YA series were clearly where it was at, so I decided to start my own. But unlike, say, every other series, I didn't limit the action to one core group of friends. Why confine myself to writing about only five or so characters when I could write about a hundred? I mean that literally: My series was about the 100 fifth grade students enrolled at Friendship Elementary School, located in the fictional town of Friendship, NY. Well, at least I thought the town was fictional—imagine my shock when I Googled it just now and found that it actually exists! Although, okay, it does seem unlikely that in a town of only 1,927, 5% of its residents would be in the fifth grade.
In fifth grade (and into the sixth) I spent massive amounts of time configuring the logistics of Friendship. Some characters I created especially for the series, and others I co-opted from books I'd already begun. I came up with names for the 51 female and 49 male fifth graders, but I didn't stop there. Oh no—I also started constructing families for them. Because what was more fun than coming up with character names? NOTHING!
If the 60 families on the "census" are representative of Friendship as a whole, there are a few things we can deduce about the town. I like to consider the following a list of Things I Never Knew About Friendship Until Now:
1. They put fertility meds in their water instead of fluoride. Of the 60 families listed, almost half have five or more children. In fact, the Smith family features a single mother with a record 12 kids. Where is Mr. Smith? Probably in a mental institution!
2. Your marriage has a slightly better chance of survival if you live there. About 60% of Friendship residents are still married to their first spouse. However, it is noted that the Lorbers are fighting, which means that statistic could drop to 58%.
3. Either judges in custody cases have no predisposed gender biases, or there is a suspicious trend of death among young mothers. There are nearly as many families headed by a single father (15%) as by a single mother (17%). Holla, Friendship dads! That means that 32% of the population are single parents, which the Interweb tells me is pretty on target for the national average. I'm thinking they should just hold a singles mixer in the caf. Who wouldn't love to snag rich Mr. Burroughs? (Seriously, he only has one kid! Mr. Winberg and Mr. Franklin each have six! And Mr. Knowles has seven! Good God, grab him while you can!)
4. Friendship is even whiter than Portland. A quick translation for those of you not living in the Portland, OR, area: That's pretty fucking white. In fact, I don't remember envisioning any of these characters as African-American. Why? (Especially when I grew up in a city densely populated by African-Americans...) I'm pretty sure it's because I was into drawing pictures of my characters and I just felt weird about drawing black people. Like, did I color their skin in with a marker? Shade it with a pencil? Opt for a crayon? Not knowing the proper etiquette made me very uncomfortable, so I circumvented the issue entirely by leaving black people out of the books. Popular YA series only had, like, maybe one black character anyway, so surely I could get away with it too. And I imagined Friendship was in western New York, an area I frequented while visiting relatives—and in which I saw nary a person of color.
[Horrible, I know. I promise you, in sixth grade there are TWO black characters in a single book! Really!]
It is worth noting, however, that there is at least one Asian family (the Yungs—they operate a Chinese restaurant, what else?). And then there are the Estaucias, who have six daughters, named Coral, Noraina, Lanira, Bonita, and Ranella. I assumed for many years that they were just white hippies, but I'm starting to think they might be Latino. Um, Bonita Estaucia?
I had absolutely NO IDEA about the correlation between name and ethnicity. I remember my mom commenting that the Mendols must be Jewish, and inwardly I was all, "Wha...?" But I probably played it off like, "Yeah... I mean, totally. Jackie's already studying her Torah portion."
Speaking of which, there are a handful of Jewish families: Along with the Mendols, there are the Greens, the Stones, the Zaners, the Dorfs, and the Rocklins. But most Friendshipians originally hail from the United Kingdom. There's a lone Italian family (the Manitellis), as well as several families of indeterminate origin, i.e., I totally made their names up: The Kheeches? The Tomleens? The Alzones? The Onnleys? The frigging Burnings??? Wait, maybe the Alzones are Italian too. Alzone sounds kinda like calzone.
I made alphabetized class lists and even mapped out a chart of the fifth grade social circles. You can totally tell who the losers are because they have only two members in their group. Angie "Duck Feet" McCall and Rhoda Delacore, I am totally looking at you.
I have resisted transcribing the class roster—seriously, it's 100 names—but I will give you the proposed titles in the Friendship series (some of these I mentioned in my first post; asterisks mean I have at least the paltry beginnings of the story) as well as the character they are based around:
Syra Cuse* (Syra Cuse; as you will learn, Syra's name is the bane of her existence)
My Life As A Pre-Teen* (Samantha Rhodes)
In the History of the World* (Loni Hopkins)
Adria Tyler, the Girl Who Had Something More Than Nothing (Adrianne Tyler. This story was never written back in 1989, but I, uh, may have turned its premise into a screenplay in college. Or the first two-thirds of a screenplay, because I seem to be unable to finish any sort of large writing project. Hypothetically.)
Cynthia, The One Who Hates The World* (This one's about Cynthia Tyler, the younger sister of Adria Tyler, the girl who had something more than nothing. Occasionally I branched out and wrote about the older or younger siblings of the fifth graders. However, I did decide to cut Cynthia from my screenplay. Allegedly.)
Kimberly and Adrianne* (Kimberly Fielding, though you can see I give second billing to the Tyler family member)
Nobody's Perfect (Heather Dobbins)
Being Me (Ellen Irving)
My Diary* (Jennifer Scott)
Don't Be Yourself (Gloria Gilford. This one has a folder, but it actually contains...)
Living In A Princess's Land... When You're Not a Princess (Which is about Patsy Gilford, Gloria's little sister. The alternate title is Baby of the Family.)
No Way To Spend A Summer* (Co-narrated by Melanie Tibbets and Elaine Foster, who are TOTALLY NOT FRIENDS)
Life After Death (Melanie Tibbets)
Second Chances (Michelle Brewer)
Ivy Twists* (Ivy Swanson)
Me, Super-Girl and Super-Girl Flies Again (Sara Doone narrated two books that were never written! I think I just liked the ring of Super-Girl Flies Again.)
You Can't Be Serious (Narrated by Barbara Manitelli, the class clown. Get it? Get it???)
Angie (Duck Feet) McCall (Guess who?)
Take-Out Order* (Narrated by Lisa Yung, the Chinese girl. No stereotypes here!)
One Of The Best Friends You Ever Had (Regina Grubble)
Again and Again (Elizabeth Robbins, who I have absolutely no memory of. Wait, could she be black???)
Sometimes* (Carole Bakerwitz)
Silvie, Open The Door (Priscilla "Silvie" Evans)
I'm Elaine (Elaine Foster)
If The Shoe Fits, Wear It (Anne Montgomery)
Who Needs Another Mother?* (Narrated by Erin Kronheimer, the older sister of Justine Kronheimer)
Caitlin Says* (Narrated by Allison Mitchell, but the titular Caitlin is Caitlin Alzone, sister of Allison's beloved, Rich Alzone. This folder contains the oddest assortment of items ever. Like typewritten "love tests" for Allison and Rich, and cartoon drawings of sexy rabbits. I'm totally serious. I cannot figure out what the rabbits have to do with anything.)
And of course Friendship (the book), which was like my version of a Super Special.
NEXT TIME: Kimberly and Adrianne, which is basically an excuse to introduce as many of my characters as possible in a 12-page span.
2 years ago