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Authors: Paula Danziger

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

BOOK: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
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Celeste Sanders was the first to spread the news.

“Hey, we got a new English teacher. A real one, not a sub. First-period class says she looks like a kid.”

“A new one. Let’s walk in backwards.”

“Everyone give her a wrong name.”

“Let’s show her who’s boss.”

Everybody rushed down the halls and into class. Some of the guys started to make and throw paper airplanes. Alan Smith played “Clementine” on his harmonica. He’d learned it from the instructions on a Good and Plenty box. Jim Heston played the Good and Plenty box, and Ted Martin played a comb. There was applause and cheering after the performance. At 1:15 the coughing started.

Ms. Finney just sat there. She didn’t smile or yell or cry or read a paper or do any of the things that teachers normally do when a class gets out of hand. She just sat there and looked at everybody.

Finally it got quiet. Everyone started to squirm. It was really creepy after a while.

“O.K. Give her a chance,” someone muttered.


The Cat Ate My Gymsuit

The Divorce Express

It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World

The Pistachio Prescription

There’s a Bat in Bunk Five

This Place Has No Atmosphere

Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street
New York, New York 10014

USA * Canada * UK * Ireland * Australia
New Zealand * India * South Africa * China
A Penguin Random House Company

First published in the United States by Delacorte Press, 1974
Published by PaperStar Books, 1998
Published by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006
This edition published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2014

Copyright © 1974 by Paula Danziger
Introduction copyright © 2014 by Ann M. Martin

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Danziger, Paula, date.
The cat ate my gymsuit.
Summary: When the unconventional English teacher who helped her conquer many of her feelings of insecurity is fired, a junior high student uses her new found courage to campaign for the teacher’s reinstatement.
[1. School stories. 2. Teachers—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.D2394Cat [Fic] 74-8898

ISBN: 978-1-101-66582-4


To John Ciardi

because he dedicated a book to me,

because he is my good friend and teacher,

and because he never collects gin-rummy debts


The year was 1970. I was teaching junior high school English. I had not written fiction since college, although I always dreamed of being a writer.

Then disaster struck! My car was hit from behind at a stop sign. It was not serious, but six days later a drunk driver hit the car I was in, a head-on collision. That was serious. I had not only orthopedic problems but also a head injury that caused dyslexia.

I began to think that if I really wanted to be a writer, I had better do it before I got run over by a truck.

I started to write about what I knew best . . .an overweight girl who had problems in school, with her family, and with her self-image. I also wrote about her favorite teacher, who was in trouble for political beliefs and actions. (The book was written during the Vietnam War, a time of political unrest.)

It took three years of hard work, both physical and emotional, to write the book.

When I was finished, I showed it to one of my professors, Jerry Weiss, who worked for a publishing company. He took the manuscript to the publishers and they brought it out in 1974.

Since this book is so autobiographical, it is immensely important to me.

—Paula Danziger


The New Teacher

Title Page



A Note from Paula


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Special Excerpt from
There’s a Bat in Bunk Five


If a Prince Charming or a Prince Semi-Charming came up to my door and said, “Rosie Wilson, you are the most beautiful, individualistic fourteen-year-old in the universe,” I certainly wouldn’t slam the door in his face.

This is the first line of Paula Danziger’s hilarious and moving
It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World
. First lines fascinate me, and this one says a lot about Paula, her stories, and her characters. The author of over thirty titles for young adult readers, Paula was known for capturing her audience with her uncanny ability to tap into teenage psyches—to write realistically and unflinchingly about families, divorce, friendship, first love, insecurity, and injustice, and to do so with a wicked sense of humor. It’s rare for a reader to find herself laughing out loud, then just a few sentences later, searching for tissues in order to wipe away tears. Paula courted difficult, sometimes controversial subjects; her self-effacing characters and her love of humor made her books compelling reading.

Paula herself was as memorable as any character she created. She made friends wherever she went and was passionate about them. Somehow each of us felt as if we were Paula’s
friend. She was flamboyant and flashy. She tied colorful scarves around her head, wore as many oversize rings as possible on her fingers, and shopped with great joy for glittery sneakers and sequined purses. She liked video games and slot machines. She once managed to light one of her fake fingernails on fire. The first time I spent a weekend at her house, she offered me a breakfast of Coke, M&Ms, and Circus Peanuts.

Paula was a marvel of disorganization. I’ve never seen anything like the inside of her purse. It was a jumble of
loose bills and coins, receipts, lipstick cases, candy, lint, notebooks, keys. She frequently lost her keys, or thought she had, and a dramatic search would ensue before they were located, surprise, at the bottom of her purse. Her desk was worse, overflowing with larger items.

Yet out of this chaos sprang books that have resonated with readers for decades. Paula’s first book,
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
, was published in 1974. Thirteen-year-old Marcy, the protagonist, may wear panty hose, buy records for her stereo, and never have heard of cell phones, but it doesn’t matter because she faces the same issues contemporary kids face:

All my life I’ve thought that I looked like a baby blimp with wire-frame glasses and mousy brown hair. Everyone always said that I’d grow out of it, but I was convinced that I’d become an adolescent blimp with wire-frame glasses, mousy brown hair, and acne.

Marcy’s story continues in
There’s a Bat in Bunk Five
when she experiences her first love while at summer camp:

This thing with Ted isn’t a crush . . .. What if I let myself start to care and get hurt? I’m not sure I can survive a broken heart. I get hurt so easily anyway, so I’ve never let myself get too close to a guy, not that there have been that many opportunities. I’m scared. What if it turns into a real relationship and it’s as bad as my parents’ marriage?

The Pistachio Prescription
Paula tackles divorce as Cassie Stephens’s family begins to crumble. In later books, other characters face the aftermath of divorce, but this story chronicles the Stephenses’ slide from dysfunctional, a theme Paula visits often, to separation. In a scene from the beginning of the book, Cassie visits her friend Vicki:

We sit down with her parents. Nobody fights at the Norton house. At least not while I’m there. Vicki says that they do
fight sometimes, but that it’s psychologically healthy to air feelings honestly. I don’t know if my family does it honestly, but if awards were given on the basis of yelling, we’d win the Mental Health Award of the century. I guess we’d probably be disqualified, though, on the basis of lack of sanity.

I smiled when I read that paragraph. But later the tone of the story changes:

[My father] walks over. “Cassie, I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I guess your mother’s right. There’s no use pretending we can get along. It’s over and that’s all there is to it.”

That’s all.

As simple as that.

Three kids.

A broken-up family.

Yet the ending is hopeful. Cassie realizes her family may not be the one she wishes for, but that she’ll survive.

Rearrange the letters in the word PARENTS and you get the word ENTRAPS
. This’s how
The Divorce Express
begins. Four years after the publication of
The Pistachio Prescription
Paula writes about Phoebe, who shuttles between her father’s home in Woodstock, New York, and her mother’s home in New York City. Travel is the least of Phoebe’s concerns, though. Now her parents are seeing other people:

Maybe I’m a prude, but I don’t like to think about my parents having sex with anyone but each other

Phoebe analyzes the stages parents go through when they get divorced:

 . . .
the fighting and anger—then the distance—and making me feel caught in the middle. After the divorce they try to be “civilized.” I know that there were even times that they missed each other. I know for a fact that after the divorce they even slept with each other once in a while. It was confusing. Now they act like people who have a past history together, but only a future of knowing each other because of me

By the end of
The Divorce Express
, Phoebe’s father has fallen in love with the mother of Rosie, Phoebe’s new best friend, and their story continues in
It’s an Aardvark-Eat-Turtle World
, told from Rosie’s point of view. All Rosie wants is a happy family, but Phoebe doesn’t make that easy. Furthermore, Rosie, who’s biracial, faces issues that Phoebe can’t fathom, and once again, Paula writes candidly about a sensitive subject, illustrated in this scene when Rosie goes on a date with a boy who’s white:

While we look at each other, some guy comes up and says with hate, “Why don’t you stick to your own kind?”

I can’t believe it.

He repeats what he’s just said.

Jason turns to him. “We are the same kind—human. You’re the one who isn’t our kind. You’re scum.”

A year later, Paula’s next book,
This Place Has No Atmosphere
, was published and the setting is, of all places, the moon in 2057—a bold departure for Paula, who made the colony on the moon seem real and believable, and who drew us into the life of Aurora Williams on the first page. The book feels futuristic indeed, but Aurora’s story of adjusting to a move and finding a serious boyfriend is timeless.

Paula died in 2004, but her stories have already been passed from one generation of passionate fans to another. Her many best friends miss her, but I like to think of the hope with which she ends her books. She wrote great last lines, too.
If you take the letters in the word DIVORCES and rearrange them, they spell DISCOVER

Thank you, Paula, for showing us captivating beginnings, hopeful endings, and in between, how to look at life with laughter.

BOOK: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
6.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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