The TV Kid by Betsy Byars

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You know, I wasn’t planning to recap this book. I read it when I was a kid and really freaking loved it, so I picked up a copy expecting to have a fun little trip down memory lane.

fail

Umm, yeah. Not so much. Like a lot of things that I loved during my childhood, The TV Kid is actually kind of sucky and bizarre. Actually, there’s not really much to recap, since the only things that really happen are:

  • Lenny watches TV
  • Lenny gets a shitty grade on a science test
  • Lenny gets bitten by a rattlesnake and gets 61 shots in the hospital

Yeah, that’s kind of about it. We get some back-story on Lennie along the way–he and his mother were basically rootless drifters, moving from city to city until they finally settled down to manage the family motel after his maternal grandfather kicked the bucket. I do have to give Betsy Byars props for portraying a tough, hard-working single mom here. In fact, Lennie never mentions anything about his father, which leads me to believe he is either a bastard or a child of divorce. Either way, it’s a pretty refreshing departure from squeaky Sweet Valley and the like.

The motel where Lennie and his mother live sounds both awesome and seriously creepy. There are all these one-of-a-kind, concrete fairy-tale-themed sculptures that his grandfather made back in the day, but most of them are fucked up in one way or another and had to be dumped out back.

Lennie came out of the back door of the motel. Here lay the broken Fairy Land figures–the dwarfs and fairies that had been out front of the motel until they crumbled. Lennie stepped around an armless Red Riding Hood and a headless fairy godmother.

The fuck? What the hell did Grandpa let people DO to those statues?

fairygodmother

After we establish that Lennie is daydreaming constantly about his favorite TV shows and, as a result, is failing most of his classes, we get one totally out-of-place and boring scene at school.

I’m pretty sure Byars put this part in just so she could leave the reader shaking their head about the fucked up names that they gave kids in the seventies. One of his classmates is named Letty Bond, which sounds like a brand of glue to me. It wouldn’t be so bad if Lennie would just call her by her first name, but he INSISTS on calling her “Letty Bond” and no one blinks an eye. Weird. And there’s this other kid named Cammie Hagerdorn, which I think may be either Slavic or Narnian.

Anyway, Lennie fails his science test because he was too busy fantasizing about winning money on a game show. When the teacher passes out his crappy science test, Lennie feels sad about disappointing his mother and imagines a product that might remove these feelings of failure…

“For that uncomfortable feeling that comes when you fail your Science test, take Fail-ease, the tablet that eases failure andmakes you less afriad to fail next time.”

Lennie, I think what you’re looking for is Valium.

After school, Lennie goes out behind the motel and sneaks over to this little community of vacation homes nearby. This is one of his favorite places to kick it, because Lennie likes to break into the houses and look through people’s stuff.

Umm… yeah. I don’t wan’t to criticize anybody’s hobbies (I recap kids books, for frack’s sake) but I’m pretty sure that Lennie’s a little fucked in the head if he thinks that wandering around and crawling into people’s vacation homes is a good idea.

That day, everyone’s favorite little hobo sees a cop car cruising around the empty neighborhood. Oh noes!

He shimmies into the crawl space beneath the house and hides out while the fuzz walk around looking for trespassers, which actually is a pretty exciting sequence.

The cops drive away, then come back, then drive away again. Yeah, I don’t get it either.

Then Lennie startles a rattlesnake and gets bit on the leg. Ouch. The pain is unbearable, but somehow he makes his way out from underneath the house, up to the porch, and unlocks the door. He crawls through the living room and tries the phone, but it has been disconnected for the winter and he realizes that he’s pretty much shit out of luck.

He tries to make his way back to the motel, but he doesn’t get further than the house’s front porch because the pain is so bad now that he’s about to pass out.

Then the cops come back… again. Apparently they knew he was there because they had seen his muddy footprints. If that was the case, then why the fuck couldn’t they follow them to the crawl-space in the first place? Duh.

Lennie is rushed to the hospital. One of the cops tries to comfort him by telling Lennie all about his friend that once got bit by a rattlesnake. The cop stays all through the night, along with Lennie’s mom. Awww, thanks Nice Cop–I’m calling him that because we never actually learn his name. Again, weird.

Whilst Lennie is facing the terrifying pain of a snake bite and the constant needle-pokes and skin-cutting that are part of his emergency treatment, he cries and moans and Lennie’s Mom acts like kind of a ho about it…

“Now, Lennie, get hold of yourself, please, honey,” his mother said. Then she turned to the doctor. “He’s usually real brave about everything. The time he ahd his arm set he never even moaned.”

You know what, Lennie’s Mom? I was kind of into you before, but now I’m going to have to ask you to shut up before I kick your ass like I did skanky Mrs. Hatcher’s.

The nice cop comes by to visit Lennie (along with his friend who survived the snakebite) and even drops off a clock for Lennie so he’ll always know what time it is… and not in that Chuck Norris kind of way, either. It’s actually a very thoughtful gift. Lennie’s Mom kind of creams her jeans over the clock because (OMFG!) it’s electric! Was that seriously so rare in the seventies? I’m sure she also freaks out over the running water and air-conditioning, only Lennie was probably too out of it to notice.

Lennie starts feeling a little better and, to ease his recovery, his mother rents a television for him to watch.

Mm-hmm. RENTS it.

What the hell is going on here? Where are we? I know this book is like thirty years old, but this is getting really weird.

During this time, Lennie watches an episode of Bonanza where Hoss inadvertantly wins a Chinese girl in a poker game. Ahh, vintage racism. It’s like a fine wine. Not. As a kid, this part probably confused the hell out of me. As an adult, it still makes me go, “WTF?” but in a different way. I mean, I know that Bonanza is an old TV show, but… Yeah, that’s still kind of weird and gross. That shit makes me deeply uncomfortable.

Then Lennie had a big epiphany about how all the things on TV are artificial and that real-life is more meaningful and blah blah blah. This is totally unrelated to the Bonanza thing, though, which just seems to be thrown in to make little Asian-American girls uncomfortable. Somehow Lennie’s big light-bulb moment makes him want to do his science homework, which doesn’t make make sense to me, but whatever.

The book ends with Lennie showing off his snake bite to two little girls at the motel, because he’s a womanizah like that.

Seriously, why did I like this book so much? Probably because of the snake, I think.

Anyway, the moral of the story here is: don’t crawl under houses when you’re trying to get away from the cops. It’s better to make a run for it, instead.

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Posted in Danger, Other books, Questionable Parenting

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