If you haven't read this book, I know what you're thinking. A book about the most unlikeable of the three girls in Just as Long as We're Together? You'd think it would be sucktastic, but instead this gives a better look into Rachel, and you come out sympathizing with her and even liking her. To me, that's the mark of a good author; taking an unlikeable character and making them likeable. It's how I feel about V.C. Andrews's Garden of Shadows. I never thought I'd like TG, but hearing things from her point of view gives FITA a whole new meaning when you re-read it. Same goes for here, I may have been hard on Rachel in my JALAWT recap, but this book made me understand her actions in that book a lot more.
The book starts off with Rachel daydreaming in English class. Her parents are at a meeting at her older brother Charles's boarding school to see if he's getting kicked out or not. The teacher asks a question, and Rachel's old crush Max gives a dumbass answer, so the teacher instead calls on Rachel. Rachel thinks to herself that she hates when teachers call on her even when she hasn't raised her hand just because they know she knows the answer. Of course, she does know the correct answer, and Ms. Lefferts, their teacher, gives them an assignment: to write their biographies from birth to death. This should be good!
Rachel starts writing her biography in her next class, in which there's a study hall. It's pretty standard in the beginning, and it says that she realized she was different in the first grade, when she was finishing up all the Beverly Cleary and Little House books as her classmates were still learning to read. Hey, me too! By first grade I had read most of the older BSC and SVH books. Am I a genius? Janine says no.
Rachel sees Stephanie in the hallway after class. Stephanie asks her what's wrong because she's clenching her jaw again. Ouch! Rachel's dentist gave her a retainer to wear at night to get her to stop clenching her jaw, but she lost it. Oops. Steph asks if she got an A minus or something. I love you, Steph. They meet Alison at their lunch table and Rachel tells them about Charles possibly coming home and how much he sucks. Alison doesn't get why he sucks, and Rachel tells her he just does. I can tell you why he sucks, but I'll wait until later on in the book.
Rachel comes home from school to find her cousin, Tarren, and Tarren's baby son, Roddy. Tarren is divorced and in college, and idolizes Rachel's mom, Nell. Nell asked Tarren to stay with Rachel and her older sister, Jessica, for the night because it's Jessica's junior prom. Tarren shows off her new camera, talks about how amazing Nell is, and whines about how hard she has it as a single mom and a college student. I don't really like Tarren, but I can't pinpoint a reason why. Maybe because her lips are so firmly planted on Nell's ass.
Jessica comes downstairs in a magenta taffeta prom dress. Rachel says they could be twins if it wasn't for Jessica's cystic acne. Poor Jessica, that's even worse than being fat because if you're fat there's always the hope to lose weight or an outfit that can make you look thinner, but with cystic acne you'd need prescriptions to get rid of it, and even that doesn't work sometimes. Plus you can't really hide your face. Anyway, Tarren takes a buttload of pics, and then goes off to the library to pick up some books for a paper. Jessica runs back upstairs and then comes back down with Nell's slinky black dress and dark lipstick on. Sexy! Jessica tells Rachel not to shit her pants, because they already have pictures of her in the other dress. Her friends come to pick her up and she leaves.
Rachel thinks about how nice her homelife had been without Charles. The night before, Nell announced that she was nominated for judgeship. The first words out of Rachel's dad Victor's mouth are, "I've always wanted to make it with a judge!" Put your boner away, Victor, you're at the dinner table! Everyone's all happy for her and everything, and then after dinner they get the phone call from Charles's school. Way to ruin the mood, Charles. Rachel is scared because the last time they got a call from Charles's school he had stolen a teacher's scooter and been in a minor accident. Everything's fine with him this time, he's just being an a-hole and won't turn in any homework or take any exams. Why? If he hates school so much, wouldn't he want to get out of there instead of repeating a bunch of grades? Charles is stupid. Nell and Victor make their plans to go to Charles's school and meet with his principal. Rachel is worried and stressed, so she goes to her room and plays her flute to escape.
Now we're at the day after the prom, and Alison, Steph, and Rachel are hanging out. Alison asks about Charles again, and Steph says he's funny and hot. Rachel is grossed out by the thought of her brother being hot, because her name isn't Cathy. Steph asks if Charles will be attending their school if he comes home, which gives Rachel another thing to worry about. They watch some movies and then Rachel looks out the window and sees her dad's car in her driveway. She decides to go home and see what's up.
No one is around when Rachel come in, so she heads up to her room. She finds Charles sitting at her desk reading her later portion of her biography, her fictional adult life. Rachel doesn't react at first, and instead remembers how her grandfather once said that it was too bad Charles got all the looks in the family. Rachel was incredibly hurt by that, and I would be too. Grandpa Robinson's a jerk. Charles notices her and starts reading out loud Rachel's stupid future careers: discovering a vaccine to prevent hairballs in lions, being a famous musician, and becoming a famous Shakesperian actress. Charles gets to the part about Rachel's son, named Toledo, and asks why she named her kid after a town in Ohio. Rachel screams that it's in Spain, and I wonder why someone would name their son Toledo anyway. Rachel attacks Charles, digging her nails into his arm, and he says if she doesn't quit he'll rip up her biography. Rachel stops because she hasn't entered it into the computer yet and it's her only copy. Charles asks if she's surprised to see him, and she asks him when he's going back. He tells her he was expelled, and then looks around her room and says he might decide to move in there. Rachel is pissed because Charles used to have her room while she and Jessica shared, but Charles decided to move to a smaller room on the first floor, so Rachel got his old room. If they had three bedrooms to begin with, why did Jessica and Rachel need to share?
Nell made Charles's favorite dinner. Shouldn't he be in trouble? Charles says he thinks he might drop out of school for awhile and get a job. Victor says that's not an option, and Rachel says you need to be 16 to drop out anyway, and Charles is still 15 until next school year. Nell says it's just a matter of finding the right school for him, and Charles says he's allergic to school. Send his ass to military school! Put him on Maury! Do anything!
After dinner the family sits together in the living room and Jessica passes around her prom pictures. Charles asks her if the kids call her Pizza Face or Jess the Mess. Jessica calls him an asshole and says she wishes he was never born and leaves. Victor tells Charles to start acting like a family, and he says that he's trying but his sister's are just too sensitive. He is an asshole.
Rachel lays in her bed later on and listens to the sound of Jessica crying in the next room. Poor Jess! Rachel doesn't understand how Charles can be so cruel. Cystic acne runs in their family on both sides, and Rachel feels nothing put pity for Jessica and admiration that she still faces everyone who taunts her every day.
Rachel had trouble falling asleep that night, and wakes up super early all stressed out. She heads downstairs to make herself some breakfast to help calm down, and Charles comes into the kitchen. He starts pulling out pots and pans and says he's going to make their mom breakfast because it's Mother's Day. He makes a kickass coffee cake, and Jessica comes downstairs and tells Rachel he's a hypocrite for trying to celebrate Mother's Day. Nell, however, is impressed by Charles's cooking, and Charles says maybe he'll get a job as a baker. Nell says that would be a wonderful summer job, and Charles says he wasn't talking about just for the summer. Nell tells him she doesn't want to go through this again, and Rachel leaves to go practice her flute. Nell tells them to be ready by eleven so they can go visit her mother in the nursing home.
Rachel remembers when her Grandpa Robinson died her father took to bed for 6 weeks. It was very scary to Rachel, who began getting physical pain from the tension. One day her dad got out of bed and said he wanted to be a teacher instead of a lawyer. He went back to school, got his degree in education, and has been teaching history at the high school ever since. Rachel says they never talk about that time in their life. I think they definitely should.
At the nursing home Charles lies to their grandma and tells her how great everything is and stuff. He gets the passive aggressive insults in by saying that their family has to have perfection and be the best at everything. He basically acts like an asshole the whole time, until the family somberly leaves.
Monday morning at the bus stop Dana Carpenter comments on Charles being back. Even though she's dating Jeremy Dragon, she has the hots for Charles now. Rachel is stressed out and depressed, and snaps at Alison for asking about Charles some more. Stephanie says maybe Rachel should talk to the school counselor, which is definitely a great idea. Whoever said in the comments of the last book that Rachel is due to have a heart attack by age 20 is right. Bitch is a ticking time bomb.
The next morning, Rachel gets a note saying that the school counselor wants to see her. She's all pissed off, thinking that Steph or Alison blabbed, but it turns out she's just been chosen to participate in peer counseling, a program called Natural Helpers. Rachel is interested, and says she'll think about joining and get back to the counselor about it.
That night Rachel has too many worries to fall asleep. She's scared that she won't get chosen for Natural Helpers because her home life is so dysfunctional, and she still worries that Stephanie and Alison keep things from her and will one day leave her. She gets out of bed to make herself some tea to calm down, and finds Charles in the kitchen stuffing his face. Charles asks her why she has no friends, and Rachel says she does, but she doesn't want them around when he's there.
The next day Rachel invites Alison and Stephanie over after school. She gives them a whole list of stuff to not mention around Charles. He's not around when they first walk in, but soon comes out and starts his shit. Alison and Steph nearly fall all over themselves talking to him, and he passive aggessively insults Rachel, who gets mad and leaves. Steph and Alison don't follow her until after Charles is gone, and then they say that he's not that bad. Haven't we all been in that situation before? You know someone is subtly insulting you, but no one else picks up on it and says you're crazy for even thinking so. I hate shit like that, it's so frustrating. Steph says Rachel is being way too intense, and she and Alison leave. Rachel calms herself down by making sure her room is in order and playing her flute, because they are some of the only things she feels she can control in her life right now. We're lucky she doesn't develop an eating disorder or start cutting.
The whole family has been stressed out. Rachel gets her biography back from her English teacher, who says she didn't know Rachel was interested in acting. She invites her to join the Drama Club. Rachel wonders after school how she will ever have time for all of these activities. She's in the band, the orchestra, the debate team, Natural Helpers, takes a private flute lesson once a week, practices 45 minutes each day, and Steph also wants her to run for class president. She wishes she could be a regular person for awhile, but her mother always says it's a crime to waste potential. She tries to go to bed, but all of the possible problems concerning her commitments keep running through her head. She has a panic attack, and jumps out of bed. She calms herself down, and gets back into bed and tries to imagine a relaxing scene. She imagines a hot guy coming up to her on a beach and reading Shakespeare sonnets to her, and then kissing her without tongues because Rachel thinks French kissing is gross. It works, but she wakes up the next day with an ache in her jaw from clenching it.
She has a meeting the next day about Natural Helpers, and is scared when she sees that her family's therapist is there to talk to them about it. He doesn't say anything to her, and she feels better. After school she has a dentist appointment, and her dentist says she's been clenching her jaw again and grinding her teeth. He makes her a new retainer thing. She meets Steph outside and Steph tells her that Dana caught that man whore Jeremy Dragon in a supply closet with slutty Marcella, and they had a huge fight and Jeremy asked why it's okay for Dana to cheat but not him and all sorts of dramz. They're broken up now, obviously, and Rachel starts freaking out about the supply closet situation. Steph tells her to lighten up or else she won't make it to eighth grade. Hear, hear!
Alison is over at Rachel's afterwards, and Charles barges in and starts talking to her. She tells him she's adopted, and he says that he is, too. Rachel kicks him out and tells Alison he's lying. Alison says that since he's older than her she can't know that for sure. Rachel asks her dad later on if it's true, and it's not, of course. He says that maybe Charles is trying to flirt with Alison because he likes her, and Rachel naturally freaks out.
Charles now has a private tutor named Paul, who is in college. Rachel wants his nerdy bod. Thinking about him relaxes her, and makes her feel tons better. Tarren comes over later all crying and shit, and pushes a screaming Roddy off on Rachel. She whines to Nell how hard her life is because she just got a speeding ticket, and Nell gives her some woman empowering speech or some shit. Or just drive the speed limit.
Jessica is having difficulty finding a summer job because of her skin. She says one lady even told her to come back when her face clears up. What a bitch! You wouldn't tell someone in a wheelchair to come back when they can walk. Jessica says she's thinking of suing, and her parents think she actually has a point there. She asks Nell to represent her if she does, but Nell says as a judge she can't do that. Everyone is all surprised, and Nell says she heard that day. They all go apeshit with happiness. I have no idea where Charles is. There's happiness, shouldn't he be ruining it?
That weekend Alison and Rachel stay over at Steph's. Her mom has a date, and ordered in pizza for the girls and Bruce. She tells Rachel if Jessica is looking for a job to call her, because she'd love to have her at the travel agency. Steph is all pissed off that her mom is going on a date, but gets over it and she and Rachel watch Alison's mom's television show while Alison plays video games with Bruce. Rachel feels better after laughing along with the show.
Jessica was hired by Steph's mom, Rowena, and now thinks Rowena is the shit. She keeps going on and on about her, and Nell reminds her that she has an English paper and the PSATs coming up. Charles says it's not easy running her children's lives. Ass. Jessica talks about Rowena all week, and no one really listens until she says that Rowena thinks she should try Accutane. She says Rowena's nephew was on it and had no side effects and his acne cleared up in 6 weeks. Nell is against the idea of Jessica going on Accutane, and I have no idea why. Since Nell and Victor both had awful cystic acne growing up, wouldn't they understand? Wouldn't they do whatever it takes to help their daughter not suffer the way they suffered? Jessica feels the same way as me, and says Nell doesn't want her on it because she wants her to be a strong woman, because Nell always says her acne forced her to concentrate on studies and not socialize and helped her get where she is today. Nell says that she of all people sympathizes with Jessica.
Rachel is laying around the house waiting to talk to Paul when Tarren drops Roddy off and asks her to watch him for awhile. Tarren has a hot date! Rachel takes him for a walk by the pond, and Steph joins her. Steph asks if she can spend the night that weekend because her mom has another date, and Rachel says sure, and they'll have Alison over, too.
A few days later is Victor's birthday. They have a specail dinner at home for him, and Jessica and Rachel give him their gifts, and then Charles announces he has a special gift for him, too. He produces papers from a lawyer for a legal name change. Charles wants to change his last name back to their original last name that they had before their ancestors immigrated to America and it was changed on Ellis Island. Their real last name is Rybczynski, pronounced Rib-jin-ski. Charles is too cheap to buy a gift, just like Cathy. Victor is touched, but Nell is against it, saying that it's just another way for Charles to distance himself from the family. Victor signs the paper anyway, and Nell is pissed.
Rachel has her sleepover, and Charles starts blaring his music in his room. Rachel, followed by Steph and Alison, goes into his room to tell him to turn it down, and finds a bunch of people in there drinking beer and smoking pot. Two of the people are Dana Carpenter and Jeremy Dragon. Jeremy is surprised to see Rachel, because he didn't know Charles was her brother. Dana is all over Charles. Charles starts passive aggressively insulting Rachel again, and she leaves angrily. A little bit later in Rachel's room they hear Jeremy calling out for her. She lets him in and he asks if they want to play a game. They all play Monopoly, and I bet if Steph and Alison weren't there Jeremy Dragon would be showing Rachel that French kissing is actually awesome.
Rachel wakes up a little while later to see Steph staring out the window. Her mom's date's car is in the driveway, and Steph is upset because it's late and it has been there for awhile. She starts to cry, and Rachel comforts her. Steph feels better and goes to sleep. Rachel says she wishes she could just cry and have everything be better.
Dana tells Rachel Monday at the bus stop that it's all over between her and Jeremy. She tells Rachel to give Charles a chance. Um, Dana? She knows him a hell of a lot better than you, and most people act differently around their friends than they do their family. Shut up. Dana says Rachel needs to stop acting like a bitch, but I think it's the other way around. After school, Dana comes over to Rachel's house to see Charles. Rachel tells her that Charles is with his tutor until 5:30, and Dana asks if they take a break soon. Rachel says yes, and Dana says she'll ait until then. Rachel leaves her to wait on the front porch. Serves you right for calling her a bitch, Dana!
Rachel wins a big debate the same day Nell loses her last case before she becomes a judge. Nell is mega upset, and is laying down in her room alone when Rachel comes home. Rachel is scared that she'll take to bed like her father did. She's so nervous she can't even do her homework, and for the first time in her life doesn't.
The next day at school Rachel is called into the principal's office. She's scared because she thinks it's because she didn't do her math homework, but it's really because Rachel has been recommended for a program called Challenge, where gifted students are selected to take math and science courses at the local college for the next school year. Rachel is hesitant about signing up for the program because it will be just one more thing to set her apart from her peers. She decides not to show the permission slip to her parents yet, and hides it in her room.
Jessica has started Accutane, and her whole face is dry and peeling, and so far her only side effects are dry eyes and lips. Rachel hopes it will work for her quickly, and I do, too. Poor Jessica. Tarren comes over and nearly shits herself with glee when Nell asks if she would like to go with the family to her ceremony when she's sworn in as a judge. Tarren and Charles get into it, and Tarren starts going on about goals and life's obstacles and shit, and Charles says he has his own obstacles: his big sister, the potato head; his father, the wimp; and his mother, the ice queen. He is starting in on Rachel when Jessica interrupts and says she hates him. Nell yells at him too.
Rachel can't stop thinking about the dinner table scene later on, and it gives her an upset stomach. She goes downstairs to make some tea and again finds Charles in the kitchen. Rachel asks him about the things he said, and he says it's all true, and their family is pathetic and screwed up. Rachel tells him that he's the only pathetic and screwed up thing about them. He gives her the quote from Tolstoy about happy families, and is surprised that she hasn't read it yet because she has to be the best. Rachel says she lieks being the best at what she does, and asks him what he wants. He can't answer the question.
Rachel says it's become so tense around her house it's hard for them to eat dinner. Victor announces the next day at the table that they are going to begin to see a family therapist. Jessica doesn't know why she and Rachel have to see one since it's Charles that's the problem. Victor says they need to go as a family. They see the therapist a few days later, and Jessica and Rachel blame their problems on Charles. Charles, for once, doesn't have any witty comebacks. The therapist writes out a family contract with them that they are all to sign and follow.
Victor is taking his class to Ellis Island, and Jessica, Charles, and Rachel decide to go with. Rachel takes the train with Jessica on the way there instead of the school bus because of her carsickness. For some reason Paul comes too, but he takes the bus. Rachel, Charles, and Victor go to the computers and find their ancestors on it, and then Charles goes batshit crazy. He jumps up on some wall and starts reciting the poem on the Statue of Liberty and security starts going after him. He finally jumps down and cries while Victor hugs him. What the hell is wrong with that kid? When they're ready to go home, Rachel decides to test out these motion sickness bands Alison's mom gave to her, and takes the bus home. Paul sits next to her and falls asleep, and Rachel doesn't know if she didn't get sick because of the bands or because of Paul's presence. When they get off the bus Paul asks her to go to an outdoor symphony at the college with him. She accepts. Okay, so if he was asking her out like on a date, that is so gross because she's 13 and he's in college. Ugh.
Rachel dresses in a long skirt and a lightweight sweater set. Hot. Tarren is going to be at the concert, too, with her secret romance man. Paul takes her to the concert, and they watch the musicians and it's all great and stuff. Afterwards they see Tarren with a professor. Tarren's doing a teacher! She gets the shock of a lifetime when his wife comes up. Ouch. I hope she at least gets an A in his class. Tarren is all upset, so Paul takes her to a diner, and comforts her. They end up liking each other and ignoring Rachel. Paul takes Rachel home, and she's all depressed at how her night turned out. Her mom tells her there's a boy at the door for her, and she goes and finds Jeremy Dragon. Sweet! He stole his piece from the Monopoly set, and wants to give it back. Rachel didn't even notice that it was gone. They kiss a bunch, and Rachel practically has an orgasm. She asks him what the kisses mean, and he says it's nothing but a couple of kisses. Jeremy wants to be free to be a man whore.
Rachel goes over to Steph's the next day to tell her the big news. Steph is mega jealous, and glad to hear that Rachel felt something from the kisses. She's satisfied that Rachel's a normal person after all. A few days later Nell is sworn in as a judge. Tarren is there and keeps on thanking Rachel for introducing her to Paul. They've been seeing each other regularly. Rachel is still pissed at her.
Rachel says Charles has been less angry since Ellis Island, but is still an annoying asshole. Jessica tells Rachel she knows about the Challenge program from the older sibling of someone else who was selected, but she won't say anything to anyone if Rachel doesn't want her to. Dana acts like a bitch because Jeremy likes Rachel, but she doesn't care. Charles gets a summer job at a local bakery, and Steph, Alison, and Rachel go there one day. Steph lets it slip that Alison is going to run for class president the next year instead of Rachel, and Rachel is a little upset. Steph says they still want her help on the campaign, and Rachel says she'll have to see if she has time. Why do Steph and Alison still hang out with Rachel?
Rachel gets her things ready for music camp, and has one last encounter with Charles in the kitchen. However, this time instead of it being tense, they joke around with each other about how much Charles will miss her and she won't miss him. It almost seems as if it's a normal brother-sister relationship, and the book ends with the hope that it will become one.
I stole the cover from eBay because I didn't feel like scanning mine. Rachel is pretty gawky looking, as she's supposed to be, and definitely needs to lose the pleated khakis. You're 13, not 33, Rachel! Stephanie's pretty cute, though. I think Alison looked better on the last cover than this one.