California Dreamin’

At some point in 1997 I saw this cover in a now-defunct WaldenBooks and was intrigued, both by the shoes and that oddly simple title: “DUCKY”.    The book was a fictional diary, rendered in a font-like handwriting, and it was part of a series of  journals by five fictional kids — four 8th grade girls and one 10th-grade guy —  that I would become so enamored with that I finally developed a journal-writing habit of my own,  though there have been serious lapses since college. The series is special enough to me that it has survived, along with Roswell High, as part of my collection when the other books of my youth — Goosebumps, Animorphs, Wishbone, the Boxcar Children books — have passed away as donations or gifts .

The series begins when the eighth grade class of Vista  is moved to the high school building of their school to account for a surge in enrollment. Although middle school is already a time of transition, the kids’ exposure to so many older, near-adult students accelerates their own development as they encounter new influences.  Each of the teens brings their own private struggles with them, but they experience things together as well.

The characters, introduced as I met them:

  • Christopher “Ducky” McRae is a sixteen year old who is introduced to the other four when he rescues them from a massive hazing incident. Ducky lives with his college-age brother, as their parents are archaeologists who both work overseas. Unique in being both older and the only guy, Ducky faces stresses in his older friendships (one best friend has become a jerk, the other is depressive and suicidal) and the oddity of becoming the older-brother figure to four girls, all of whom he gets along with better than his peers.  Ducky has a particular bond with…
  • Sunny Winslow used to live up to her name, but her family is in the midst of a prolonged crisis. While Sunny’s mom battles lung cancer and her dad juggles both that and the renovation of the family business, Sunny feels both ignored and over-burdened, expected to pull  adult-sized weight at home.  Desperate for escape and attention, she indulges in irresponsible and often reckless behavior. 
  • Maggie Blume, on the other hand, is the epitome of the tightly-wound overachiever, one whose obsession with being The Perfect Student, The Perfect Daughter, etc, drives her toward anorexia even as her mother is sinking into alcoholism. 
  • Her best friend Amalia Vargas offers Maggie a little relief by helping her land a role as the lead singer in a garage band called VANISH, but Amalia has an abusive ex-boyfriend turned stalker.  
  • First in the series, Dawn Schaefer is the ‘centered’ character, the one who is most conscious of the changes she and her friends are going through as old friends fall away and new ones are discovered. Her ‘issue’ seems fairly mundane at first — she has a stepmother she’s not comfortable with — but her bond with Sunny’s mother, combined with Sunny’s increasing turmoil as she wrestles with fear and her mother’s very-possible death,  cause a lot of turbulence between Dawn and Sunny as the series progresses. Dawn is also a link to a previous series under Martin’s name, The Babysitters Club

Each character’s “handwriting” is rendered in unique fonts, and each have distinctive ways of writing — Ducky writes his in the second-person perspective,  Amalia writes into her book as if she were talking to someone named “Nbook”,  and Maggie — the perfectionist —  types hers, although readers still see her handwriting when she drafts and revises poems and song lyrics.  (She has  a line in the picture above, “I think the word is ‘pretentious'”.  Maggie isn’t the only one whose creative talents are part of the journal: Amalia is an aspiring graphic artist and often illustrates scenes from her life.    The series of fifteen books takes us through each person’s journals three times,  beginning with Dawn, ending with Ducky, and then wrapping around again.  (It’s not a bizarre coincidence that all five characters keep journals: their school requires it of students beginning in elementary classes.)  The above picture is unusual in that it puts several characters’ handwriting in the same book:  Ducky is driving to the beach and the girls are scribbling their greetings in his notebook. Only Amalia is missing, because ’72 Buicks only have so much room.  Each of the fifteen diaries covers roughly a month or so.

While I’ll be reading the series this next week, I won’t be doing reviews for the books in part because they’re so little (100 pages each, or thereabouts), I may muse a bit at the end on how the story has aged.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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2 Responses to California Dreamin’

  1. Elle says:

    Wow this series sounds absolutely amazing. I used to do journal when I was in high school, but I eventually stopped because someone found it LOL. I also had a passing journal that I did with my best friends. This post reminded me of those times. I hope you enjoy the books a lot! Keep on Reading

  2. Stephen says:

    I am *extraordinarily* fond of it and sometimes wonder what kind of adults the characters would have grown up to be. The reason I find myself re-reading the books is to revive my lapsed habit. It's not the same when you're bustling through middle and high school, though. I've also been lurking at the journaling subreddit. Thanks for dropping by!

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