The Girls of Canby Hall #1: Roommates

In this first book in the series, we meet the three Girls of Canby Hall that will be the main characters. Dana is from New York City, a tall, thin brunette with divorced parents and a younger sister named Maggie. (When this group of girls graduates, three new girls take their place to continue the series. I had hoped Maggie would be one of them. Alas, she was not.) Dana's mother is a fashion buyer for a department store, so naturally that gives her the best fashion sense of the girls. That and being from New York City. Think an older Stacey McGill from the Babysitters Club.

Faith is a black girl from Washington, DC. Her father, a policeman, was killed in the line of duty two years earlier, leaving behind Faith, her older sister Sarah, younger brother Richard, and their social worker mother. Faith is a photographer.

Shelley is from Iowa. She never wanted to go to Canby Hall in the first place, but she's sent there by her parents because they're concerned that she's getting too close to her boyfriend. She's confident that the separation won't hurt their relationship. Long distance romance always works out, right?

On their (separate) ways to Canby Hall, each of the girls has nerves and worries about being the only new sophomore in a class full of returning girls. While Dana is out exploring the campus, Faith takes a nap. Shelley arrives a little later and immediately sticks her foot in her mouth with Faith.

"I was just surprised that you're black," Shelley finally said nervously.

"Is it such a big deal?" Faith asked, defensively.

"Oh, no. I don't know many black people, but" -- Shelley thought for a second about how to finish the sentence -- "but I'm sure they can be as nice as anyone else."


That is CLEARLY not the right thing to say to your new roommate -- or anyone -- even in the less politically-correct 1980s. Even Shelley knows that, but what's said is said. No taking it back. Faith, of course, takes offense and storms out. It's war in Baker 407, and it only gets worse when Dana and Faith don't like Shelley's decorating ideas ("country cottage," complete with pillow shams, eyelet lace curtains, and Chintz dust ruffles).

About a week later, their housemother Alison finally stops by to introduce herself and realizes there's a problem when she sees that they have divided the room with tape ("Shelly's final decorating idea"). My question is, just where has she been this whole time? I met my college RA the first day, and these girls are just in high school. Other than going missing for so long and NOT DOING HER JOB, Alison is basically the coolest housemother ever. I wanted to be Alison when I grew up.

Dana fell in love at first sight with Alison's apartment. It was exactly the kind of place she imagined living in when she was grown-up and an independent career woman.

Dana and every single pre-teen reader of this series.

Posters from art exhibits filled one wall of the living room. The only thing on the facing wall was a neon sign from an old beauty shop. It was a crossed scissors and comb with letters underneath spelling out, KATIE'S KLIP 'N' KURL.

There were plumbing pipes and heating ducts running along the ceiling, but instead of trying to hide or ignore them, Alison had made them part of the decor by painting them in bright, primary, high-gloss colors -- red, blue, yellow, green.

Okay, yes, it sounds a bit tacky now, but try telling that to a ten-year-old me. I dreamed of that Klip 'n' Kurl sign. I don't know if they ever said, I but I always imagined it as pink.

So Alison works her magic and the girls agree to get along. Classes roll right along, Faith gets a spot on the school newspaper photography staff, and Shelley spends a lot of time thinking about and writing letters to Paul. While Dana attends Canby Hall's first mixer with the boys' school down the road, Faith heads into Greenleaf for ice cream with her new friend from the dorm Casey, and Shelley stays behind to plan her phone call to Paul. Too bad for her that Paul went camping with his friends that night. Out of sight, out of mind.

Dana meets a boy named Bret at the mixer and goes on a date with him the next night. A few days later, Alison warns her that Bret is a known player. Dana's wary but continues to see him.

As Bret leaned in to kiss her, Dana dropped her toast, and neither of them noticed when a squirrel scurried up and ran off with it.

Is that not the most romantic thing you've ever read? No?

When Faith confesses to Casey that she's never had alcohol, not even a beer, save a sip of spiked punch at a cousin's wedding, Casey comes up with a plan to change that. I TOTALLY REMEMBER THIS SCENE. It was that amazing. Casey puts on heavy makeup, finishing off with Perfect Peach lipstick that I coveted even though I wasn't allowed to wear makeup, and goes into a store with a hastily written grocery list.

When Faith went in, Casey was already at the checkout counter. She was buying a package of bologna, a loaf of bread, a can of pork and beans, and a carton of milk. She was looking at the scribbled list as the young checkout boy totaled up her purchases on the register. As he was pushing through the last item, the bologna, Casey looked at her list again and said, "Oh, I forgot. My husband said to pick up some beer for him. He's home watching the football game."

"Then he's in for a depressing afternoon," the boy said. "The Patriots are sure to lose today."

"You think so?" Casey said.

"For sure. Say, I'll get you those beers, lady. What's your husband's brand?"

"Oh, no," Casey said. "I can't remember."

Faith's heart jumped into the pit of her stomach. Sometimes Casey was beyond belief. Here she had this guy actually running to get the beer for her and what did she do? -- pushed it for the last little buzz of excitement.

"Wait a minute," she finally said. "Budweiser. Is that the one that comes in the red and white cans?"

"Yup," the clerk said. "How many?"

"Oh, I think two'll do."

So there you have it. All that time you spent borrowing an older friend's ID or standing outside the liquor store waiting for someone to come along who would go in and buy beer for you was a waste of time. All you had to do is dress up like a young wife who feeds her husband garbage and act like you knew what you were doing.

Dana auditions for and makes the school choir, and it's at choir practice that she learns that Bret has asked another girl to the Harvest Holiday dance. She can't say she wasn't warned. With a little prodding from Alison, and the help of her roommates and Casey, Dana comes up with a revenge idea: Plan Booga-Booga. The four of then don gorilla costumes from the drama department and when Bret and his date are walking to the dance they...

leapt out of the bushes at them, bouncing up and down, scratching their armpits and grunting, "Booga-booga."

 ...and keep it up the entire way to the dance, thoroughly embarrassing the couple. Before she and the girls run off into the night, Dana tips Bret off that she's behind the stunt. He meets her after choir the next day and asks for a second chance. She turns him down and spends the next few weeks mopey and depressed. 

One night Faith gets an after-hours phone call from Casey, who's decided to run away. Casey asks Faith to meet her at a diner. It's already an hour past curfew, so Faith has to sneak out. Casey's upset because her parents, who pay so little attention to her that one year they forgot which boarding school she was attending and sent her birthday present to the last one, are spending the summer in Europe and sending Casey to wilderness camp AND because she's been put on social probation at Canby for racking up enough demerit points for three girls.

Faith tries to talk some sense into Casey -- pointing out she is a bit of a troublemaker and should probably just face the consequences for it -- and invites her to spend the summer with Faith's family, driving a Popsicle bike for her uncle's ice cream company. THAT KIND OF SOUNDS LIKE FUN, if you don't think about how hot it probably gets.

Casey decides not to run away but sneaking back onto campus, they are spotted. By the headmistress. Who calls the police. The Greenleaf cops arrive just after Casey's scrambled in a window at the dorm, leaving Faith to be the only one to take the blame. Faith covers for Casey and says she was on a date and lost track of time.

Faith has to face the headmistress the next day but Casey refuses to confess. She's been in trouble too many times and has too much to lose. Faith gets sentenced to dorm restriction, the incident will go on her record, and the school is going to notify her mother. That last one is the only one that bothers her. Two nights later, Faith is summoned to the headmistress's house, where Casey has finally confessed. With some intervention from Alison ("[they] have suffered enough already"), Miss Allardyce agrees to forget the entire thing, as long as they stay out of trouble and Casey goes to counseling. Much to Faith's relief, she hasn't even told Faith's mother yet.

Wrapping things up, Faith convinces Dana to stop being miserable and give Bret another chance. They talk Shelley into a makeover, bringing her style more up to date (unbelievably, the new clothes include "baggy, pleated jeans") just before Shelley breaks the news that her parents are letting her stay home after Christmas break. They're sad to be losing their friend, but just they want her to be happy.

Back at Canby after break, Dana and Faith are ready to meet their new roommate's Shelley! I don't know about you, but I didn't see that one coming. Nope, not at all. She and Paul have agreed to take their relationship a little less seriously for now and she's going to get involved in the opportunities Canby has to offer.

The Cover
It's always bothered me that my cover has that weird paisley-ish spot on the middle of Shelley's sweater. I'm pretty sure it's something that happened in the printing, not something that's supposed to be there. At one point, actually when she first meets Shelley, Faith says that she's 5'10". If she knows her own height and the cover is to be believed, that would make Dana at least six feet tall, and there's no mention of that in the book. She does dance with a guy "nearly a head shorter" at the mixer, but I still don't think she's six feet. Oh, and Shelley? Is supposed to be chubby. You can't see her waistline because she doesn't have her sweater tucked in, but in what world is she chubby? Speaking of waistlines, love those high-waist jeans, Dana.

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