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Literature / The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

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A 1974 young adult book by Paula Danziger that follows a Ninth grader dealing with pressures at school and at home as she tries to do well in school and not draw attention to herself.

It was followed by Theres A Bat In Bunk Five.

Tropes for the novel:

  • Abusive Parents: Marcy's father Martin constantly berates her in nasty ways, calling her stupid, ugly, fat, a know-it-all and saying that he'll never get her married off. Her younger brother, Stuart (who's 4 years old, mind you), doesn't get off much lighter, as he's scolded for such unmanly behaviors as sucking his thumb and having an attachment to Wolf, his teddy bear. It doesn't help that their mother is severely in denial, trying repeatedly to justify his actions to Marcy ("Daddy loves you very much, he just doesn't know how to show it"), and is heavily dependent on prescription tranquilizers. "I hate my father" are even the first words printed on the back of one edition of the book itself. (The book was written and is set in The '70s, which accounts for some of the Values Dissonance between the characters; Marcy can see that her family's dynamic is messed up, but her father's mindset is mired so much in The '50s that he genuinely doesn't realize he's the problem.) Towards the end of the book, Marcy’s mother Grew a Spine and starts standing up to him and taking night classes, with the implications that she might eventually leave him. He gets slightly better, but doesn’t apologize for his actions or attempt to repair his relationships with his wife and kids. But he does at least stop verbally abusing Marcy.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Marcy's father frequently yells at her mother, and she's become reliant on prescription tranquilizers as a way to cope with it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ms. Finney wins her case but declines to be reinstated and becomes a therapist. Marcy vows to continue her self-improvement and accepts her father will never change his ways. Marcy's mother tries to be more assertive, even going to night school for self-improvement.
  • Comfort Food: Marcy's mother Lily gives her ice cream whenever she's upset (and she has good reasons to be upset a lot of the time, given how her father treats her). It's implied that this is part of the reason for her weight problem.
  • A Dog Ate My Homework: Marcy uses the title statement as one of her excuses for not participating in PE class.
  • Freudian Excuse: The principal hates non-conformists because his daughter dropped out of college and became a hippie living in a commune after meeting "some people with very radical ideas".
  • The Generation Gap: A big theme in the book. Marcy's father is psychologically stuck in The '50s, the older teachers don't like Ms. Finney's approach to education and the principal himself is bitter after clashing with his own hippie daughter; in turn, they all clash with Marcy and the younger generation for their rebellion against the older ways.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: When shopping with Marcy, Joel is looking for a bad gift for his mother, who he hates. He ends up picking out a really ugly heart-shaped pin with red, green and orange rhinestones.
  • Hate Sink: Martin is a terrible father and husband who constantly fights with his wife Lily to the point where she appears to be taking drugs to cope and is abusive to his two children, calling his teenage daughter fat, stupid, and ugly (leaving her with severe self-esteem issues as a result), and harshly scolding his four-year-old son for sucking his thumb and playing with his teddy bear. It's quickly obvious to the reader that he doesn't even like, let alone love his family. Especially when Marcy tries to get her family to sit around the dinner table and discuss things like a normal family, her father's response is, "I work hard all day for this family, I don't have to talk to all of you too, do I?" as if talking to his wife and children without screaming at them is a strenuous chore. He also uses Marcy as a scapegoat for nearly everything that goes wrong in his life, including Lily spending less time with him and more with their children, his fighting with Lily that he always initiates, and Marcy's attempt to initiate a simple family discussion going horribly wrong. One has to wonder why he decided to get married and have children in the first place if he hates having a family so much, outside of a possible Shotgun Wedding. From start to finish, he has zero redeeming qualities and it's obvious that he's meant to be despised by the reader more than any other character. The only good thing that can be said about him is that by the end of the book, he's been convinced to more-or-less leave Marcy alone and has achieved an uneasy peace with her, but he's still far from being any kind of family man. The ending shows Lily is starting to stand up to him and making a life for herself, foreshadowing the possibility she may hopefully leave him and take Marcy and Stuart with her.
  • Hates Their Parent: Marcy hates her father for reasons that very quickly become evident: he's an emotionally abusive waste of flesh that constantly belittles his entire family. This never changes throughout the story. Classmate Joel has a bad relationship with his conservative mother, as well.
  • Hippie Teacher: Barbara Finney is the first person to help insecure Marcy Lewis break out of her shell. Her controversial teaching methods has also caused an uproar from a large portion of the school faculty.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Marcy and Ms. Finney's other students organize a rebellion against the principal for firing her. They end up getting suspended but this leads Marcy's mother (head of the PTA) to intervene and a legal hearing is called to settle the case on Ms. Finney's firing.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Combined with Straw Misogynist, Marcy's father believes that women and girls are good for nothing else other than getting married, cooking, cleaning and being quiet and obedient. He always says that girl children should be born at age 18 and married off immediately.
  • Teachers Out of School: Marcy is surprised to learn her teacher has a first name.
  • Weight Woe: Marcy is heavily insecure about her weight and thinks of herself as a "blimp" because her father is always calling her fat.