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From the PublisherStarred review, Publishers Weekly, June 30, 2008:
"An ambitious, timely first novel."
THE SMART THING Is to Prepare for the Unexpected.
So reads the fortune cookie fortune that Amanda receives at the beginning of her family’s vacation to Florida. Amanda knows all about preparing for the unexpected—her mother, whom she calls The Captain, is always hard on Amanda, and it’s just when Amanda lets her guard down that the very worst comes through. Looking for acceptance, Amanda turns her attention to boys, and doing whatever she can to be popular at school. That ...
THE SMART THING Is to Prepare for the Unexpected.
So reads the fortune cookie fortune that Amanda receives at the beginning of her family’s vacation to Florida. Amanda knows all about preparing for the unexpected—her mother, whom she calls The Captain, is always hard on Amanda, and it’s just when Amanda lets her guard down that the very worst comes through. Looking for acceptance, Amanda turns her attention to boys, and doing whatever she can to be popular at school. That includes making out with the gorgeous senior Rick in his car after school—even though he has a girlfriend. And when Rick offers her The Deal—a real, official date to the Homecoming in front of everyone, in exchange for her virginity—Amanda jumps at the chance. But no matter how you try to prepare for the unexpected, sometimes you can’t. Sharp, chatty, and brutally honest, this debut novel is compulsively readable and heartbreakingly real.
Baldini and Biederman make a powerful debut with this painfully realistic tale. Amanda Himmelfarb, 15, has good reason to feel rejected by her sniping, bitter mom, whom she's privately dubbed the Captain. Her dad, aka La La Man, and younger, seemingly perfect sister are of little help in Amanda's constant struggles to please. As Amanda narrates, the coauthors expertly calibrate the family dynamics, letting the audience see far in advance of Amanda herself why she sets herself up for rejection: in an early scene, a boy pressures her into giving him a blow job, then dumps her; later, the boy she likes at school fools around with her in secret while openly preserving his relationship with his girlfriend. When he trades Amanda a date to the homecoming dance in return for sex, the tension results from readers' certainty that she'll agree-it's like watching a train wreck about to happen. For great stretches, the verisimilitude is almost heartbreaking; luckily, Amanda speaks with wit and not self-pity. The only false note is an overly dramatic, quasi-tidy resolution-a forgivable flaw in an ambitious, timely first novel. Ages 14-up. (July)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr 9 Up
Amanda Himmelfarb is the constant victim of The Captain, aka her mother, who spends most of her energies either fighting with Amanda's father or being cruel to her older daughter. As the family drives to Myrtle Beach, where Amanda is eagerly awaiting a reunion with her love interest from the previous summer, her parents argue incessantly. Although she is a beautiful and intelligent young woman, as well as a talented poet, her mother's constant disapproval has left her with dangerously low self-esteem, and she goes from one disastrous sexual experience to another, allowing herself to be used in hopes of gaining acceptance. When she begins secretly "dating" Rick Hayes, she is blind to the fact that he is clearly only interested in her for sex. Ultimately, she agrees to lose her virginity to him in exchange for him "going public" with their relationship at the homecoming dance. Sadly, she spends most of her time in the back of his van, only to have Rick go back to his girlfriend moments after he has sex with Amanda. Through a heart-to-heart with her loving aunt, the teen is able to forgive herself for her mistakes and hopefully move on to make wiser decisions in the future. Rife with raw emotions, the sex scenes are both graphic and sad, leaving readers cringing at Amanda's self-defeating behavior. The tension throughout the novel is so palpable that it is often exhausting. The story moves at a quick pace, however, thanks to Amanda's honest and often humorous voice, as well as her thoughtful poetry interjected throughout.-Michelle Roberts, Merrick Library, NY
The first Chinese fortune I collected the summer I hooked up with Paul-the guy some might consider my first-read:
“The smart thing is to prepare for the unexpected.”
I should have taken it more seriously. Fortunes can be like little instructions for life; they may not fit yours at that particular moment, after that particular meal of kung pao chicken, but eventually they will. Trust me on this.
My mother, Susan Sturtz Himmelfarb, could best be described as uptight, controlling, and ultraorganized, like an efficiency expert, which I think is actually a real job for some people. The Captain, my mother, prides herself on being able to complete tasks faster than anyone. I'm the total opposite-a march-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum, at-my-own-pace type. The Captain says I'm impulsive and that I don't "do things the way the world does."
She has issues with the length of my "hour" showers, how I pull back my curtains or sleep on top of the duvet cover, put socks on before pants and makeup before shirt, how I tie my laces (still do the two-loop thing), open an envelope, hold a pencil, pour a drink, and blow my nose. Even how I spray on my perfume and brush my teeth is apparently "not how any other normal teenager in the universe would." My study habits, friends, grades (except English), and "sarcastic, fresh mouth" are also unacceptable to The Captain. Melody, my sister, is always acceptable, unless of course she's whining. At least I was under less scrutiny on vacation. One reason I wanted to get to Myrtle Beach.
But, more important, I couldn't wait to meet up with Paul. To have him hug me and make me forget about all the crap I had to deal with. He spent the entire summer in the oceanfront Grand Strand Condos; we went down to our condo only in August, renting it out the rest of the season. Last August I flirted with Paul whenever I got the chance, combing the beach looking to "coincidentally" walk by him. Then, on our last night, while my parents were out, I bumped into him at my neighbor's party. We talked for a long time. He told me he was seventeen and going into his senior year and that the following summer he would be lifeguarding again. I lied and said I was going to be a sophomore. We kissed and he felt me up over my shirt.
I spent ninth grade IM'ing and texting with Paul, and talking nonstop about him to my best friend, Paige. It got so bad that a few weeks before I was going to see Paul again, Paige joked that she was taking up a collection for me so I could fly there already, and she could finally stop hearing about him.
But we didn't fly the seven hundred miles, we drove.
And the car ride from Larchmont, New York, to Myrtle Beach showed signs of impending doom long before we reached our overnight stop.
It began with my dad popping in his traveling tunes CD and happily singing along in his own world. Dad, La-La Man, could care less that he sang the wrong words and was way off-key. The Captain abruptly ejected his CD after one song because she just couldn't "take the noise any longer." All I wanted to do was listen to my iPod and write in my journal, but my prissy, pimple-free little sister, Melody, had to be so annoying with her I'm so good, I'm so good, I'm so good, good, good dance, sticking her bony fingers up in the air as she listed in perfect order, every capital of every state starting with Washington and going around the country. When this agony ended, Loser Daughter (me) was forced to "stay focused" and answer trivia-card questions my mother rattled off, instead of zoning out.
Even worse was being trapped in my parents 'battlefield. They'd been bickering more than usual, ever since they started planning Melody's bat mitzvah. My dad wanted to cut costs, but my mother was letting Melody choose last minute extras with the party planner and the event, a month away, was turning into one of those huge, overdecorated, ten motivators with the DJ type thing. It didn't seem fair that The Captain was making such a big to-do. Mine had been a simple luncheon in the temple social hall.
Posted November 18, 2008
Amanda's life is unraveling. <BR/><BR/>She is excited for their family vacation to Myrtle Beach. She has been planning a rendezvous with Paul, a lifeguard that she met the previous summer. Paul is older and is expecting some excitement with Amanda this summer. <BR/><BR/>It's only after Amanda is alone with Paul that she realizes she's not ready to give him everything she wants. So after some experimentation, the two head back to their respective homes. But the two encounter Amanda's mom, aka The Captain. From there, the rest of the vacation takes a downward spiral and the family heads home early. <BR/><BR/>Life doesn't get any better for Amanda once she's back home. The school year starts and she knows she won't get the coveted open spot on the swimming relay team. Courtney, Fakey Flakey, will get the opening. She's guaranteed the spot because her family has offered the family swim club for the team to practice in while the school facility is being repaired. <BR/><BR/>Courtney's boyfriend, Rick, starts to talk to Amanda, and soon, Amanda is secretly meeting up with Rick and making out with him. Amanda thinks that she can get back at Courtney through Rick. But Rick won't break up with Courtney, stating his family expects him to be with her. But the two strike a deal. If Rick takes Amanda to Homecoming, she'll have sex with him. <BR/><BR/>Amanda and her mom are always at odds. Her younger sister can do no wrong, but Amanda is always the one getting in trouble. Thankfully, her Aunt Jen defends her to her mother. Amanda's dad sticks up for her, but it's her mother that runs the house. <BR/><BR/>Amanda has to get permission from her mom to go to the dance. Of course, she can't let her know she's got a date. She has to delicately tread water. Once she gets the okay, it's her Aunt Jen who helps convince her mom with the perfect dress. <BR/><BR/>Needless to say, the dance doesn't go as planned, and she is used by Rick. When she comes home early saying she's sick, her mom immediately jumps to the assumption that Amanda was up to no good. Her mom can never give her the benefit of the doubt. <BR/><BR/>As the story unfolds, Amanda gains insight into what drives her mother. The two can never see eye to eye. It's only when tragedy hits her mother that Amanda (and maybe her mom) can start to connect again. And then maybe Amanda can stop unraveling. <BR/><BR/>Ms. Baldini and Ms. Biederman write an honest and moving story of a girl whose world seems to be falling apart. Amanda feels unloved and unwelcome in her own home. She searches for meaning and acceptance and love anywhere that she can. The depth of her feelings is believable and heartfelt. Interspersed throughout the story are poems that Amanda writes. They tie the story together perfectly, blending together the plot with Amanda's thoughts. <BR/><BR/>UNRAVELING is definitely written for the older teen, though, with a lot of sexual content. It is not explicit, but it is mentioned frequently.
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Posted October 16, 2008
Amanda Himmelfarb is starting high school and is ready to grab all she can of it. She wants to leave behind the loser image that got her the one-time nickname of Himmelfart. She's contemplating having sex with a boy she met on vacation the year before. And she's constantly at odds with her mother, who watches her like a hawk and comes down hard on her for all the things she imagines Amanda wants to do. The reader aches for everyone involved in the dysfunctional dynamics of this family. the mother-daughter pair who are constantly at odds, the mom and dad who argue over discipline and trust, the younger sister who takes advantage of it all to gain special privileges for herself. In short, everyone is unraveling, and the more threads that get pulled away, the faster the foundation continues to crumble. Just when everyone seems on the brink of coming apart, a surprising event helps them start to put the stitches of their lives back together.<BR/><BR/>Unraveling provides a safe place to discuss mother-daughter conflicts and look at how they affect the whole family. So much of the conflict comes about through misunderstanding and miscommunication, it's a primer on what not to say or do if you want to maintain good relationships between parents and children. There's also lots to talk about, particularly on the topic of girls who feel unloved and unaccepted may be less able to set acceptable boundaries for all areas of their lives.
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Posted June 12, 2011
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