It's baaack! Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wrinkled look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer/reviewer/blogger Lizzie Skurnick re-reads 'My Darling, My Hamburger', Paul Zindel's 1969 novel that explores issues of teen romance, pregnancy, and abortion. [FYI: Lizzie is sorry she couldn't get the "real"/vintage cover. If anyone has it and wants to scan it for us, we'll switch it out. This is as hard for us as it is for you. -Ed.]
"It was Marie Kazinski who asked how to stop a boy if he wants to go all the way," Maggie whispered. Liz dragged her trig book along the wall files so that it clicked at every crack.
..."Well" - Maggie lowered her voice - "Mrs. Fanuzzi's advice was that you're supposed to suggest going to get a hamburger."
Harry Potter is bunk. No! Shut up, fans. He's bunk. Bunk, obviously, for many reasons — chief among them that all of you should go read The Phoenix and the Carpet and A Little Princess and get back to me. However, his comprehensive bunkness has a long slime trail extending, Dear Reader, almost precisely to you. And do you know why? Because you have not been content to let him exist solely as a cut-rate hero of a bad-font series on some cheap-ass paper. (Or, as a notable show with, actually, a character named Bunk put it recently, the "weak-ass mayor of a broke-ass city.")
No! You've had to puff him up into all kinds of symbolic smoke rings, claiming that his bunk-ass trials are not only a ripping good read but represent some kind of thoughtful analysis of the perils of childhood, insofar as if anyone is more bunk than Harry Potter and his pals, it's all those men in gowns running around trying to annihilate him.
Which is an insult to paginated adult-child relations everywhere. Because while many non-bunk authors, I would assert, have spanked J.P. Rowling in her Quidditch on that score on many occasions, none have done so more thoroughly than Paul Zindel, whose bleak evisceration of innocence of all kinds by graduation is deserving of some kind of valediction itself.
Which brings us to Maggie and Liz. You know Maggie, and you know Liz. If you read this book, you are, obviously, Maggie. Maggie is a little dumpy and wears pleated, homemade dresses and plucks her eyebrows cockeyed. She dots her i's with hearts and writes cheery, forced notes that go unanswered. Liz only reads astrology books. Liz tells Maggie her hair looks like "thin fungus", and Maggie loves her anyway, because, as Liz asserts, "it's true," and anyway, Liz has the kind of remote, galactic beauty that causes lesser planetary objects to be pulled into her orbit effortlessly, periodically setting them aflame as they burn through upon entry.
Liz is so coolly built, in fact, that she has no idea of the yearning that she produces in Maggie — only that, while she's fond of her friend, she's only truly bonded to Sean (who describes their union as "Two foreign spirits trapped under skin [who] were finally able to breathe.") Sean would like to sleep with Liz, because, as he also puts it, "We love each other, don't we?" Liz is not so sure-mainly because her stepfather already thinks she has loose morals and her mother leaves statues of the Madonna in her bedroom and this is not going to lead anyone into a positive embrace of the sexual position.
Sean has a friend named Dennis, whom they fix up with Maggie, even though they know they've been B-listed and are exactly has happy as you'd be to be paired with a loser. Aaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why does Liz get to be so pretty and have a hot boyfriend and a LIFE and a PERSONALITY and an IDENTITY in the school while I get fixed up with DENNIS, Sean's friend, who is always wearing A BAGGY GREEN SWEATER. I mean, why does that happen to Maggie.
As someone who still doesn't get it that when the parking attendant says I can just pay cash and I don't need the ticket and it's all fine that he's using my $5 for beer money, I have always found the following passage a brilliant description of their power imbalance:
"Liz, we can't go in there. We're not old enough."
"They never ask for proof." Liz kept heading for the entrance.
"They'll ask me!"
Liz stopped and took an objective look at Maggie. She decided they probably would ask her. Quickly she opened her purse and pressed a frayed piece of paper in her hand.
"Somebody's birth certificate. Remember, your name is Catherine Usherer tonight," Liz assured.
"I can't do that!"
Maggie could hardly find her voice. "They'll know I"m lying."
"No, they won't," Liz insisted. "Unless, of course, they've already checked the real Catherine Usherer's ID."
"How did you get Catherine Usherer's birth certificate?"
Liz looked at Maggie as though she had lost all patience with her. "You know Helen Bordanowitz?"
"The way I understand it, Helen Bordanowitz used to go to Port Richmond High School, and she had the gym locker next to Catherine Usherer-whoever that is-and one day when Catherine Usherer wasn't looking, Helen Bordanowitz stole it. Understand?"
Maggie felt her heart pounding. As Liz pushed her into the crowded bar she still couldn't understand how Liz had gotten the card.
I STILL DON'T EITHER! And, if I can blow some symbolic smoke rings myself, I will assert that Liz's forcing of a new identity on Maggie — the "Ushering", if you will — while being in possession of numerous ones herself is symbolic of what my friend likes to say about good girls and bad girls-namely, that they do exist, but that most of us have been both by the ends of our lives.
Because you know why the birth certificate itself is there. Liz's stepfather is going to call her "a little tramp", and she's going to decide it's not worth it to pretend she isn't one. She's going to sleep with Sean, and she's going to get pregnant. Sean is going to promise to marry her, and then his own father is going to convince him not to. And Liz going to finally get Maggie to accompany her to her abortion-brought there by the town jerk who, in a scene I have never forgotten, crams two hot dogs into his mouth at once while he's driving them home, then wipes his face off with his hand while looking in the rear-view mirror and checking his hair.
And during the same time, what happens to Maggie? She loses weight. She stops plucking her eyebrows cock-eyed. She gets asked out by Dennis to the prom, and she has to reject him in order to go with Liz, something he won't understand until months, months later.
God! I'm getting depressed. And you're supposed to. But not because ground beef is not a prophylactic. Because sex is not a game of Quidditch.
My Darling, My Hamburger
Lizzie Skurnick [The Old Hag]
Earlier: •All-Of-A-Kind Family: Where I Would Put Something Yiddish If I Thought You Goyishe Farshtinkiners Would Farshteyn
•Island Of The Blue Dolphins: I'm A Cormorant And I Don't Care
•Little House In The Big Woods: I Play With A Pig Bladder Like It's A Balloon
•The Grounding Of Group Six: Have Fun At School, Kids, And Don't Forget To Die
•Are You There Crazy Psychic Muse? It's Me, Lois Duncan