Let’s start with Thirteen by Candice F Ransom.
Here is how I thought all American beaches looked when I was younger: faded timber boardwalks, featuring amusements parks, and crowded stretches of slightly dirty sand with striped umbrellas.
This picture was created through a combination of watching the first scene of Beaches, reading the Baby-Sitter’s Club books where Stacey and Mary-Anne go with the Pikes to Sea City and reading Thirteen.
Thirteen was published in the 80s, but set in the 60s. However, with the exception of not knowing what a few of the key cultural references (Bass Weejuns? I decided they were shoes) it still felt contemporary to me when I read it in the 90s and on a recent reread it held up exceptionally well. If I was in TV I’d buy the rights and start producing it as a less cheesy The Wonder Years immediately.
It starts with main character Kobie Roberts and her bestie Gretchen at Ocean City. They go every year for a week with the parents but this year is different. They’re 13, and Gretchen is already attracting attention from boys while Kobie is struggling to keep up. She spends an evening sitting alone on a splintered crate under the boardwalk while Gretchen ditches her to hang out with a guy named Dwayne. Personally I’d rather get a splinter up my butt then hang out with a guy named Dwayne (one exception made for The Rock).
The gap between Kobie and Gretchen keeps stretching throughout their school year. As Kobie says:
Lying back on my pillows, I reviewed the situation. It was, in a word, cruddy. Gretchen had a new madras jumper and fake Weejun loafers and three new friends. I had a dress even an orphan would scorn, a shrimp who slammed my locker shut, and no friends, except for Gretchen, and I suspected she was moving on to greener pastures.
Kobie is a fun character to read. While she’s smart and sarcastic, she’s also a social disaster and not in the She’s All That-she-was-beautiful-all-along way. There’s no shining moment of grace for Kobie; she just keeps getting everything wrong, and she’s keenly aware of the mess she’s making, but she can’t stop.
While the book puts her relationship with Gretchen under the spotlight I actually like her interactions with Stuart Buckley (the aforementioned shrimp who slams her locker shut) and her mother much more. Stuart’s mission on earth seems to be to make Kobie’s life even worse than it is and because she’s not attracted to Stuart there’s no pretense in their relationship. With him she’s at her dry, witty best.
And Kobie and her mother are locked in the cold war that happens to all mums and daughters during the teenage years. There’s nothing new about the tension in their relationship but it’s real, and in this book, it’s funny. There’s a pretty great scene where Kobie chucks a tantrum while they’re shopping because she wants cool clothes that rang true for me.
My mother stood a little apart from me, clutching her black plastic pocketbook and the prescription bag, and looking as if she wished she had switched babies in the hospital. I turned away, feeling a gritty sort of triumph that I had made her buy all those things she hadn’t intended. I had a certain power over her, I realised for the first time. I also felt that an invisible barrier had suddenly sprung up between us and that we would be on opposite sides for a long time.
Kobie might have been shopping for “poor boys” and “madras” (? I mean what? What did people wear in the 60s?) but it could have easily been me in 1992 in a surf store begging for a Stussy t-shirt.
(Why did we love surfwear so much? We lived more than 200km away from the closest beach.)
Anyway. I really loved this book when I was younger and was so happy that I enjoyed it in my 30s. I also had Fifteen At Last, which I liked too. Kobie gets even more slapstick as she gets older and spends a great portion of her time terrifying a male teacher with her irrational crush on him. Those were the only two books I had – although I’ve found out since through the magic of the Internet there was a whole series that starts at 10 years old. I think I’ll track them down. I’m not done with Kobie yet.
Have you read Thirteen or any of the other Kobie Roberts books?