You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘The Julie Books’ category.

Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

Advertisements

Nearly two years ago I did a series of Throwback Thursday posts dedicated to reviewing a series of historical books released by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) about a young girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. Since I grew up in the 1970’s myself, I thought it would be fun to compare and contrast how the books depicted the era with my own childhood memories of that same era.

I haven’t done any book reviews since that time mainly because no new books have been released in this series since 2014 (when the book A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie came out).

Back in November American Girl came out with a short movie based on the Julie books called And the Tiara Goes to… I haven’t seen it until late last month mainly because I was diverted by a bunch of other things (mainly Artomatic). It is a second in a series of short movies American Girl have released on YouTube based on the BeForever historical characters, with only two movies having been released as of this writing. (The first one, Maryellen and the Brightest Star, is based on the 1950’s character Maryellen.) Here is the movie for you to view. I’ll write my own thoughts underneath the video.

I’ll try to refrain from posting any spoilers in case you want to read my review before watching the movie. Julie Albright is depicted in the books as being a bit of a tomboy who’s into sports so much that she willingly goes through great lengths (such as launching a petition drive) in order to be allowed to play on the school’s basketball team, even though the coach feels that only boys should be allowed to play basketball. Her favorite books are the Little House series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder based on Wilder’s real-life childhood as the daughter of pioneers in the American West. She is also depicted as being into making crafts, showing great concern about the environment, and being willing to stand up for the underdog (such as her deaf classmate, Joy). She even makes a successful run for school president because she wants to reform the school’s detention system because, based on her own personal experiences, she feels that it’s not an effective way of discipline. She has never indicated that she was into anything even remotely fashionable or girly. (In fact, it’s her older sister, Tracy, who’s portrayed as being a trendy teenager who is concerned about her looks.)

So I found the movie’s premise of Julie being interested in entering a school beauty pageant to be a bit jarring in the least. It sounds more like an activity that her older sister would get involved with, not Julie.

Come to think of it, I found the idea of an elementary school holding a girls-only beauty pageant to be pretty jarring because I don’t recall any of the elementary schools in my area (Anne Arundel County [Maryland] Public Schools) ever holding beauty pageants in the 1970’s. I think there were beauty pageants that used to be held at the Harundale Mall a few times but they were done by outside groups, not the public school system.

There were a few moments in that film. The Water Fountain Girls were initially depicted as being just as nasty and snarky as they were in the books. It was cool seeing the friendship of Julie and Ivy being depicted on screen that was pretty close to the books. It was nice that Julie’s divorced parents were portrayed as being willing to act civil and friendly around each other for their children’s sake, which can show children whose parents are going through a divorce that it’s still possible to maintain a relationship with both parents even if they don’t live together under the same roof. The scene where Julie expresses her wish to Ivy that her parents still lived together is a common wish that many children of divorce have but Julie is also shown as being reconciled to her current family situation, which can show children of divorce as how it’s possible to adjust to growing up in a broken home.

Julie’s friend and basketball teammate, T.J., doesn’t have much of a role in that movie beyond the opening scene, which is too bad since he is such a pivotal and supportive character in the books.

Even though Julie is supposed to grow up in the 1970’s, the only thing that really depicted that era was the scene where Julie is talking to Ivy on a rotary phone and both Tracy and Julie’s mom tell her to hang up the phone because Tracy has to make a phone call. (This harkens back to the days before cell phones were so prevalent when most homes had only one phone line because the cost of having two or more lines installed was very expensive. So everyone living in that household had to share the same line. Even if each room had its own telephone, all the phones shared the same line. This meant that only one person could use the phone at a time.) There were a few scenes where Julie’s mom wore hippy-style dresses that could’ve come from the 1970’s. Otherwise there wasn’t much else that let viewers know that this story was taking place in the 1970’s.

Basically I felt that the story of Julie entering a beauty pageant was a bit off compared to how she was originally depicted in the books. It’s too bad that the film didn’t do a story that’s actually based on the books, such as the big basketball game in the second Central Series book, Julie Tells Her Story (which is now only available as part of The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 BeForever book), where she frequently encounters sexism from the players on the opposing team and she gets injured enough during the game that she is escorted off the court before the game ends and is sent to the hospital. That scene, complete with Tracy having a difficult time getting a hold of both of her parents (her mother was stuck running her Gladrags store while her father was late due to his plane flight), would’ve made a far more compelling short than the storyline in And the Tiara Goes to…

Having seen And the Tiara Goes to… and the previous one featuring the 1950’s character Maryellen, I have to say that the Maryellen movie was the better of the two mainly because the story was better done. (I’ll admit that I haven’t read any of the Maryellen books so, unlike Julie’s movie, I have nothing to compare it to.) That movie made more of an effort to show that the story took place in the 1950’s than the Julie movie did in depicting the 1970’s.

So that’s it for my review. I have a feeling that American Girl will eventually make at least one movie short based on all of the BeForever characters (except for the ones that have been archived, such as Caroline Abbott from the War of 1812). If a sequel is ever made to And the Tiara Goes to… I really hope the filmmakers will make a better effort to provide more of a 1970’s atmosphere with references to current events, music, TV shows, fashion, and celebrities so today’s children will know what it was really like to live in that era. And, please, no more beauty pageant stories. That one was definitely out of character for Julie and the results seemed totally awkward on screen.

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.

This past summer I devoted each Throwback Thursday to doing reviews of a series of books put out by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) focusing on a 1970’s girl named Julie Albright. I basically not only reviewed the plot but I also compared how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books to my own actual memories of that era. It was fun but it was also a lot of work and I was ready to let it go when I finished the last of the Julie books that have been published as of this date.

In the midst of reviewing those books, American Girl decided to revamp the historical dolls and books into a line called BeForever (which I still think sounds stupid but that’s another rant). The original first three books of the Central Series were compiled and republished into a single volume titled The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1. The last of the three Central Series books were compiled and republished in another single volume titled Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2. Since I had already gone over the original Central Series books, I didn’t have to bother with reviewing either The Big Break or Soaring High.

I was lurking around in some doll fan forums (which I do sometimes, I rarely even bother with posting anything) when I found that there was a new cover for one of the Julie Mysteries.

puzzleofpaperdaughterbeforever

Actually it’s just a re-print of a book that I had already reviewed, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, with a different cover. Apparently the mystery books featuring the historical characters are eventually being re-released in order to conform to the rest of the books that have been re-released under the BeForever banner so I won’t have to deal with buying then reviewing any new books for a while. As for the new cover, it’s not bad but I personally prefer the original because it had a style reminiscent of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books.

Julie is hot on the trail of both the paper daughter and a doll thief.

Although the one big mystery is that The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the second book in the Julie Mysteries series. (The first one was The Tangled Web.) Yet it’s this book that’s getting the BeForever treatment first. I don’t know if all of the Julie Mysteries will eventually get the BeForever new cover treatment or not. (Although I admit that The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter was the best of the four Julie Mysteries because it delved into the racism and prejudice against the Chinese American community that resulted in the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.)

In any case, I won’t be reviewing any more Julie books unless a book with a totally new, previously unreleased story is published.

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.

For the past few Throwback Thursdays I’ve been reviewing 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.

Earlier this summer I started with all the books in the original Central Series then moved on to the Best Friend Book. I’m currently on the Julie Mystery books.

Lost in the City, originally published in 2013, is the last of the Julie Mysteries that have been published so far. Only American Girl knows whether there will be any new Julie Mysteries scheduled to be published in the future or if Lost in the City is the Julie Mysteries’ swan song—and that company is not talking. (And, no, I’m not about to engage in any speculations or rumors either. This is NOT Living a Doll’s Life.)

The book was written by Kathleen O’Dell, who has written a variety of short stories for American Girl Magazine as well as other children’s books like the Agnes Parker series. The illustrations for this book were done by Sergio Giovine, who has illustrated a number of other book covers for a variety of publishers (in addition to American Girl).

All of the Julie Mysteries follow the events in both the Central Series and the Best Friend book. Lost in the City is the fourth Julie Mystery and it follows the events in The Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

The moment when Julie discovers that her pet sitting gig has suddenly gone horribly wrong.

The moment when Julie discovers that her pet sitting gig has suddenly gone horribly wrong.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce.

During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who can’t live with her because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling. Nutmeg was generally written in previous books as living in Julie’s father’s home while Ivy comes over to care for the rabbit whenever Julie’s father is on one of his long plane flights. Except page 63 of the second Julie Mystery book, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, had described Nutmeg as now living with Ivy in her home. But in Lost in the City, Nutmeg is described as currently living with Julie’s father once again. This book doesn’t mention that Nutmeg had ever lived with the Lings or why the bunny is back with Julie’s father after living with Ivy but what comes next may explain why Nutmeg’s time as a member of the Ling household was relatively short.

The book begins with Julie happily riding in her father’s car while Dad is driving. The San Francisco public schools have closed for spring break week and her father managed to arrange his work schedule so he wouldn’t have to go on any long distance flights, which means that Julie can spend the entire week with him. On top of it, her sister Tracy has decided to spend her spring break with her friends from her high school so Julie has her father all to herself (and the reader is spared from Tracy’s frequent moping and complaining). Even though the month isn’t mentioned, The American Girl Wiki managed to pinpoint when the story takes place by doing some sleuthing. The beginning of the book mentions that Julie’s current favorite song, “Dancing Queen,” has just made number one of the pop charts while that song went to the Number 1 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 on April 9, 1977 in the United States. It sounds about right for the story to take place in April, 1977 because the last book took place in the previous month. On top of it, many schools, colleges, and universities tend to close down for spring break somewhere between mid-March to mid-April (usually to coincide with Easter and Passover).

Normally Julie would be spending time with Ivy Ling as well since she lives across the street from Julie’s father’s home. However, Ivy is going to be in Long Beach to attend her Uncle Lee’s wedding during most of Julie’s time at her father’s place. But she invites Julie to come to her home the day before she has to leave to check out a new addition to the Ling household—an African Grey parrot named Lucy. The bird had belonged to Uncle Lee but he had to give her away to the Lings because his fiancée, Hannah, refuses to live with the parrot because she feels that Lucy is too noisy. So Lucy’s cage is located in the bedroom that belongs to Ivy’s brother, Andrew, while the door is closed to keep out the Lings’ two cats, Jasmine and Wonton.

Minutes after Julie and her father arrive at his home, Julie gets a phone call from Ivy inviting her over to the Ling place so she can see Lucy in person. As Julie walks across the street, she runs into a boy named Gordon Marino, who’s a former classmate at the school Julie used to attend with Ivy before her parents’ divorce. She invites Gordon to come with her as she goes to Ivy’s house to meet Lucy. When they arrive at Ivy’s place, the three of them go to Andrew’s bedroom where Lucy and Uncle Lee are located. Lucy talks and does a variety of tricks that wows Julie and Gordon. Lucy seems especially friendly towards Julie, which impresses Uncle Lee because the bird is usually shy around strangers.

When Julie’s dinnertime curfew arrives, Gordon also leaves with her. Gordon tells Julie that he has just moved into a house that’s located just down the street from her father’s place and has invited her to come over whenever she gets bored. He starts to walk towards his home and Julie notices that Gordon seems more glum these days than when she used to be in his class and he was known as the class clown.

As Julie prepares to cross the street, Ivy catches up with Julie to give her this news: Uncle Lee was so impressed with the way that Lucy had taken to Julie that he wants to cancel the pet sitter he lined up for the week and give the job to Julie instead. When Julie accepts the offer, Ivy immediately hands a key to the Lings’ house and a set of instructions on caring for Lucy. She also tells Julie that she’ll need to show up tomorrow morning to feed both Lucy and the two cats because her family is leaving for Long Beach very early. Ivy also tells Julie that they have a couple staying at the Lings’ place. They are known as Mr. and Mrs. Shackley and they are the parents of one of Ivy’s mother’s law school classmates. Mrs. Shackley has just received a kidney transplant and she and her husband needed a place closer to the hospital so they can rest. It’s the main reason why they weren’t asked to take care of Lucy, Jasmine, and Wonton even though they are staying in the same house. The Shackleys are currently staying in the Lings’ living room and they tend to keep to themselves.

If Julie’s first day after arriving at her father’s home isn’t exciting enough, her Aunt Maia arrives at the house. Aunt Maia is in the process of moving to San Francisco and Julie’s dad had told Aunt Maia that she could stay with him until she finds a place of her own. Aunt Maia has recently been hired as an assistant chef at a new vegetarian restaurant and she’s been gung-ho about fixing vegetarian meals for Julie and her father with mixed results.

Julie’s first day on her new job as pet sitter doesn’t turn out real well. Lucy is less friendly towards Julie than she had been the day before. Julie’s attempt at feeding the cats resulted in her accidentally spilling cat food everywhere on the floor in Ivy’s bedroom and she had to clean that mess up. If that weren’t enough, Mr. Shackley scolds Julie for being too noisy when she spilled the cat food and he tells her that she walks too much like a lumberjack. He also complains about how much he hates the city because it’s too noisy and if he had had his own way he would’ve driven the long distance back to their quiet town immediately after his wife’s surgery.

That afternoon Julie sits on the front steps of her dad’s house while pondering what happened this morning. Gordon walks by and Julie invites him to come with her so he can see Lucy. When they arrive in Andrew’s bedroom, they see that a white sheet had been placed over Lucy’s cage even though Julie had removed it this morning. When Lucy sees Gordon, the bird begins to perk up while talking and performing tricks. Julie realizes that the bird had really liked Gordon and not her the first time they met Lucy before the Ling family left for the wedding.

The following morning Julie makes a horrifying discovery when she walks over to the Lings’ house so she can feed the animals. Lucy’s cage has been opened and the bird is gone! Julie manages to locate Wonton and Jasmine but Lucy is nowhere to be found anywhere in the house. Julie’s spring break vacation is suddenly getting way busier than she originally expected as she searches for the bird while pondering what could have happened.

Julie comes up with a list of suspects in Lucy’s disappearance. First, there is her former classmate Gordon. Both Lucy and Gordon seemed to like each other and Gordon had expressed a wish that he could own a pet so could he have taken her? Her Aunt Maia seems to be gone much of the time while claiming that it’s due to the demands of her new job. She also disapproves of pets being kept in cages for long stretches of time so could she be a suspect in Lucy’s disappearance as well? Let’s not forget the Shackleys, especially Mr. Shackley the noise-hater, because they are currently staying in the Lings’ household. Did Lucy somehow managed her own escape in a way that is just as creative as a prison convict’s escape from a maximum security prison? Or did the two cats, Jasmine and Wonton, decide to take advantage of the family being away by hatching some nefarious plan to get into Andrew’s room, break into Lucy’s cage, and treat themselves to a lovely parrot dinner for two?

Julie only has until the end of the week to resolve this whole thing before the Lings return from Long Beach and she has to return to her mother’s apartment. Can Lucy be found alive on the streets of San Francisco before it’s too late?

The last chapter, Looking Back, focuses on the intelligence of African Grey parrots, why many groups like the Humane Society currently don’t recommend keeping parrots as pets, how it’s now illegal to import parrots that were captured in the wild, and the wild parrots living in San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill who were descended from pets that were released into the wild. There’s a brief focus on the founding of the Animal Switchboard by a mother and daughter named Grace and Virginia Handley. The chapter closes with a discussion on the increasing popularity of vegetarianism in the United States since the trend began in the 1970’s.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Boogie Fever” by The Sylvers

“Dancing Queen” by Abba

Roto-Rooter advertising jingle

Movies, Books, and Television Shows Mentioned in This Book:

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
The Incredible Journey by Shiela Burnford
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Real-Life People Mentioned in This Book:

Grace and Virginia Handley
Dr. Irene Pepperberg

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned in This Book:

The Animal Switchboard
The Humane Society
Macramé

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

I chuckled when the bird kept on singing the Roto-Rooter advertising jingle because I remember that one really well when I was growing up. Roto-Rooter advertised heavily on both the radio and daytime television so I learned that jingle really well. These days it seems like the Roto-Rooter ads have been replaced by the ones for Len the Plumber (at least that’s the case in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area). I not only hear that ad jingle (“The only way to get a plumber today. Just call Len the Plumber.”), I also see billboard signs and ads on the sides of the Metrobuses in the Washington, DC area.

The scene at the beginning of the book where Julie is thrilled that “Dancing Queen” is playing on the radio while she’s riding in her father’s car definitely brought back memories for me. That song was so heavily played on the radio back in the 1970’s that it began to drive me crazy after a while. I was so relieved when that song finally sank below the charts because I was so tired of that song.

I also have memories when I read about the possibility of Lucy being an escape artist who managed to find a way to get out of her own cage. I had a pet hedgehog named Spike, who passed away last year. I read in a book that hedgehogs are notorious escape artists and I got a taste of that once when it came time for the weekly cage cleaning. Whenever the weather was warm, I would put Spike outdoors in a small pets playpen (which was a fenced-in enclosure for animals ranging from guinea pigs to rabbits). A day or so before I put Spike in the playpen, I had to temporarily dismantle it so I could mow the backyard then I put it back up. I had apparently didn’t secure the pegs tight enough because when I went back outside to retrieve Spike after I finished with cleaning his cage, I found that he was gone. Luckily for me, I found him just a couple of feet away sniffing among the grass and fallen leaves so I was able to quickly recapture him.

Two months after that escape attempt, I found Spike dead in his cage. He lived with me for a year and a half.

I laughed at the scenes where Aunt Maia tried to cook vegetarian meals for Julie and her father with mixed results. I’ve tried recipes (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian) that have gone wrong on me in the past. I especially remembered the time when I attempted this Weight Watchers recipe where I had to cook then chop an eggplant then puree it in a blender while I mixed in nutmeg. It was supposed to be a non-tomato sauce for pasta. Except my then-husband and I found it to be so bland that we ended up going to the nearby pizza parlor for dinner. (Needless to say, I never tried that recipe again. LOL!)

As for Lucy, I remember seeing a talking parrot in a shop when I was growing up and my family was on vacation. (It was probably in Ocean City, Maryland since we took a lot of trips there when I was growing up.) The sign on the cage said something like “Hello, I Can Talk!” So I said “Hello” to the parrot a couple of times and the parrot responded with “Hello, Popeye.” Except the parrot said it in a slow drawn-out fashion so it sounded like “Hel—-Lo——Pop——eye” and he kept on repeating that phrase very slowly as he crawled around in his cage. I remember the parrot was a really pretty red color. The bird wasn’t for sale. In fact, I don’t think we were in a pet store. I think we were in one of the many souvenir shops in Ocean City and the owner only had the parrot in his store as a way of attracting potential customers to the store.

I had a parakeet as a teenager named Baby but she never learned to talk. I remember she had this tendency to bite, especially whenever I had to clean her cage and she wanted to attack my hand while I was replacing her food and water. (Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!) I had to get a spoon, use one hand to put the spoon in the cage so Baby would attack it and divert her attention while I used the other hand to put her food and water in her cage so I wouldn’t get bitten.

Like I wrote earlier, Lost in the City is the last of the Julie Mysteries that have been published. I have to admit that the Julie Mysteries are pretty solid in terms of story. Even though I was very nitpicking regarding the last book, The Silver Guitar, it was because the Julie books are supposed to be historical novels and the writer of that book decided to make up a fake oil spill in 1977 San Francisco that never happened while giving short shrift to Julie’s school’s sports program had gone through budget cuts (which actually happened in real life and that is what prompted music promoter Bill Graham to create his fundraising SNACK concert that included appearances by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez). But the mystery of who stole that silver guitar (which was once owned by a deceased rock star) and replaced it with a lookalike fake made up for dealing with frequent graphic descriptions of oil-soaked seabirds. Even at its worst, The Silver Guitar is still way better than the worst books in the original Central Series. (I’m looking at you, Happy New Year, Julie and Julie’s Journey.)

I think the best of the Julie Mysteries is The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter because it provided such a fascinating history lesson on the legacy of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As I was reading it I kept on thinking that American Girl could easily create a historical character doll who would be a Chinese girl immigrating to the U.S. during the years affected by that law and it could write in more detail about what it was like for her to be detained on Angel Island for several weeks while waiting to see whether she could enter the U.S. or not. What’s more, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter provided lots of twists and turns as Julie and Ivy wonder if any adults were following them while they were investigating this mystery.

Where to Buy Lost in the City:

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

For the past few Throwback Thursdays I’ve been reviewing 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.

Having gone through all of the other Julie books, I’m now currently going through the Julie Mystery books. The Silver Guitar, originally published in 2011, was written by Kathryn Reiss, who also wrote the previous two Julie Mysteries and who has written a number of stories for children and young adults. The illustrations for this book were done by Sergio Giovine, who has illustrated a number of other book covers for a variety of publishers (in addition to American Girl).

All of the Julie Mysteries follow the events in both the Central Series and the Best Friend book. The Silver Guitar is the third Julie Mystery and it follows the events in both The Tangled Web and The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter.

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

T.J. and Julie try to figure out what to do with a silver guitar that supposedly once belonged to a deceased rock star.

T.J. and Julie try to figure out what to do with a silver guitar that supposedly once belonged to a deceased rock star.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her teenaged sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. But this book must have taken place during a time when her father is on one of his long flights because her father doesn’t appear in this book at all (nor does her best friend Ivy Ling, for that matter) and most of the action takes place in Julie’s mother’s apartment building.

Sometime between the last book and this one Tracy must have celebrated a birthday because the first page of this book describes Tracy as being 17. As for Olivia Kaminsky, the old childhood friend of Julie’s mother who moved into their apartment at the end of the last book, she’s not mentioned at all in this book. (Apparently Olivia found herself a new job and a new place to live much faster than originally expected.)

The book begins on the first Sunday in March, 1977. Julie, Tracy and their mother are attending a charity auction that’s being held in a mansion that belongs to their mother’s old school friend, Eleanor Vernon, and her husband, Reginald. Julie and Tracy’s mother had donated a hand-beaded dress from Gladrags to the auction, which was later purchased by a celebrity who happens to be Tracy’s current favorite singer. Members of Julie’s basketball team also attends the auction because the money raised would go towards saving Julie’s school’s faltering sports program.

The book mentions that the next charity auction will also be held in the Vernons’ mansion in two weeks and it will benefit the ongoing effort to rescue seabirds that were injured in the recent oil spill in San Francisco Bay (an event that I don’t even remember and there’s a reason for that, which I’ll write about later in this post). During the reception, Julie and her classmate/basketball teammate/friend T.J. hang out together until Julie’s mom calls them over because the Vernons have offered to provide a private tour of Mr. Vernon’s personal collection.

It turns out that Reginald Vernon is a wealthy man due to his many real estate holdings. He owns a lot of buildings in the San Francisco area, including the apartment building where Julie and Tracy live with their mother right above the Gladrags shop. In other words, Reginald Vernon is both the husband of Julie’s mother’s old friend and the landlord whose no pets rule have prevented Julie from bringing her pet rabbit Nutmeg to live with her after her parents’ divorce.

During the tour Mr. Vernon shows off various items, such as a hat that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln and Babe Ruth’s baseball bat. When Mr. Vernon shows his guitar collection, he picks up a silver Fender Stratocaster guitar that he considers to be his pride and joy because it once belonged to a famous guitarist named Danny Kendricks, who died the previous year in a motorcycle crash. T.J. looks longingly at the silver guitar because he admires the late guitarist and he wants to follow in his footsteps by learning how to play the guitar. Mr. Vernon decides to sell the silver guitar at the next auction since both he and his wife are convinced that it’s more important to raise money that would be used to help rescue those poor oil-soaked seabirds.

The tour is briefly interrupted when the Ms. Knight the housekeeper tells the Vernons that she has just learned about her mother being sent to the hospital and she has to go out of town because of it. The housekeeper usually takes care of the Vernons’ cat. When Mrs. Vernon notices that the usually unfriendly cat is especially smitten with T.J., she offers T.J. the job of temporarily taking care of the cat because, it turns out, the Vernons are planning to go out of town for a week and they will return just in time for the next charity auction that will be held in their mansion. T.J. accepts the job willingly.

Julie becomes very interested in helping to clean up the seabirds who are affected by that recent oil spill in San Francisco Bay. She uses her position as school student body president to organize a special school-wide quilt project that would be sold at the next auction to benefit the rescue of those oil-soaked seabirds that will take place in the Vernons’ mansion.

In the meantime Tracy is excited to learn that her best friend, Maggie, is moving into the empty apartment above her with her family next month and Julie is envious because she wishes that her best friend Ivy would also move in the same apartment building so she can see her more often than the select weekends when she visits her father. It turns out that the previous occupants, the Ogilvies, were artists who felt the need to move because the apartment didn’t have the right vibes for them.

Julie starts to hear noises in the empty upstairs apartment that the Ogilvies had just vacated and the noises are loud enough to wake her up in the middle of the night when she’s in bed. One day, after she gets home from school and starts to work on her piece of the school-wide quilt project, she hears the noises again coming from upstairs. Julie goes upstairs to investigate and finds that the door is unlocked. She briefly looks inside and finds that the apartment is completely empty. She briefly returns to her mom’s apartment only to find that the noises have returned. So Julie decides to open the apartment door just a crack and wait near the door so she can see anyone going downstairs.

Eventually Julie hits pay dirt when the noisemaker from upstairs comes down and finds that the person is none other than T.J. After Julie briefly confronts him, T.J. begins to explain the reason for his actions. While he was tending to his new temporary job of taking care of the Vernons’ cat while the couple is out of town, T.J. decided to look at that silver guitar a little bit closer then subsequently decided that he just had to hold the same guitar that once belonged to his personal guitar hero Danny Kendricks. So he grabbed a chair to stand on while he reached for that guitar. Once he had the guitar in his hands, the cat, who was standing on a nearby mantle, decided to leap on to T.J.’s shoulders while sinking his claws into T.J. At that point T.J. dropped the guitar and it resulted in the guitar being cracked at the neck. T.J. attempted to hide his crime by sneaking the silver guitar out of the Vernons’ home while taking the keys to Reginald Vernon’s various real estate properties. He decided to hide the guitar in the empty apartment above Julie’s mother’s because he learned from Julie that the previous neighbors had already moved out, the new neighbors won’t be moving in until next month, and Reginald Vernon owned the apartment building. While Julie urges T.J. to come clean with his parents and, by extension, the Vernons once they return home, T.J. is determined to fix the guitar himself and return it to its original location so no one will ever know what happened.

Julie finally convinces T.J. to take the guitar to a local music shop instead and have someone repair it professionally while T.J. scrapes together the money he has saved from his job delivering newspapers to pay for it. So the two of them take the guitar to the music shop only to learn this shocking truth: The silver guitar they brought is a fake Fender Stratocaster. The store manager cites the way that the guitar is strung for a right-handed player (while Kendricks was left-handed), the paint is flaking off and the “Fender Stratocaseter” label on the guitar head is just a sticker instead of something that’s usually engraved right into the wood.

T.J. is initially relieved that he didn’t ruin a valuable piece of rock history until Julie reminds him that he could be accused of being the person who stole the actual guitar while replacing it with a cheap knock-off since he had access to the Vernons’ mansion while the couple is out of town. So Julie and T.J. are in a race against time to find the real culprit behind that theft before the Vernons return from their trip in time for the charity auction to benefit the rescue of those oil-soaked seabirds. There are a few suspects: Ms. Knight the housekeeper who had to suddenly take a leave of absence from her job because she said that her mother was sent to the hospital, Mrs. Buzbee the Vernons’ nosy neighbor who spends much of her time looking through the windows of other people’s houses, Jasper the Vernons’ 18-year-old nephew who has graduated from high school and is living with his aunt and uncle while trying to decide what to do with his life, and even Mr. Vernon himself because his wife is more enthusiastic about him selling that silver guitar to help rescue the poor seabirds than he is. Then there is this 12-year-old skateboarder and guitar enthusiast named Matt whom T.J. and Julie keep on running into while they are trying to figure out this mystery—could he be involved in this as well?

The last chapter, Looking Back, starts off with a discussion on how the buying and selling of musical instruments once played by rock stars and rock memorabilia became a big business. It also took a look at the rise in benefit concerts such as promoter Bill Graham’s 1975 SNACK concert (which benefitted the culture and athletic programs in the San Francisco public schools) and the 1970 Amchitka concert (which financed a boat to protest nuclear testing on the islands of southwestern Alaska and it later led to the creation of an environmental organization called Greenpeace). The chapter ended with a discussion of the environmental movement, which began in the 1970’s with the first Earth Day celebration in 1970. In 1971 there was a major oil spill in the San Francisco Bay when two oil tankers collided and it led to numerous people volunteering to help with the cleanup and to rescue oil-soaked seabirds. The legacy of this environmental movement continues to this day while showing a photo of a girl raising money for the National Wildlife Federation’s efforts to help animals injured by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Real-Life People Mentioned

Abraham Lincoln
Babe Ruth
Bill Graham
Bob Dylan
The Grateful Dead
Jimi Hendrix
Joan Baez
Joni Mitchell
Vincent Van Gogh

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

1971 San Francisco Bay Oil Spill
2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
Alfa Romeo Car
Amchitka Concert
Earth Day
Fender Stratocaster
Greenpeace
National Wildlife Federation
SNACK (Students Need Activities, Culture, and Kicks) Benefit Concert
Transistor Radio

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

The book harps about a major oil spill in San Francisco Bay that leaves readers with the impression that it happened in 1977 (which is when the book takes place). I don’t even remember that oil spill. After going a few Google searches, I found out why. The oil spill in question happened in 1971, not 1977. Even the Looking Back chapter admitted that the San Francisco oil spill happened in 1971. Furthermore, this article says that it took five years for tidal life to recover. Assuming that this article is correct, this means that tidal life recovered in 1976 while this book takes place in early 1977. So it seems kind of jarring for Julie to fret about an oil spill in an area where, in real life, the wildlife is starting to recover and it also seems kind of odd for Julie to fret about something that happened in 1971 when she was just 5 years old.

I guess the book wanted to provide a lesson in the 1970’s environmental movement but that topic was already explored in Julie and the Eagles. I also noticed that the book was published in 2011 and the Looking Back chapter mentioned the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It sounds like the writer decided to dream up a fake oil spill in 1977 San Francisco (or exaggerate the real-life 1971 oil spill) to tie in with that more recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

I know it sounds like nit-picking but in historical fiction, the basic rule of thumb is that while it’s okay to have fictional characters, they usually interact with a real life event. If you have fictional characters interacting with a fictional event, it’s not really historical fiction at all. It’s just plain fiction. There’s nothing wrong with writing just plain fiction (J.K. Rowling did a spectacular job with writing just plain fiction about a boy with magical powers named Harry Potter) but it’s pretty jarring when all of the other Julie books tied-in with real-life events (like the American Bicentennial and the 1976 U.S. presidential election) and they are supposed to educate young children on what it was like to grow up in the 1970’s compared with growing up today while providing a description of the real events these characters had to face either directly or indirectly.

On top of it, the book begins with an auction that’s supposed to benefit the faltering sports program at Julie’s school. Yet there were no details about how Julie’s school was affected by the lack of money to fund the sports program. Was the team’s basketball season shortened? Was the basketball team being forced to practice with inferior equipment as a part of a cost-saving measure (such as using cheap dime-store balls instead of a real basketball)? Was the basketball program eliminated altogether? Was Coach Manley laid off from his job as part of a cost-cutting measure? Have physical education classes been cut from once a week to once or twice a month? You wouldn’t know from reading this book because it only provided a brief one-sentence mention of Julie’s school faltering sports program with no details while providing graphic description after graphic description of those oil-soaked seabirds from a fictional 1977 oil spill. Ironically it was only in the Looking Back chapter where you get to read a little bit more about how legendary concert promoter Bill Graham had put together a benefit concert to help fund the sports programs in the San Francisco public schools.

I will have to admit that the book does a good job at explaining to kids about how oil had become an important source of energy in the United States while getting them to ponder about possible alternatives to fossil fuels and should they be used at all. But I wished the book had elaborated a little more about the budget cuts to the San Francisco public school system and how it directly affected kids like Julie.

As for the rest of this book, I have to admit that the scene where Julie’s classmate Carla pulls a transistor radio out of her pocket during recess brought back memories of the cheap transistor radios I once owned. The ones I had were very portable and I used to listen with mono earphones that only stuck in one ear. (The stereo headphones in the 1970’s were way bigger and bulkier so it just wasn’t very portable at all.) I also remember that the transistor radios I had tended not to last very long. Sometimes one could accidentally drop it and it would break beyond all repair. Other times it would just stop working and even changing the batteries didn’t help.

I laughed at the comical way that T.J. attempted to cover up the fact that he broke that silver guitar by sneaking it out of the Vernons’ mansion and hiding it in the empty apartment above the one where Julie lives with her mother. The rationale was even funnier when T.J. denies that he stole the guitar because the guitar is still on the Vernons’ property since the Vernons own the apartment building—it just wasn’t in its original place (the Vernons’ mansion). It sounds like the kind of excuse that a typical fifth grader would come up with.

The scene where Julie and T.J. visit that music shop where they discovered that the silver guitar T.J. broke is a fake also brought back memories for me. There was a local place called The Music House that I loved to go to as a kid. It was located in Glen Burnie, Maryland in the old Harundale Mall (which is notable for being the first enclosed shopping mall on the East Coast of the United States). The Music House sold all kinds of musical instruments and sheet music. There was also a recorded music section for those who wanted to just purchase vinyl albums, 8-track tapes, or cassette tapes (which were the the main music formats in the 1970’s). It was a really great store. In fact, my parents bought me my first real guitar (a Yamaha acoustic guitar) at The Music House. I remember people used to hang out to try various instruments they were thinking about purchasing just like the kids in that music store in the book. I used to love it whenever the store had sheet music clearance sales and I would buy some sheet music for as low as $1. I remember The Music House finally closed when the Harundale Mall started to decline. (The Harundale Mall has since been converted to an open-air shopping center called Harundale Plaza.) Today I live near another music store called Atomic Music that is similar in atmosphere to the music store in the book. The only difference between Atomic Music and the old Music House is that Atomic Music doesn’t sell vinyl records (or CD’s for that matter).

I’ll admit that solving the mystery is a little bit more of a challenge with this book than the previous two. While I figured out the mystery halfway through the previous two books, I didn’t figure out this mystery until the very end when Julie correctly figured out what is really going on. I liked the fact that this mystery was more of a challenge and it was full of twists and turns until the very end.

Where to Buy The Silver Guitar

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

 

For the past few Throwback Thursdays I’ve been reviewing 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.

Having gone through all of the other Julie books, I’m now currently going through the Julie Mystery books. Last week I reviewed the first of those books, The Tangled Web.

The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, originally published in 2010, was written by Kathryn Reiss, who also wrote The Tangled Web and who has written a number of stories for children and young adults. The illustrations were done by Jean-Paul Tibbles, who has illustrated many other American Girl books.

All of the Julie Mysteries follow the events in both the Central Series and the Best Friend book. The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the second Julie Mystery and it follows the events in The Tangled Web.

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

Julie is hot on the trail of both the paper daughter and a doll thief.

Julie is hot on the trail of both the paper daughter and a doll thief.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1970’s San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 16-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce.

During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who can’t live with her because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling. Nutmeg was generally written in previous books as living in Julie’s father’s home while Ivy comes over to care for the rabbit whenever Julie’s father is on one of his long plane flights. Except page 63 of The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter has described Nutmeg as now living with Ivy in her home. (The book doesn’t go into the challenges of keeping Nutmeg away from the Lings’ two cats Jasmine and Wonton.)

It’s now February, 1977 and the story begins with Julie and Tracy talking about the upcoming Valentine Disco that Tracy’s high school is putting on to benefit a shelter for homeless youths. Their mother calls them on the phone from her Gladrags shop asking the girls for their help because she’s swamped at the store. The girls walk down a flight of steps to reach the shop (remember, the shop is located right below their apartment) and their mother hands them a bag of clothes. Ivy’s grandmother has just delivered a few bags of clothes after she and her neighbors had gone through the annual clean-up of their homes in preparation for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration. The girls’ task is to go through the clothes, look for any rips and tears that needs repairing while also separating any red and pink clothes for the store’s Valentine’s Day display.

Julie goes through one jacket where she finds a tear in a pocket. She sticks her fingers into the tear where she discovers something inside that hole. She pulls the thing out of the hole and discovers a slip of old paper with Chinese writing on it. When she shows it to her mother, her mom suggests that she show it to Ivy since she and Tracy are going to visit their father this weekend and Ivy lives right across the street.

Meanwhile there is some major drama when Julie’s mom talks on the phone to her old childhood friend, Olivia Kaminsky. After the phone call ends, Mom drops this surprise on Julie and Tracy: After living in Virginia for a number of years while caring for her ailing father, Olivia has managed to get her father to move in with her brother. Taking advantage of the change in her situation, Olivia has decided to move to San Francisco and she needs a temporary place to stay while she’s looking for a new job and a new apartment. So Julie’s mom invites Olivia to stay with her and her daughters in their cramped apartment and, in return, Olivia would help out with the Gladrags shop part-time while she’s looking for full-time work. Of course both Julie and Tracy are less than thrilled with the idea that their tiny apartment will become even more cramped with the new arrival.

While packing her suitcase, Julie packs her doll Yue Yan, a Chinese doll that Ivy gave her for Christmas in 1975 (which was documented in the Central Series book Happy New Year, Julie). After Julie and Tracy’s father picks them up at the apartment, he decides to surprise them with a dinner at the Happy Panda, the Chinese restaurant that’s owned by Ivy’s grandfather, known as Gung Gung, and Ivy’s grandmother, known as Po Po. After they arrived at the Happy Panda they find that Ivy had also arrived with her family and the restaurant is busy that night because it is hosting a birthday party for the son of Ivy’s Chinese school teacher. Ivy tells Julie that her brother is part of that birthday party and he will spend the night at a slumber party after dinner while Ivy is going to spend the night with her grandparents, whose apartment is located right above the Happy Panda and she invites Julie to sleep over in the apartment as well since Gung Gung and Po Po said that it was okay. Julie gets permission from her father to sleep there but is told that she must return to his house once Ivy leaves for Chinese school the following morning.

During the dinner Julie takes out the slip of old paper with Chinese writing that she found earlier and gives it to Ivy for her to translate. Ivy translates it but is also confused by the writing because she said that the writing seems more like some kind of a list but it doesn’t make much sense. She shows both the original note and Ivy’s translated version to her Chinese teacher who compliments Ivy on her translating abilities. Ivy also notices that Po Po’s name is mentioned in this writing, which further confuses her. Mrs. Chan, Ivy’s teacher, tells Julie and Ivy that it sounds like a coaching note and they should show it to Po Po to find out what it’s about.

The girls wait until Po Po comes out of the kitchen and they show her the note. It turns out that it is a coaching note that was written for Po Po by Po Po’s mother. As she looks at the note, Po Po starts to recount her impoverished childhood in China living with just her mother in a small village while her father had immigrated to San Francisco a few years earlier in the hopes of becoming rich. When the father finally sends for his family to join him in America, Po Po, who was only 14 at the time, had to travel on her own due to her mother’s illness. Her mother gave her a coaching note that’s full of facts about her family, the home she grew up in, and the village where she came from so that Po Po could answer correctly whatever questions the immigration authorities will ask her once she arrived in America. At some point Po Po misplaced the note and she assumed that it had blown overboard instead of lodging itself inside of a hole in a jacket that Julie discovered many decades later. During her time on that ship Po Po met a girl her age named Mei Meng, whose family sent her to live with a new family who was paid to take her in as a paper daughter (meaning she was a daughter of the American family on paper only—otherwise she isn’t related to them at all). Like other recent Chinese immigrants, Po Po and Mei Meng had to spend weeks on Angel Island (which is the Northern California equivalent of Ellis Island) while waiting to see whether the two would be allowed to enter the U.S. or be deported back to China.

While reading that note, Po Po becomes confused about one of the instructions, which says that her best loved doll was a gift from her father and she sleeps with the doll. That’s because Po Po, at the age of 14, had stopped playing with dolls and the doll that she traveled with was given to her by a neighbor just a few days before her voyage. Eventually Po Po was interviewed by immigration officials and she managed to pass the interview and enter the country. Before she left Angel Island, Po Po gave the doll she traveled with to Mei Meng. Po Po was reunited with her father but she also learned that during her time on Angel Island, her mother passed away. She mentions that her father had asked her mother to bring a jade necklace with them that had been in his family for generations because he hoped to sell it in order to raise some cold hard cash. Po Po later recalls that she didn’t have the jade necklace with her and she assumed that her mother had planned on being the one to bring it once she felt well enough to travel but she died instead.

When the evening winds down, both Julie and Ivy head towards Gung Gung’s and Po Po’s apartment, where someone had already brought Julie’s suitcase, with her doll Yue Yan’s head sticking out from a side pocket, and where Ivy had already brought and stored her doll, Li Ming. When Julie, Ivy, and Ivy’s grandparents arrives upstairs, the grandparents immediately notices that something is amiss. The grandparents realize that there was a break-in while everyone else was at the Happy Panda downstairs and they call the police. Julie and Ivy quickly discover that their dolls are missing.

The girls spend the rest of the book searching for their stolen dolls while also trying to find a way of locating Mei Meng so she and Po Po could have a reunion. In the meantime there are also a few adults who seem to be on the same trail as Julie and Ivy while the two girls wonder why that is the case and whether this could cause any danger to them. The girls go on a journey of discovery throughout San Francisco as they visit Angel Island (which has since been turned into a park and historic site), search around the streets of Chinatown, and search through microfilm in the public library. If all that isn’t enough, Julie has to prepare for the arrival of her mom’s old friend, who will take over her bedroom while Julie has to sleep in Tracy’s bedroom.

The last chapter, Looking Back, focuses on the Chinese immigrant experience with a detailed look at the racism they faced, the passage of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Angel Island, and the immigration of paper sons and paper daughters.

Music Mentioned in This Book

The Bee Gees—The book didn’t mention a particular song other than Bee Gees’ music. So I found a video that’s a long medley of several of the band’s greatest hits.

Movies, Books, and Television Shows Mentioned

The Green Hornet

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Disco
Feathered Hair
Five and Dime (also known as Five and Ten) Stores
Microfilm
Mirror Ball
Paper Sons and Paper Daughters
Station Wagon
White Rabbit Candy

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter delves more into the racism that affected Chinese immigrants than the 1970’s era that the story takes place in. The only things that really screams “1970’s!” are the upcoming Valentine Disco dance at Tracy’s high school, the scene where Julie and Ivy look through microfilm in the public library, the scene where Julie rides in a station wagon, and the mention of a feathered haircut, a mirror ball, and The Bee Gees.

I can remember when, all through my high school years, nearly every dance was a disco dance complete with a mirrored disco ball. While I liked a few disco songs, the vast majority of the music was forgettable, which is why I can count on one hand the number of times I went to my high school dance in the entire four years that I attended high school.

And, yes, I can remember when The Bee Gees were the hottest musical acts around and their biggest hit “Stayin’ Alive” was overplayed on the radio. The soundtrack that the band worked on for the movie Saturday Night Fever is on many lists as being among the best selling soundtracks of all time (such as the one that’s on Amazon.com and on Pajiba.com).

As for microfilm, I definitely remember microfilm and its close cousin, the microfiche. I didn’t start looking up microfilm and microfiche until I was in college and it was mainly to do research on term papers for various classes. I remember when searching through reel after reel of microfilm was a total pain. After a while my eyes would glaze over from all the enlarged text of old newspapers and other publications. Younger people have no idea how they have it much easier to be able to go to a computer, tablet, or even smartphone and do a quick Google search in the privacy of their bedroom instead of having to walk/drive/take public transportation to the nearest library, search through index books for microfilm/microfiche for what you want to look for, then pick up the right microfilm/microfiche and run it through an enlarger while cranking the wheel hoping that you’ll find what you’re looking for. It was incredibly time consuming and one could expect to spend at least two hours looking through microfilm/microfiche in order to find a few items.

I also remember station wagons really well. My family never owned a station wagon but I’ve ridden in ones that were owned by parents of other kids in my neighborhood and I found them to be quite fun as a kid. I can remember when we kids could move around in the back of the station wagon to do things like play games or even talk, especially when the back seats were folded down and it was a smooth floor. (This was in the days before new laws were passed when everyone had to wear seat belts when riding. When I was a kid, only people sitting in the front seats were strongly encouraged to buckle up.)

The book does a great job at providing a lesson on the legacy of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not only racist but also classist as well since the U.S. wanted to keep out uneducated low-skill Asian workers. I can remember when my Social Studies classes in both middle school and high school mentioned that law but those classes only mentioned it briefly compared to the details the classes gave about the African American experience from slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement. I think, in hindsight, there should have been a greater mention of the prejudice that was also experienced by other non-African American groups who weren’t White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Here’s one example: One of my ancestors came from Ireland and the Irish in America were discriminated because most of them were Roman Catholic. Granted, the racism some groups experienced weren’t nearly as bad as what African Americans faced but, after reading The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, I have the impression that the experiences of racism against Chinese immigrants in California were nearly similar to what African Americans living in the South faced under Jim Crow.

I never knew about the existence of paper sons and paper daughters until I read the book. It shows the desperation some families felt to escape the poverty in China by being willing to send their own children to live with total strangers in America, who were paid to pose as the children’s relatives, while knowing that it was highly unlikely they’ll ever see that child again and they may never learn what became of their child once he or she arrived in America. It also shows the desperation of people who were willing to flee the poverty of their homeland for a country that they know is hostile towards non-whites.

There weren’t a lot of Chinese Americans when I was growing up in Glen Burnie, Maryland (which is located just south of Baltimore). There was one girl in my high school who was of Chinese descent. There was a family that opened a Chinese restaurant near my neighborhood when I was in high school called the Fortune Cookie (which I found is still in business when I was visiting my mother during her recent hospital stay a few months ago). There was a Japanese girl whose family originally came from Okinawa and they lived in my neighborhood from about the time I was in the fourth grade until her family moved elsewhere after I was in the seventh grade. Most of the Asians in my area came from South Korea. There was a big influx of them who moved to Glen Burnie around the mid-1970’s. Some South Korean families moved to the United States because they were fleeing the repressive dictatorship of Park Chung-hee (who ruled that nation with an iron fist until his assassination in 1979) while others were simply looking for better education opportunities for their children than what they could get in the South Korean school system at that time.

While I enjoyed reading the previous Julie Mystery, The Tangled Web, I found that The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter was even better. Instead of dealing with a classmate who told lies in order to hide her real family situation, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter was more action-packed as Julie and Ivy did a lot of exploring throughout Chinatown while trying to avoid certain adults whom they are suspicious of. There was also the history lesson about the legacy of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which weaved seamlessly and very effectively through the plot. While I quickly figured out the connection between the doll that Po Po brought with her from China and the lost jade necklace, the story was full of so many twists and turns that I didn’t figure out who was the real thief who stole Julie’s and Ivy’s dolls until the last chapter.

As I was reading that book, I kept on thinking that American Girl could easily make a historical character doll of a Chinese immigrant who had to stay for weeks on Angel Island and also document her struggles of learning a new language and homesickness while dealing with the racial prejudice against her. Such a story could be explored in more detail than what has been told as an add-on to the Julie books (Happy New Year, Julie, Good Luck, Ivy, and The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter). The girl could even be a paper daughter in order to make the story more dramatic. Think about it, instead of a 1970’s Chinese American who’s a best friend sidekick like Ivy Ling, there would be a girl who’s the main character of a storyline from somewhere between 1890-1940 about the Chinese immigrant experience that could be explored in even greater detail than what has been covered in the Julie books. Given the large population of Asians living in the United States, I think such a doll could be a modest hit at the very least.

Where to Buy The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

 

For the past few Throwback Thursdays I’ve been reviewing 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.

I reviewed the last of the books in the Central Series (Changes for Julie) two weeks ago. But, as I wrote previously, the Central Series weren’t the last time that anyone heard from Julie Albright. Last week I wrote about the Best Friend book (Good Luck, Ivy) but even that wasn’t the last Julie book published. Here’s some background.

When Pleasant Rowland founded the Pleasant Company, which originally made the American Girl dolls and books, she basically required that the historical character’s story would be a series of six books and the story ended with the last book in the Central Series. All that changed after Pleasant Rowland sold her company to Mattel in 1998 and the company decided to extend the historical character’s story a bit further (while getting more profits from the parents of girls who wanted to read more about their favorite historical characters). In 2004 Mattel released the first of the Best Friend dolls and corresponding books. The Best Friend book takes place in the same timeframe as the Central Series except it told the story from the view of the best friend of the main historical character.

Sure the one extra book allotted to each Best Friend resulted in more profits but it still wasn’t enough. A large corporation like Mattel has shareholders to please and executives that must be paid with huge amounts of money, etc. Someone at Mattel began to figure out how to extend the historical character’s story just a little bit more to please both little girls and Mattel’s shareholders while continuing to rake in money. The result is the Historical Character Mysteries which are mystery stories featuring the same historical character that kids have grown to love in the Central Series.

So far American Girl has released four Julie Albright books in the Historical Character Mystery series, which I’m just going to refer to as the Julie Mysteries to make typing easier. The events in the Julie Mysteries take place after both the Central Series and the Best Friend Book (Good Luck, Ivy).

The Julie Mysteries differ from the other Julie books in a few ways. The Julie Mysteries have more chapters and the stories are slightly longer than the other books. While the other books have illustrations placed throughout each book, the Julie Mysteries have only two illustrations—one at the front cover while the other is on the first two pages inside the book but that one is basically a close-up version of the front cover. The last chapter, Looking Back, is the only chapter where the reader can find pictures placed alongside the text.

The cover illustrations are done in a style that’s reminiscent of the covers of the Nancy Drew mysteries.

The first book of the Julie Mysteries, The Tangled Web, has a new author, Kathryn Reiss, who has written a number of stories for children and young adults. The illustrations were done by Jean-Paul Tibbles, who has illustrated many other American Girl books.

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

The Tangled Web was originally published in 2009, two years after the books in the Central Series and Good Luck, Ivy. The story in The Tangled Web begins soon after the events in the last book in the Central Series, Changes for Julie.

Julie gets increasingly suspicious about both her new classmate, Carla, and the Victorian painted lady house Carla says she lives in.

Julie gets increasingly suspicious about both her new classmate, Carla, and the Victorian painted lady house that Carla says she lives in.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1976 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items called Gladrags, and her 16-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s November, 1976 and Julie’s mom is planning on Thanksgiving dinner where she will invite some Vietnam War veterans from the local veterans’ rehabilitation center. (She decided to do this after her friend Hank the Vietnam War vet told her about how some of the men don’t have families to visit this Thanksgiving Day.) Her sister Tracy has been arguing a lot with their mom over wanting to use the car to drive everywhere.

One foggy night Julie looks outside her bedroom window and sees a mysterious figure with a long brown ponytail carrying an umbrella and a large shopping bag. This person was going through garbage cans looking for something she could take. The figure goes to Julie’s mom’s trashcan and takes a lamp that was on sale at Gladrags until Julie’s mom discarded it hours earlier because no one wanted to buy it due to its chipped paint and cracked lampshade.

The next day a new student arrives in Julie’s fifth grade class whose name is Carla Warner. Julie decides to reach out to Carla just like she did with deaf student Joy Jenner in Changes for Julie because Julie knows what it’s like to be the new girl in school since that was her situation last year. Julie invites Carla to sit with her, Joy, and her other friend T.J. at the lunch table. Carla tells the table that she comes from a family of three boys and three girls, she lives in one of San Francisco’s famous “painted ladies” Victorian-era homes, and she has a twin brother who goes to a separate private school because he is a serious piano student.

Except, as anyone over American Girl’s 8-12 targeted age group will notice more quickly than its intended audience, there are a few discrepancies with what Carla has told her new classmates. For one, Carla doesn’t know the name of that private school that her twin brother attends (which she initially tells her fellow classmates is named Tim but later tells Julie that his name is really Tom) until she glances outside the window during lunch and sees a Maxwell House Coffee billboard and says that her brother goes to the Maxwell Academy, even though no such private school by that name even exists in San Francisco. (Julie learns about that only after Tracy goes through the phone book looking for the Maxwell Academy in the hopes of meeting one of Carla’s older brothers, who’s supposed to be the same age as Tracy, who also attends that school with Carla’s twin brother.)

Carla also seems obsessed with trying too hard to be just like her classmates. When Joy gives her friends an update on her new baby brother, whom her parents recently adopted after he arrived to the U.S. as part of the massive arrival of orphaned children from Vietnam, Carla feels the need to claim that she, too, has a baby sister who’s the exact same age. Carla says the baby sister’s name is Debbie at the precise moment that Joy takes a Little Debbie cupcake out of her lunchbox.

Julie finds Carla likable enough to invite her over to her mother’s apartment after school. She shows Carla her mother’s Gladrags shop before going upstairs to the apartment. Carla notices Julie’s photo of her and her sister that was taken during a trip to Pennsylvania for the Bicentennial last summer (which was the main subject of the Central Series book Julie’s Journey) and tells Julie that her family has traveled to more places like Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, and Italy, which makes Julie envious because her family haven’t traveled together as much as Carla said her family did. At the end of the visit Julie’s mom offers Carla a ride back to her home while Tracy volunteers to be the driver (since it would give her another chance to pursue her newfound love of driving a car) but Carla refused saying that she can use the exercise.

As time goes on Julie begins to notice more discrepancies in Carla’s stories about her family. The fact that Carla won’t invite Julie over to her family’s painted lady Victorian house only further fuels Julie’s suspicions about that new girl in her class. During a weekend visit with her father, Julie’s dad takes Julie and her best friend Ivy to the local farmers’ market where they see Carla working a stall that belongs to Earthlight Farm. Julie also discovers that Carla’s boss is the same person she spotted that foggy night sifting through garbage cans in her mother’s neighborhood. When Julie and Ivy express interest in working with Carla at the Earthlight Farm stall to earn extra money, Carla discourages them telling them that her boss is an ogre who’s also a crook. She says that her family knows the owner of Earthlight Farm and the owner had told Carla’s father that he suspects that Carla’s boss is embezzling from the farm. Even though Carla had previously told Julie and her classmates that her father is a doctor, she tells Julie that her dad is now retired from practicing medicine and he currently works for the FBI. Carla got the job at the farmers’ market in order to help her dad gather evidence against her boss. But Julie later learns that there are even discrepancies with that story as well.

While Julie is trying to figure out who Carla Warner really is, she meets some Vietnam vets at the veterans’ rehabilitation center where she gets first-hand exposure to the men who have suffered both physical and mental wounds as the result of fighting in the war.

The story ends with this quote from Sir Walter Scott’s poem “Marmion”, which also provided the inspiration for the book’s title:

O, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.

The last chapter, Looking Back, starts with explaining what a painted lady house is alongside a photo of a row of San Francisco painted ladies from the 1970’s. The chapter discusses how buildings started to be retrofitted with ramps and doors to accommodate the disabled, which was fueled by the efforts of disabled rights activists like Judy Heumann. There is a description of both the Vietnam Babylift and the plight of Vietnam veterans after they returned back to the United States from wartime along with a discussion of PTSD that’s on a level that a young child can easily understand. The chapter finishes with a discussion on how there was a greater emphasis on healthy eating in the 1970’s with the rise of farmers’ markets and eating locally grown produce.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The theme song from The Brady Bunch

The theme song from Gilligan’s Island

Movies, Books, and Television Shows Mentioned

The Brady Bunch
Diet For a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
James Bond
Lost in Space
Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene
The Partridge Family
Spider-Man

Real-Life People Mentioned

Judy Heumann

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

Beaded Curtains
Jiffy-Pop Popcorn
Little Debbie
Maxwell House Coffee
Macramé
Mimeograph
Ms. Being Used as an Honorific by Women
Vietnam Babylift
Oreo Cookies
Painted Ladies Victorian Homes
Pet Rock
Portable Cassette Tape Recorder

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

The Tangled Web was a pretty enjoyable read even though I sort of figured out what Carla’s real story was by Chapter 6 when, during a visit to the veterans’ rehabilitation center, Julie unsuccessfully tried to reach out to a young Vietnam vet who’s obviously suffering from PTSD and I correctly figured out that he somehow was related to Carla’s real family situation (as opposed to the fake family she made up for the benefit of Julie and the other classmates).

The book provides a great lesson on why it’s bad to lie, especially when telling a big lie like Carla did regarding her family. The book shows that, as time went on, Carla had a harder time keeping her story straight (such as changing the name of her twin brother). Like Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

The book mentions not only the plight of Vietnam vets who suffered physical and mental injuries but it also mentions how not all divorced fathers remain in close contact with their children like Julie’s father did. I know that this is true among my own extended family. I have one female relative whose ex-husband kept in close contact with their son after the divorce, who stuck with the visitation schedule, and was pretty good about paying child support on a regular basis. I have another female relative with the opposite experience. Her ex-husband rarely had anything to do with their two daughters after the divorce and there were times when he didn’t even make child support payments.

If you read enough criticisms about the current economic situation in the U.S. and the much hyped War on the Middle Class, you’d come to the conclusion that prior to 1980 everything was a jobs nirvana where anyone can get a job very easily and people all lived happily in nice houses. The book does a good job at mentioning that not all families had it so good even in the supposedly more innocent times of the 1970’s and that, yes, there were families like Carla’s who lived a threadbare existence even back then. I knew some poor kids whose families were on welfare when I was in high school and there was one time when I was invited to visit one of them in the trailer park where her family lived. It was definitely a different existence with a liquor store that was located near the entrance to the trailer park and there were guys hanging around outside that store drinking their newly purchased booze. (I can remember when that girl told me that her mother had forbidden her children from going anywhere near that liquor store because of all the drinkers hanging around constantly.) The biggest difference in poverty between the 1970’s and today is that you’d rarely see a homeless person back then aside from the occasion bag lady I used to see sometimes whenever I was in Baltimore who would just sit quietly on a bench with all her possessions in a shopping bag (which was why these women were dubbed “bag ladies” back then). Nowadays I see people begging even in the parking lot of a suburban shopping center and some of them can be quite aggressive at panhandling.

When Julie and Carla heated and ate Jiffy-Pop Popcorn brought back memories for me because that product was such a big deal among most kids back in the 1970’s. I thought it was so cool to see the aluminum foil rise up like a ball as the popcorn popped over the stovetop that I ignored the fact that Jiffy-Pop only popped half the popcorn that was packaged in that product. (Sometimes, if I was lucky, I might get 75% of the kernels popped but that was rare.)

I have to admit that the brief references to handcrafted macramé items in both this book and Changes for Julie brought back memories because macramé was THE biggest trendy craft in the 1970’s (kind of like how scrapbooking is now THE biggest trendy craft today where, if you walk into any big box arts and crafts store, you’ll see aisles and aisles of scrapbooking materials on sale). I even got into it myself. I remember making two wall hangings—one a frog and the other an owl—that hung on my bedroom wall until I left for college.

The scene where Tracy sings Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” at the precise moment the song is playing on the car radio brings back memories of a time when that song was heavily played on the radio because it was such a huge hit back in the day. I also remember the numerous times my ex-husband and I saw The Boss in concert because my ex was a really big fan. (I liked his music too but I like music from other bands as well.) I get wistful these days whenever I hear that Bruce Springsteen is on yet another concert tour because I’m currently a bit too cash-strapped to be going to concerts on a regular basis. (The fact that tickets have gotten so expensive in recent years haven’t helped.)

The book mentions how farmers’ markets got their start in the 1970’s. There wasn’t a farmers’ market in the town I grew up in back in the 1970’s (Glen Burnie, Maryland) but the housing development where we lived was located near the border with the next town, Severn, and when you crossed that line it quickly went from being suburban to rural with mostly farms. One of the farmers decided to set up a produce stand where, during the spring and summer months, you could purchase tomatoes and other produce that were grown right on that farm. I can remember many Sundays when I would attend Mass at the nearby Catholic church with my mother and grandmother then we would all drive over to that farm to purchase some tomatoes. In time the stand was named Papa John’s Farm (not to be confused with the Papa John’s Pizza chain). I haven’t been there since I moved away but, after doing a quick Google search, I’ve found that this produce stand is still in business.

I liked the last chapter’s description of the Vietnam War. I still remember the day when North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam and there were chaos as people scrambled to leave that country, including the number of children who were part of that Vietnam Babylift. I’ll never forget when my Social Studies teacher started class with a rant over how angry he was that the U.S. had spent so much money on that war only to have the South Vietnamese not even use the weapons to defend themselves against the invading North Vietnamese and how he felt that so much money was spent and so many people gave their lives for nothing. My uncle was in the army at that time but he was drafted at the tail end of Vietnam so he was never sent there. (Instead he ended up in other parts of the world, like the time when he was in South Korea and he had to pull 24-hour shifts guarding the DMZ.) I remember hearing about people who adopted some of those kids who from that Vietnam Babylift but I never personally met any families like that when I was growing up. The closest I could cite in my own life is the husband of one of my cousins whose family adopted an orphan from Korea so that white guy grew up with a Korean brother.

I’ve written here before about why I consider Julie’s older sister Tracy to be my least favorite character. The beginning of chapter six in The Tangled Web provided yet another reason. Tracy goes behind the wheel of the car while driving Julie and their mother to the veterans’ rehab center to pick up the turkey that will be cooked for the veterans on Thanksgiving Day. When they arrive, Tracy says “I’ll wait in the car. I don’t want to see a bunch of depressing old dudes in wheelchairs before I have to.” Tracy’s mom keeps her mouth shut while Julie volunteers to go with her inside the center. I know that Tracy is supposed to be 16 and teenagers can be a bit thick-headed and insensitive at times but that statement was infuriating. If I had uttered something like that at Tracy’s age, my parents would’ve immediately gone ballistic on me while lecturing me on how these soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice so we could all live in freedom while telling me not to forget that I have an uncle who was serving in the U.S. Army while I was attending high school and my uncle would’ve been extremely pissed had he heard me say that. When I read that sentence, I found myself being so glad that Tracy is a fictional character because, otherwise, I would’ve felt sorely tempted to punch her in the face. Especially since the book portrays Tracy as being happy only when she’s behind the wheel of a car driving. When she’s not driving, she’s a totally unpleasant person.

The book’s mention that Carla’s mother is attending college in order to land a better paying job is such a throwback to those times when a college degree was definitely the key to a better life and it was basically true prior to 1980. I bought that line from my high school teachers and I wanted to have a job with more of a future than the jobs my parents worked at. My father spent his career working behind the counter in the auto parts section of a car dealership he rarely talked about his work. My mother, on the other hand, worked as a secretary and was later promoted to office manager and she used to come home from work and frequently gripe to my grandmother over how much she hates her job, her bosses, and some of her co-workers.

So I got my bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland at College Park in Journalism with a minor in Government and Politics. I did an internship (with a now-defunct newspaper in Silver Spring called The Suburban Record) and wrote articles for the school paper The Diamondback. The paid jobs I have gotten since college were mainly clerical jobs because, despite my degree and experience, they were the only ones I was offered. What was really frustrating is that they were the kind of jobs that my mother used to get with only a high school diploma but, by the time I came of age, they started to require bachelor’s degrees for new hires.

I knew that journalism jobs were relatively hard to get but I figured that I could get a job in public relations as a fallback. Except I struck out on getting PR jobs despite my education and experience. On top of that there have been media consolidation after media consolidation since the 1980’s which has resulted in more editors and reporters losing their jobs and less diversity in viewpoints.

At one point I tried to upgrade my skills so I could get a better paying job. I took a stab at attending a now-defunct art school (which has since merged with a community college) because the school promised more practical training than the traditional method of just studying fine arts so you can create paintings in the hopes that a museum or art dealer will buy them. I ended up dropping out for a variety of reasons including the fact that I had a full-time job at the time and the school wasn’t exactly welcoming to students like myself who could only take classes on evenings and weekends. (One example was when my name appeared on a list of students whom the dean wanted to talk to by a certain date for some reason—I never learned why. Unfortunately the dean’s office hours were only during the weekdays when I was at work and that list was posted at such a late date that I didn’t even see it until a few days before that due date. Seeing that list was the last straw for me and I ended up dropping out.)

I subsequently took a series of Continuing Education classes in desktop publishing through George Washington University where I learned Dreamweaver, Flash, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Quark XPress. I got a certificate and I still couldn’t get anyone to hire me even though I was doing volunteer work with editing and laying out the newsletter for my church at that time. Nothing I did seemed to be good enough experience for employers.

I’m not the only person this happened to. I’ve known others who are in the same boat as me but I can’t tell their stories since I don’t have permission to do so. But this blog post on Thom Hartmann’s website suggests that it is the case while a study posted on The Los Angeles Times also confirms this.

Where to Buy The Tangled Web

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

 

For the past few Throwback Thursdays I’ve been reviewing 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 sixth and last book in what is known as the Central Series, Changes for Julie. Despite the end of that series, this wouldn’t be the last we hear from Julie Albright.

Here’s some background. For some of the historical doll characters American Girl has not only released a doll based on the main character in the books but it has also released another doll known as the best friend. That best friend is usually a supporting character in the Central Series who is the same age as the main character but is different in some way from the main character. In Ivy Ling’s case, she is not only a different race (Julie is white while Ivy is Asian) but, unlike Julie, her parents are not divorced and she lives close to her grandparents, whom she sees on a regular basis. While Julie’s mother switched from being a stay at home mother to a working mother who owns her own business, Ivy’s mother has always had a job until she quit it so she could attend law school.

Not all historical characters has had a corresponding best friend doll released. The American Girl Wiki has a complete list of which historical character dolls also have a best friend doll.

Just as the historical character doll comes with a Meet book (such as Meet Julie), the best friends character doll also comes with a book of her own where she is given a prominent role and it is considered to be a supplement to the the Central Series. Usually the events in the Best Friend book run concurrent with the events in the Central Series. Like the Meet book, the Best Friend book is also sold separately for people who can’t afford to buy the doll but still want to learn the story anyway.

In 2007 American Girl released the Ivy Ling doll at the same time as the Julie Albright doll. A few months ago American Girl announced that Ivy Ling is one of four historical dolls that the company will permanently retire by the end of 2014 or until these dolls and their clothes/accessories are completely sold out—whichever comes first. Even if the doll is retired, American Girl has a history of keeping the corresponding books in print long after a doll is retired. One such example is the fact that American Girl continues to sell books for its World War II-era historical character Molly and her English friend Emily even though both dolls were retired last year. Which means that, once the Ivy Ling doll is given the heave-ho from the product line, her book will still remain in print for the immediate future. (For more on this, I recommend the hilariously snarky AG Complaint Department: Archival is Not Character Death.)

However, there is one issue about Ivy’s retirement that is not an example of fan hysteria and should be taken seriously: Ivy Ling was the only Asian doll that was released as part of the American Girl Historical Character line (even though she was released as a sidekick to a different character and not as the star of her own story) and, with her upcoming retirement, there will be no Asian historical dolls available. Understandably there has been uproar among the Asian American community and it has prompted this thoughtful column on Forbes magazine site. This isn’t the first time that American Girl has seemed to ignore the fact that America is a multi-racial society these days and that company seems to have a major problem with catering to the wishes of little girls who aren’t white.

Good Luck, Ivy runs concurrent with the events in the Central Series. The American Girl Wiki specifically mentions that this book’s events fall after the fourth book (Julie and the Eagles) but before the fifth book (Julie’s Journey). That sounds correct because the first chapter mentions a red dress that Ivy wore five months earlier during Chinese New Year in January plus there are numerous passing references to Ivy attending school at the time, which means that this book takes place in early June when school was still in session before the start of the annual summer hiatus. (Julie and the Eagles takes place in April and May while Julie’s Journey starts in late June and ends on the Fourth of July). Good Luck, Ivy is the first and, so far, only book where Ivy Ling is the lead character while Julie Albright is given a supporting role. (The only other member of Julie’s family who makes an appearance in this book is her father.) Like the other books in the Julie Albright series, Good Luck, Ivy was written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12 so there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the 1970’s.

This book was published along with the Central Series in 2007. Like the Central Series, this book was illustrated by Robert Hunt, who also designed the logo of a boy fishing from a crescent moon for Dreamworks Studios. For the story itself, this book replaces Megan McDonald with a Chinese American author named Lisa Yee, who has written other books for both American Girl (Aloha, Kanani and Good Job, Kanani) and other publishers (Millicent Min: Girl Genius and Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time).

Ivy and Julie: Best Friends Forever!

Ivy and Julie: Best Friends Forever!

Synopsis: Ivy Ling is a 10-year-old Chinese American girl growing up in 1976 San Francisco in a house that includes her father, her mother, her 12-year-old brother Andrew, her 3-year-old sister Missy, and the family cats Wonton and Jasmine. Her grandfather, known as Gung Gung, and her grandmother, known as Po Po, operate a Chinese restaurant called the Happy Panda located in San Francisco’s Chinatown district.

The book begins with Ivy griping over having to eat take-out food from the Happy Panda yet again because her parents are too busy to cook these days. Over the past year Ivy has had to make many adjustments to changes in her life. Her mother has quit her job so she can go to law school while her father is currently working two jobs to make ends meet. As a result, she and Andrew have to help more around the house, including taking care of little Missy.

If that isn’t enough, her best friend Julie, who used to live across the street before her parents divorced, now lives a few miles away with her mother and attends a different school so she can only see Julie on the weekends when she’s visiting her father, who got the original family home in the divorce settlement.

Ivy has to deal with going to elementary school during the week and doing homework at night. On Saturdays she and Andrew spend breakfast at the Happy Panda with their grandparents before heading off to Chinese school where they and other Chinese American kids learn to speak and read the Chinese language. While Ivy loves spending time with her grandparents, she’s less-than-thrilled with Chinese school and wonders why she has to learn Chinese when she considers herself to be an all-American girl. Her latest school session becomes interesting to her only when the teacher talks about the dragon and how it’s a symbol of good luck and it’s the most powerful signs in the Chinese zodiac. (In addition, as Happy New Year, Julie made clear, 1976 was the Year of the Dragon.) But then Ivy’s attitude about Chinese school changes again when her teacher assigns some extra-credit homework that involves interviewing family members about their lives (which is reminiscent of the plot of Julie Tells Her Story) while those with siblings in the class can work on an alternative extra-credit assignment of doing a report on a famous Chinese American. Ivy’s brother immediately volunteers to do a paper on his hero, Bruce Lee, leaving Ivy with the task of interviewing members of her family. Andrew idolizes Bruce Lee because, like the martial arts star, Andrew was also born in the Year of the Dragon. Andrew has even emulated Bruce Lee by studying kung fu himself.

The one thing that Ivy has to look forward to during the weekdays after school is going to gymnastics practice at the Chinatown YWCA, where she’s on the Twisters gymnastics team. Ivy is an avid gymnast who especially admires Soviet Olympic gymnast Olga Korbut. Even gymnastics isn’t a total escape because it turns out that Ivy has an issue with the balance beam stemming from two tournaments ago when, during that competition, she made a mistake that caused her to fall completely from that apparatus. She tried to get back up but her nerves got the best of her and she ended up running to the girls’ bathroom. Since then she had developed a fear of performing on the balance beam despite her coach’s encouragement to keep trying during practice. She has to master that fear quickly because the Twisters are set to compete in the upcoming all-city tournament followed by a pizza party for the team (that’s set to happen regardless of whether the Twisters win or lose).

Ivy versus her biggest nemesis: the balance beam.

Ivy versus her biggest nemesis: the balance beam.

If all that wasn’t enough, there was also the upcoming annual Ling family reunion which is going to be extra-special this year because relatives from both sides of Ivy’s family will be there. Unfortunately for Ivy, that family reunion is scheduled at the same time as the Twisters’ all-city tournament followed by the pizza party and she has to decide which one to attend.

In time Ivy finds a use for her Chinese school lessons when she helps a Chinese-speaking stranger. Ivy tries to overcome her fear of the balance beam while remembering her brother’s frequently saying that dragons make their own luck. She makes a compromise regarding her scheduling conflict that works out well for her. She also finds a way of working on her extra-credit assignment for Chinese school.

The last chapter, Looking Back, is all about the Chinese immigrant experience in America (which went as far back as the 1849 California Gold Rush and continued through the building of the Transcontinental Railroad) while mentioning the racism and discrimination that they frequently faced. The chapter also mentions prominent Chinese Americans like Bruce Lee, Connie Chung, Michelle Kwan, Maya Lin, and Amy Tan.

Movies and Television Shows Mentioned

The Brady Bunch
Enter the Dragon
The Price Is Right
Sesame Street
The Six-Million Dollar Man

Real-Life People Mentioned

Amy Tan
Bruce Lee
Connie Chung
Maya Lin
Michelle Kwan
Olga Korbut

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany
Abacus
California Gold Rush
Five and Dime (also known as Five and Ten) Stores
Lucky Charms Cereal
Mr. Bubble
Polaroid Picture
Transcontinental Railroad
The Year of the Dragon

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

Reading about the scenes where Ivy’s mother is an older college student reminded me about the time when I spent my freshman year at a community college before I transferred to the University of Maryland. I was 18 at the time while I had female classmates who were old enough to be my mother and, in a couple of cases, even old enough to be my grandmother. These women had gotten married straight out of high school and had children soon afterwards. Once their children reached school age (or even once their children were grown and moved out of the house), these women decided to go back to college. Some women were studying for professional careers while others (especially the senior citizens) were taking classes just for personal enrichment. I also remember when my ex-husband used to tell me that his mother went back to school to get her master’s degree in library science once her children were school age. (My mother-in-law married her college sweetheart—my ex-husband’s father—soon after getting her bachelor’s degree followed by having children and becoming a stay at home mom.) He told me that it felt strange at first to see his mother be a student, which is similar to the scene where Ivy felt weird that her mom is back in school and she has to study and do homework just like her two older children. (My ex-husband told me that his mother got her master’s degree when he was 13 but she still remained a stay at home mom for another seven years until after his younger sister went away to college.)

I identified with Ivy feeling envious that her Great-Uncle Henry and Julie’s father owned color TV sets while her family had a black-and-white TV set. There was a time when color TV was very expensive so people with tighter budgets had to make do with black-and-white TV sets since they were cheaper at the time. When I was growing up my family initially only had a black-and-white TV set. We were lucky one year when my mother’s boss at the life insurance company (where she initially worked as a secretary before getting promoted to office manager) decided to give a color TV set to my family as a gift. I don’t know why he was so generous that year but we were thrilled when we got a color TV set. We ultimately moved our black-and-white TV to the basement where it served as a second TV, which came in handy for those times when members of our family wanted to watch different shows that were showing on different channels at the same time. (This was in the days before there were VCR’s or TiVo or Internet streaming or On-Demand cable programming when people were at the mercy of the TV networks’ rigid schedules much more than today.)

The scene where Ivy’s brother Andrew adjusts the TV antennae on the black and white set so younger sister Missy can watch Sesame Street brought back memories of those days when we had to do that with the black and white TV. Once we got the color TV set, my parents had to install an outside antennae because the signals would’ve come in better. (Cable TV in those days were for rural areas only since some places in the U.S. were so remote that picking up the nearest big city TV signal was impossible without cable because some places were located at least 50 miles or more from the nearest city. I grew up outside of Baltimore and we were also close enough to Washington, DC that we picked up stations from both cities so we weren’t considered eligible for cable TV until the 1980’s when cable TV companies started to expand into urban and suburban areas.) I remember we had this box next to the TV set and every time we changed the channel we had to get up and manually rotate the dial a little bit at a time until the picture came in clear. (In those days we had to get up off the seat if we wanted to turn the TV on, change the channel, or adjust the antennae. There were some sets that had remote control but they were very expensive back in those days. My grandparents on my father’s side of the family were the only ones I knew growing up who had a remote control TV set. The remote control they had was thicker and larger than modern-day remotes and it made a clunking sound every time you pushed a button to turn it on or change the channel.)

The scene where Ivy puts some Mr. Bubble in the bathtub for her sister brought back memories of when I used to love bathing in Mr. Bubble as a child. I thought seeing bubbles in the bathtub was the coolest thing in the world until I was about 9 or 10. I also remember the Mr. Bubble ads on TV such as this one. That brief reference to a Polaroid picture was also a trip down memory lane because my father owned a Polaroid camera for a few years until my parents switched to Kodak. I also took a trip down memory lane when there was a brief mention of Ivy eating Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast because Lucky Charms was among my favorite cereal as a child (along with Frosted Flakes, Trix, Fruit Loops, and Cocoa Puffs). (I eventually stopped eating pre-sweetened cereal as an adult when I learned how eating such cereal every morning isn’t good for you. These days I alternate between Cheerios, Total, Honey Bunches of Oats, Wheaties, and Wheat Chex.)

Good Luck, Ivy has a lighthearted plot that’s reminiscent of Julie Tells Her Story. The scene where Ivy and Julie attempt to bake cookies despite the lack of experience and not having a cookbook on-hand had me laughing out loud, especially when it was paired with this illustration.

Ivy and Julie attempt to bake cookies without a recipe, despite a lack of baking experience.

Ivy and Julie attempt to bake cookies without a recipe, despite a lack of baking experience.

There were also times when her brother Andrew served as comic relief in his arrogance and over exuberance.

I think Good Luck, Ivy does a great job at explaining Chinese American culture and how the children being raised in it go about their ordinary lives. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Chinese American culture in general. Despite passing references to Polaroid photographs and black and white TV sets, this story could easily have taken place this year since there was more of an emphasis on traditional Chinese American culture than on the fact that it takes place in 1976. Good Luck, Ivy can stand on its own as a separate book because one doesn’t really need to have read the Julie books in order to understand this one.

Ivy’s Asian background reminds me of this memory when I was growing up in the 1970’s. When my family first moved from Baltimore to nearby Glen Burnie, that town was mostly white. By the third grade there was a Japanese family named Nakanishi who moved from Okinawa to my neighborhood. Sometimes I used to play with one of their daughters and that girl was in a couple of my classes until after the seventh grade (when her family moved elsewhere).

By the mid-1970’s there was suddenly an influx of South Koreans who moved to Glen Burnie and I suddenly had Korean classmates who were struggling to learn English and adjusting to an entirely new country and culture. Some South Korean families moved to the United States because they were fleeing the repressive dictatorship of Park Chung-hee (who ruled that nation with an iron fist until his assassination in 1979) while others were simply looking for better education opportunities for their children than what they could get in the South Korean school system at that time. Unlike Julie, while I was friendly with some of my Korean classmates, I was never close enough friends with them where I was invited to their homes so, growing up, I never got a first-hand look at how a different ethnic group live their day-to-day lives.

I did have one Chinese American classmate in high school but we weren’t close friends like Julie and Ivy are in the books.

While Good Luck, Ivy remains the only book where Ivy Ling is given a dominant role, it wouldn’t be the last the reader hears from her or her best friend Julie Albright. Next week I’ll write about how American Girl has tried to keep Julie’s story going past the Central Series and Best Friend book.

Where to Buy Good Luck, Ivy

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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

Ramadan

NOTE: This is a review of a previous edition of this book that was published prior to American Girl’s release of the BeForever book editions in August, 2014.

After devoting the last five Throwback Thursdays to the last five books in a series about a young girl growing up in the 1970’s, here is a review of the last book in the series. Like the other books, Changes for Julie is part of a series of historical novels put out by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) that focuses on growing up as a girl in the 1970’s. 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.

The one thing to keep in mind about the Julie books is that they were written for a target audience of girls between the ages 8-12. As a result there won’t be an in-depth look at certain controversial issues of the day.

The books were published in 2007 and they were written by Megan McDonald, who has written a variety of children’s books including the Judy Moody series. The book Illustrations were done by Robert Hunt, who also designed the logo of a boy fishing from a crescent moon for Dreamworks Studios.

Changes for Julie is the sixth and final book in the Central Series following Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, Happy New Year, Julie, Julie and the Eagles, and Julie’s Journey.

Julie gets political.

Julie gets political.

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a 10-year-old white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1976 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items called Gladrags, and her 16-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the fall of 1976 and Julie has been living in that apartment with her mother and sister above her mother’s Gladrags shop for a year. During the summertime Julie notices a new girl walking around in her neighborhood but she doesn’t get to know her until after the new school year starts and the girl is assigned to her class. Julie learns that the new girl is named Joy Jenner and she is a deaf girl who has learned to read lips so she is being mainstreamed into a public school instead of attending a special deaf school. Despite Joy’s hearing problems, Julie and Joy quickly become friends and Julie starts learning a few things in sign language. Julie really identifies with Joy being the new girl in school because Julie was in the same boat last year so she understands what Joy is going through as she adjusts to a new school.

Julie is now in the fifth grade and she has a new teacher, Mrs. Duncan, who is so strict that she makes Julie’s previous fourth grade teacher, Ms. Hunter, seem totally permissive by comparison. Mrs. Duncan is the kind of teacher who hands out demerits and detentions like they were candy for the slightest student infraction. Julie’s problems begin when Joy has a hard time understanding Mrs. Duncan’s lecture on the Lewis and Clark Expedition so she passes a note to Julie asking what the teacher really said, even though Mrs. Duncan had banned students from passing notes. When Julie secretly writes the answer to Joy’s note, she has the misfortune of passing it back to Joy at the moment when Mrs. Duncan catches her. Despite Julie’s protestations that Joy only wrote the note because she didn’t understand what Mrs. Duncan is saying, both Julie and Joy earn detention for an hour after school.

During detention Julie and Joy has to write “I will not pass notes in class” one hundred times while Julie is also sentenced to write “I will not talk back to the teacher” one hundred times in addition to that other writing assignment. Julie and Joy meet a sixth grade boy nicknamed Stinger who is a regular in detention because he is a notorious troublemaker. After detention Stinger brags to Julie about how in the previous year, when he had Mrs. Duncan as a teacher, she gave him 43 detentions which he claims is the school record.

Julie and Joy meet Stinger the troublemaker in detention.

Julie and Joy meet Stinger the troublemaker in detention.

The next day in class Mrs. Duncan talks about the upcoming presidential election and, in the meantime, announces that the elections for student body president is coming up soon. Julie starts to see campaign posters in the hallway from the popular sixth grade boy Mark Salisbury and she’s not impressed by them. She mentions that if she ran for student body president, the first thing she’d do is try to get rid of that detention system because she feels that writing the same sentence one-hundred times is not only a waste of time but, in Stinger’s case, is not very effective in making him behave in school. Joy urges Julie to run while her friend and fellow basketball teammate T.J. expressed reservation because the student body president is usually a sixth grader. After Julie checks with the principal to see if fifth graders can run for student body president, she decides to throw her hat into the ring with Joy running on the ticket as vice president, and T.J. volunteers to serve as campaign manager.

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

Julie, Ivy (who’s visiting Julie in her mother’s apartment), and Joy create posters for their campaign.

Even though there are a few times when Julie mentions in passing that she still plays for the school basketball team, the focus of this book is on the school election.

The dreaded Water Fountain Girls, a trio of girls whose first names begin with the letter “A” who hang around a water fountain while constantly gossip, snark, and make fun of other students (they are basically an elementary school version of the nasty popular girls in films like Heathers and Mean Girls), play a major role in this story for the first time since the first book, Meet Julie. (They played a more minor role in the second book, Julie Tells Her Story, as being among the students who spread untrue rumors about how Julie had injured her finger in that big basketball game so badly that it got gangrene and it had to be amputated. They appeared again briefly in the fourth book, Julie and the Eagles, but they were little more than bit players in that one.) The Water Fountain Girls start to snark about how Joy talks “funny” due in large part to her being deaf and they even make mock hand gestures as a way of making fun of Joy using sign language.

There are also frequent discussions (but not too heated or detailed because this is a book that’s written for elementary school children) about the upcoming 1976 Presidential Election where Republican President Gerald Ford is running for re-election against his Democratic opponent, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Tracy tells Julie that her high school civics teacher told her class about how he admires Jimmy Carter for taking a stand on issues that may cost him popularity. Julie’s mom and her friend Hank the Vietnam War vet tell Julie that they both intend to vote for Jimmy Carter this November. Julie’s father tells her that he intends to vote for Gerald Ford.

The last chapter, Looking Back, deals with the changes that took place in the 1970’s, many of which still resonates to this day. There was the 1976 Presidential Election, where Jimmy Carter defeated the incumbent President Gerald Ford. There was increased foreign competition in consumer items like cars and electronics. Thousands of Americans lost their jobs as their companies shipped them overseas where workers could do the same job for less money. The Energy Crisis, where oil was rationed, was the first time that Americans started thinking about alternative forms of energy like solar and wind. People found solace in these turbulent times by watching television, where the biggest hit shows were ones that were set in the 1950’s like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley. The chapter mentions the feminist movement and how its long-term legacy led to successes (like the political careers of Shirley Chisholm and Nancy Pelosi) and failures (like the ill-fated Equal Rights Amendment). The chapter ends with a look at mainstreaming children with disabilities in the public schools while mentioning notable disabled persons like Judy Heumann, Marlee Matlin, and Heather Whitestone.

Music Mentioned in This Book

The theme song to the TV show Flipper

Television Shows Mentioned

Happy Days
Laverne & Shirley
Little House on the Prairie TV show

Real-Life People Mentioned

Heather Whitestone
Judy Heumann
Marlee Matlin
President Gerald Ford
President Jimmy Carter
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Rep. Shirley Chisholm

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

1976 U.S. Presidential Election
The Energy Crisis
Equal Rights Amendment
“Hang in There, Baby!” Kitten Poster
Macramé
Mainstreaming in education

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experience With the 1970’s:

I have to admit that this book is the strongest book in the Central Series since the first one (Meet Julie). It focuses on Julie’s passionate activist side, which was shown in her previous efforts to push her school to let girls play on the school basketball team in Meet Julie and her help in releasing an eagle family back into the wild in Julie and the Eagles. And there’s also a lot of drama in both the school elections and the re-emergence of those nasty Water Fountain Girls.

But here’s the thing. I don’t remember ever being student government elections on the elementary school level when I was in school in the 1970’s. There weren’t Student Government Associations (SGA) in the public school system I attended (Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland) until middle school at the earliest. Like the books’ idea of having a basketball team that played other schools on the elementary school level, I find it curious that Julie’s elementary school would even have an SGA (or its San Francisco public school equivalent) based on my own school experiences while I was growing up in the 1970’s.

I remember when kids had to write the same sentence over and over on either a piece of paper or on the blackboard as punishment for an infraction. I also remember when kids were also punished by being forced to serve detention after school. I was punished myself a few times during my 12 years in the Anne Arundel County (Maryland) public school system but I’ve made sure that I rarely got into trouble at school because it would’ve given my parents a major big reason not to trust me and maybe even punish me further when I got home from school. (I could write more about this but it would turn into one of those 50+ paragraphs-long posts.)

Stinger the troublemaking sixth grader reminded me of kids I knew who frequently got into trouble. One was a seventh grader named Bobby who frequently disrupted class by getting up and walking around while talking back to the teacher whenever the teacher told him to sit down. He frequently was disciplined and he had to serve after-school detention but it didn’t work with that boy. When I was in high school there was a classmate named Jim who was a grade behind me who was frequently sent to the principal’s office because he talked back to the teacher but he was typically returned to class the next day and he would do it again.

There were times in middle school and high school when the most troublesome kids were suspended from school, which meant that they weren’t allowed anywhere on school property for a certain period of time and they couldn’t make up whatever classwork they’ve missed during the suspension time. These kids basically stayed home from school. Looking back on it, I feel that suspension was an ineffective form of punishment because the kids who were frequently suspended were the ones who didn’t want to be in school in the first place. So they would get into trouble so severe that they get suspended and they viewed it as a reward because they preferred to stay home anyway. I think the school system should’ve taken a hard look at its educational curriculum and programs to see why there were kids who preferred suspension to being in school but it failed to do so. (In case you’re wondering what school system I’m referring to, it’s the Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland.) I know that by junior year in high school many of the troublemaking kids I knew had dropped out once they turned 16.

That scene when Julie saw the “Hang in there, Baby!” kitten poster on the wall during detention brought back memories for me. I can remember when that poster was on sale everywhere during the 1970’s and there were even t-shirts, cards, and buttons based on that.

I also remember when Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley were the biggest hits on the air. I watched both shows off and on but I was never a big fan of either one. (I think I used to watch them if there was nothing better on TV.) I can remember all that wistful nostalgia people my parents’ age and older had for the 1950’s, which I could never fully understand. I even remember when my high school used to have 1950’s days once or twice a year where students were encouraged to dress like they were 1950’s teenagers. (I did it once or twice but after that I just couldn’t get into it so I came to school dressed in normal 1970’s fashion on those days.) I know that part of the reason was because I wasn’t alive back in the 1950’s but, as I read more about the history and times of that era, I find that the 1950’s was a bit overrated as a decade.

Sure the 1950’s may have been heavenly if you were a white heterosexual man who wanted to be the main breadwinner with a wife and kids living in the suburbs because society pretty much favored you. But if you were a woman (especially one who wanted to be more than just a housewife and full-time mother), a person of color, someone who had g/l/b/t leanings, a person who had a hard time finding a job after being falsely accused of being a Communist (after all, the 1950’s spawned the notorious Communist witch hunts of Sen. Joe McCarthy), or even a white man who didn’t want to live the suburban lifestyle (like preferring to live in the city or not wanting to get married or wanting to live a bohemian lifestyle like Jack Kerouac and the Beat generation), the 1950’s decade was not such a sweet utopia.

The references in the book of the kids putting their chairs upside down on top of their desks at the end of the school day also brought back memories for me because we kids were required to do the same thing before we left for the day. The main reason we did this was to make it easier for the night janitor to sweep or vacuum the floors.

I remember hearing about the efforts to mainstream disabled kids in the public school. The only disabled classmate I can recall was a guy in my high school who was in the same grade as me. He was in a motorized wheelchair. I remember that he was the only student who was allowed to use the staff elevators (which required a special key in order to operate) in order to go up and down the floors. (My high school was two stories tall.) I never shared a class with him (I attended a school with over 4,000 students) but he was a fixture in the hallways during the times when we changed classes. Despite his body not being able to move, he was of average intelligence and his mind still functioned well enough to be able to attend classes. I never had a deaf or blind student or any kid with severe mental disabilities in my school.

I was amazed that Julie was able to convince a very strict teacher to consider a different method of discipline. While I had some teachers who were very effective, emphatic, and willing to listen to students’ concerns, unfortunately I had some teachers who were just as rigid as Mrs. Duncan and I’m not sure if any of them would’ve been as willing to take a suggestion from an elementary school-age student (especially one that the teacher had previously punished with detention). There were some teachers who gave off this vibe like “I’m older and more experienced than you. You are here to learn from me. Do not question me because I’m here to teach you.”

It was great that Julie’s idea of an alternative discipline led to the Water Fountain Girls to stop making fun of Joy. I’m not sure if that method would work with all bullies. All throughout my growing up years I’ve met one or two bullies who were so obsessed with going after certain people that they seemed to be borderline psychotic or sociopathic. I think Julie’s method just would not work on a budding sociopath at all.

The one thing I really like about Julie’s character is that she’s willing to not only become friends with a deaf girl but she’s also willing to stick up for her whenever she’s the target of other students’ ridicule. Unfortunately for me I had a friend who lived next door to me while we were growing up. The first few years of school I attended public school while she attended Catholic school so things were fine. As she grew older her parents started to allow the older kids (she was one of six children) to switch to public school in order to save money on tuition. It all came crashing down in middle school when we ended up in the same class together. There were some classmates who thought I was somehow “retarded” so they started to make fun of me. Rather than sticking up for me, she started to join in on the ridicule. She was the opposite of Julie Albright. (Yeah, I’m looking at YOU, Susan K.! If you’re reading this, I have one thing to say: Go fuck yourself with a broom handle covered with 300-grit sandpaper. Ironically I ran into her by chance at Artscape last Saturday and it definitely was NOT fun and I was glad that this unexpected reunion was very brief.)

I also remember the 1970’s Energy Crisis really well. Things got so bad that there was a time when the state government instituted this odd/even days where if the first number of your car license plate started with an odd number, you were only allowed to get gas on odd numbered days while license plates starting with an even number could only get gas on even numbered days. Things were so bad that by the time I got my driver’s license, I was in no hurry to get my own car because I would’ve had to contend with gas shortages. Instead I was content with driving my parents’ car sometimes while leaving them to deal with the fallout from the Energy Crisis. I didn’t even get my first car until a few months before I got married at the age of 23.

Now that I’ve reviewed all the books in the Central Series, here’s my personal ranking of the books.

The Best: Meet Julie. The first part of the book does such an excellent job at explaining divorce to young children in a very sensitive way that I would recommend this book to any child whose parents are divorcing because it would give a child an idea of what it could be like after the divorce. The second half is also strong, upbeat, and dramatic as Julie invokes the new Title IX law while she fights her school for the right to play on the basketball team. The last book, Changes for Julie, also ranks up there with its storyline about how Julie tries to change the system (by running in the school elections in the hopes of reforming the school’s detention policy) while introducing a deaf character in a very realistic way that doesn’t stereotype the deaf nor show any kind of excessive pity as “the poor little deaf girl”. (I’ve met deaf people in real life so I think American Girl did very well in having a deaf character that’s totally believable.)

The Middle: Julie Tells Her Story and Julie and the Eagles are pretty solid books. While they are slightly less compelling than the best books, I found that they are still an enjoyable read nonetheless.

The Bottom of The Barrel: Two books fall under this category. Happy New Year, Julie was so full of big sister Tracy’s frequent complaining about the first Christmas since the divorce that the first half of the book was incredibly annoying. There were times I found myself wishing that someone would slap her in the face just to shut her up. Only the second half of the book, focusing on how Ivy Ling’s family celebrate Chinese New Year, kept this book from being the worst in the series.

Instead that honor falls to Julie’s Journey. That book focused on the American Bicentennial, an event that I remember as being a major once-in-a-lifetime celebration that was so big that some of the observances began in mid-1975. It was an event that even small towns and less populated rural areas took part in. It could’ve been a really interesting and well-done book. Julie could’ve taken a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi River while viewing Fourth of July fireworks over St. Louis’ famed Gateway Arch. Or she could’ve visited Washington, DC since it’s the nation’s capital. Or she could’ve spent a week in a small town anywhere in the U.S. where she could’ve observed how that town did its own Bicentennial celebration with a bit of quirkiness mixed in. Or she could’ve visited a historic town or city in the original 13 colonies like Williamsburg, Yorktown, Annapolis, Boston, Lexington, Concord, or Philadelphia. Instead the reader is treated to a totally dull pioneer wagon train (complete with numerous sentences of Julie fretting over learning how to ride Hurricane the horse) with a tacked-on mystery at the end of the book that seemed totally contrived. Heck, even the Bicentennial scrapbook that I had to keep as part of a year-long middle school social studies class (and I still have in my possession) has more interest and drama than Julie’s Journey.

Even though Changes for Julie marks the end of the Central Series, it won’t be the last time we hear from Julie Albright. Come back next Throwback Thursday to learn how American Girl managed to extend Julie’s story past the Central Series.

Where to Buy Changes for 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 Julie, Julie 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 Eagles, Julie’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.

 

Previous Entries

Categories