the girls are actually at the dance and scoping out the hot 16-year-old, who reminds them of their favorite actor, Kevin DeSpain (another fake celebrity).

After being reminded that the girls met every single Friday night, I do remember wanting to have that type of regularly scheduled, totally rocking sleepover parties with my own friends, but it never worked out.  It's harder, in real life, to schedule sleepover parties when you live in a rural area and can't just walk to your friend's house.  Because reading the book triggered so many warm, fuzzy feelings deep down in my nostalgic stores of memories, I am fairly sure that I legitimately liked the series as a kid--and not just because it was the one series I had to myself.

Overall, I'm really glad I re-read one of the Sleepover Friends books.  It's like watching Full House on TV--you know, as an adult, that the plot is cheesy and predictable, yet it teaches a valuable lesson to the young viewers.  It's not great TV, but you watch it for the memories of a time when you were innocent enough to enjoy the predictability.  In the same way, the book was cute for memories, but not exactly great reading as an adult.

If you have recently re-read a childhood book, I'd love to hear what you thought about it as you re-read it from an adult's perspective.

Happy reading!

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