Summary: Marcy Lewis is bored by school, she despairs of ever being thin, and she is certain she'll never have a date. Life at home isn't great either, since her father bosses her and her mother around.
Then along comes Ms. Finney, an English teacher who will try anything in the classroom, and above all, a teacher who acts human. Marcy has never met anyone like her, and suddenly life in and out of school begins to have a purpose.
When Ms. Finney is suspended because of her controversial teaching methods, the school is thrown into an uproar. When Marcy, now out of her shell, helps to organize a protest, she too is suspended. With her mother firmly on her side, her father violently opposed, Marcy must decide whether her fight for Ms. Finney and the values she stands for is worth the price she must pay at home and in school. -- Dell
As part of the Shelf Discovery Challenge that I'm hosting, I decided to read the classic THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT by Paula Danziger. I was familiar with the name Paula Danziger because my daughter devoured the Amber Brown books when she was younger. And, I do remember seeing this book around when I was a kid -- the cover looked awfully familiar. It's just so unfortunate that I missed out on reading this one when I was a girl.
I absolutely loved THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT, and I can't wait for my daughter to read it. I actually think the book stands the test of time mainly because it has so many positive messages for young girls. I'm curious, however, to see if my daughter thinks the book is dated because it clearly references the early 1970s -- undertones of the Vietnam War and the Feminist Movement. I'm not sure she can comprehend a world where women are subservient to (and possibly afraid of) their husbands, or where a teacher could be fired for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
I loved the character of Marcy, but my heart just went out to her for so many reasons. Of course, I felt bad for her because she was so self-conscious; but I really was affected by her family situation. Her father was just horrible to poor Marcy -- he tore her down by calling her fat and stupid; and he wasn't good at showing her that he cared about her. I had a very supportive father, and I can't imagine how difficult it would be to navigate the middle school years with someone who was so verbally abusive. I was so happy to see that by the end of the novel, both Marcy and her mother were eventually able to stand up to him.
I also loved the character of Ms. Finney, Marcy's progressive English teacher, who actually made learning fun for the kids. I appreciated that this novel showed how much of an influence a good teacher can have on the lives of his/her students. I loved some of her unique perspectives on teaching as well as life in general; and I thought it was a shame how narrow-minded some of her counterparts were.
I was actually a bit surprised by the end of this novel. Unlike so many kids' books, THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT didn't have an ending that was all wrapped up with a bow on top. Everything wasn't okay for Ms. Finney or Marcy, and I thought the ending reflected the reality of life -- there aren't always happy endings. Despite the way the book ended, I still was left with a feeling of hope for Marcy. And for that reason, I thought the ending was perfect!
Despite the almost 40 year old cultural references, I still think the underlying messages hold true today. Marcy is a young girl who is extremely insecure about her self image -- so insecure that she makes up a different excuse every day not to have to change into her gymsuit. I think most young girls today can relate to concerns that they aren't pretty enough or popular enough, or even that they will never get a boyfriend. I love that Marcy grew to appreciate herself throughout the course of this story. And even though she wasn't totally at ease (what middle grade girl could be?), she learned to embrace herself -- flaws and all. My hope is that my daughter will read this book and see how Marcy gained self-confidence; and that she will be able to tell herself "if Marcy could do it, then maybe I can to."
Note: There are tons of covers for THE CAT ATE MY GYMSUIT, but I actually read the 1974 version of the book that is pictured above.