Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Top Shelf Books #3 – Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

The next book to make it on to The Top Shelf is

Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers

‘You are not going to believe me, nobody in their right minds could possibly believe me, but it’s true, really it is!’

Freaky Friday is the story of Annabel Andrews, a girl who wakes up one morning to discover she has been transformed into her mother.  So begins a day of getting to do whatever the hell she wants with nobody to tell her what to do, and quickly learning how tough it is to be an adult and a mother.  She has to contend with the racist cleaning lady, a demanding toddler, baffling housework, family politics, the judgemental attitudes of strangers, mysterious appointments in the diary and her teenage crush falling for her mother.

This is one of those books that seems to have always been part of The Bookshelf.  I’ve read it quite a lot, as you may be able to tell from the state of my copy.  I certainly remember that the narrator Annabel was much older, practically an adult, than me when I read this as a child.  Annabel is thirteen.

The Keen Detective skills have led me to notice I have written my name in the front along with my class ‘5J’.  So presumably I was ten when I got this book.  Hmm.  Or possibly ten when I took this book to school.

Anyway, it is a book I always found easy to read (although it was the first American novel I read, so I was occasionally baffled as to what she was talking about) and always welcome to dip into when I needed something to do or something comforting to escape into.  When I read it again as an adult, I was delighted to discover it really is very good.  In fact, I think I appreciate it more now.

‘I fished the bowl of macaroni out of the wastebasket, and turned on the living-room television set.  I was hoping to find a good cartoon, but it was after ten and I couldn’t even find a bad cartoon.  I suppose they figure all the kids are in school and grown-ups like to watch other kinds of shows.  Not very thoughtful of them.  What about a poor little sick kid who has to stay home, or a poor little kid who’s changed into her mother for the day.  Not even one ‘Road Runner’?  No sir.  One ladies’ panel show, one sewing show, ‘Romper Room’, one show that looked good but it was all in Spanish, and a show called ‘Swing and Sway with Jean Dupray, Physical Fitness the Real Fun Way’.  That seemed like the best of the bunch, but just as I was beginning to get the hang of the swinging and swaying (which was easier for old Jean than for me because she was wearing a tank suit over tights and I was wearing Ma’s long silk thing), there was the most staggeringly horrible noise in the kitchen.  Right away, I knew it had to be the washing machine, and it took all the guts I had to go in there and look.  Not that there was much to see – just bubbles – but the clatter and bang was enough to make you deaf for life.  I was just about to turn it off before it went into the spin cycle – because it was mad as a hornet now, but when it started spinning it would probably break loose and chase me around the room – when the phone rang.

‘Hell,’ I said.  Too late.  The spin cycle had begun.  Last year, our class took a trip to an old car graveyard – a big crane throws dead cars into a pile and then a compressor thing mashes them all together into one large, tutti-frutti mess.  All I can tell you is that compared to the racket in the kitchen, a trip to an old car graveyard is like a trip to Grant’s Tomb (where we also went last year).’

Annabel is a slobby underachiever but actually very smart, which allows her narration to gallop along at a childishly frenetic pace while making deeper, interesting observations.  It’s certainly an example of The Favourite First Person Narrators.

The rather obvious body-swap premise actually opens up a fascinating existential crisis, as Annabel has to face the fact that she may be trapped as her mother forever, while dealing with her chauvinistic husband (father), being nice to a son (brother) she can’t stand, who adores his big sister (her) and can’t understand why she hates him, talking to a bunch of teachers about her underachieving daughter (her), the boy upstairs falling in love with her (the mother) but hating her (the daughter) and the fact that whoever is in her body has gone AWOL. 

It’s wonderful that Rodgers has managed to write a story in which a stroppy teenager learns things from a new perspective and have the ugly girl turns beautiful ending without ever getting clichéd.  It even has several false endings and parodies the essay style kids are forced to write in, which is delightfully smart.

What else can I say about it?  It’s intelligent, engaging, witty, entertaining and exciting and as far as I can tell, it’s a great read whatever age you are.

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