Skewering Seattle Soccer Moms
Thank you to my friend Sue for choosing this hilarious epistolary novel for book club! The first half had me laughing almost every page. I suspected it would be difficult to maintain the intensity of the humor for the whole novel, and unfortunately I was correct. The characters and storyline were so farcical and shocking that it was a bit disappointing when the reality of consequences hit the story. But it's still a fantastic, unique read.
Bee Branch is a fourteen year-old super-star student at Galer Street School in Seattle. From the first words of the novel--the mission statement of Bee's school--I knew I was in for a parody:Galer Street School is a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.
? It's no surprise when we learn that school parent Audrey Griffin wrote the mission statement. She's neighbor to Bee and her family, and Bee's mother Bernadette Fox can't stand snooty do-gooders like Audrey. Bernadette refers to the school moms as "gnats" and doesn't want anything to do with them. It's hard to tell if Bernadette is eccentric or mentally ill. I loved her architectural genius backstory, revealed later in the novel. Here Bernadette teases Bee that she's going to follow her to boarding school at Choate:"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Mom said. "I'm going to move to Wallingford and rent a house off campus. I already got a job working in the Choate dining hall."
"Don't even joke," I said.
"Nobody will know I'm your mother. You won't even have to say hi. I just want to look at your gorgeous face every day. But a little wave every now and then would sure warm a mum's heart." She did that last part sounding like a leprechaun.
"Mom!" I said.
"You have no choice in it," she said. "I'll be lurking behind the sneeze guards with my plastic gloves, serving hamburgers on Wednesdays, fish on Fridays--"
"Dad, make her stop."
Bee's dad Elgin is a brilliant manager at Microsoft and has the third most-watched TED talk in the world, when he unveiled an amazing microchip that harnesses the power of mental imagery to do tasks for you that you don't want to do. (HELLO, can I get one of these to clean my cat's litter box?)
Meanwhile, intrusive neighbor Audrey is planning to host the "Prospective Parent Brunch Committee" organized by the paid consultant Ollie-O, who sends emails to motivate the school parents to recruit high profile parents (aka "Mercedes Parents") in order to elevate the school's reputation, like:From: Ollie-O
To: Prospective Parent Brunch Committee
We're up to 60 RSVPs! I'm just throwing out some fertilizer, but: Pearl Jam. I hear they've got kids entering kindergarten. If we get one of them--it doesn't have to be the singer--I can grow it.
Later Ollie plans the brunch at Audrey's house:Principal Gwen Goodyear will be stationed at the door, bidding adieux, and handing out Galer Street swag. There is no way to overemphasize the importance of this. Just because they're Mercedes Parents doesn't mean they're not highly receptive to free shit. (Excuzey-moi!)
When the brunch turns disastrous, the school calls on a famous PTSD psychologist to intervene. The psychologist's letter had me howling!
I truly enjoyed the correspondence between Audrey and her friend Soo-Lin, who also has children that attend Galer. Soo-Lin ends up being the administrative assistant for Bee's father Elgin at Microsoft. Soo-Lin's part of VAV: Victims Against Victimhood, and spreads the word wherever she goes. The ridiculous VAV acronyms remind me of self-help groups gone wrong (so wrong).
Seattle is a wonderful setting. The author even mentions my favorite restaurant Wild Ginger!
Bernadette off-handedly promised Bee they would go on a trip to Antartica if Bee gets straight "A"s in middle school (or in Galer's case, straight "S"s for "surpasses excellence" since they don't believe in grades). Naturally genius-child Bee achieves the grades and now the social recluse Bernadette and her workaholic husband need to follow through on their promise.
Will Bee's family ever be accepted by the Prospective Parent Brunch Committee? Will they make it to Antartica? Will Bee's father become part of her life again instead of holing himself up at Microsoft? Will Bernadette stay eccentric or succumb to mental illness?
Read it and find out yourself!