Synopsis: The best word to describe Rachel Robinson is “perfectionist.” She is involved in a lot, like Debate and Orchestra, and people are asking her to become involved in even more– Natural Helpers (a peer counseling group) and theatre productions and more enriched math over the summer. She also has straight A’s, but everyone acts like there’s a problem with it! Rachel’s perfect world has one horrible flaw: her brother. Charles just got expelled from boarding school and is coming home. He makes life a nightmare for the entire Robinson family. Charles just tries to torture everyone with his snide remarks, name-calling (especially the oldest sister Jessica, who has the painful cystic acne), and in general he brings out the worst in everyone. He knows the buttons… and he knows how to push them! It’s more verbal “abuse” than anything else, but it does a number on their psyches.
Charles has his good moments. He instigates a lot of trouble, no doubt, but Mother’s Day he brought out a good side. He baked mom an excellent coffee cake, and enchanted Gram (she’s in a nursing home, and often she doesn’t recognize them. When Charles spoke, she latched on. He left the home in tears, but walked away so Rachel wouldn’t comment.) He has a real brotherly moment when he picks up his baby cousin and gets puked on, and acts like a dog shaking himself off to amuse the baby. These good moments are few and far between, especially for Rachel. He hits on Alison, saying he’s adopted and such. He also had at least one party in his room with pot. (On the bright side, one of Charles’s guests is Jeremy Dragon, who skips out on the party and ends up playing Monopoly with Rachel, Alison, and Stephanie.) Another bright side to Charles is his cute tutor, Paul, who comes to get Charles caught up. (Paul is also Mr. Robinson’s student teacher.)
Charles decides that for Dad’s birthday, he’s going to change his name to the Polish name his grandfather came to America with: Rybczynski (Rib-jin-ski). Dad agrees to sign the papers for the change, even though Mom thinks it’s another way for Charles to separate himself from the family.Dad asks Charles to go with him to Ellis Isle on the sophomore field trip. Jessica and Rachel both go as well. Charles has a touching moment when he reads the entry for the Rybcznskis and dramatically recites Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” by climbing a wall to make his stage. It’s a touching scene between Dad and Charles, but Rachel is angry at Charles for being center of attention, Dad for loving Charles so completely, and herself for who knows what.
The night after the Ellis Isle field trip, Rachel goes to a concert with the tutor Paul. They run into Rachel’s cousin Tarren, and the “romantic evening” that wasn’t going to happen, definitely didn’t happen, and Rachel’s upset. She gets home and Jeremy Dragon comes by to see her. He kisses her, but he gives her a disclaimer.
Allow me to quote: “Just when you think life is over, you find out it’s not. Just when you think you’re never going to fall for someone else, it happens without any warning! I hope this doesn’t means I’m… jumping from Obstacle to the next. I don’t think it does. I don’t think it means anything except life is full of surprises and they’re not necessarily bad.”
After this realization, Rachel develops a sense of humor and she and Charles are okay. That’s pretty much the end!
Things going on in the Robinson household that don’t involve Charles:
- Rachel’s mom (Nell Robinson) has been nominated judge. Not much going on with Dad, other than encouraging everyone to keep the peace. He did have a birthday!
- Jessica can’t get a job, which she thinks is discrimination for her skin. (Someone says “Come back when your skin clears up,” for example.) Stephanie’s mom offers her a job, and Jessica gushes over Mrs. Hirsch all the time. Mrs. Hirsch also encourages Jessica to try Accutane, which Nell is not thrilled with because of the side effects.
- Tarren, a cousin who really admires Nell, has a few crises that Nell tries to make her feel better about. She’s dating a married professor, which she makes Rachel swear not to tell. Rachel introduces Tarren to Paul at a concert, and when Tarren is left by the professor, Paul begins dating her.
Also, Stephanie’s mom is dating now and wearing wild clothes. Alison’s mom is preggers at 40 and they’re naming the baby Matthew. Alison is fascinated with brothers, and wonders what he’ll be like. Steph keeps saying, “he’ll be a baby!”
- After reading Just as Long as We’re Together, it’s really cool to read from Rachel’s perspective. I didn’t really relate to Rachel in Stephanie’s book, but I could in this book. I’m not type-A at all. But I was the type of kid who tried to do everything, choir, drama, yearbook, SCA, etc. I did not try for straight A’s.
- I love how Blume gets into kid’s heads. Like lines taken out of context and getting freaked out over (ex: Paul calling Rachel a music lover, and she puts the emphasis on “lover”). Rachel also learned her mistake when she commented on a “pregnant pause” in class. She now calls them “dramatic pauses.” 🙂
- My minister started a sermon series on the prodigal son. He brought up an interesting point last week about how the “black sheep” in the family are usually the ones who are better adjusted with their problems, that they are manifestations of the family problems that the others are better at hiding. I may not be wording that correctly, but I definitely saw that with Charles and the Robinsons. They are far from perfect, but they try so hard. Charles’s flaws are the family’s flaws, and they really need counseling.
- So, the dance mentioned in the last post? Rachel did get kissed by Max, but decided he was an idiot (“autobiography… a biography about cars?”). So, yeah, at least she didn’t have to wait until she was 22, and it was the right thing to do at the time, Rachel rationalized.
- I feel for Rachel with the brother hitting on friends thing. My stepbrother (one year older than me) was adorable, and any of my friends who came over to the house fell in love with him. They never learned. I guess I should have learned not to bring them over, but seriously, folks, the fourth time around should have clued you in…
The Class Part
Grades: 5-7. The back of the book says RL: 4.5 BUT there are a few curse words (Charles does toss 1 F bomb) that a fourth grader may not have the maturity to look over. I imagine the 4.5 means the amount of words on the page are appropriate reading level for someone in 4th grade. (Frye system? I sold my Content Area Reading book, so I’m not 100% on that). Reader, what’s your opinion?
Grade: A. Primarily because I think Rachel will kill me in my sleep if I don’t give it an A. Just kidding. It’s Judy Blume, it gave a great new perspective to characters we already know.