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[personal profile] mizzmarvel
Before I left New York, I started a project in which I was going to read all the American Girl books and review them. When I stopped reading AG, Addy was the newest girl, so it was going to be an interesting mix of revisiting the old and jumping into the new. At the time, I lived 5 minutes from a library, which made procuring the books really easy.

I only got through the intro books, Meet ______, before I moved. Since I don't have a lot of interest in buying the whole series (especially since some of the books really suck), I scrapped the project. Maybe when I get my license and a car, I can get to a library again and start it. Until then, here are my notes on the books I did read, since some people have expressed interest.

Meet Kaya
Starts off really awkward/poorly written.
Why does Kaya have a “real” name while the others have stereotypical Native American names, like Brown Deer?
Yay, full page painting of the heroine getting whipped with a switch.
I do find it interesting that this is the second American Girl book—the second intro book, in fact—with a strong emphasis on the heroine’s relationship with her horse.
This series has an advisory board—cool.
It’s a little too explain-y sometimes.
The thing with Brown Deer and Cut Cheek is cute.
I actually found this really boring and bland. ☹

Meet Felicity
Note: As a child, Felicity’s books were my second faves.
Marcus “the man who helps Mr. Merriman at home and at the store.” Whoa. Euphemism?
Felicity and her father’s interaction in the 1st chapter is adorbs.
I ship Ben/Felicity so hard. As a kid, they were the only American Girls pairing I had.
Horses stories bore me because I’m not a horse girl.
Also, nice foreshadowing in terms of Ben’s patriot sympathies.
This book does a better job providing historical information without jamming it down the reader’s throat.
Historical notes in the back confirm Marcus is a slave. Weird, but I like it—this is accurate.

Meet Josefina
Note: This was the first American Girl introduced after I’d stopped reading the series.
A little stilted to start.
A LOT of info dumping. I actually think this would have been much better if the first book included Mama’s death. But it might have been considered too intense for the target audience. I mean, they killed off Marta in Meet Kirsten, but most kids don’t have a sick friend. Most DO have a mom.
Is this the first shy/quiet American Girl? Kirsten kind of was, but a lot of that was the language barrier, I think. I like having a shy one!
They can’t read. Huh.
Wow, this was really boring. Josefina was afraid of the goat! She stood up to the goat! Tia Dolores! Uh huh.
Also, this book seems a little in-your-face about Josefina’s possessions. Kind of like, “SEE THIS PIANO. SEE THIS BOX. SEE THIS NECKLACE. BUY THESE ACCESSORIES FROM THE AG CATALOG.”

Meet Kirsten
Note: Kirsten was my favorite.
Whenever I think of Kirsten, I picture this first illustration of her and Marta hiding in the coiled rope. It’s kind of beautiful.
For some reason, as a kid I LOOOOOVED the name Lisbeth. Why, I have no idea.
Um, this advice to look at the sun is probably ill-advised.
I want Marta’s braid.
Kirsten’s mom is kind of awesome. Affectionate, sensitive, and playful.
I wonder why they chose to make their first immigrant family Swedish. I’d have expected them to go with people who were part of an iconic “wave” of immigration, like Irish or Italians. I also find the 1854 setting a little weird. Did they have no plans to do a Civil War book?

Meet Addy
Note: She was the new American Girl when I was reading the books.
Have the illustrations changed? They don’t look familiar.
This book does one of the better jobs at having an exciting, satisfying plot in a small number of pages.
I also think it does a good job of using tiny moments to illustrate the shittiness of Addy’s situation, like noting toward the end that this was the first time she and her mother had slept on a real mattress.
Auntie Lula’s red hair and green eyes were really cool details—just a little thing, a subtle nod to another thing slave women had to face.
The tobacco worm scene always freaked me out.
I love Addy’s outfit so freaking much.

Meet Samantha
I never totally understand Samantha’s popularity. I mean, she’s gorgeous, and she’s a nice girl and all, but she’s also super-boring. Her role is kind of to stand around and feel bad about the crap that poor people are going through nearby, while she lives in affluent comfort. A more interesting narrator for the Victorian era would have been Nellie or a child who worked in a factory or something, but I guess “doll in rags” wouldn’t sell as well.
That said, rereading the story as an adult was a delight. For one, as a kid it never clicked how incredibly horrible Eddie’s family is for employing a child and callously getting rid of her. Also, I realize now that the implication is that Jessie’s pregnant and leaves to give birth. For some reason, as a kid I just thought that the baby was already around somehow and Jessie had just decided to become a stay at home mom. Probably because the picture of Nathaniel makes him look like a much older infant.
Nellie’s design is so adorbs, with her bob and tiny mouth. The scene where she falls in love with Lydia is precious.
The pacing of this story seems off. Nellie gets there and then is suddenly shipped off again, and somehow Gard and Grandmary knew about her, even though Samantha’s never shown mentioning her. I’d think that Grandmary would disapprove of the friendship.
The portrayal of Grandmary, by the way, is kind of excellent. A nice, subtle balance of a woman who clearly loves Samantha very much, but is restricted by the norms of her class and culture from showing it very much, other than in formal gestures.
I also never really caught on just how sheltered Samantha is, and how fucking boring her life seems. No wonder she jumped at the chance to make friends with a random little girl next door.

Meet Rebecca
First, can I say that Rebecca is so freaking cute? I love her little can-do pose on the cover and her impish grin.
And yay, a New York book! Kind of awesome. We only saw a little of New York in Meet Kirsten.
Rebecca’s sisters are kind of bitches.
Using the nesting dolls is a nice touch, considering her Russian heritage, but also kind of awkward in terms of her, like, snuggling with them at night. They can’t really serve as analogs to the rag and china dolls in other books.
I love silent movie history, so dealing with them is kind of great, in my opinion.
Um, all these scenes where they’re eating dinner make me hungry. BLINTZES AND FRIED FISH, PLS.
I kind of like that Rebecca’s good at crocheting. Usually, a heroine looks at needlework with disdain and impatience in children’s and YA books. Hey, you can like it and still be spirited! It’s fine!
Ultimately, it’s a nicely paced, compact little story. Fits well with the page count.

Meet Kit
NGL, I desperately want Kit’s hat.
According to the family portraits, her family is absurdly attractive.
The newspaper is cute. Typewriters = way fun.
Why is a 16yo going to college?
I like how with so little info (their book tastes), we get a clear idea of how different Kit and Ruthie are.
Kit and Stirling’s convo about the Reds is cute.
Charlie is a little too nice.
I find it interesting that, between Samantha’s book and this one, cars have become important enough to evidently make the Kittredges rather well off.
I also want her attic room.
This book does a good job of introducing items that clearly must be accessories for sale on the website without shoving it down the reader’s throat.

Meet Molly
Molly was my least favorite American girl, but I can’t really say why. Maybe because I don’t like her signature outfit very much and her expression is kind of dippy in her intro portrait.
I always thought the Mom’s mashed turnips sounded freaking delicious.
The hula outfits are adorbs.
The girls think taking away all but once piece of Ricky’s candy isn’t a good enough punishment? What, do they expect Mrs. McEntire to kill him?
Their prank on him is stupid and mean in that it’s partially punishing Jill and Dolores, who were nothing but nice or neutral to them.
Why is Mrs. McEntire punishing Jill and Dolores? They were just caught in an incredibly stupid crossfire.
Now I remember why I didn’t really like this book—Molly comes off as kind of a jerk.
I have always liked the quality of the artist’s work, though.
In the explanation bit in the back, they go to great pains not to mention the Holocaust.
On the redesigned cover, Molly is shown in her hula costume, not her signature outfit, so maybe other girls agree with me in that it’s not great.

Meet Julie
Most dubious about how interesting this is going to be.
Only two full-page illustrations in the whole book.
Boring sister.
Why must Julie be white? Her friend Ivy is Chinese-American and could have easily been the hero of this book.
Divorce and moving is the major conflict. Big deal. Oh, and Title IX. I mean, obviously these are big deals, but compared to fleeing from slavery and child labor, not very thrilling.
Stopped reading it for almost a month on account of the boringness.
I also just don’t like the illustrations much.
Julie’s dad is a jerk. He seriously thinks it’ll be too much for her to be on the boy’s basketball team? What a douche.
I do like that her mom ended up being awesome.
Coach is amazing assholish. He’s going to get the principal to escort Julie out? Dick.
This book is pretty explain-y in places (like Billie Jean, Herbie, etc.)
I’m glad that the principal is cool and also a person of color. Why didn’t he get a portrait? Or Hank?
So not impressed. This was by far the worst of the books.

Date: 2011-11-21 03:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ryenna.livejournal.com
Not gonna lie, I loved Samantha. I've got her sitting on a shelf with all her dresses and her desk.

There are two new dolls out as well - Marie-Grace and Cecile from New Orleans in 1953.

The books are all still popular with kids, even Felicity and Samantha, who've both been retired.

Date: 2011-11-21 04:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
Yeah, the newest books weren't out yet when I started rereading AG. And Kirsten's retired too now!

Date: 2011-11-21 06:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ryenna.livejournal.com
We have yet to get the new ones at work. My boss broke the news to me that Kirsten was being retired and two new girls were being brought in. I've got to say, I like Rebecca, so I'm hopeful about the new girls.

Date: 2011-11-21 10:36 am (UTC)
ext_14419: the mouse that wants Arthur's brain (Default)
From: [identity profile] derien.livejournal.com
Sounds like they're retiring the most popular ones. To create demand so the resale values will go up?

Date: 2011-11-21 12:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
I honestly think they're going to relaunch them in a few years. I can think of no other good reason why they'd retire Samantha and not, say, Molly. (Who I don't think is mega popular.)

Date: 2011-11-21 12:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ryenna.livejournal.com
It's possible it's a Disney Vault sort of thing, which makes me sad. It's already been several years since Samantha was retired. I guess we'll see.

Date: 2011-11-21 12:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
I think Rebecca and Kit are really, really great, both in terms of their books and doll designs. I was relieved, because I was so disappointed by Kaya and Josefina's books.

Date: 2011-11-21 04:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] magikfanfic.livejournal.com
Felicity and Samantha were my favs.

Date: 2011-11-21 04:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
Kisten forever! Felicity was my #2. During my reread, I was also pleasantly surprised by how strong Addy's book was.

Date: 2011-11-21 04:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] magikfanfic.livejournal.com
Kirsten was probably my third fav. I'm disappointed that they're all retired. Felicity had the best clothes.

Date: 2011-11-21 12:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
Felicity's clothes are gorgeous, but they all showed off her cloth body on the doll. I wish they'd give her a plastic partial breastplate, even if they have to price her higher.

Date: 2011-11-25 04:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] magikfanfic.livejournal.com
She just had a built in undershirt. lol

No, really, I understand your point. It was a little off, but it never deterred me from wanting the doll.

Date: 2011-11-21 05:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wickedwonder1.livejournal.com
When I started reading AGs, the only books were the original three. (I totally had to google to make sure I wasn't misremembering the timeline. Ah, age.) Molly was totally my favorite because of "Changes For Molly", her spring story. She performs as Miss Liberty in some patriotic play. I remember that she had to have curls and her sister couldn't set it until they dunked her head in water, and she got an ear infection and couldn't perform, OMG, I loved drama at 8. Felicity came out when I was 11, and I think I read her whole series, but not Addy's because I was 13 and therefore too old for American Girl. That didn't stop me from getting the catalog until a couple of years ago.

Date: 2011-11-21 01:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
I forgot all about that book! I did really like her Christmas book, where she and her sister find the package from their dad and decide to surprise their whole family.

I just started getting the catalog again out of curiosity and it still makes me starry-eyed.

Date: 2011-11-21 08:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] entwashian.livejournal.com
I think the only one whose books I ever read was Kirsten, TBH.

The rest, I just looked at the catalogues. (They printed partial stories in there, right?)

Date: 2011-11-21 12:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mizzmarvel.livejournal.com
I think the catalogs had summaries of the books? I'm not sure. I was too busy mentally compiling what I would buy if money started raining from the sky.

Date: 2011-11-21 08:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] entwashian.livejournal.com
I just remember knowing a lot about the girls for never reading their books. And I remember being confused about why a girl would want a customized doll that looks exactly like them.

I totes did that, too.

Date: 2011-11-22 12:00 am (UTC)
thepastperfect: (kidlit)
From: [personal profile] thepastperfect
The catalogs were amazingly beautiful. I think I still have some of them at home.

I think they had summaries of the stories. Like, "In Happy Birthday, Molly!, an English girl comes to stay with them ...", but the best were the lengthy descriptions of each piece of merchandise.

Date: 2011-11-21 02:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] osprey-archer.livejournal.com
Kaya was the last one that I even tried to read, and I gave up because the writing was just too awful and clunky.

And yes, the tobacco worm scene in Meet Addy! UGH. Still makes me twitchy just thinking about it. Although Addy wasn't my favorite, I think in its use of historical detail her series is the best. It shows the grimness of their lives with both little details and big (the family getting separated by a slave auction!), but it doesn't get totally bogged down in misery.

And I think you're spot on as to why Samantha is not a factory child. Who wants to buy a doll in rags and tatters? But I do think some of her later books had really good stories - I LOVED the sixth book, when she hides Nellie and her sisters in the attic.

Also, Marta's death freaked me out. I'm pretty sure that if Josefina's mother's death was actually included in the book, my head would have exploded.

Date: 2011-11-21 11:59 pm (UTC)
thepastperfect: (kidlit)
From: [personal profile] thepastperfect
Doesn't Kaya have a long name? Kayablahblahmabablahblah something?

Kirsten was actually my least favourite. I always found her boring. (But then, when I started reading, there were only three -- Samantha, Molly, and Kirsten -- and since Molly was a close second, well, someone had to be last.)

As an adult, one of my friends pointed out that Samantha is the most "princessy" of the girls, which I think is accurate. I agree that her time period is the least historically interesting (though I've never read Julie's books), but there's no accounting for why I liked her best as a kid. Except for her lunch box. I loved all the lunches, really.

I remember when they changed the "family and friends" portraits (at least in the Molly books, where I first noticed it, and made her friends look equally dippy compared to the old pictures) but I didn't notice that they'd changed the interior art so drastically until I did a Samantha reread in college. It's not even like they just wanted to update the colors or give the girls different clothes or something; they seem to have illustrated kind of the same scene (so the picture falls in the same place in the book), but not exactly the same scene. Also, the girls appear all have had their wisdom teeth out or their braces tightened or something. Look at those cheeks!

Old: http://pics.livejournal.com/thepastperfect/pic/003st4g3
New: http://pics.livejournal.com/thepastperfect/pic/0004yk26


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Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

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