As with some of the other books I’ve read, And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine has been reviewed ably elsewhere and at greater length; I’ll try anyway.
Andrea, thirteen, is the youngest of three children, and it seems that the only person who really understands her is her older brother, Joe. Her mother is adrift, preoccupied with Elaine’s antics to the point of ignoring Andrea. Her father works overtime to distance himself from the family. Her sister Elaine is the biggest pain of all (as you might guess from the title): only three years older than Andrea but through the awkward tween stage, socially and physically, Elaine is slender where Andrea is still puppyish, graceful where Andrea is coltish and with an enviably active social life. To compound the problem, Joe is not only off at college but is becoming involved with Cassie, leaving Andrea to wonder more than slightly jealously how that will change their relationship. Both her parents spend so much time struggling with Elaine’s tumultuous behavior that Andrea feels that they leave her to fend for herself emotionally..
Not surprisingly, Andrea feels like an afterthought, though Joe is a great comfort to her; he is by far one of the wisest and most sensible 19 year olds I’ve ever met, though being at a physical distance from Elaine and the struggles with their parents may allow him more emotional distance than Andrea can muster, although age makes a difference. Fortunately, Andrea’s best friend Robyn is a good companion; the two spend time together and work on Robyn’s advice column for the Junior High Times1. Andrea finds a niche for herself working backstage in the school’s production of Dracula, and as an additional bonus, befriends and becomes attracted to the boy doing sound effects, Chris.
Unfortunately, her parents take a dim view of the two becoming more than just good friends, as it is right about this time that Elaine runs away to Arizona with her boyfriend. She does return scant weeks later, penniless and filthy, having begun to learn the difference between adolescent passion and a lasting relationship. The experience has changed her just enough that she and Andrea can see past the sibling relationship and begin the process of becoming friends as well. Growing up, if you will.
I picked this up after reading a blurb about it in Shelf Discovery, so wasn’t sure how well the book had held up over 35 years. It’s not badly outdated, despite its age–people still ride motorcycles and set design hasn’t changed all that much, at least at the junior high school level, but it’s a decent description of a moderately dysfunctional family–many kids struggle with adolescence, love and dissolution of relationships, though not all of us carry the angst far enough to run away from home. The structure’s good too: I appreciate that the denouement does not in fact involve Elaine, but rather Joe–he dies in a motorcycle accident on the way home from college to see Andrea’s triumph as set designer.
The plot doesn’t seem quite so over the top as some of the more recent YA books I’ve read; I sometimes think that modern authors feel they have to one up preceding authors in order to attract attention from jaded tweens. I’d guess that if kids were able to read at a “Hunger Games” level, they’d manage this quite nicely, though the interest might not carry over as the two are very different: this is a reality based book, and thus might be more appealing to kids who’ve graduated from Beverly Cleary’s books.
This strikes me as a very gentle read, similar to Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride, though not as outdated–Pevsner doesn’t mention any of the trends of the 1970s as Cleary did the ’60s. Too bad I’m not sure how readily it’s available these days. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on a copy of my own. More importantly for the purposes of a librarian, I’d suggest it, even today, for tweens who aren’t into science fiction whose parents aren’t into bad language or mature situations, though I can’t imagine it’d attract much attention unless it’s reissued in a catchy bright modern cover. (The copy I have is laughably dated, not reflecting the text at all: both sisters have typically ’70s long straight hairdos and Elaine is posed in a provocative tank top and Daisy Duke shorts.
1no, I’m not sure how they got away with calling it “High Times” either