Indie Sister and I are painfully addicted to Caroline B. Cooney’s young adult novels. Especially Indie Sister. Indie Sister would walk five miles in the snow to get a Caroline B. Cooney novel she hasn’t read yet. Over the Christmas holiday, she even wrote a letter to Caroline B. Cooney, although I suspect Caroline B. Cooney will read her letter and think that Indie Sister is eight years old, mentally challenged, or mercilessly mocking her (excerpt: “My other favorite of your books was Code Orange, because scabs are gross — ew”). But in truth, Indie Sister unironically loves Caroline B. Cooney, which is why I had to get her a CBC book for Christmas. The real reason I didn’t read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares before giving it to Mumsy is that I was too busy reading Three Black Swans before giving it to Indie Sister.
If you have heard of Caroline B. Cooney, it is probably not because of her actually best books, Among Friends and Twenty Pageants Later and The Girl Who Invented Romance (don’t judge, they are amazing), but for her Face on the Milk Carton series, about the girl who sees a picture of her four-year-old self in a missing persons ad on the side of a milk carton. Three Black Swans is cut from the same cloth.
In response to a science assignment to invent and perpetuate a hoax, Missy convinces her older cousin Claire (who goes to a different school in a different state) to come to Missy’s school and pretend that she is Missy’s long-lost twin. The video where they announce this lie becomes a viral hit on YouTube. When Missy and Claire’s parents see it, they are strangely upset, and Missy and Claire become gradually more and more certain that their parents are hiding something. Meanwhile, in far-away Connecticut or someplace (I don’t remember, but Connecticut’s a good guess, all of Caroline B. Cooney’s books are set in the Connecticut suburbs), a girl called Genevieve Candler sees a video of two girls who look so much like her it’s eerie. PLOT TWIST.
Some reasons Three Black Swans was unlike many of Caroline B. Cooney’s other books:
1. Technology. The classic Caroline B. Cooney books are set in the 1980s and 1990s, and as such do not have new-fangled gadgets like the Twitter and the Facebook. Indie Sister was hugely displeased to find a recent edition of The Girl Who Invented Romance that had been updated with cell phones and a reference to abortion. I don’t mind, but it does feel weird for Caroline B. Cooney, she of the milk carton radio shows, to be talking about viral Youtube videos. But she still says “he logged on to the internet.”
2. A non-evil character likes New York City and enjoys visiting it. In Caroline B. Cooney’s books, the city is nearly always made out of evil and death. In one of Cooney’s early books, the evil twin and her tear-eating boyfriend practice their evilness by driving poor little white Connecticut girls into the inner city, letting them out of the car, and then leaving them there. All alone! With the rats and chain-wearing thugs! (Chains and rats, my hand to God.) One girl they do this to goes insane. Forever.
3. Actually, the lack of evil altogether was strange to me. Even the nasty characters in Three Black Swans had some redeeming nuance eventually. Caroline B. Cooney loves talking about evil. At least she did in her earlier books, which is all we’ve been reading lately. In one book, Don’t Blame the Music, the wicked sister (not the one with the tear-tasting boyfriend; different book, different evil sister) swipes the blanket that generations of her family members have worked on creating, and cuts it up to use as a seat-cover in her evil boyfriend’s van, where she and her evil boyfriend will have sex on it while smoking the marijuana cigarettes. That’s when the nice sister realizes that the wicked sister is, in fact, evil, a realization totally borne out when the evil sister tries to set the nice sister on fire. On fire.
I have just mentioned several of the silliest things in all of Caroline B. Cooney’s books, but don’t let that put you off. When her books are at their best, they’re frilly and fun and full of cheerful high school kids with pretty hair giving each other cute nicknames. Really, Caroline B. Cooney excels at nicknames. Over Christmas break I read like five Caroline B. Cooney books, and if a certain PaperbackSwap member hadn’t been such a slacker I could have read six.