Layla: So glad we read The Girl with the Silver Eyes together! This was one of my favorites as a kid – my memory of finding it in a used bookstore and looking at the cover is very, very strong, because it was an instant hit with me. (Old cover was awesome, you all! Katie looked like such a badass!) I wanted silver eyes and telekinesis as a kid and I think tried to move some books with my mind like Matilda a few times but to no avail.
Wendy: One of my enduring favorites, too! I was so sure that if I just concentrated hard enough, maybe I’d find my untapped powers. Alas.
Kim: I was totally new to this book! This is very much something I would have loved as a kid. I adored the TV show The Secret World of Alex Mack and this is sort of related in that a young girl obtains telekinetic powers from the side effects of an ethically dubious business practice. Hmmm maybe this book was actually a huge influence on the show!
Wendy: This solemn, owlish girl was someone I identified with a lot. I was a rumpled tomboy was I was little, but by Katie’s age I had my nose firmly stuck in books. I think all kids can also relate to the idea of being misunderstood by the adults around them; I liked how the author gave Katie these super awesome powers, but you still understood what it was like to be in her shoes.
Layla: I love Katie. Like I admitted earlier, I sadly am not telekinetic, but I still feel such a bond with Katie. She just wants to be left alone so she can read her books, goddammit!
Wendy: I still feel this way! Leave me alone so I can reeeeeaaad.
Kim: I liked Katie, but I (weirdly?) had a hard time connecting with her given what a bookworm she is! I felt (disproportionately?) bummed out by how lonely her existence had been so far. I understand why she’s so detached, and my heart ached for her, but it was really a downer for me. I can’t handle sad children! Her detachment made me feel detached, if that makes any sense. (I am also just not enjoying anything I read at the moment.)
Wendy: I found it interesting that the author took a mostly intellectual, non-emotional path with Katie’s character; normally to have your readers sympathize with a heroine, you’d have her expressing feelings of desperate loneliness, but she chose to show us Katie’s plight and allow us to interpret/project as we wished. I know you’ve also had some book ennui and book slumps lately, so I totally understand how that might’ve played into it.
Layla: I like how so much of her psychic mental powers get used to either (a) exact revenge against big jerks who deserve it or (b) protect her reading time (turn pages with her mind, do chores without having to get up from her book, you know the score). And while they serve the purpose of getting rid of annoying babysitters, they also hook her up with that neighbor who loves books! Who gives her The Scarlet Pimpernel (as you do)! Sigh.
Wendy: This is where I first heard about The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Headless Cupid! People who don’t love classics should try Pimpernel, by the way. Sometimes it’s pooh-poohed as a less worthy classic because it’s not a “serious” book, but that’s exactly why it’s so darned fun.
Kim: The awful babysitters also were a huge downer for me. I suspect because it’s so horrifyingly realistic in how self absorbed and uncaring so called “caregivers” can be. This is not the book’s fault. I just basically ship Katie x happiness so hard that it was difficult to see so many adults continue to fail her.
Layla: Oh Katie, how my heart breaks for you. You know when Katie is like, “Mrs. M. might be down to babysit me sometime, she seems pretty cool
and lets me mind-meld with her cat,” and Monica is all, “Woah, dude, but are you sure she likes you? Like, SURE sure?” To the point where Katie can detect her astonishment! What a shitty thing to realize if you’re Katie – that your mom is surprised when someone might actually want to be your friend. I think Monica’s heart is in the right place, but she really has no idea what to do with this daughter who is suddenly back in her life.
Kim: Oh, that was a heart wrencher for sure! This poor dear’s own mother is shocked she should find a friend. I mean, yeah, Katie did just scare away two babysitters within as many days. But you should not should show such shock to a child’s face. I felt confused because I wasn’t sure which way I was supposed to take Monica. At times she seemed wholly unlikable, and then little reveals would be made and I’d see her in a much more sympathetic light. I suppose this is actually quite skillful characterization on the author’s part.
Wendy: Monica’s definitely a “doing her best to provide” but totally disconnected mother; the chasm between them is understandable, but I have a hard time relating to her lack of any seeming emotional response to her child at all. It’s interesting to read between the lines as an adult reader, especially in regards to Monica, the absent father, and the dead grandmother. The author does a great job with having you register details as Katie would, sort of hearing some important family facts and not entirely comprehending at the moment but filing it away in the back of your head to think about later.
Layla: This is why I am glad of Mrs. M’s presence in this book – even though her loyalty to Katie seems sort of inexplicable at points (especially when she’s being questioned by some dude who might be a cop), I’m happy she’s there. And that when Katie opens up to her fairly early on in their relationship about having mad psychic powers, she’s just like, “Oh, well, all in a day. You might make a great vet some day … here, have a sandwich.”
Kim: Mrs. M was the highlight of the novel and I aspire to be her. Be right back; buying many floral muumuus. Also endeavoring to be cool, and kind, and endlessly open minded and supportive.
Wendy: The only thing I did find a little peculiar was how easily she accepted Lobo’s diagnosis. Telekinetic powers, sure, you can easily see that. But diagnosing a cat upon first meeting? I would’ve been a bit more dubious. Even if I took him to the vet. But yeah, Mrs. M is great–she’s the only adult in Katie’s life who listens to her. Without ulterior motives, that is.
Layla: This is why I feel so angry about Adam Cooper’s seeming betrayal – he seems like a nice guy for a brief fleeting moment and then he’s asking questions and seemingly trying to alienate Katie from the only people in the world who like her! Most of the adults in Katie’s life have just mostly been either awful or absent. And she is mostly a pretty good kid! I don’t really like the way that she messes with Mr. P., even though that dude is horrible, but I feel like for having mental powers she is pretty good at being ethical. Better than many an eleven-year old, I bet.
Wendy: Katie’s sense of justice is strong, and she mostly does refrain from taking advantage of her powers. More than I would’ve. As an adult, the Mr. P stuff did make me go “ooooh, honey” with the rock at least, but as a kid, I loved that she got some small triumphs over this horrible adult. It felt so satisfying.
Kim: Mr. P deserved everything he got, honestly.
Wendy: All the secondary characters were so well done, weren’t they? All the pool residents (Ms. K with her non-judgment and her electric blue bikini is especially vivid), Jackson Jones and his big houseful of sisters, and the five minutes you spend with the kids…you remember every single one of them. And Lobo. Man, I wish I could talk to cats.
Layla: I want for all cats ever to talk to me. Being able to read without turning the pages would be awesome – think of when it’s cold outside and you’re reading and your hands get all cold because you can’t turn the pages with mittens on – but like, what’s differently awesome? Getting to the heart of the mystery that is cats. I would give a lot to know what my cats are thinking – particularly when they run manic circles around the apartment like they’re being chased by zombies.
Wendy: I think if you could talk to cats, you could figure out the mysteries of the universe. They are such eccentric, unknowable creatures.
Kim: Think of the scene in A Ring of Endless Light where Vicky communes with the dolphins and glimpses the mysteries of the universe. It would be like that x1000.
Wendy: I was surprised by how quickly Katie connected the dots to the possibility of there being more kids like her out there, as well as the possible causes. Her detective work is methodical and believable, especially for her age and for the constraints of the time period. No google searches for you!
Layla: Oh, I agree. I also thought Monica and Nathan pieced together the “hey remember that time you worked with crazy dangerous chemicals” and “now your daughter has silver eyes!!!” puzzle pretty darn quickly too, but it makes sense for narrative purposes. So it is with Katie’s immediate understanding that there are more psychic children out there who might also like animals and reading.
I know that there are probably more important things to say on this topic than what follows. But. If Katie is going to be in a mystery/thriller she needs to get way better at subtlety. I mean, good job on the sleepover and not getting identified there, if the glasses on/ glasses off disguise worked for Clark Kent and the girl in She’s All That there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for you. But when a PARENT (who knows your MOM, when you are ON THE RUN) asks you for your name, do not by any means give your ACTUAL REAL NAME, KATIE WELKER.
Wendy: Hah hah, she panicked. The escalation in tension was so exciting, though! Who is this nice man who keeps asking questions about you? What does he show Mrs. M. that makes her suddenly cave in and talk to him about you? Why are the police looking for you? Run run run!
I was never allowed to stay overnight at anyone’s house as a kid, so oh my god did I love the chapter where she runs away and then hides in plain sight at the sleepover. Ingenious. And fun.
Layla: I too was never allowed to go to sleepovers! I mean, except for with my cousins, I guess, and that was usually at our house. I remember for my tenth birthday I stayed at my aunt’s house and it was a big deal to me. So the sleepover chapter made me wonder if that’s what sleepovers are actually like. Now that I’m older it seems rather harrowing. All those kids running around!
Wendy: Sitting in your jammies and having someone bring you a hot dog…bliss. I liked that she enjoyed herself even in the midst of all the danger, and even though she didn’t know anyone there. Speaking of food porn…
Layla: HAMBURGERS WITH ONIONS. As a kid, I always imagined this as those White Castle sliders that you microwaved. I think making people bring you food has got to be another bonus of telekinesis / ESP / whatever silvery eyed kids can do. I mean, after uninterrupted reading time and talking to my cat / all cats ever, that is.
Wendy: Um, I never had those until after I helped work on Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, and I’ve still never been to an actual location. I’d like a bag of cheeseburgers smothered in onions and mushrooms right now. *concentrates intently*
Science-based explanation for paranormal activity:
Wendy: Because of this book, I was convinced that there was a scientific basis for all psychic phenomena for the longest time.
Layla: I thought this was super interesting. It made me curious about what was going on at the time with regards to pharmaceuticals and their relationship to birth defects. (Like at what point was thalidomide known to cause problems for pregnant women? Answer, thanks to my google-fu: sometime in the 1960s; if you want a new-to-me word, apparently the word for drugs like this is “teratogens.”)
Wendy: Ah hah, excellent sleuthing, Layla! It’s always interesting to speculate what might’ve led to a story’s origin, perhaps Willo Davis Roberts was inspired by that. I like that there is a word for this.
Layla: But another angle to this is that not only is there a scientific cause for paranormal activity (exposure to drugs during pregnancy), science will also help us understand it better (i.e., the school that’s suggested to the kids at the end of the novel where they may or may not be studied like bugs). I don’t know, in some ways it’s like a superhero origin story – instead of, um, terrible side effects you get … fabulous secret powers revealed to me the day I raised aloft my magic sword and said, “By the power of Grayskull!”
Wendy: Are you actually psychic? We just watched a few episodes of She-Ra last week! But yes, it’s interesting to see the cause/effect of science and how the kids and parents are understandably cautious at the end. I totally want to know more about this mysterious facility, by the way. Is Adam Cooper actually a mutant recruiting for Professor Xavier? Or Magneto? Hmm.
Layla: Honestly? 4.5 stars! This still really held up for me on re-reading it almost 20 years later. I read it in a day and couldn’t put it down and kept on being happily reminded of all of the cool things I loved as a child.
Wendy: 5 stars for me. I wanted Katie’s powers then, I want them now.
Kim: 3 stars. I liked it, but I just didn’t connect with it the way I wanted to. I felt mostly bummed out by Katie’s nearly friendless existence (although things do start looking up for her!). I’m starting a “Friends for Katie” support group. I would have loved this book as a kid, though. Little Kim thinks: powers > friends.
This month’s selection is Layla’s nomination, and she says:
A young woman who’s a naturalist (but there’s also a romance and a lot of fraught familial relationships and some really excellent food porn). I read it as a child and looooooved it but hadn’t thought of it for years.
Between that and the fact that she’s going to school (and this being back to school time), we thought it’d be a nice choice for our September book. I’ve seen a few notes on friends’ reviews in passing that say they’d recommend this for fans of Anne of Green Gables, so I’m pretty excited.
Title: A Girl of the Limberlost
Author: Gene Stratton-Porter
Discussion Date: Friday, September 25th
Elnora Comstock grows up on the banks of Limberlost Swamp in Indiana with her bitter mother, Katharine. Unable to afford an education, Elnora develops a plan to sell artifacts and moths from the swamp. “A Girl of the Limberlost” has been considered a classic since its publication in 1909, inspiring several film adaptations.
This classic has been around for a long time, but it’s not as popular, so you may have to order this if you’re checking it out from the library. The paperback is only around $6 on Amazon right now, and there are also very cheap and even free Kindle editions available as well.
Incidentally, it seems that this is the second book in a series, but appears to be a standalone, so I think we’ll be okay? I’d never even heard of the first book, Freckles! Could anyone confirm this?
And if you’d like to get a head start on October’s book, we’ll be reading The Witches by Roald Dahl.
So do any of you have any special powers for us to envy? Do you/would you use special powers for good or eeeeevil? :D