Dear Ms. Clarry,
It has come to our attention that you are incredibly bad at being a teenager.
I mean, take a look at your bedroom.
You haven't got any posters on your wall. (Don't try to tell us that picture counts. A kitten drowning in a strawberry milkshake? Designed by your mother as an ad for carpet cleaner? Give us a break.)
You have a chain of old Christmas cards hanging from your curtain rod. The only makeup you have is banana-flavored lip gloss and it's melting all over your Little Mermaid quilt cover. (Actually, we don't think that lip gloss counts as makeup at all.)
Not to hurt your feelings or anything, but you're an embarrassment to teenagerhood. Therefore, could you please climb into the refigerator and wait very quietly until your teenage years end?
The Association of Teenagers
P.S. You also don't seem to understand how to get a snow tan. You look like a slice of watermelon.
Elizabeth's first letter
Elizabeth Clarry has just learned that her new English teacher is beginning a pen-pal program between her class and a neighboring high school (when the schools hate each other) to rekindle the "Joy of the Envelope". Her mother, an advertising exec who takes her job very seriously, is so busy with her job that she only has time to talk to Elizabeth via sticky notes left around their kitchen, and takes every opportunity she can to pick Elizabeth's brain for ideas for new advertising campaigns. And now, her (literally) distant father is moving back to Sydney after several years of living in Canada. That'd be fine, except he wants to "bond" with her by taking her out to expensive restaurants (to "culturally educate" her) and generally be embarassing.
And then there is the eponymous Celia, who has been Elizabeth's best friend since childhood. Elizabeth is the practical, independant type. She does long-distance running, takes care of her dog, Lochie, and makes the meals for herself and her absent mother. Celia is the Cloud Cuckoo Lander
, the enchanting fairy-like one
who's always trying new things out of boredom. Partway through the book, we learn that Celia has run away and joined the circus. Elizabeth is left alone, worrying if Celia will ever come back, as well as a host of other problems.
The book, instead of being witten in narrative form, is written as a series is a series of letters, notes, and postcards. Many of these come from imaginary organizations like The Cold Hard Truth Society, The Association of Teenagers, and The Society of People Who Are Definitely Going to Fail High School (and Most Probably Life as Well!).
Christina, the girl that was picked to be Elizabeth's pen-pal, is spunky, no nonsense, and a sympathetic ear to Elizabeth's problems. Although they are both wary of each other at first, especially since Elizabeth goes to a private school and Christina likes oatmeal
, they soon become friends. They share stories of their families and musings on life. With Christina's support, Elizabeth begins to accept the changes that are happening in her friendship with Celia- which is pretty spectacular considering that these are two people who don't actually speak face-to-face for roughly 90% of the book.
This novel by Jaclyn Moriarty is the first in the Ashbury High series. The following books are Finding Cassie Crazy
, The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie
, and Dreaming of Amelia
(please note that all of them have had different titles used at times). While the series uses many of the same characters, each book focuses on a different main character (or characters), with protagonists from other books appearing in the background.
This story provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: That's assuming they know something is happening at all. Every time a friend is in potential danger, it's up to the brigade of awkward teens to save the day.
- Subverted after Elizabeth gets Celia's suicide note. Her first reaction is to call her mother, and then everyone and the police get involved, rather than Elizabeth trying to fix it herself.
- Adult Fear: Celia runs off to join the circus, gets glandular fever and the circus manager starts getting way too interested in her. If Elizabeth and Saxon hadn't rescued her, she would have probably ended up in hospital.
- Celia and Saxon run off, stay hidden for a couple of days and finally decide to kill themselves together. If Celia hadn't sent Elizabeth the note, they would have done it.
- Christina's little sister says she feels sick, so Christina gives her a bucket to throw up in and puts her to bed. Turns out it's a burst appendix, and she ends up in hospital.
- A Friend in Need: Comes up multiple times over the course of the story, with the main thing being to rescue Celia from the circus.
- Affectionate Nickname: Elizabeth is "Lizzy".
- Berserk Button: Don't call Christina "Tina", or she'll break your face.
- Birds of a Feather: Celia and Maddie.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Celia, to an extent. She never seems to grasp her actions hurt other people, which is especially painful for Elizabeth when Celia starts dating Saxon, whom Elizabeth had a huge crush on, after Elizabeth rescued Celia from the circus.
- Hell, after Elizabeth's dog dies, Celia's too distracted to even express some real sympathy.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Elizabeth, on occassion, when she is too distracted/tired/etc to train.
- Brutal Honesty: The Cold Hard Truth Association, obviously.
- But We Used a Condom: After Christina and her boyfriend have sex for the second time, they find out the condom broke.
- Catch Phrase: Christina calls people she doesn't like walruses, for some reason.
- Character Development: By the end of the book, Elizabeth has gained confidence in herself and no longer needs the Association of Teenagers telling her how much she sucks. She's also realised that Celia wasn't a good friend, and Christina's her new best friend.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Celia's entire family.
- Interestingly, Celia's mother seems to have underlying stress problems as a result of her and her children's extreme quirkiness.
- Coming-of-Age Story
- Does Not Like Spam: Elizabeth really hates rice pudding. And oatmeal.
- Doting Parent: Celia's mother takes this to an unhealthy extreme. Saxon's parents also qualify.
- Dysfunctional Family: Everyone has one.
- Embarrassing Last Name: Elizabeth has a teacher called Mr. Hoogenboom. Christina remarks if he taught at her school, he wouldn't last five minutes with a name like that.
- It's not brought up in the text, but Elizabeth's English teacher's last name is Botherit.
- Floating Advice Reminder: The random notices she gets from the different clubs and societies sometimes contain advice and often contain contradictory advice, where she'll get a memo from one organization suggesting she take one course of action immediately followed by another message from a different club telling her to do something else entirely.
- Freudian Excuse: Subverted. When Celia visits a therapist, they struggle to find a reason for Celia constantly running away. When Celia admits that her dad left when she was five, the therapist shouts, "That's it, isn't it, sweetie? You're trying to find your daddy!" Only for Celia to say she doesn't really want to find him- all she can remember is him telling her not to drink syrup straight out of the bottle and is "still a little annoyed about that".
- Granola Girl: Celia's mother.
- Green Eyes: Elizabeth has them.
- Hidden Depths: Grunge Boy/Jared, the guy leaving Elizabeth anonymous notes. Elizabeth previously only thought of him as 'that Brookfield boy with the grunge haircut', but later finds out that he's a poet, a drummer and a magician. Later books reveal that they've got a steady thing going.
- Hypocrite: Celia's suicide note complains that Elizabeth has become distant, and not there for her when she needed it. Elizabeth can only think of every time Celia did something stupid and Elizabeth was there for her.
- In Harm's Way: Celia is always running away from home to go on "adventures", though she usually at least calls Elizabeth to tell her where she's going.
- In Love with Love: Christina's cousin, Maddie.
- Inner City School: It is suggested that this is the kind of school Christina goes to, though whether the school is actually like this or just seems like this compared to Elizabeth's private school is arguable. Later books have explained that Brookfield High is the public-school, lower-class counterpart to the private-school, upper-class Ashbury High.
- It Amused Me: Celia's main motives for running away, or doing things like disassembling Elizabeth's washing machine- she gets bored very, very easily.
- It's All About Me: Celia constantly does things to keep herself amused without realising how they hurt other people, like constantly running away, or disassembling Elizabeth's dishwasher. Even in her suicide note, she comments that Elizabeth seemed distant and unkind about her and Saxon's relationship, but she never thought that Elizabeth could genuinely be unhappy for some reason, instead concluding that it must be because Elizabeth thought she had to be unkind to Celia for some reason.
- It's a Small World After All: Maddie just happens to end up dating Ricky Clarry, Elizabeth's half-brother.
- Long Lost Sibling: Elizabeth's 'stepbrother' is in reality her half-brother.
- Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Christina claims her cousin Maddie runs away from home all the time like Celia, but when Maddie does it it's not out of boredom, it's for "love".
- Love Triangle: Elizabeth falls for Saxon, who was in love with Celia all along. Celia falls for him back, and neither she or Saxon ever realises how Elizabeth feels.
- Manatee Gag: Some of Elizabeth's letters from the various imaginary organizations could be considered this. They don't really advance the plot, they're pretty much just there to be funny.
- Maternally Challenged: Both Elizabeth and Celia's mothers have their own flavor of this trope, with Elizabeth's mother being the more usual super-busy sucessful career gal. She even has a sort of heart-to-heart with Elizabeth and says she feels bad for being so absent (which, of course she does by fax.) Celia's mother is too loving and supportive of Celia, not putting any limits on her because, "Celia's identity is unfurling itself slowly, like a tulip bud, and it's a breathtakingly beautiful thing to see." Which is why she never calls the police when Celia runs away.
- Miss Conception: Subverted when Christina thinks she might be pregnant. Though what happened to her could very well lead to conceiving a child, she remains worried about it even after having her period, thinking that it might be a "false period" and that she could be pregnant anyway.
- Mistaken for Cheating: Elizabeth and her mother (well, mostly her mother) briefly believe that her father is cheating on his wife because they drive past his house and see a woman living there, even though he said his other family was in Canada. Turns out he's lying, the woman is the wife, and he never wanted his two families to meet because they might realize that his stepson is his biological son.
- Nice Guy: Jared/Grunge Guy, who leaves Elizabeth anonymous notes telling her things she really needs to hear, like that he's sorry that her dog died.
- Parents as People: Elizabeth's mother spends all her time working or at her poetry club, so she rarely if ever sees her daughter. Her father turns up out of the blue and decides to spend more time with her, but they have nothing in common and most of their interactions are awkward as hell. Celia's mother is a hippy who places absolutely no boundaries on her children, believing that they need room to develop.
- Parent with New Paramour: Elizabeth's father, though she's not really new. Instead, the father has never bothered to introduce his new family to his old wife and kid.
- Pretty White Kids With Problems: Subverted in the fact that while all the characters have problems to deal with, they're not pulled straight from the typical Teen Drama and the characters don't whine about them. Instead of Wangsting about not fitting in and no one understanding them, they instead take the odd troubles life deals them relatively in stride.
- Reality Ensues: Elizabeth's father comes to live in Sydney for a year and wants to reconnect with his daughter. Awesome, except that they don't know each other, they have nothing in common and most of their interactions involve awkward dinner conversations and her father asking her what the wine tastes like. By the end of the book, they've warmed up to each other a bit, but in the beginning it goes about as well as you'd expect.
- Scrapbook Story: Quite!
- Serial Romeo: Gender-flipped version with Christina's cousin, Maddie. She keeps falling in love with really wild boys and running away with them.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Elizabeth's mother has issues with Saxon's, mostly because she wanted to ban roller-blading in shopping centres.
- Supreme Chef: Elizabeth is often asked to cook something for her mother when she gets home, or cook for herself because her mother won't be home. As such, she's rather good at it.
- The Power of Friendship
- The Reveal: Elizabeth's father didn't meet a woman with a kid and leave his wife and child. He met a woman, got her pregnant and left his wife and child. Nobody takes it well.
- Title Drop: Elizabeth comments in a letter to Christina that she's tired of feeling sorry for 'her' (Celia).
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Celia and Saxon believe that their relationship is this way, so they make a Suicide Pact, although when interrogated about it later, Celia can't understand why everyone was so worried, exclaiming "I wasn't actually going to do it!"
- Triang Relations: The Elizabeth/Saxon/Celia triangle is a type 4.
- Visit by Divorced Dad
- Walking the Earth: One of Celia's reasons for joining a traveling circus.
- We Used to Be Friends: By the end of the book, Elizabeth and Celia are still friends, but Elizabeth has a new, better best friend in Christina, mainly because she's finally had enough of Celia's bullshit and now has an actual alternative.
- Wham Line: There's a couple.
Elizabeth: (in a letter to Christina) I was rescuing Celia. And maybe I should have left her right where she was.
- In another letter to Christina:
Elizabeth: My dog wasn't there. It was because he was dead.
Celia: (in her letter to Elizabeth): So we're going away together. I mean away for good. I mean tomorrow night we just want to hold hands and jump off the cliff at North Head, okay?
- Your Cheating Heart: Elizabeth's father's infidelity is actually a plot point when it turns out Elizabeth has a half-brother, Ricky Clarry, who is actually younger than her. By just a few months..