Paula Danziger died last week. I read three or four of her novels when I was a kid. Sometimes, because of my job, I get to meet the authors of books I loved as a kid, and I always hoped Iï¿½d meet her.
I donï¿½t know how old I was when I first found The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. The main thing I remember is that the book had a fat girl on the cover. I canï¿½t recall if this made me want to read it more or less; at various times in my life either reaction was possible.
I know I read the book more than once and I liked the story, which was about a lot of things, but what struck me most is that it wasnï¿½t all about the fat girl being fat. And the cover mesmerized me. My memory made Marcy fatter than she really appears in that illustration; in my mind she was really fat, and when I looked at her face I could see that her size was both the worst thing in the world and utterly unremarkable, as ordinary as the typeface on the front of her English textbook. There were plenty of details to contemplate. I didnï¿½t want to be as big as her but I liked her I-donï¿½t-give-a-shit expression. And she had that rumpled look about her that a lot of the protagonists of 70s teen novels seemed to have: on the covers of Paul Zindel and Norma Fox Mazer books, kids were always thoughtfully slouching around in grubby-looking jeans and seemed somehow more compelling than their 80s counterparts.
I know Iï¿½m talking more about the cover than the book here, but the book didnï¿½t disappoint. I remember she got a new outfit that she liked even though she was fat; one night she turned down a bowl of ice cream and kept checking the mirror to see if she was thin. I loved that. And I think it’s worth noting that Marcy has never been shown as fat as she was on that old cover in subsequent editions, and that reviews and summaries often say she thinks she’s fat; funny how that sort of changes everything. I wish I could have asked Danziger about that. And what does it mean that I didn’t think the girl in There’s a Bat in Bunk Five was the same Marcy–that I didn’t buy that she was suddenly thin for the sequel? I didn’t feel cheated but I simply chose to disagree. But I think I am going to have to re-read these books now.