Throwback Thursday: Retro Reads – The Girls of Canby Hall #12: Who’s the New Girl?

Throwback Thursday: Retro Reads

We’ve all heard of Throwback Thursday, the day you post photos from the past to Facebook or Instagram. Retro Reads is my bookish version of Throwback Thursday. I’ll be rereading and posting a recap/review of books I loved when I was younger, mostly series books. Fair warning: These are more recaps than reviews. They will be thorough and there will be spoilers.

The Girls of Canby Hall #12 - Who's the New Girl?The Girls of Canby Hall #12 – Who’s the New Girl?
Author: M.L. Kennedy writing as Emily Chase
Published: 1985
Goodreads

She looks so innocent…but–

When French Nicole Brisbet arrives at Canby Hall, everyone is charmed by her sweet, quiet manner. Shelley, Faith, and Dana find her long braids and jumpers a bit old-fashioned, but decide they should help her feel at home. Nicole seems to adapt to American ways a bit too quickly when she buys provocative new clothes and acts much too friendly with the roommates’ boyfriends.

The girls are looking forward to an exciting trip to Ft. Lauderdale. But will Nicole spoil their fun?

I remember reading the books in this series over and over because I loved them so much, but I’m finding that I don’t remember these later books as well. I must have liked the earlier books in the series better and those were the ones I reread so much. With Who’s the New Girl?, for example, I remember Nicole but I have no memory whatsoever of the Fort Lauderdale plans.

It’s snowing, again, and Dana’s wet, cold, and sick of the snow. She’s just returned from Greenleaf with supplies — pretzels, Twinkies, nachos, peanuts. Snow flurries had been forecast, but this is a blizzard. Shelley fixes Dana some diet hot cocoa — this is our reminder of Shelley’s former plumpness — and asks if anyone wants to go to dinner. Dana’s not going out in that snow again and Faith doesn’t look forward to the Mystery Stew that’s served on Tuesday nights.

The decide to gather up whatever food they can find and take it up to Alison’s apartment. Alison’s happy to see them and offers to make chili.

Alison works fast, so it’s only a few minutes before she’s made chili from scratch. The wind rattles the skylight as the eat. Dana thinks it would be fun to go somewhere to get away from the winter weather, but the girls’ homes of New York, Washington DC, and Iowa are no better.

Dana has an idea: Florida! For spring break! What an original idea. I wonder why no one ever thought of that before. Dana suggests that Alison and Michael could be their chaperones. After some joking around, Alison agrees to speak to Ms. Allardyce about the idea.

The girls tell Casey about the idea the next day. She’s in! She doesn’t have anywhere to go for break anyway. Her parents will be in Europe. When Pamela hears about the plan, she tells them that no one goes to Fort Lauderdale anymore, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to go along.

While Dana suffers through algebra, Faith spies on Alison and Ms. Allardyce in the dining hall. Unfortunately, she’s not close enough to be able to tell whether Ms. Allardyce approves of the idea.

Dana, Shelley, and Casey are already eating when Faith returns to the dining hall for lunch. They’re excited about something, but it’s not Florida. Canby is getting a transfer student — from Paris! Shelley just knows that she and this new student are going to become fast friends.

Her name is Nicole Brisbet and the rumor is that she’s a countess. She’s going to live in Baker, which will make it even more convenient for Shelley to become her best bud. Nicole’s getting a single room, the one in the corner. Alison and Ms. Allardyce have gone to Greenleaf to shop for items to fix up the room. I guess foreign students don’t have to bring — or buy locally — their own stuff. Nice! If you like having people who don’t even know you decorate your room.

When Dana and Faith realize that none of the girls have any summer clothes (Really? NONE at all?), Dana starts planning the new wardrobe she’s going to buy in Florida: T-shirts, bikinis, and sun suits. Naturally, this leads Shelley to think (again) about how she isn’t as thin as her friends. She’s not plump, exactly, but she’s not “stylishly thin” either. Her weight seems to be distributed differently than Dana’s and Faith’s. She’s built like her mother, who her father describes as solid. “How awful,” she thinks.

That really is awful. I’ll give her that one.

When her friends run off to class, Shelley, who doesn’t have anything for two more class periods, rushes to the phone to make a call that leaves her feeling excited and adventurous.

Dana has Spanish with Pamela and can’t resist telling her the news about Nicole, framing it as if Pamela should know who she is. Not wanting to appear as if she doesn’t know someone important, Pamela plays along and wonders if she and Nicole might know some of the same people in Paris.

Olivia Newton-John in headband

Photo via starcrush.com

Shelley calls Tom to cancel their date, then makes her way to Heavenly Bodies, a gym decorated entirely in pink and white. Shelley only intends to join the gym that day, not begin working out, but her personal figure consultant Cindy informs Shelley that if she wants to lose weight before Florida, she better get started immediately. I imagine that Cindy, a redhead with creamy white skin (to follow the pink and white theme), is wearing a headband Olivia Newton John style.

Shelley misses dinner and the girls’ meeting at Alison’s. Alison wants to introduce Nicole to them because she thinks it would be too overwhelming for Nicole to have to meet the entire dorm at once. On the way up, Faith worries that Nicole, who, being from Paris, is probably wealthy and sophisticated, will be like Pamela.

She’s not.

Nicole, with her white ankle socks, Mary Jane shoes, and Alice-in-Wonderland headband, was wearing what any normal teenage girl would be wearing — if the year were 1952!

Nicole Brisbet looked about twelve years old.

So much for sophistication. And taste.

The group makes small talk as they eat the snacks Alison has prepared. Dana thinks there’s something off about Nicole and wonders why she’s dressed in a blue and white flowered dress that looks like something a child would wear to a birthday party. She thinks Nicole needs a makeover. Dana had been planning to get Randy to find a date for Nicole for Friday night, but no guy is going to want to go out with her dressed like that.

Back in their room, Dana and Faith grill Shelley about why she was late. Shelley’s sore from her workout but tries to hide the pain that every movement causes. She goes down the hall to take a shower, and on her way back sees Nicole’s door is open. Shelley stops in to introduce herself and is shocked at Nicole’s appearance.

The girls take Nicole to the dining hall for breakfast the next morning. Nicole says she only wants coffee, so she emerges from the line ahead of the rest. She finds a table, only to be joined by Pamela. Pamela wastes no time in letting Nicole know that she’s actress Yvonne Young’s daughter. Nicole says she saw some filming of one of Yvonne’s movies on the Riviera. Pamela invites Nicole to Greenleaf’s French restaurant for dinner.

Pamela is impressed when she finds out Nicole’s family has an apartment in Paris, a country house, a ski chalet, and a yacht. While Pamela thinks she’s found a kindred spirit in Nicole, Dana wonders whether she should warn Nicole about Pamela.

Shelley wakes early on Saturday morning for aerobics class at Heavenly Bodies. She’s still gone by the time Dana and Faith wake up and Alison arrives for an early room check. Even though she and Faith don’t know where Shelley is, Dana covers for her and says Shelley is probably at the library, studying hard to get her French grade up. She’s still having trouble with French? Maybe Shelley should just give up on French and take Spanish.

While Alison is looking at the room, she tells them that Ms. Allardyce agreed to the Florida spring break trip. She thinks having Nicole there really made a difference. Nicole will only be with them for a few months, until the end of the school year and it will be nice for her to see as much of the country as possible. That’s pretty…lame. It’s not on Ms. Allardyce or the school to be showing this wealthy French exchange student around a country as large as the United States. Besides, it’s Florida: the beach. They have them in France.

Alison asks them to spend some time with Nicole and make sure she’s comfortable, and get her a date for that night. Dana had already been thinking about that anyway, but now, knowing how Nicole dresses, it’s suddenly become an impossible task. Faith suggests a trip to Greenleaf to pick out some new clothes for her and Dana jumps on the idea.

Dana calls Randy and asks him to find someone. Randy doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy who has friends, you know? Wouldn’t Johnny or Tom be better to ask? They’re both still in high school (Randy graduated) and Tom, at least, is certainly more outgoing than Randy (who seems nice, but dull).

Randy’s against the idea because he doesn’t like the idea of blind dates; he thinks everyone should find their own date. That’s kind of rude. If he doesn’t want to go on a blind date, fine, but if he has a friend who wants him to find a date, he should want to help his friend out. That’s not what’s happening here, but he seems 100% against them on principle. Anyway, Dana lays it on thick, reminding him that Nicole is all alone in a strange country where she doesn’t know anyone. Finally, he agrees, but warns her not to expect a miracle.

Nicole doesn’t like the casual American style that has girls wearing jeans just like boys. She says that many girls in France prefer to dress more feminine. When the girls press her to try something on, she picks out a black wool skirt with a line of buttons down the side and a pale apricot sweater with a plunging neckline. After Nicole decides to buy them, Shelley begs off a trip to Tutti Frutti by saying she needs to study. Instead, she heads for her second aerobics class of the day.

Faith and Johnny are having dinner with his family so they can’t make date night with the others. When Casey knocks on the door of 407 to let Dana and Shelley know that Randy and Tom are there (wouldn’t that still be awkward?), she also tells them that Nicole is already downstairs with the boys and that they’d better hurry.

Nicole had her back to them, but even from that angle, they could see the way the slim black skirt clung to her body, accentuating her shapely hips and legs. She had left the row of side buttons undone, and the skirt was open almost to the thigh, revealing black textured stockings.

She’s wearing suede high heels and her hair isn’t braided anymore either. She’s also flirting with their boyfriends.

Unfortunately, Randy couldn’t find a date for Nicole. I wonder how hard he tried. I’m guessing not very. He says that there’s no reason they can’t all go out together anyway. Nicole protests, not wanting to be a “fifth tire [sic]”, but Tom insists.

Randy and Tom both want Nicole to ride in their cars. Tom offers up that his has an eight track and he just got the new Elton John tape. As tempting as that offer is, Nicole suggests that they walk. Poor Shelley. She’s already taken two hour-long aerobics classes, done an hour on “the machines,” walked four miles (two trips into Greenleaf and two trips back), and now she has to do another two miles? On the bright side, with all that exercise, she should be losing those extra pounds pretty quickly.

It doesn’t escape Dana’s and Shelley’s notice that Nicole’s accent has suddenly gotten thicker, playing up to the boys. For some reason Randy starts giving Nicole information about Canby, as if he was the one who attended the school. Laughably, he tells her that the campus is very old. At the time, it was less than 100 years old. That’s nothing in Europe!

Nicole continues to flirt through pizza and Dana and Shelley actually leave her alone with their boyfriends when they go to the restroom. Dana decides that they need to show the guys that American girls are exciting too. Shelley doesn’t feel very exciting. She’s probably just exhuasted.

Nicole is just delighted to hear about Randy’s family’s farm and wants to see the horses. He says she can come out some Saturday with Dana. Nice to know that he remembered he has a girlfriend. Dana seethes as Nicole makes “innocent” mistakes in English (saying that her Coke with ice is “Coke on the stones” and claiming that her napkin jumped off the table instead of falling) but the boys fall all over themselves laughing and assuring Nicole that her English is fine.

Dana and Randy walk home alone while Nicole, Tom, and Shelley take another route. Not sure what the point of that is, at least for Tom and Shelley. It’s kind of mean of Dana to do that, especially since Tom and Shelley have always been more coupley than she and Randy. In half of these books, Dana is thinking that Randy is more a good friend than a real boyfriend, but suddenly that’s changed in this book. I really do think Bret was the love of her (teen) life and poor Randy just can’t measure up. He’s too nice, too steady, too boring. Dana tries to get Randy to agree with her than Nicole is nothing but a big phony, but he thinks she’s great.

Shelley and Dana fill Faith in during breakfast the next morning. Dana doesn’t think it would have helped if Randy had come through with a date for Nicole; she had to have all the guys’ attention. Casey comes along and talk turns to the Fort Lauderdale trip. Casey leaves quickly when the group spots Nicole and Pamela headed their way.

Dana is cold to Nicole, who doesn’t seem to notice. Nicole doesn’t have any accent at all today. The 407 girls are dismayed to learn that Pamela is going to Fort Lauderdale with the group, and quickly realize that she’s only interested because Nicole is.

Nicole is all bundled up, claiming that she’s cold. Shelley says Nicole should be used to the cold with all the skiing she does. Nicole says the cold is different at Canby. She’s never this cold, even on the coldest day at their chalet in Gstaad. Pamela questions Nicole on this point — previously she said the chalet was at Charmonix. Nicole covers and says that the new one is, but the old one was Gstaad.

“Oh,” Pamela said. Dana though she saw something flicker in those deep blue eyes, but she couldn’t be sure, and the moment passed.

Hmmmmm.

Faith’s unsure about Florida now. Not only are Pamela and Nicole going to be there, but she’s feeling guilty about spending so much money (that she’s been saving for two years) on the trip. Dana and Shelley still want to go, though, and Dana says maybe they’ll even find some new, temporary boyfriends. Ha, good luck with that with Nicole around.

Shelley decides to get to Heavenly Bodies before it starts to snow any harder. She pretends she’s going to the library but has to make excuses when Dana wants to walk with her. Dana tells her to go ahead, and later decides not to go to the library after all. She asks Faith if she wants to go into Greenleaf for lunch instead of hitting the dining hall again. Faith’s looking out the window and sees Shelley heading not in the direction of the library but off-campus, towards Greenleaf. She wonders if they should find out where she’s been going so much lately.

Faith and Dana take Alison to Greenleaf for pizza with them. Faith hints that something’s up with Shelley, but Dana assures Alison that Shelley has just been spending a lot of time by herself lately and that Faith is overreacting. As usual, talk turns to the Florida trip. Alison has twenty girls signed up to go. The hotel is right on the water and is near restaurants and shop, and they take student groups, unlike some places that have had trouble with students without chaperones.

“You mean all those wild movies about Fort Lauderdale are true?” Dana said innocently. “Thousands of college kids and crazy parties, and people ending up in the swimming pool at two in the morning?”

“I’m sure the movies exaggerate things quite a bit,” Alison said seriously.

I’m sure.

Dana thinks she sees Shelley on the street, but she only gets a glimpse. She keeps it to herself, not wanting to get Faith curious again. Apparently it was only someone wearing the same coat, because “at that very moment, a few blocks away,” Shelley is in yet another aerobics class. After class, Cindy suggests that Shelley start coming twice a day. Shelley’s not sure she can afford that, and she can barely keep up with her homework as it is. Cindy volunteers that they have at 6:30am class and reminds Shelley that Florida is only two weeks away — and that Shelley’s thighs still need a lot of work.

Shelley’s walking home when Tom slows his car and offers her a ride. Shelley says she’d rather walk and I thought she meant because she needed the exercise, but she’s just still mad at Tom over Nicole. She finally relents and accepts the ride, and falls asleep before they reach Canby.

When they get to Baker, Tom asks if he can come inside. The Baker lounge is full of girls entertaining boyfriends and parents. Dana is there with Randy, and she approaches Shelley at the coffee urn. When they turn back around Nicole is surrounded by half a dozen guys, including Randy and Tom.

Renee Rivette, a foreign exchange student, enters the room and greets Nicole in French. Renee tells Nicole that her family is also from Paris.

WAIT A MINUTE. You mean there’s ANOTHER girl from France at Canby and Alison hooked Nicole up with Dana, Faith, and Shelley instead of that girl? The girl who has been through everything Nicole is experiencing now, who has been the new student from a foreign country?

Renee asks where in the city Nicole lives. She replies that she lives in the fifth arrondissement, but she seems uncomfortable and leaves to go study. Renee seems puzzled by this and I did not understand why when I read the book originally and I don’t understand why now.

“The fifth arrondissement” she said thoughfully. “She’s a strange girl.”

I Googled (again, my friend Google is very handy when it comes to this series) and there are twenty arrondissements in Paris. A View on Cities describes the fifth:

Arrondissement 5

The Latin Quarter, with the renowned Sorbonne university, is situated in this arrondissement. The area’s popular avenue, the Boulevard St-Michel, marks the border with the 6th arrondissement. The most famous sight in the 5th arrondissement is the Panthéon, but there are many other noteworthy sights such as the magnificent Val-de-Grâce church, the intriguing St-Etienne-du-Mont church, the Cluny Museum, the roman-era Arènes de Lutèce and the city’s botanic garden, the Jardin des Plantes.

And Young Adventuress says:

5th Arrondissement (Latin Quarter)

A fact about this area that is seldom communicated is that while there is the impressive Rue Mouffetard with its market, boutique hotels, and the old-world charm of the Latin Quarter, the area is brimming with students attending the universities and prestigious high schools. In short, French teenagers are everywhere, and in my experience down these tiny rues they walk in packs making it cumbersome to get around.

So maybe the issue is that it seems, from these descriptions, to be a “college town” area and not where you would expect to find someone whose family owns a yacht, a chalet, etc. I do not know. Someone who knows Paris, please enlighten me?

Well, with that, Shelley and Dana return their attentions to Tom and Randy, and Tom and Randy to Shelley and Dana. Neither guy was aware of the Florida trip, and neither is too happy to hear about it. They wouldn’t want their girlfriends to go hanging all over some hot college guys, now would they?

The Canby girls have to get through midterms before they can fly off for spring break, but it’s not long before it’s The Night Before and the girls are packing. Shelley hopes that Pamela and Nicole will be so busy trying to impress each other that they don’t have time for the girls of 407.

When the girls arrive at the hotel, Canby is short one room and arrangements have to be shifted to accommodate the girls who were left without a room. Nicole ends up sharing with Dana, Faith and Shelley. Nicole immediately changes her clothes and plans to go shopping. Shelley reminds her than Michael and Alison have set up a meeting in the lobby and that they’re not supposed to leave the beach area without permission. Nicole says they will just have to manage without her and leaves it up to Shelley to decide what to tell Alison.

The meeting is brief, however, and no one notices that Nicole isn’t there. Michael tells the group to meet at 7:00 for dinner then releases the girls to the bead. The sand is so crowded that Dana accidentally steps on a guy named Rick. Rick is from New York, just like Dana, while his friend Terry is from Iowa. His hometown is even near Pine Bluff, where Shelley’s family lives.

Rick and Terry are freshmen at Penn State, and after Rick traces some Greek letters in the sand (showing off?), Dana learns that they’re in a fraternity. Although she admits that Canby is a high school, Dana doesn’t let on that she and Shelley are part of a school sponsored trip with chaperones. Rick invites them to dinner, but Dana says they have other plans. They agree to try to meet up again the next day, then Shelley and Dana head back to the hotel before a storm starts. On the way, they spot Faith, who was watching their towels on the beach, in a coffee shop with another guy.

Nicole goes to dinner with Pamela, but the story Alison gets is that Nicole is sick in bed with tea and toast, and that Pamela is staying in with her. Casey’s rooming with Pamela and two girls from Charles House that she can’t stand, so I don’t understand why Casey didn’t just room with Dana, Faith, and Shelley. Then Pamela and Nicole would be together and Casey would be with her friends.

The next day is packed with activities: a dolphin show in Miami, lunch at a clam bar, a visit to an aquarium, an alligator show, and dinner. Shelley would have preferred hanging out on the beach with Rick and Terry and doing a little shopping. She wants to get a new bathing suit to replace her old one, so she’s irritable when they finally return to their room late that night.

Rick and Terry leave Dana and Shelley a message at the hotel’s front desk. They invite the girls to lunch. Alison thinks the group should stick together, but Michael doesn’t think it’s such a big deal. Alison relents, but stresses that it’s just lunch. They have another full day of activities planned, including another aquarium visit and a trip to a wax museum.

Nicole and Pamela skip the wax museum trip. On the way back to the hotel for lunch, the sun emerges from the clouds. Alison asks if the girls want to cancel the aquarium and hit the beach instead. Everyone does.

Dana and Shelley are slightly late to meet Rick and Terry, but the guys don’t even show up. Dana and Shelley are embarrassed to be sitting in the coffee shop alone. Why? It’s not like they’re alone alone. Not that eating alone is something to be embarrassed about either, but it does bother a lot of people. But that’s not even the case here. They’re with each other! They’re two friends having iced tea together. They could even order lunch by themselves if they wanted. They wait a few minutes more, then order sandwiches to go and rush back to their room.

Michael is there, looking worried. He expected Nicole and Pamela to be there. He tells them that Pamela had a headache and the two of them stayed behind while the rest of the group went to the wax museum. He decides that Pamela probably started feeling better so they went to lunch and then the beach. After he leaves, Dana says this solves the mystery of what happened to Rick and Terry.

Seriously? Out of all the girls on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, would Rick and Terry really meet up with Nicole and Pamela?

Dana and Shelley change and head for the beach to look for the guys — and/or the girls. They spot Nicole almost immediately. She’s wearing the tiniest yellow bikini Shelley has ever seen, while Pamela sits next to her wearing a black one-piece. They’re alone, but there’s a Penn State sweatshirt on the blanket next to them. Of course they found Rick and Terry.

Shelley’s glad the guys weren’t there; it would have been too embarrassing. Apparently Shelley is embarrassed very easily these days. She’s still wearing her old (embarrassing) swimsuit, by the way.

Dana says they should forget about Pamela and Nicole AND Rick and Terry and have fun. They rent some rafts and spend the rest of the day in the water. When they return to the room, Faith is getting ready to go to a luau that a school group from Georgia invited the Canby group to. Wrong state, Georgia.

The luau is fun, though, especially because there are more guys than girls. Faith even busts out an unknown skill: break dancing. When they meet back up later, Shelley has three dates for lunch the next day and Dana has two for dinner. Pamela is furious when she approaches the group, which includes Alison. She tells them that she and Nicole had been to a French restaurant for dinner and she arranged for Nicole to meet the chef, who’s from Paris. Only Nicole didn’t understand a word of his French because…she’s from Kansas. Pamela was so mad at this unexpected discovery that she left Nicole there without any money.

Alison gets the information on the restaurant and, taking Dana, rushes off to find Nicole. Nicole isn’t there anymore, but the head waiter tells them that she left — without paying the bill — a few minutes after Pamela. Alison promises to settle the bill the next day (how about now?) and the waiter suggests they try looking next door at the movie theater. Alison goes inside, leaving Dana to watch the door, and drags out a crying Nicole a few minutes later.

The three are silent in the cab on the way back to the hotel. Thinking things over, Dana decides that Pamela’s story makes sense. Nicole’s accent seemed to disappear when there weren’t any guys around. The 407 girls, plus Casey, Nicole, and Pamela convene in Alison’s room. Nicole isn’t sure where to start her explanation. Pamela, still angry, tells her to tell the girls where she’s really from. Nicole admits that she’s from Kansas. Her father is French, which explains why she could put on the correct accent when she wanted to use it, and she does have both French and American citizenship, but she’s never actually been to France.

She doesn’t get along with her parents, partly because they treat her like she’s twelve. That explains the clothes she was wearing when she arrived. Dana starts to feel sorry for her at this point. Nicole continues: she was thrown out of a couple of schools before Canby and thought it would be a good way to start over. She switched out the application her parents filled out for her for one she filled out herself before taking it to the post office.

Doesn’t Canby have ANY kind of admissions requirements? Wouldn’t someone have noticed that her transcripts were from Kansas, not Paris?

She expected to get caught, but when she wasn’t, she decided to go with it. Pamela’s has heard enough. She storms out. Alison says that the rest of them understand and asks what Nicole wants to do: go home or stay at Canby. She wants things to be better with her parents. Casey points out that she can’t rebuild that relationship from Canby. She said she learned from experience that you can’t run away from your problems.

Nicole wants to go back to Kansas. Casey has a point, but returning home right away also sounds a little like running away. If she goes back, she won’t have to face the drama she caused at Canby. Shelley invites her to spend the rest of vacation with them, and Nicole agrees.

Shelley wakes up early the next morning and sneaks out, determined to buy a new bathing suit. The saleswoman compliments her figure and tells her to try on all the suits she’s interested in. She ends up with a yellow shiny vinyl tank suit, but she’s disappointed when she joins the others on the beach and they don’t even notice her new suit or her new body, more interested instead in sno-cones. Shelley blows up and starts wailing about the forty hours of aerobics that she did and they didn’t even notice. When they still don’t see any difference, she starts to wonder whether Cindy was lying to her.

And because this is the last page, she gets over it extremely quickly and decides to join them for lunch.

The Cover: Not one person is dressed in anything that was described in the book. Nicole wore a yellow bikini; she’s pictured in a red one, covered by a green shirt and shorts. (Are those terry cloth?) Dana wore a “sleek navy blue tank suit;” she’s pictured in green and blue.

Jenna

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