Throwback Thursday: Retro Reads – The Girls of Canby Hall #15: To Tell the Truth

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 #15 - To Tell the Truth by Emily ChaseThe Girls of Canby Hall #15: To Tell the Truth
Author: Eileen Hehl writing as Emily Chase
Published: July 1985

Telling the truth is easy as pie, right?

Wrong! At least that’s what Shelley, Faith, and Dana begin to discover when they take a 48 hour “Truth Pledge” as part of a psychology research experiment. Although it may be the best policy, honesty isn’t always easy. Will a simple experiment lead to heartbreak, fights, and real trouble for the roommates?

Alison’s cousin has come to Canby and the girls of 407 (plus Casey) are excited to meet her.The girls are late; all of Baker, including the boys, is already there. Didn’t we learn that Baker has about 50 residents? And they’re all in Alison’s apartment? Why not just meet in the lounge?

Alison’s cousin Maura, a psychology undergrad, is looking for volunteers to help with an experiment for a paper for class. She wants them to tell the absolute truth for 48 hours. She wants to find out whether it’s possible for teenagers to do that. Shelley doesn’t think it will be a problem at all: she and her roommates are very honest people. (Ha!) Everyone else in the room is ready to sign up, too — everyone except Pamela and Casey. Pamela is just being Pamela but Casey is worried about what kind of trouble this could get her into. After a little peer pressure, and some goading from Pamela, Casey signs up after all.

Alison thinks it’s going to be a very interesting weekend. I have no doubt of that.

Friday: Truth Pledge Day. Shelley’s still touting their honesty and now Faith has joined in. To kick things off, Shelley suggests that they be brutally honest with each other and say one thing that bothers them about the others. Faith and Dana don’t think it’s a good idea, but Shelley won’t let it go. Finally, Faith comes up with something: Shelley always runs out of shampoo and borrows theirs. Dana agrees and they hope that’s that. Shelley wants to take her turn, though, and says that they’re always eating her mom’s homemade treats, so that should make them even. Faith goes too far in agreeing with that, making Shelley mad in the process. Dana warns them both to drop it, but can’t resist adding that she never minds when they use her Halston perfume.

Pamela joins them for breakfast and announces her intentions to have a very fun weekend.

Terry is chosen to read his short story out loud in creative writing class. Dana finds it very depressing and hates it. As the class critiques it, Terry calls on Dana for her opinion. She tries to wiggle out of saying anything, but he insists — and the instructor reminds her that a third of her grade is class participation. Finally, she blurts out her opinion: “This story…was so awful that it made me feel like throwing myself under a TRUCK!”

I guess she gives it one star. I don’t think the point of this Truth Pledge is to be rude. Her followup comments are a little more balanced and she compliments his writing, but Terry’s steamed.

“I’d suggest that Dana learn a little something about this genre called science fiction before she goes shooting off her ideas…this really burns me up, people running down a literary piece when they are too ignorant to know what they’re discussing…next time, I’d suggest that you educate yourself, Dana, before you open mouth and insert foot.”

Authors behaving badly, anyone?

As Faith and Sheff walk out of biology class, he admits that he lies sometimes. When Faith’s surprised, he says that everyone does. Faith insists that she doesn’t, not ever. He invites her to dinner in Boston, but she already has a date with Johnny. Sheff says Johnny is “Nowheresville” and points out that he, a musician, and Faith, a photographer, have more in common. Haven’t we already been through this? Faith turns him down once more but after he leaves, she admits to herself that there’s an attraction there.

Pamela shows up to meet the girls for lunch. She has a surprise for them: she’s told the head cook at Canby about their Food Grievance Committee (which doesn’t exist) and invited Mrs. Merriweather to meet with them to discuss their thoughts on the food. Mrs. Merriweather seems so nice and honestly wants their input. Dana thinks this is where a white lie could come in handy because the dining hall food is pretty awful. Faith puts Mrs. Merriweather off, explaining that there really is no committee and that they need time to come up with some ideas. Mrs. Merriweather agrees to meet them at lunch the next day — still within Truth Pledge time. Poor Mrs. Merriweather. She’s going to be crushed.

Keith takes Dana aside and asks for her help. Casey’s birthday is next week and he wants to take her out for a nice dinner, but he knows he doesn’t have the best fashion sense and wants some suggestions from Dana. Dana agrees to go shopping with him the following day. She’s going to have a busy Saturday. It’s a good thing that hospital volunteer experience is over.

It’s a beautiful spring day, so Shelley decides to go for a walk after class. As she approaches Ms. Allardyce’s flower garden, she hears someone calling for help. Rushing towards the voice, she finds Ms. Allardyce herself lying on the ground. Ms. Allardyce is having chest pains but DOES NOT want Shelley to call anyone for help, not even the school nurse. She wants things kept quiet, which means Shelley will have to drive her to the hospital.

Shelley and Ms. Allardyce make it to the emergency room, where doctors and nurses take over and Shelley waits on a hard wooden bench. Eventually, Shelley is allowed to go into Ms. Allardyce’s curtained cubicle. Ms. Allardyce reiterates that although she’s being admitted to the hospital, no one is to know about this. She asks Shelley to hang on to her car keys so that she can return to pick up Ms. Allardyce when she’s released.

There’s trouble in the Baker basement. When Terry tells his roommates about creative writing class and Dana, he points out that she should have just said that she doesn’t understand science fiction. I can’t argue with him there. That would have been a perfectly truthful way to express her opinion. He goes on and on about it, though, until Keith shares his own opinion: that Terry is being childish.

Shelley’s been at the hospital so long that she’s missed dinner and her roommates are starting to get worried, especially since Tom has arrived for their ice cream date. Casey and Keith decide to go ahead into town, while Dana and Faith, Randy, Johnny, and Tom wait at Baker for her. Casey and Keith leave just in time, for Pamela is coming down the stairs. She tells the guys all about the Truth Pledge and encourages them to ask the girls anything they want and to expect an honest answer. And as she leaves the room, she tells Johnny that Sheff is still trying to get Faith to go out with him.

Randy laughs the whole thing off. He’s not falling for Pamela’s tricks. He and Dana aren’t really together though, not like Faith and Johnny and Shelley and Tom, so he shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Johnny falls for it, though. He asks Faith to step outside, then asks her straight out whether she has any interest in Sheff. If Johnny doesn’t trust Faith, why is he still with her? Faith admits that she’s “dazzled” by Sheff and his (supposed) sophistication. She explains that the sophisticated art world is in her future as a photographer and it’s just not in his, since he plans to be a policeman.

Oh, please. She’s either going to end up as a news photographer or taking pictures of babies and toddlers in a studio, maybe some weddings.

Johnny, of course, gets offended and stalks off, convinced that Faith likes Sheff better. She’s joined by Sheff as she returns to Baker. Sheff just happened to overhear the end of their argument and puts his arm around Faith.

“So that makes it official. You’re my chick from now on.”

Faith has the same reaction to that as I do and suddenly sees how phony Sheff is. It’s about time! She’s tempted when he tries to present a picture of the two of them living it up in Boston, but she tells Sheff she doesn’t want to be his chick and leaves him standing on the sidewalk alone.

She’s just returned to Baker upset when Ginny bursts into the dorm lounge and tells them all to hurry outside. As they all watch, Shelley drives up in Ms. Allardyce’s car and gets out to open the garage door. Busted!

Shelley refuses to tell anyone, even Tom or her roommates, what she was doing with Ms. Allardyce’s car. Faith says Pamela saw her, too, and is going to run to tell Ms. Allardyce. Shelley isn’t concerned, but Dana thinks Shelley will be expelled. Shelley asks them to trust her and not ask any questions. She doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

Dana and Faith go to clear the hallway of eager, questioning girls, and round up some food for Shelley. They manage to convince the other girls to keep quiet, all except Pamela, who wouldn’t dream of withholding the truth about this even though she never signed the Truth Pledge.

After a visit from Pamela, Alison summons Shelley to her apartment. Shelley admits that Pamela was telling the truth, that she was driving the car, but she won’t tell even Alison why. Alison says that Pamela’s already been to Ms. Allardyce’s and that the headmistress wasn’t there, so she will have to deal with it when she returns. For now, though, Shelley is grounded: confined to Baker except for meals.

Casey and Keith are playing Frisbee on the lawn the next morning when they see the groundskeeper heading for Baker with a chainsaw. When they question him, he tells them that Ms. Allardyce ordered him to cut down a tall maple tree that’s just outside Casey’s window. The branches are growing up against the power lines. Wouldn’t trimming the offending branches be better?

Casey is terribly upset. She throws herself in front of the tree and refuses to move. Keith suggests that the groundskeeper talk to Ms. Allardyce again. Ms. Allardyce isn’t around, of course, but other girls in Baker join Casey’s protest. Shelley even leans out her window in support since she can’t actually go outside.

Things are going from bad to worse for Shelley. She and Tom had special plans for that night, and now that Shelley can’t go, he’s thinking of taking Elizabeth.

Dana decides to educate herself on science fiction and heads for the library. She finds that there’s a whole sci fi section, and that it’s filled with depressing stories like Terry’s. It still doesn’t interest her, but now she sees that there’s a market for that type of fiction. Borrowing a costume from the drama department, she dresses like Chewbacca and goes to Terry’s door to apologize.

The girls have forgotten all about Mrs. Merriweather until they see her coming toward them at lunch. She pulls them aside for their talk, promising that the other cooks are saving them some lunch. Unsure where to start, Faith compliments the salad bar. Shelley and Dana try to talk their way around saying that the rest of the food is bad. Mrs. Merriweather says she’s heard some of the girls complaining about her food and it makes her feel bad, but she’s cheered up by them thinking the food is alright.

Shelley can’t stand it; she has to tell the truth. She admits that she and her roommates are also complainers. Diplomatically, she says that some of the foods are certainly unusual, but that the girls all come from small families where their mothers cook for fewer people, and that she understands that Mrs. Merriweather’s budget is limited. Mrs. Merriweather decides to take a poll and see what the students would like to have on the menu.

On the way back to Baker, Shelley gets upset when she overhears some of the girls in Casey’s tree talking about Ms. Allardyce, joking that she must have a hot date to be gone for more than a day. Michael Frank lurks behind a lilac bush and listens as she tells them off.

Just then, Alison comes up the the group and the tree and says Pamela has told her that Casey uses the tree to sneak out of the dorm after hours. She wants to know if it’s true. The other girls do, too, pointing out that Casey’s cause isn’t so noble if it is. Forced to tell the truth, Casey admits that occasionally she does sneak out late to take a walk around campus. Alison puts an end to the protest and says she’ll tell the groundskeeper to wait until he speaks to Ms. Allardyce before he cuts down the tree.

Casey’s grounded now, too, along with Shelley. Dana and Keith sneak away from campus to go shopping. Keith is pleased with the clothing Dana and the salesman select for him, and he insists that they stop to buy a sweater for Dana as a thank you. He also wants her to help him pick out something for Casey for a birthday gift. Just their luck, Pamela was lurking in the store the whole time. Want to guess where she goes next?

When Dana gets back to Baker, she’s confronted by Casey, who accuses her of trying to steal her boyfriend. Dana goes downstairs to get Keith and insists that he come up to the room to explain what they were doing in Greenleaf. While she’s gone, Casey locks herself in her room and won’t open the door. Faith climbs up the maple tree and, because she’s gone to so much trouble, Casey lets her in. Faith opens the door to Shelley, Dana, and Keith.

Now that that problem is solved, Faith decides to write a note to Johnny, which Dana will deliver that night when she goes into town with Randy.

Michael Frank comes to their room. Pamela called him and tried to convince him that Casey is suicidal. That girl is awful. He didn’t believe Pamela but he wants to know all about the problems the Truth Pledge has caused. He asks about Shelley and Ms. Allardyce’s car, but she won’t tell him anything. When Faith tells him about her note to Johnny, he offers to deliver it, saying that he’s headed into town to visit a friend in the hospital. He’s looking at Shelley when he says this, and Shelley thinks he must know what’s going on. She still doesn’t say anything, and just lets him go.

As Michael drives to the hospital, he thinks over Shelley’s reaction. After delivering Faith’s note, he goes to the hospital and asks for Ms. Allardyce’s room number. She’s not taking visitors, but now he knows. He sneaks into her room anyway, after pretending that he’s going to visit his other friend. He tells Ms. Allardyce that Shelley didn’t tell him she was in the hospital, then tells her what’s been going on at Canby. Ms. Allardyce immediately calls Alison to explain, so that Shelley can be ungrounded and can still make her date with Tom.

Ms. Allardyce is fine, by the way. The doctors had thought it might be a heart attack, but it wasn’t. All tests came back negative.

Alison gives Shelley the good news. Shelley goes to call Tom and their date is back on! The girls head for dinner at the dining hall, where Mrs. Merriweather is taking a poll. Every girl on campus — except for Pamela — has declared pizza as her favorite food. Mrs. Merriweather is going to have her staff start learning to make pizza immediately.

Johnny sends Faith flowers; he’s accepted her apology note. Ms. Allardyce will be back on campus the following day, but Alison and Michael will pick her up instead of Shelley. Ms. Allardyce agrees with Casey that the maple tree is a Canby landmark, but the branches — especially those near Casey’s window, will be trimmed.

Casey gets her revenge on Pamela. Earlier that day, she took a call from Pamela’s boyfriend in California (who has never been mentioned before). He’s going to be in Boston visiting colleges, but he and Casey weren’t able to work out a time for him to visit Pamela. He was only available at three times: on Friday, when there’s a biology field trip (although Pamela doesn’t take biology); the following Monday, the day before the President’s Physical Fitness Test (that no one studies for); and the next Wednesday at 9:00. Casey “confused” 9:00 with being 9:00 California time, which would be midnight — after curfew — at Canby. So no visit for Pamela. So sad.

Maura comes back to campus to talk to the students about their experiences with the Truth Pledge. Dana, Faith, and Shelley admit that they discovered that they do lie from time to time, but that the lies make them more tactful in certain situations. They also found out that there are times, like the meeting with Mrs. Merriweather, where lying doesn’t help.

Justine Bateman = Dana? The Cover: Dana is wearing the ugliest sweater. What is that thing? Also she looks like Justine Bateman. Mallory Keaton would not have been caught dead in that sweater.

And let’s not even talk about that shirt Shelley is so holding so lovingly.

(Photo from Mallory’s Clothes.)