Throughout this summer I’ve been dedicating Throwback Thursday to my reviews of a series of books put out by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) about a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. Since I was a young girl back in the 1970’s, I thought it would be fun to compare the books to my own memories of growing up in the 1970’s. I also figured that it could provide an idea for some light summer reading.

Last week I reviewed the last of the Julie Mystery books so I initially thought that I exhausted all of the Julie books that are currently in print. Except American Girl has done a total revamp of both the dolls and the books in its Historical Characters line and has named the recent revamp BeForever. (Yes, I think the term “BeForever” sounds kind of stupid and the fact that American Girl has opted to combine the two separate words in one doesn’t help at all.) Here’s is a YouTube playlist of the official American Girl promo videos for BeForever that were all shot a few months ago.

American Girl formally unveiled its revamped BeForever line last week. Most of the Historical Characters that are still being sold by American Girl (meaning that they haven’t been retired and archived like Molly the World War II Girl and Kirsten the Swedish Immigrant Pioneer Girl) are being given the BeForever treatment with their own BeForever books while their doll counterparts are getting new default “Meet” outfits (which are the clothes that the doll wears when you first purchase it). As part of BeForever, three new books have been released about Julie Albright. However, of those three books, there is only one book that can really be considered brand new. Here’s a closer look at the Julie BeForever books.

1-thebigbreak

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 is basically the first three books in the Julie Albright Central Series (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie) compiled together in one book. You can pick up The Big Break at the following online places: Amazon, American Girl , Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books.

2-soaringhigh

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2 is the last three books in the Julie Albright Central Series (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie) compiled together in one book. You can buy Soaring High at the following online places: AmazonAmerican Girl, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books.

If you don’t already have the Central Series, The Big Break and Soaring High are a good way of getting the story of Julie’s time for an economical price that will also take up less room on the bookshelf than six separate books. The downside of these two volumes is that all of the original illustrations have been removed, which I felt was too bad. I really loved the illustrations because they were so expressive.

You know this book takes place in San Francisco when you see Julie swinging from the pole of a cable car.

Julie's New Reality Part 1: Julie sits down to eat Chinese takeout with her sister and mother in her mom's new apartment while using the packed boxes as a makeshift table.

Julie's New Reality Part 2: Julie's dad tucks Julie and Nutmeg the bunny in bed during a weekend visit.

Julie uses a portable cassette tape recorder to interview her mother for a school project.

I love this illustration of the two sisters playing basketball together. It does a great job showing a lot of action.

Julie and Ivy go shopping in funky 1970's era clothes.

Julie and Ivy, wearing their fine dresses, observe the Chinese New Year's festivities below.

First Christmas with Mom since the divorce.

First Christmas with Dad since the divorce. Someone is not happy attending the Nutcracker Tea on Christmas Day.

Julie does some fundraising for an eagle family at an Earth Day festival while Ivy is assembling a kite from a kit that Julie's school is selling as part of the fundraiser.

Ivy, Julie, and a Mission Blue butterfly on Julie's shoulder.

Julie feeds an eagle chick with an eagle hand puppet.

Julie masters horseback riding just in time for the Bicentennial celebrations on the Fourth of July, 1976.

Three's company as April, Tracy and Julie cram together in a covered wagon.

101-year-old John Witherspoon, a descendant of a Declaration of Independence signer of the same name, signs a Pledge of Rededication scroll as Julie and her cousin April look on.

Julie gets political.

Julie and Joy meet Stinger the troublemaker in detention.

Julie, Ivy, and Joy create posters for their campaign.

They even removed the tiny drawings that were in the margins, which was even worse for this reason: The tiny illustrations were tied in to a term in the story that anyone born after 1990 wouldn’t be as familiar with. For example, when Julie plays the game KerPlunk with her mother towards the end of the second Central Series story, Julie Tells Her Story, there was a tiny drawing in the margins that showed what that game looked like. It was especially convenient for young readers to instantly learn what certain items were that they may not have encountered before without having to do any online searches.

Worse, the Looking Back chapters that were placed at the end of each Central Series book have been removed and replaced with just a two-page information about the 1970’s that were placed at the end of each BeForever volume that doesn’t have the photos of people and other artifacts from that period and the text is way more condensed than the original text in the Looking Back chapters. That’s a shame because the Historical Characters were supposed to teach its target audience of girls from 8-12 about the times in which each character grew up in and the girl could learn the similarities and differences between her childhood and how a Historical Character grew up in her specific era. The Looking Back chapter provided a context for the times in which the Historical Character grew up in and explained to a young girl such things as why Julie had to start a petition drive and complain to the principal in order for her to play on the basketball team in the first place when a girl in today’s society would face little or no obstacles in pursuing any sport that she wants to play in.

For those who already own the Central Series, you don’t really need to bother with the newer two-volume set unless you’re the kind of person who likes to collect different editions of American Girl books. (Yes, there are such people out there, like this blogger.) Since I’ve already reviewed the original six-book Central Series earlier this summer, I’m not going to bother with the stories in either The Big Break or Soaring High. I will only review the third BeForever book since that is the only one can be considered new since it includes previously unreleased material.

3-abrightertomorrow

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was written by Meagan McDonald, who wrote the original Central Series books. This book marks a departure from the other Julie books in a few ways. While the other books were written from a third-person perspective, this book is written in the first person. The other books took place entirely in the 1970’s while this one begins in 2014 and frequently shifts to 1975. The other books were written in a pretty linear fashion where one chapter followed the other and one book followed the other. This book is written more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Basically the reader will come to a part in the story where she is given two choices then turn to the page that has her chosen decision and she continues reading until she reaches another part where she has to decide from two more choices and so on.

Synopsis: The book is written from the first-person perspective of an unnamed fourth grade girl in 2014 who have gone through sudden upheavals in her life. Until recently the girl has spent her entire life in Ohio. All that changed when her father lost his job six months ago and her mother found a new job in California, which prompted the family to sell the family home. The mother moves to San Francisco with the girl and her younger seven-year-old brother, Zack, while the father stays behind in Ohio in order to take computer training classes so he can find a new job in San Francisco and join his family. The children are wondering if the fact that they left their father behind is really a marital separation and it could lead to a divorce. On top of it, the girl also misses her best friend, Chloe, and she has to adjust to only communicating with Chloe via the Internet, which is a far cry from when she used to be able to see Chloe every day.

The children and their mother move into a small apartment that’s located above a coffee shop. After finishing with her first online chat with Chloe since the move, the girl sits on a window seat in her room and she shifts around on the cushion until she accidentally discovers hinges and realizes that the seat is also serves as the lid to a storage space. The girl opens the lid and finds, among the cobwebs, a few tiny items like a peace sign earring and a 1975 Kennedy half-dollar. The girl also finds a mood ring, which she slips on her finger and she finds herself suddenly transported in time. While she’s in the same room as before, it’s also very different. She discovers that she’s in her family’s apartment in September, 1975 and she notices a lot of major differences, such as seeing older circa 1970’s furniture and the fact that the coffee shop under her apartment has become the Gladrags store, which is owned by Julie Albright’s mother. When she removes the mood ring from her finger, she gets transported back to 2014.

In the midst of her time travels via mood ring, she meets a 1975 nine-year-old Julie Albright. The reader soon realizes that in 2014 the girl is living in the same apartment that Julie lived in with her mother and sister following her parents’ divorce and the time that the girl gets transported to is the same time as the first story in the original Central Series, Meet Julie. The girl meets Julie shortly after Julie and her sister moves to the apartment with their mother and Julie has to switch schools so Julie is still trying to adjust to all of these recent changes in her life. At this time Julie is dealing with her sister’s refusal to visit their father and she is still fighting for the right to play on the school’s basketball team. (This book mentions that Julie had just turned her petition in to the principal and she’s waiting for word on whether she will get to play on the school basketball team or not.) From there, the reader is given choices on where she wants the story to go next and the reader flips to the relevant pages.

There are two main story arcs that the reader can choose from. One is to have both the girl and Julie go to the nearby littered beach to assist with cleaning up the litter. The other is for the girl and Julie take Julie’s basketball to a nearby park so they can shoot a few hoops where they meet up with Julie’s classmate, T.J., and Stinger, the older troublemaker from Julie’s school who was previously introduced in Changes For Julie. Stinger strongly believes that girls shouldn’t play on the school basketball team and he challenges Julie and the girl to a match so he could prove his point.

The beach clean-up story arc has the story plots that the reader can choose:

  • Julie and the girl interrupt their clean-up work so they can confront Julie’s sister Tracy over her telling lies and her refusal to accompany Julie on the visits with their father.
  • Continue with the beach clean-up where they help rescue a baby sea otter from being entangled in discarded plastic six-pack rings.

The basketball story arc has the following story plots that the reader can choose:

  • A Battle of the Sexes basketball game where Julie, Tracy, and the girl play against T.J., Stinger, and Mike, a friend of Tracy’s who is also Stinger’s older brother.
  • Julie and the girl play a basketball variant called Horse against T.J. and Stinger while Tracy and Mike cheer from the sidelines. This plot leads to two other plots to choose from: a basketball game of the elementary school kids (Julie, the girl, T.J., and Stinger) against the teens (Tracy and Mike) or the elementary school kids go to a nearby set of steep steps where the girls and the boys engage in a speed dribble relay race down and up the steps, which leads to an unexpected consequence.
  • The girl tells Stinger that Julie doesn’t need to prove to him that she can play basketball. The two of them leave the park and decide to go to Golden Gate Park instead. They head to the Conservatory of Flowers where they find the dreaded Water Fountain Girls from Julie’s school. This plot leads to two other plots: One is in the book and it shows Julie and the girl standing up to those girls. The other plot is one that can only be accessed by going online here and it introduces the girl to Ivy Ling for the first time.

Each story ends at the end of the day with the girl saying good-bye to Julie and whoever else is with them (depending on the story) then going to a relatively secluded place where she removes the mood ring and she gets transported back to 2014. The girl uses the lessons she learns from her one-day time travel adventure to do things to improve her life (which vary from story to story) like trying out for the basketball team in her new school or vowing to listen to her younger brother’s fear for the future instead of always trying to brush him off by changing the subject.

The book ends with a two-page section titled “About Julie’s Time” that goes into what was happening in the 1970’s when Julie was growing up. It briefly delves into the famous Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King, Rep. Edith Green’s efforts to make Title IX a part of the Educational Amendments of 1972, and the rise of the environmental movement which includes Congress passing the Endangered Species Act in 1972.

My Own Impressions Of This Book: At first I found the idea of throwing time traveling science fiction elements into this storyline to be a bit jarring at first—especially with the idea of a mood ring serving as a more limited version of the Tardis in Doctor Who. (Ironically this book was released a few days after the debut of the first episode in the latest season of Doctor Who.) That’s because all of the other Julie books were strictly historical novels that took place in the 1970’s and they have all avoided such novel gimmicks as that wibbly wobbly timey wimey mood ring. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist invoking Doctor Who again. LOL!) Surprisingly I found this plot development worked much better than I expected.

I must confess that I was never really a fan of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. I’ve tried reading one once but I just couldn’t get into the idea of jumping around on the printed page like that (although I have no problem with jumping around story lines in a video game). But I found that this device works really well with this book. The young reader is challenged to pick a storyline then follow it to the end where that ending will encourage the reader to go back to the page where the storyline started and pick the other option in order to compare the two different story outcomes.

I found the book’s suggestion to use a pencil to mark off the choices the reader makes to be a very useful one because it helps the reader to know which story line she has already read and which ones she hasn’t read yet.

This book basically teaches the reader about how our choices can not only affect our own lives but also the lives of others as well. For example, had the reader chosen for Julie and the girl to confront Tracy over her lies and her behavior towards her father instead of just continuing with the beach litter clean-up (or if the reader had opted to go with the basketball story arc instead), there’s a chance that the baby sea otter would’ve perished (especially if no one else was around to rescue it). But, on the other hand, had the reader chosen to continue with the beach clean-up and rescue that sea otter, there’s a chance that Tracy would’ve continued with her lying and refusal to visit her father and, with no one else to confront Tracy, this behavior could’ve impacted Tracy’s own life in the long run.

I liked the nice parallel touches between 1975 and 2014. The girl’s friendship with her best friend Chloe definitely echoes Julie’s friendship with Ivy Ling. They even talked in a way that’s similar to the way that Julie and Ivy interacted with each other. The girl has to deal with separated parents while Julie’s are divorced. Both the girl and Julie are avid basketball players.

I liked that Julie’s sister has been more humanized in this book. Tracy has long been portrayed as an annoying one-dimensional character who’s focused mostly on tennis and she frequently tends to mope and complain a lot. This book explains the pressures that Tracy feels that she must be the more stoic big sister even though she doesn’t really have to. In this book Tracy is the most sympathetic she has ever been portrayed and that’s a positive step.

I really found it annoying that one of the plot options could only be accessed online, especially since I was reading a paperback edition of this book, which meant that I had to get up and walk over to where I had last put my laptop then log on online so I could read the rest of this particular plot. (I’m sure that the e-book version is a little bit easier since many iPads, Kindles, and other reading devices have built-in wi-fi so one can instantly get the online text.) This online-only option was straightforward reading text with no animations or videos or any other kind of technical wizardry so there was really no reason why it was placed as an online-only addition. In addition, this online option is the only one where Ivy Ling makes an appearance since she’s not in any of the other plot lines.

I think the online-only text would be a major inconvenience if a person is reading this book in a home or a public park with no wi-fi access. It would also be pretty bad in the long-run if, for some reason, American Girl decides to let this novel go out of print several years later and it takes down the webpage that contains the text.

I just think that having a portion of the book be only available online is too much of a gimmick that’s way less interesting than the time traveling mood ring. Personally I would’ve rather have a slightly longer book with a few more pages than having to deal with going online just so I can say that I’ve read all of the potential plot points that this book offers.

I thought it was really interesting to see what happened to the building complex in the years since Julie lived there, especially with finding out that a coffeehouse is now located in the space where Gladrags was once located. The book doesn’t mention whatever happened to Gladrags, which has made me very curious. Did Julie’s mother move the store to a larger space? Or, for some reason, did Julie’s mother decide to close the store? You won’t know from reading this book.

While we’re on the subject of San Francisco in 1975 and 2014, I think it would be really cool if, in a future book, the girl (or a similar character) would encounter Julie Albright in 2014. Calculating the date of birth that’s in the American Girl Wiki, Julie would be 48 years old in 2014. It would be interesting to see what kind of woman Julie has become and if she was able to maintain her friendship with Ivy Ling over many years.

Basically I liked the book better than I expected from a Choose Your Own Adventure style book and the story options were well written and very engrossing. I’m just turned off by that stupid gimmick of having one of the sections be online-only. I really hope that this does NOT become a hot new trend in the book publishing industry where only one or more chapters can be accessed online in order for the reader to get the whole story. Crap like that would encourage me to give up reading books altogether.

I’ve pretty much finished with reading all the Julie books that are currently in print as of this date. If any new Julie books are released in the future, I’ll probably review them as well. I don’t intend to review any other historical characters books because the original purpose of my review of the Julie books was to compare how American Girl portrayed a young girl growing up in the 1970’s with my actual memories of being a young girl growing up in the 1970’s. I have no direct memories of slavery or the War of 1812 so I really can’t do a similar review of the books featuring Addy or Caroline. It would be cool if someone who lived through the Great Depression do a similar review of the Kit books or if someone who lived through World War II would review the Molly books. But someone else would have to do those reviews since those events happened before I was even born.

At this point, I would only start reviewing books associated with a different historical character would be if American Girl released a new doll whose story takes place after 1980 since I definitely have memories of the 1980’s and beyond.

Where to Buy A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet JulieJulie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the EaglesJulie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

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