Monday, September 26, 2011
"If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor" by Barbara Ehrentreu
Today my guest is Barbara Ehrentreu. She is a retired teacher with a Masters degree in Reading and Writing K-12 and seventeen years of teaching experience who lives with her family in Stamford, Connecticut. When she received her Masters degree she began writing seriously. If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara’s first YA novel, was inspired by Paula Danziger. Barbara is a NY Literature Examiner for Examiner.com with several articles for them. Her blog, Barbara’s Meanderings, http://barbaraehrentreu.blogspot.com/, is networked on both Facebook and Blog Catalog. She hosts Red River Writers Live Tales from the Pages on Blog Talk Radio every 4th Thursday. In addition, her children's story, “The Trouble with Follow the Leader” and an adult story, “Out on a Ledge” are published online She writes book reviews for Authorlink.com. and several of her reviews have been on Acewriters and Celebrity Café. She is a member of SCBWI. Writing is her life!
Interview with Carolyn Samuels from If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor.
Today my guest is a girl who has suddenly been thrust into the media. Recently she gave a talk on Karen’s Chaise Lounge and now she is a featured guest on this blog. How is it affecting this young girl who has graciously agreed to talk about the events of her freshman year in high school. Since Carolyn was a little nervous about her first big interview she asked the author of her story, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, Barbara Ehrentreu, to interview her.
Welcome to both of you. Barbara and Carolyn.
Barbara, please ask your first question.
Carolyn, would you please tell us a little about yourself?
There’s not much to tell. I live in Mill Valley, which is in Westchester, NY and I attend Mill Valley High School. My best friends are Becky and Janie and I love Math. Oh, yeah, I have a Newfoundland dog named Max and my favorite cookie is chocolate chocolate chip homemade by my mom. My mom works for an ad agency in the city. That’s what New Yorkers called New York City. My dad is a criminal lawyer. I’m an only child, but you couldn’t ask for better parents. Except they don’t pay much attention to me.
On the surface it looks like you have a great life. Why, then did you come to me one day crying and telling me you hated Jennifer Taylor and she made your life miserable? Who is Jennifer Taylor and why do you hate her?
Jennifer Taylor has made my life a living nightmare since middle school. I call her Miss Perfect, because she is a size two and her father owns half the town. She’s on the path to be an Olympic gymnast so she’s excellent in gym. Jennifer is the most popular girl in the freshman class. I think she knows everyone in the class. And to top it all off she has this hot boyfriend, Brad, who is a Junior and the quarterback for our football team. He’s so amazing and I don’t think she deserves to be with him. Okay, maybe I have a crush on Brad myself.
What happened last year on the first day of school?
I’m not sure I can talk about this, because it brings back awful memories. Do you want me to go all the way back to the rope line incident? I mean that’s what started all this.
Yes, tell us as much as you can.
Well, I got up on the first day of school after having this incredible dream where I was popular and a cheerleader and my boyfriend fed me a piece of chocolate cake because I was thin and blonde and didn’t gain weight. Of course the truth is I am a little overweight and my hair is dark brown and hangs like shriveled spaghetti. But still this was a great dream, wouldn’t you agree? I wanted to stay in bed, because when my alarm rang I realized I might run into Jennifer Taylor.
You see I hate her and I also want to be like her. It’s awful and here’s how it started. When I was in seventh grade we did the ropes course. One part of it , the zip line, required you to climb up to this platform and you were given a harness. When you got up there you had to clasp yourself to the line and then you could slide down. A few people went in front of me and then of course, Jennifer did it perfectly. When my turn came I froze. Then I started breathing funny, because I have this thing. I hyperventilate when I’m nervous and that day I started turning blue. If I can’t start breathing I can faint. I started feeling dizzy and couldn’t clasp myself onto the zip line. Jennifer was on the ground and saw me. The teacher saw me too and raced up the ladder to the platform. She said to me, “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Then Jennifer started saying too and soon all the kids who had been on the line echoed her. As I came down the ladder I wanted a big hole to open up and swallow me. So then Jennifer started bothering me at odd times every day. She’d sneak up and say “Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Or she would whisper it in class when I had to go up to the board. We were in Math class together and I started to dread it. So when I was in her Math class again and the teacher put us together as partners I didn’t know how I could stand it.
Well the first day of school after being pushed together with her for a Math project I was put in front of her in line for gym. I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden I didn’t want to be anywhere near Jennifer and I started hyperventilating until I fainted. I guess that’s when I got connected to Jennifer in a much more serious way.
Oh, my goodness, your story has more to it?
Oh yes, I learned way too much about Jennifer and wound up holding her secrets until the end of the year. I mean, I did meet Brad and well, I don’t think I can say anymore. This is all really painful to talk about, you know?
Yes, Carolyn and thank you for telling us a little bit about your story. I guess if you want to learn more about what happened that year you will have to read the book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor coming from MuseItUp Publishing in September as a cool e-book.
Thank you, Pembroke, for hosting us today.
Yes, thank you Amy. This was my first blog interview and thank you Barbara for helping me through it.
My pleasure, Carolyn. I know talking about these things is hard for you, but you did very well.
Blurb from If I Could Be LIke Jennifer Taylor
Carolyn Samuels’ freshman year becomes a series of lies to cover Jennifer Taylor’s terrible secret in return for popularity.
Carolyn Samuels is obsessed with the idea of being popular. She is convinced that the only thing keeping her from happiness is her too heavy for fashion body and not being a cheerleader. Hyperventilating when she gets nervous doesn’t help. When she is paired for a Math project with the girl who tormented her in middle school, Jennifer Taylor, she is sure it is going to be another year of pain.With Carolyn’s crush on Jennifer’s hunky Junior quarterback Brad her freshman year in high school looks like a rerun of middle school. After Jennifer’s the only student who knows why she fell in gym class, Carolyn is blackmailed into doing her math homework in return for Jennifer’s silence. Jennifer takes on Carolyn as a pity project since she can’t be seen with someone who dresses in jeans and sweatshirts. When Jennifer invites Carolyn to sleep over to make her over and teach her to tumble, Carolyn learns Jennifer’s secret and lies to her own friends to cover it up. Will Carolyn become a cheerleader and become popular? Does she continue to keep Jennifer’s secret? Or will she be a target of this mean girl again?
Feeling my old hatred of gym, I glance across the locker room and see Jennifer in red designer shorts and a tight sleeveless shirt to match. She's standing in front of the only mirror in the room turning back and forth.
Becky and I slide into our loose camp shorts and a T-shirt, and once they're on, we race onto the gym floor. Always better to be early for gym the first day. You never knew what kind of teacher you'd have. My athletic ability is zero, so I don’t take chances. Once I was a few minutes late, and the gym teacher in middle school made me run around the gym ten times. It took me the whole gym period.
Becky and I sit on the low seats in the bleachers, but Jennifer and her group saunter into the gym and choose the highest seats avoiding the rest of us. Miss Gaylon, the gym teacher introduces herself and gives us a few minutes until the last stragglers come from the locker room. For those few minutes, I almost feel comfortable. My breathing returns to normal. I hear giggles from Jennifer and her group, but I ignore it.
"Maybe it won't be so bad this year, Carolyn." Becky always tries to cheer me up now. This wasn’t true a few years ago. I had to cheer her up a lot. Becky’s brothers are just turning five, and they’re both in kindergarten. Her mom remarried after being divorced for ten years. Becky was just getting used to her new stepfather when her mom got pregnant. I remember how miserable Becky was the first year of middle school when her mom spent so much time with her twin brothers and didn’t have enough time to help Becky with her homework. Luckily, Becky’s stepfather is a history teacher, so she got very interested in history and current events.
"Right, Becky, and maybe I'll learn to be a gymnast in ten minutes. Reality check, remember last year?"
"Okay, I'm hoping it won't be so bad."
"You mean like the dentist finding you only have one cavity and filling it the same day?"
"You’re so lame, Carolyn. Since we're all older, maybe she'll treat us differently. People change over the summer you know."
"Look at her, Becky."
Becky turns to look over at the group at the top of the bleachers and then turns back to look me in the eye. “You know you have to put that stupid day behind you.”
I pretend not to know what she’s talking about. “What stupid day?”
Like I don’t remember every detail.
“The zip line day.”
“Oh, that day,” I say with a combination grimace and smile. “The day I wound up having to climb off the platform. I wanted to bore a hole into the ground so I wouldn’t have to walk past them but couldn’t, and everyone screamed at me: ‘Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’”
“You have to admit it was funny the way the gym teacher ran up the ladder like a squirrel to rescue you. Everyone laughed at how stupid she looked. Jennifer got the whole class going with that ridiculous ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe.’” Becky looks behind her to Jennifer. “You know I wanted to run over and punch her, but I couldn’t because I was still on the platform, and it was my turn to go.”
“Yeah, if I had a few more minutes, I would have been able to get up the courage to grip the zip line and hook myself to it. Stupid teacher didn’t give me a chance. This not breathing thing when I get nervous really sucks.”
Becky nods because she knows me so well.
“So then Jennifer started with that horrible chant, and of course, the whole class followed her, like always.” My eyes fill with tears as I remember, and my breathing is getting worse by the minute.
“I thought it was a dumb idea to do ropes course stuff in school. We did it at my camp the summer before, and no one was forced to do it. Anyone could get nervous with Jennifer in front of them,” Becky comforts me.
I continue talking as if I’m in a trance. “Remember how last year whenever I ran into Jennifer she would whisper ‘breathe, Carolyn, breathe,’ so no one could hear it except me. Once she did it just before I had to go up in front of the class in math. Sometimes she would do it in front of everyone and, of course, get a big laugh while I wanted to turn into a piece of furniture.”
Becky grabs my arm. “Do we have to go back over this again? You need to forget about it.” She takes her hand away from my arm as I continue to speak.
“Becky, I can’t. The thing is it’s this bad movie in my brain looping the same horrible scenes. The funny thing is, most of the time, she would ignore me. I would never know what she was going to do. You have to admire someone so single-minded she managed to get to me at just the right time.
You remember don’t you? And today did you see how she wore the same outfit as me? It’s spooky.”
My funny breathing returns as Miss Gaylon tells us to line up on the yellow line alphabetically. I hope there will be someone to go between Jennifer and me. No luck. Jennifer is going to be behind me all year. I hold my breath. I couldn't stand more of the same this year. I pray for the day to end soon. A glance at my new watch shows me fifteen more minutes left of the period. Is Miss Gaylon's voice getting lower? What is that pounding in my ears?
Jennifer turns to face me, and I hear, "Breathe, Carolyn, breathe.” Then my world turns black.
Posted by Pembroke Sinclair