Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the feature in which we give a sentimental look-back to the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer/reviewer/blogger Lizzie Skurnick re-reads the 1983 Julian F. Thompson young adult classic 'The Grounding Of Group 6'.
The people in their group, Group 6, were all sixteen, all five of them, and of none of them was fat.
It's been a while since literature gave us a good child slaying. I mean, obvs parents in books kill their children all the time — leave babies in the woods, drown them, let them be stolen by bad people, drown them, let them be drown'd, don't notice they've stopped breathing, let them get strangled and ra— Oh, right, MOTHERS in books kill their children. (Men STEAL them...for their own good!) In any case, you are still hard-pressed to find a group of well-off parents offing their offspring — who have, by the way, managed not to be fat — for no good reason at all.
For those of you who have blocked it, Julian F. Thompson's masterwork is, of course, the story of 5 high schoolers sent to a boarding school, Coldbrook Academy, for what they think is a brief coda to their vaguely unillustrious high school careers. In fact it is meant to be the brief end...TO THEIR LIVES. Their parents have paid, from what my post-Algebra II brain can glean from the narrative, something like $1,500 to have their kids poisoned and thrown into deep crevasses, never to be heard from again. (With inflation, this is something like $57,235, which seems fair.) The service is offered by a select group of psychopathic faculty, including the Dean of Coldbrook, who puts it to Nat Rittenhouse, the young man hired to ground said 6, thusly:
We take them off their hands, those lemons. Once and for all. Quick and neat and clean and utterly untraceable. We have those limestone faults quite near the school-these fissures on the surface of the planet. Some of them seem almost bottomless. Drop a lemon into one....we never hear it hit. We call that 'grounding', Mr. Rittenhouse. A natural and wholesome term, I hope you will agree. At Coldbrook, we are definitely....organic.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! Don't kill me. (It amazes me that this book never got made into a film.) Anyway, the players are as follows: sassy Marigold, who has lightning bolts on her panties; dry, lanky Coke, who has rolled-up vodkas in his rucksack; sweet Sully, who is hot but unsullied; sporty Sarah, who is shy but secure; and Ludi, who is....PSYCHIC! (Ding-ding-ding!) Plus Nat-who has been thrust into this position by a small gambling habit and a run-in with an Italian character who is not a stereotype at all-this is three boys and three girls. I wonder if any of them will get it on!
The characters are being shuffled off this mortal coil for the following:
Marigold: Sleeping with mother's boyfriend.
Sully: Rejecting mother's gay boyfriend.
Ludi: Psychic abilities.
Coke: Unruly hair.
I think! As near as I can tell, so knocked flat am I by a titanic flood of sophistication I have no idea how I followed at age 9 — as I still cannot follow it now. In just the first chapter, we are graced with the following references: "fleurs du mal de siecle"; Kir; a doorman named Porfirio, cannabis, "Moi?", and an Abenaki chauffeur. The weary worldliness of the characters-16, un-gay, un-fat-reaches its apex, I feel, as Coke raises a glass of smuggled rum to the crew and ironically declares, "Prosit." I cannot even get a man to get me a beer.
But I am willing to overlook that the author has imbued his cast with age-inappropriate dinner-party game because they still totally have a bunch of YA sex to read aloud at the sleepover. Here's Sully, feeling up Sara:
Sully could hardly believe he was actually kissing her. Her lips felt wonderful under his, and-whoa-he'd forgotten to move his hand off her breast. He was actually feeling her breast with his hand and it felt just fantastic, and then her lips were moving, and, wow, that was her tongue...
Italics TOTALLY not mine! Marigold and Coke, of course, jump into bed right at the beginning, and somehow, Thompson is even able to finesse Nat sleeping with Ludi—maybe if you are psychic, you are not underage?—zipping their sleeping bags together so quickly you forget how Katie Roiphe ever existed.
Claro, boarding schools, backstory, sex, and long-range rifle scopes are the foundations of serious literature. (Throw in a psychic like Ludi who sees 1880's buggies roaring through the woods and has feelings that she just, like, has always had, and you're GOLDEN.) So why is it that you just never see parents who suck anymore? YA still has nasty stepmothers (duh), but whither The Cat Ate My Gymsuit's emotionally abusive dad? The alkie mom of The Long Secret? The stage mom of I'll Love You When You're More Like Me? Ramona's dad slicing the Mom's undone pancakes? Zindel's troup of Bayonne divorcees, one of whom squeezes margarine from the bottle, spreads it on an English muffin and then tells her daughter, "I love you, kid. I just love myself a little more."? Now, parents are co-members of the narrative. We have to deconstruct their little lives, we have to hang with them at the breakfast bar, and love them like they're just like us before heading off to a commercial break. So, as ascends Gilmore Girls, so dies a golden YA trope—the parent who deserves to die.
Omigod that just got so serious! Still totally no idea what an Abenaki chauffeur is, by the way.