“The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” by Paula Danziger


I must say that I’m kind of digging on Marcy’s sweet striped socks. They even match her polo shirt, which I can only say is pure genius. Very fierce, Marcy. Very fierce.

Basically, this is a charming, coming-of-age story about a chubby thirteen-year-old girl named Marcy (Miss Lewis if you’re nasty), who discovers that she’s really not as big of a loser as she assumed she was. At twenty-five, I am still waiting for this realization to hit me. At the start of our story, Marcy is painfully shy, not exactly because of her weight, but mostly because her father is a huge turd who is always verbally abusing her and her little brother, after which her mom feeds them ice cream to make them feel better. That’s not exactly the healthiest way to deal with emotional trauma, but I have to admit that it always works for me, so you know, whatever.

Most of the plot revolves around what happens when a cool, hippie-ish teacher named Ms. Finney gets fired because she’s too different and awesome. She’s one of the few cool adults in this book, so I’m definetely on board with keeping her around. She gets guest speakers and lots of other cool stuff for the class and is also genuinely interested in the well-being of the kids themselves. It’s no wonder that everybody loves her. It’s a real buzz kill when she ends up getting fired for no good reason at all. Mr. Stone, the dumb-ass school principal, tries to explain why he feels so threatened by Ms. Finney’s unorthodox teaching methods:

“Marcy, the younger generation just doesn’t understand they’ve got to play by the rules. Let me tell you about my oldest daughter. She was a good student, just like you, and she was accepted into a fine college. When she got there, she met some people with very radical ideas. Now she’s dropped out of school and is living in a commune and spending all her time making quilts and gardening…”

Umm… ok. So you’re scared of arts and crafts, Mr. Stone? I don’t really get the connection. It’s not like a bunch of thirteen-year-olds is going to run off to upstate New York or anything.

When Marcy finds out that Ms. Finney is gone, naturally she’s all upset and stuff. She comes home and starts crying about it to her pathetic, pill-popping mother, who then asks Marcy,

“Honey, do you love Miss Finney more than me?”

WTF?!?!?!?! Marcy’s mom, you’re really starting to creep me out.

Anyway, the kids decide to take action and stand up to The Man. Marcy is already well aware that her parents are utterly useless and that most adults are usually assholes, so it’s up to Ms. Finney’s former students to get her job back. This one kid, Joel, who is always pissing Mr. Stone off, is all defiant and sexy (like a tween John Connor) and so Marcy sort of gets the hots for him.

All the kids get together after school to try and figure out some way of getting Ms. Finney back. Somebody suggests planting some “grass” on Mr. Stone, which I personally would have gone with, but whatever. They decide to stage a sit-in the following day, instead, and plan to refuse to leave their homeroom classes until they can enter into some kind of negotiations. Unfortch, Mr. Stone finds out about the idea and calls Marcy, her friend Nancy, sexy-ass Joel, and some other kids into the office before this can happen. Cock-block much, Mr. Stone? Grrr. All the parents are waiting in Mr. Stone’s office, including Marcy’s mother.

So now, Marcy’s in trouble, though I suppose it can’t be any more shitty than the way things normally are around her house. You see, Marcy’s dad is always telling her that she’s fat, clumsy, and stupid. This is pretty funny because he doesn’t seem like such a prize himself. He’s always going on about how Marcy’s never going to be a success if she doesn’t start acting right, which is also funny, because he never seems to stop complaining about his crappy job and crappy life.

MARCY’S DAD: “How many times must I tell you to respect your elders?”

MARCY: “But he’s wrong.”

MARCY’S DAD: “I doubt that, [Ummm, like you even know anything about this? Shut up, Marcy’s dad] but even if he were, you must learn to respect those in authority. How do you expect to get ahead?”

Yeah, because you know so much about success, you freaking jack-hole? I’m going to kick your ass the way I  kicked Mrs. Hatcher’s, just as soon as I’m done with this recap.

In midst of all this meanness, you might be wondering what Marcy’s tranquilizer-lovin’ mother is doing. Well, most of the time, Marcy’s mother makes a lame-ass attempt to stick up for her, then her Dad turns it around and on Marcy again and is all, “You cause all the trouble with your mother and me!” and shit. Then Marcy usually runs up to her room for a little while and, afterwards, Marcy’s mom makes a bunch of stupid excuses for Daddy Dearest, which really annoyed the hell out of me. For example:

“Honey, I’m sorry, it’s like this. You’ve got to learn to live with it. I’m sorry. I love you very much.”

Ugh, shut up! Take some responsibility, why don’t you? If you loved her so much, you’d grow a pair and stop letting your husband be such an abusive piece of poop to the rest of the family.

Now that Ms. Finney is gone, I think we can see that Marcy really has no positive adult figure to turn to. Much like the South Park episode entitled, “Douche and Turd,” her options at this point are all pretty unappealing.


After the meeting with Mr. Stone, Marcy’s mom asks Marcy if she and Joel have a thang goin’ on. Marcy plays it cool.

“I don’t know, Mom. Yeah, I like him. But it’s no big romance. Don’t bug me about it.”

Play on, playa.

So now, Marcy, Joel, and the others are all suspended for ten days. Sounds cool to me–why the hell would being out of school be considered a punishment? That sounds super-awesome, even if your Dad is mad at you.

Not long after that, Nancy has a party so that the kids can get together and discuss Ms. Finney’s case, which has caused such an uproar in town that the school board has called a special public meeting to address the situation and issue a final decision about Ms. Finney’s employment. Joel asks Marcy to go with him to the party and she (of course) agrees. Marcy and her mother go to the department store to buy something hawt, although Marcy isn’t looking forward to going into the “chubbies section” to find her clothes. Her mom wants her to get a dress, but Marcy gets a purple pants suit, instead. I imagine it looking something like this:


…but I’m sure Marcy makes it look fierce. Even so, Joel remains a little distant, telling Marcy,

“… I just want you to know that I’m not the type to go out much or get hung up on anybody.”

But he still kisses her (on the forehead) after the party. I mean, yeah, it’s on the forehead, but still. Later, Joel asks Marcy out on another date, during which they go to the mall and Joel buys a purposefully ugly present for his mother. All I can say is, way to send mixed messages, Joel. No wonder Marcy’s so attracted to you.

Then the night of the meeting arrives and Marcy and her mother are all set to go. Marcy’s jack-hole father is totally against it, so he takes out a piece of the car’s engine and smugly dares them to try and figure out where it belongs.

Oh, I could figure out at least ONE place to shove that engine part, Marcy’s dad. You’re not going to like it–in any case, we’d need plenty of motor oil.

Ahem. Moving on.

Marcy and Mom catch a ride with a friend and get to go to the big meeting, which is being held at the high school. It’s hella-crowded and very tense, but at least the kids get to see Ms. Finney for a little while. Finally, the school board announces their decision to re-instate Ms. Finney…


…but she chooses not to accept this offer because she doesn’t feel comfortable returning to her classroom after all of this controversy.


This is pretty sucky, but ultimately things start getting better. Marcy’s mom begins taking night classes at the local college and seems to be making an effort to be less of a tool, though Marcy still hates her father. Joel’s dad tells everyone that he heard that Ms. Finney is getting her doctorate in bibliotherapy. And Marcy starts going to a very nice child psychologist so that she can hopefully find the strength to someday beat the crap out of her father. Oh, and she gets a pimple, which she names Agnes… Yeah, I don’t get it, either.

The moral of the story: if someone pisses you off, consider planting drugs on their person.

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Posted in Other books, Questionable Parenting, Stereotypes
8 comments on ““The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” by Paula Danziger
  1. Darleen says:

    First blog I read after wakeup from sleep today!

  2. outpostroad says:

    I really should have read this when I was a kid. I didn’t because until now I thought it was about a cat and I don’t like books about cats.

  3. R. G. Quimby says:

    Yah, the title isn’t terribly descriptive, is it? Cute, yes, but this is actually the first time I’ve read this book, too. I don’t remember what I thought this book was about… I’m pretty sure I assumed it was something about running track or whatever ;/

  4. Elizabeth says:

    I like this one, and I LOVE Danziger’s Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, which has many of the same themes but for slightly older readers. (And to my mind is slightly less preachy.)

  5. R. G. Quimby says:

    I haven’t read that one, but I’m definitely going to have to give it a try. I think it’s one of her last books, isn’t it?

    I finished “The Pistachio Prescription” and thought it was cool–and way less preachy, as well. It seems like you can really see how much Danziger develops as a writer through the course of her books. “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit” is pretty good, but her later works show off a lot more of her knack for subtlety and a tighter pacing on scenes.

    Hmm… Am I allowed to say non-snarky things on this blog? I feel like such a rebel 🙂

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Yeah, to be honest, I tend to think of “Gymsuit” as practice for “Malpractice.” Besides being generally more subtle, “Malpractice” also avoids what I thought was an annoyingly moralistic attitude toward teachers — like, maybe teachers who don’t want to stay hours after their contract calls for aren’t bad teachers! Maybe fixing schools isn’t a matter of teachers putting in even more unpaid hours! Sheesh!

    …But anyway, yes, I highly recommend “Malpractice.” Although I must admit that I’m also biased because I have a huge weakness for teen romance, and there’s one in that book that I find highly effective.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    …Oh yeah, I lost my train of thought while typing (maybe this is why I should do my blog commenting *before* I head out to the bar?), but what I was going to say about the teacher-moralism in “Gymsuit” is that I think this is quite common among new teachers, and I think it shows that Danziger wrote that book not long after being a teacher herself — and relatively briefly, I think.

  8. Emily says:

    Oh jeez I forgot how crazy this book is! Great recap – makes me want to read it again!

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