Throwback Thursday: Retro Reads – The Girls of Canby Hall #14: What’s a Girl to Do?

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 #14: What's a Girl to Do?The Girls of Canby Hall #14: What’s a Girl to Do?
Author: Julie Garwood writing as Emily Chase
Published: May 27, 1986

Shelley, Faith, and Dana volunteer to work at the local hospital. It’s a big responsibility but each of the roommates is worried about something else — Shelley with the upcoming spring play tryouts; Faith with the possibility of a new romance; and Dana with the news of a new student at Canby Hall who might not be so welcome. With all these problems, will the girls remember to turn to each other, not on each other?

It’s still winter at Canby. It feels like it’s been winter for a long, long time now. Many books anyway. Faith runs into Baker Hall, having spent the past hour outside (where it’s freezing) taking photos for the Clarion, the school paper. I know she wants to be a photographer, but I don’t remember reading this part before. Her secret ambition is to be a top news photographer by the time she’s twenty-five. That seems a little unrealistic if you consider she still has another year of high school and four years of college. Is she really thinking she’s going to rise to the top of her field in just three or four years post-college?

Casey’s up early this Sunday morning, too, the day the signup sheets for their social studies community involvement project goes up. It’s first come, first serve and Casey doesn’t want to get stuck with the worst assignment. She and Keith want to sign up for the same project. Faith is planning to do the same with Dana and Shelley, who are still in bed. It takes 30 minutes before they’re ready to head out, and on the way to the administration building, they run into Casey and Keith, who are on their way back. The signup sheets went up early — yesterday — and almost all the spots are filled.

Dana, Faith, and Shelley are left with two options: volunteering at the hospital or a veterinary office. I would pick the hospital because I can’t handle sick or injured animals. The girls pick the hospital too, for a different reason. Shelley’s always wanted to work in a hospital and it will be a new experience for all of them. They will be spending the next six Saturday mornings at the hospital in Greenleaf.

Dana gets a surprise that night when she talks to her mom on the phone. Her sister Maggie will be attending Canby next year! Dana is not as excited about it as her mom is, but she feels guilty and doesn’t want to tell anyone how she’s feeling. Shelley and Faith don’t know what’s bothering her, but they know something is wrong. Faith says they’ll just have to wait until Dana is ready to open up, but the suspense is killing Shelley.

Dana wants to go to bed (to sulk) ridiculously early, so Faith and Shelley wander down to Casey’s room, where Casey has the latest scoop: uniforms! Canby is considering school uniforms for next year. In an age when nearly 20% of public schools make students wear uniforms, it doesn’t seem so shocking that a private boarding school might require them, but I guess that’s the difference between 1986 and 2014. Casey has a great deal of information on this topic, which she gladly shares. Ms. Allardyce is going to select three styles of uniforms and one girl from each dorm will wear them for a month. At the end of the month, the student body will vote on whether to wear uniforms and which one. They also get to vote on which girl has to wear the uniform for the month, and Casey has the perfect girl in mind: Pamela Young. I was going to feel sorry for the girls wearing the uniforms, but I can’t feel sorry for Pamela. I hope the girls from Addison and Charles Houses are equally detestable.

The girls go back to their room. Dana’s awake, so they share the news. Faith is actually considering voting for the uniforms. Her mother doesn’t make much money and uniforms might make financial sense. Except that she would have to buy the uniforms, right? And if she doesn’t have to wear one, she can just keep on wearing the clothes she already has. Dana, having had time to process the Maggie situation, decides to share her news too. Shelley is predictably excited — Shelley gets excited over everything — and can’t understand why Dana isn’t. Faith reminds Shelley that she doesn’t have a sister so she doesn’t know how she would feel if it was her sister. Dana agrees that she will probably get more excited once she has had time to think about it, but inside she feels even more guilty now than she did before.

The uniform possibility is formally announced on Monday, with the campus splitting into two factions. Everyone is talking about it, except Pamela who claims to not care. That seems odd, unless she plans not to return to Canby in the fall.

Shelley joins Faith and Dana at dinner. She’s just been to a meeting about the spring play, which is called Spring Fancy. Shelley, of course, intends to be the female lead and Tom will, naturally be the male lead. Auditions are next week. Faith is skeptical once she learns that, even though the play isn’t a musical, the female lead has to sing a solo. Shelley and singing? Not a good combination.

The residents of Baker House assemble to vote on the uniform guinea pig. Everyone votes for Pamela (not present and not voting to show her disdain for the entire process) except two of the guys, who vote for their roommate Sheff. Casey is present when Alison informs Pamela that she “won” and reports back to the 407 girls. Pamela tried to refuse, but when Alison told her she doesn’t have a choice, she threatened to have Alison fired.

Back on the Maggie issue, Dana tries to explain her thoughts to Shelley. She says she’s always been the big sister and had to watch out for Maggie and take care of her. At Canby, she doesn’t have to worry about that. She has her own friends; she can do whatever she wants. She’s afraid that when Maggie starts at Canby, she’s going to have to be the big sister again.

Shelley thinks Dana is being selfish. I think Shelley should mind her own business and let Dana work through this. Dana doesn’t really have a say in whether Maggie attends Canby, but she does have a right to feel however she feels. Pushing the issue isn’t going to make her accept it any sooner. She’s going to have to do that in the end, but the start of the new school year is months away. Give her time.

Faith, always the peacemaker, tries to mediate, which only leads to Shelley rushing out in a huff (REALLY? Over this?). Faith tells Dana that while her sister is older, she kind of understands. I bet Shelley’s brothers would understand too.

Saturday morning is the girls’ first day at the hospital. They have to get up at 6:00 in order to make it to the hospital by 8. For some reason they all dress up in skirts and sweaters, despite the fact that they have a mile walk to Greenleaf in the bitter cold. Terry, one of the boys living in the basement, will be joining them for hospital duty. Once there, they meet with the Patient Advocate for their assignments. Terry will be working in X-ray and, when not busy there, Pediatrics. Shelley is assigned to the gift card, Dana is to work with the dietitian, and Faith will be working directly with the Patient Advocate.

The PA sends Faith off on an errand first thing, which leads her to the elevator. She’s delighted when she’s joined “a tall black man, dressed in dark pants and a white lab jacket.” He’s “the most handsome person she had ever laid eyes on” and Faith is too tongue-tied to speak. He’s a doctor: Dr. Frank Webster. He’s working a rotation in the ER for six weeks. Faith has to ask someone later what ER means. Oh, Faith.

Later, Faith and Dana meet up with Terry. They arrange to meet Shelley in the cafeteria, then Faith accompanies Terry and his patient from X-Ray to the ER. Surprise, surprise, they run into Dr. Frank again. Terry monopolizes the conversation, which frustrates Faith until Terry invites Dr. Frank to join them for lunch. He says he’ll join them in a few minutes, so Faith and Terry go ahead to find Dana and Shelley.

The group discusses their work placements over lunch. Shelley loves her job, handing out juice and magazines to patients and selling candy bars. Dana learned a lot with the dietitian. She’s decided to change her eating habits to cut out junk food and artificial ingredients. Good luck with that at Canby, Dana. She wants to make a diet plan for all of them as part of the paper she has to write at the end of the project. Faith and a reluctant Shelley agree to go along with the plan, while Terry is a definite no.

Dr. Frank finally joins them — and sits next to Faith! Terry has a lot of questions for him, about medical school and medicine. He worked with a patient earlier that day who had to have his tonsils out, and Terry’s afraid that he has the same symptoms. Dr. Frank tells him to drop by the ER before he leaves, where Terry discovers that he’s already had his tonsils removed. Wouldn’t Terry wouldn’t remember that?

Shelley’s practicing her singing and she’s terrible. Faith is worried because Shelley has her heart set on the part. She confides in Casey, who says that maybe the director will cut the song when she hears Shelley sing. The entire group, including Casey and Keith, walks into town to meet Johnny for pizza. Dana isn’t sure whether pizza is junk food or not, but promises to find out on Saturday. I think this is your last pizza, gang. Enjoy!

Faith’s feeling guilty because she’s been thinking of Dr. Frank all week and hasn’t thought of Johnny at all. Dana mails home a Canby application for Maggie. Shelley continues to practice her singing and memorize her lines for the audition.

Finally the day of auditions arrives. Casey, Dana, and Faith go to cheer Shelley on. Shelley’s song isn’t bad. It’s not great, but not as bad as it has been. Everyone’s sure Shelley has the part…until Elizabeth Kennedy takes the stage. Elizabeth, a freshman transfer student, is an amazing singer. Even worse is the expression on Tom’s face as he listens to her audition.

Shelley doesn’t get the part. She’s understudy to Elizabeth. She flees in tears as Dana watches Tom approach Elizabeth. She thinks he seems happy that Elizabeth got the part and shares this information with Casey and Faith. Tom joins them then heads out to look for Shelley. He catches up with her in the campus park and assures her that they’ll get through it together. He points out that as understudy, she will still need to know the lines so they’ll be able to practice together they way they planned.

Shelley is still upset days later, and Dana is getting tired of it. Shelley’s getting tired of Dana’s feelings about Maggie, too. This leads to yet another argument between the two. For such good friends, these two seem to fight a lot. I think I’m on Dana’s side on this one. As an older sister myself, I understand where she’s coming from. Plus, she’s trying to keep her feelings mostly to herself, whereas Shelley is all about the drama.

Faith’s getting ready to go out with Johnny — and escape the war in 407 — when Dr. Frank calls her. She’s mentioned that she’s a photographer and he wants her to take some photos of him in doctor-mode to send to his parents. In return, he offers to take her out to dinner. Faith’s giddy when she returns to her room, but Shelley and Dana are so busy ignoring each other that they don’t notice, and Faith is relieved.

At Pizza Pete’s later that night, Faith and Johnny are surprised to see Tom…with Elizabeth. Faith doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions, but Johnny points out that they’re holding hands and when they leave, Tom puts his arm around Elizabeth.

Back in the dorm, Shelley has decided that she’s been acting childish and wants to apologize to both Faith and Dana. But Faith’s out with Johnny and Dana left hours ago. Play practice that afternoon had gone pretty well, even though the light kiss Elizabeth and Tom were supposed to share wasn’t light on Elizabeth’s part and didn’t quite end when the director called, “cut!” Shelley’s sure that Tom was embarrassed over it, and over the attention Elizabeth has been paying him. When Tom cancelled their date plans for that night, she was sure that he was overwhelmed with the play and school.

Dana and Faith arrive home at the same time. Shelley apologizes to them and tells Dana that she’s even ready to start following the diet plan Dana created. Everyone is so happy that there’s peace in 407 that Faith doesn’t feel like she can tell Shelley about Tom and Elizabeth now. Dana boxes up their remaining junk food to take to Casey’s. Faith volunteers to join her and on the way, she tells Dana what she and Johnny saw. Dana advises her not to tell Shelley until the following afternoon. She wants a night of peace, and they have to work at the hospital the next day. She says she’ll keep Terry busy while Faith talks to Shelley.

The next day, Terry’s patient is a little boy who just had eye surgery. Shelley, who is handing out juice in Pediatrics, notices that Terry’s squinting and asks him about it. Terry says his eyes are a little blurry, and wonders whether he should ask Dr. Frank to have a look. At the end of their shift, the girls meet up for lunch in the cafeteria again. Faith begs off, reminding them that she’s supposed to meet Dr. Frank for pictures. When she finds him in the ER, he’s examining Terry’s eyes. Faith notices that Dr. Frank is holding back laughter and, after Terry leaves, asks him about it. Dr. Frank thinks Terry is suffering from “pains of sympathy.” He develops symptoms that mimic his patients’ every time. Dr. Frank says a lot of new doctors do the same thing.

Faith and Dr. Frank do the pictures, then head off to the cafeteria for lunch. You would think that after eating in a cafeteria three meals a day all week, the girls (and Terry) would welcome the opportunity to eat somewhere else on Saturday, but they keep going to the hospital cafeteria. Faith promises to develop the pictures and have them ready the following Saturday. He invites her to go out to dinner after she delivers them, unless she has a boyfriend who might object to her spending time with an older man. Faith assures him that it’s not an issue.

How, exactly, is this different from Tom lying to Shelley and taking Elizabeth out?

On the walk back to campus, Dana confronts Faith about her feelings about Dr. Frank. Faith insists that there’s nothing to worry about. Dr. Frank is ten years older than she is and wouldn’t be interested in a silly teenager. She’s dreading having to talk to Shelley about Tom. When they catch up with Shelley and Terry at an intersection, Dana pulls Terry back and tells him to let Faith and Shelley go ahead. She fills him in on what’s happened as the group makes its way back to campus. Faith lets Shelley ramble on until they’re almost back, then she blurts out the news.

Shelley tells Faith she must be wrong, but after Faith says that they were holding hands, Shelley bursts into tears. After what she saw at play practice, she knows Faith is right. Back on campus, Shelley goes straight to the phone to call Tom. They arrange to meet in an hour. When Tom arrives, he confesses that he had a date with Elizabeth, and that he has another one with her that night. He thinks they’re too young to get serious and while he still wants to take Shelley out, he wants to be free to date other people too. Shelley’s upset and angry, but…she has been still tied to Paul all this time. What’s good for the goose and all.

Monday morning is The Day of The Uniform, and Pamela arrives at breakfast wearing a brown and white pleated skirt, a long sleeved white blouse, and a brown vest. Pamela stops by the table where Shelley, Faith, Dana, and Casey are sitting and trades barbs with them. They question Pamela about her uniform (“Does it have pockets?” “Is it wash and wear?”) and she tells Shelley that she’s heard Tom is dating that cute freshman who got the lead in the play.

Shelley’s thinking of quitting the play, but Dana and Faith won’t let her, reminding her that no one in 407 is a quitter. Dana’s losing patience with Shelley again, which is kind of unfair considering Dana’s initial reaction when she got dumped.

Dana decides to talk to Alison, Baker House’s housemother, about her Maggie problem. After she spills her story, Alison asks how Maggie feels about coming to Canby. She suggests that Dana invite Maggie up for the weekend so she can experience the campus and they can talk it over. Dana likes the idea, and immediately thinks about setting some ground rules for the time they’re both going to be on campus. Feeling much better, Dana returns to her room and announces to Faith and Shelley that they all need to make some changes: no more moping, ant that includes Shelley.

Shelley fills them in on that day’s play practice. Elizabeth couldn’t keep her hands off Tom and everyone now knows that he dumped Shelley for Elizabeth. It was humiliating, but she refused to cry in front of the other actors.

When Dana and Shelley head off to Casey’s room, Faith pulls out the photos of Dr. Frank that she’s been hiding under her pillow. Girl is obsessed. She decides to present them to him on Saturday night on their date instead of taking them along to the hospital that morning. Then she starts thinking about what to wear, settling on a long sleeved white wool dress. Let’s hope they don’t have spaghetti for dinner.

Shelley spends the rest of the week miserable but putting on a smile when she’s at play practice. On Friday afternoon, as practice is drawing to a close for the week, Elizabeth turns into a diva.

“I think you’re wrong,” Elizabeth shouted at the coach. “The character should still be sad, not happy, and that’s how I’m going to play her. I’m the star, remember!”

Elizabeth stomps her foot and walks out of practice! Shelley looks over at Tom, who’s stunned, as the rest of the actors start whispering among themselves about Elizabeth’s tantrum. The drama coach dismisses everyone and as Shelley turns to leave, Tom stops her and asks her out.


Oh yes he does. Shelley lies that she has other plans. Good for Shelley! She had seen Elizabeth say something to Tom on her way out and thinks that Elizabeth was breaking their date. Shelley doesn’t want to be second choice, and especially not on two hours notice.

Shelley starts to regret saying no on her way back to her dorm, and somehow works it out in her head to make it Dana’s fault that she’ll be staying home alone for the evening. Unfortunately for Dana, she’s right in sight when Shelley reaches the dorm. Shelley yells at her and blames her for not accepting the date, leaving Dana confused, and rushes up to their room in tears. Again.

Faith explains to Dana later that Shelley thinks Dana is too bossy and is always finding fault with Shelley. Dana asks Faith if it’s true. Faith says no, that Shelley just didn’t want to be second choice and it’s easier to blame Dana that to accept it.

Dana’s tired of this discussion and changes the subject to Maggie, who will be arriving the next weekend. She needs to find someone to entertain Maggie when they’re at the hospital. Shelley comes in and apologizes to Dana, followed by Casey announcing Johnny’s arrival to pick up Faith for their date.

Dana and Shelley end up joining Sheff and Terry for the Oakley Prep-Greenleaf High hockey game. Faith and Johnny are there, too, and Dana spots Tom and Elizabeth a few rows behind them. She and Faith decide not to tell Shelley, but Shelley notices them on her own. That makes her happy because it means Tom asked her out first, not second. The happiness doesn’t last, however, because Tom and Elizabeth also show up at Pizza Pete’s, where the group has gone after the game.

At the hospital the next day, Terry’s patient wanders away from him. Terry’s frantic and asks for Dana’s help in tracking him down. She’s just about to give up when she sees the patient eating in the hospital cafeteria. Dana overhears Faith and Dr. Frank making arrangements for dinner that night, and she grills Faith about it. Faith explains about the pictures and admits that she’s not sure if it’s a date or not. Dana thinks it is.

Dr. Frank is late and when he finally arrives, he says he went to the wrong dorm looking for her. On the way to Greenleaf, Faith mentions Johnny and explains that he’s her boyfriend, who wants to be a cop, and tells Dr. Frank about her father dying in the line of duty. He says that’s probably why she’s so controlled and private, and they make a pact to be open and honest that night.

That comes back to haunt Faith later, when Dr. Frank says that if he had a little sister, he would want her to be Faith.

“I don’t want to be your sister. I’d rather be your girlfriend.”

Open. Honest. Embarrassing.

Dr. Frank lets her down easily, telling her that she’s too young for him now, but says she should look him up in ten years.

After dinner they stop for ice cream. Johnny wants ice cream that night, too, and when Faith looks up, he’s standing in the doorway looking hurt. Faith runs after him, but Johnny’s gone. Across the room, Tom and Elizabeth are having an argument and drawing attention.

It must be Canby night at the Tutti Frutti; Terry is there too. He joins them and expresses concern about his feet. He thinks his arches are falling. Dr. Frank inspects his shoes and advises him to buy a new pair; the old ones are worn out. As Terry talks to Dr. Frank, Faith’s mind wanders. Then she notices that Johnny is back and invites him to meet Dr. Frank, introducing him as “my boyfriend Johnny.” Johnny is relieved to hear that Dr. Frank already knows about him.

Johnny leaves, promising to call Faith tomorrow, and Dr. Frank takes Faith home. He asks if she has a little crush on him. Isn’t it obvious? Faith admits that she does, but says she’s confused because of her feelings for Johnny. Dr. Frank says it’s okay to care for two people at the same time, but lets her know that he’s leaving town in a few days. His rotation is over so he’s moving on.

The month is up and it’s time for Canby to vote on uniforms. They have a mini fashion show at Assembly, so that everyone can see the three choices a final time before the vote. The the vote, and the students choose no uniforms.

Dana’s sister Maggie arrives for the weekend. She and Dana don’t have the chance for a private talk until Sunday morning. After breakfast, they take a walk and Dana admits that she’s having mixed feelings about Maggie at Canby. Maggie confesses that she is too. She’s gained a lot more independence back home since Dana left and she doesn’t want to have to answer to Dana. They come to an agreement that leaves them both happy. Dana won’t play big sister unless Maggie asks her to and Maggie will have the freedom to make her own friends and her own mistakes.

Shelley’s feeling relaxed on opening night of the spring play. She’s going to be in the audience and doesn’t have to worry about the jitters. When she gets to the auditorium, Tom grabs her and tells her she has to get ready to go on. Elizabeth is crying and refusing to do it. Shelley’s immediately upset, to Faith’s surprise. She goes in to talk to Elizabeth:

“Now get this, and get it good. You’re going on, like it or not. You’ve had your little tantrum and that’s okay. We’ll just chalk it up to a case of stagefright. But it’s time to grow up and quit acting like a baby. You’re a wonderful actress and I know you’re just a freshman. Heaven only knows you can’t expect miracles from freshman, but you can give it a good try.”

Shelley forces Elizabeth to clean up her face and take the stage. Once out there, Elizabeth recovers and does a wonderful job. Later that night, Shelley admits to Dana and Faith that she had no choice. She couldn’t go on because she hadn’t bothered to learn the lines.

All that drama and she hadn’t even learned the lines.



  1. This seems like a fun meme although I don’t think I’d like to join because it’s very meticulous. I don’t think I have enough patience to write a very long recap. Nothing can beat the sense of nostalgia it can evoke though. 😀
    Charlotte @ Thoughts and Pens recently posted…Stacking the Shelves {29}My Profile

    • This is just something I’m doing on my own, not really a meme. I doubt anyone really reads them. I stopped for awhile then when I brought them back I was going to make them shorter, but as you can see, that didn’t really happen. I’m getting kind of tired of this series, which is sad because I loved them so much when I was younger. This set of girls graduates in a few more books and then a new group starts up, but I think I’ll move on to a different series. I didn’t like the second set of girls as much the first time around.
      Jenna recently posted…Weekly Rewind: August 17-23My Profile


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