Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Morphin' Monday! Freaky Monday by Mary Rodgers and Heather Hach

The clock's minute hand snapped back one minute. The lights flickered.

I felt a jolt. It seemed as if the world had tipped off its axis and was settling back into its usual holding pattern. "Am I hallucinating here?" I asked.

And then everything gets even weirder. Because while I, Hadley Fox, had asked the question, what I heard was Ms. Pitt's voice.

I realized I was standing next to--get this--me! Next to Hadley! Panicked, I looked down at myself! And that was shocking, let me tell you.

Because I would never, ever, dress like a wannabe earth mother, but it seemed I was wearing a flowery peasant skirt!

It seems that Hadley Fox, perfect student, with perfect attendance, a certified 4.3 GPA, and an almost certain reserved seat in the front row at Stanford, has had an out-of-body experience--she's suddenly standing beside her own self, inside the thirty-three-year-old body of her touchy-feely English teacher, Ms. Pitt, she of the many artsy-crafty rings and sensible shoes, while her own body seems to be temporarily inhabited by Ms. Pitt herself.

"I hate Mondays," Haley had moaned that morning, when she realized that she had totally forgotten to prepare for her oral presentation on the racial conflict in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Uncharacteristically floundering through her impromptu report, Hadley is pulled into the hall by the ever-empathetic Ms. Pitt, who has to know why her top student is flubbing her big presentation. When Hadley protests that it was a simple mistake with her new daily planner and that she read and memorized the vocabulary study for the novel, Ms. Pitt launches into one of her characteristic lectures.

"Oh, Hadley! To Kill a Mockingbird is about more than vocabulary words. It's about life...." She looked me in the eye. "Do you know what it's about--I mean, really about?"

Hadley insists that she does, and to prove it, quickly finds and reads from the novel the words of Atticus Finch: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...." Then as the book slips from her hands, Ms. Pitt snatches it up and the two fnd themselves finishing the quote together:

"...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Shazam! Hadley and Ms. Pitt suddenly realize what has happened--that something has determined that they will walk around in each other's skins for the rest of the day.

At first both are flabbergasted. They re-read the quotation forward and then backward, hoping to reverse the spell, but are interrupted by the approach of the principal, Mr. Wells, who queries "Ms. Pitt" as to why she has left her eighth-grade class alone. Hadley, trying unsuccessfully to impersonate Ms. Pitt, stammers out an explanation that Wells obviously finds unsatisfactory and he dourly reminds her that her interview for English Department chair is scheduled for that afternoon. And that is just the beginning of the freaky events of that messy Monday.

Hadley, 13-year-old dorkette, and Carol Pitt, empathetic and devoted spinster teacher, have some very funny adventures as they make their way through each other's day, complicated by the discovery that they each have a secret admirer who is looking forward to meeting at the school dance that night. Hadley, as Ms. Pitt, struggles through an attempted flirtation initiated by substitute teacher Mr. Hudson, while Carol Pitt tries out appropriately girlish responses to the attention of Hadley's crush, Zane Henderson.

One thing Hadley and Ms. Pitts have in common, however, is Hadley's high school senior sister Tatum, a beautiful, universally loved, and spectacularly dreadful math student. Tatum freaks out and ditches her classes when she learns that she has been turned down by the last of her college choices, and Hadley and Ms. Pitt, Tatum's favorite teacher, combine their forces to help Tatum see her way through the crisis, even at the risk of blowing Ms. Pitt's interview for promotion to department head.

In true romantic farce tradition, Hadley Fox and Carol Pitt do learn to see themselves as others see them and to appreciate the other's different world view, and as they affirm their new understanding in the powerful words of Atticus Finch, the body switch is reversed. Each dressed by the other in glammed-up dance outfits, they enjoy a romantic dance and the obvious smitten attention of their admirers, and all ends, we presume, happily ever after.

It's a pleasant bit of realistic fantasy fluff, and were it not for the heavy burden of the earlier success of Rodgers' now classic Freaky Friday, widely read for decades and made into two movie versions over the years, this little novel might have received better reviews. It's not an original plot, but only because Mary Rodgers is borrowing her own plot line and theme in this new title. (Both plot and theme, by the way, have been lavishly borrowed by other authors over the years, viz. Todd Strasser's comic Help! I'm Trapped In My Teacher's Body.) Not a sequel (there's no quirky Annabelle here), Freaky Monday is still a light, humorous, and altogether enjoyable junior novel for the middle school set.

For the real deal of that original freaky day, readers may be led to retro-read Freaky Friday, and its successful Annabelle sequels, A Billion for Boris (Freaky Friday) and Summer Switch.

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:21 PM  

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