Young Adult Education

Young Adult Education: ‘Anastasia Krupnik' by Lois Lowry

Welcome to Young Adult Education, a column about YA literature both new and old! First up is Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry.

Anastasia Krupnik has a lot going on in her tenth year. Her crush, Washburn Cummings (what a name!), doesn’t know she’s alive. Mr. Belden at the drugstore won’t even let her read a copy of Cosmo without buying it. She doesn’t like her teacher, Mrs. Westvessel. Her grandmother’s in a nursing home and can’t even remember Anastasia’s name. Worst of all, her parents just announced they’re having another baby. The only positive is the wart that appears on her finger; she’s very fond of it and even her mother says, “It’s the loveliest color I’ve ever seen in a wart.”

Maybe you weren’t exactly like Anastasia when you were ten—chances are, your crush wasn’t named Washburn Cummings—but a girl can still relate to a lot of her life. We’ve all had a teacher who made us feel bad, or a day when we were sure our parents were trying to ruin our lives. I got a serious warm and fuzzy childhood diary flashback when I read about Anastasia’s green notebook. Whereas I used my journal mostly to complain about how much I hated gym class, Anastasia uses her for “lists of her favorite words; she kept important private information; and she kept things that she thought might be the beginnings of poems”. The most important thing Anastasia keeps in her green notebook is her list of Things She Loves and Things She Hates. The “love” list includes making lists (of course), writing poems, the wart on her finger and her goldfish Frank. Her “hate” list includes Mr. Belden from the drugstore, liver, boys and  Mrs. Westvessel.  Her journal is yet another reason (in addition to her rare pro-wart attitude) Anastasia is the coolest ten year old to ever exist.

To me, Anastasia’s parents seem impossibly hip. Her dad is a poet/professor, while her mom is an artist. Basically they’re a power couple, the Jay-Z and Beyoncé of sensitive bohemian types. Anastasia just sees them as people who are determined to bring a dreaded baby brother into her life, despite her protests.

At least they promise to let her name the baby anything she wants. This concerns me, because when I was a kid, I thought my little brother should be named “Rick Rack”. Perhaps this is why my parents never let me choose any baby names. Anastasia comes up with the worst name she can think of and scribbles it in the back of her green notebook.

Mrs. Westvessel earns Anastasia’s ire during Poetry Week.  Anastasia is such a wonderful little nerd that she runs home after class so she can work on her poem. But when she reads her poem out loud to the class, Mrs. Westvessel slams it like she’s Pitchfork dissing a bad album. She has the nerve to give Anastasia’s poem an ‘F’ because it doesn’t rhyme and there are no capital letters. Mrs. Westvessel, presumably, is not a big e.e. cummings fan.

And then there’s Anastasia’s grandmother, whom our heroine does not like visiting in the nursing home because it smells like “medicine and Polident.” When her grandmother comes over for Thanksgiving, Anastasia gets “that strange feeling again, the feeling she always had when she smelled medicine and other nursing home smells. It was a feeling of being scared and sad at the same time”. Her grandmother won’t stop asking if Sam is coming. Anastasia is confused at first, but she eventually finds out that Sam was her grandfather (who died before she was born).

The same day Anastasia’s wart disappears, her grandmother dies. While she and her father are clearing out her grandmother’s room, they get a phone call saying her mother is in labor. Mr. Belden at the drugstore gives her a chocolate cigar and even Mrs. Westvessel calls to say she was sorry to hear about Anastasia’s grandmother. At the end of the book, Anastasia’s “Things I Hate” list has only one item left: liver. Maybe your freeform poetry hating teacher has a soft side, and maybe the stingy drugstore owner can be generous once in awhile, but some things (like a hatred of organ meat) never change.

Anastasia decides not to name her baby brother something embarrassing, and instead picks the best name she can think of: Sam. Hold on, you guys, I just have something in my eye. No, I’m definitely not crying.

Some highlights:

– Anastasia briefly considers becoming Catholic because she likes that you get to wear a “wedding dress” for your confirmation (“They make them in small sizes for Catholics,” she tells her confused parents).

– She decides against Catholicism when she realizes she would have to not only confess her sin of wishing Mrs. Westvessel grows pimples all over her face, but she would have to be genuinely sorry for it, as well. Anastasia is willing to go to catechism class, but she has her limits.

– This is how Anastasia describes her best friend: “Jennifer had a lot of things going for her: she had naturally curly reddish-brown hair, a broken off front tooth from falling down the basement stairs, and more Barbie doll clothes than any other girl in the class.” Wait, curly hair and a broken tooth? I want to be her best friend, too!

– Anastasia wants to impress Washburn Cummings by getting big hair like his. She does this by braiding her wet hair, sleeping on it, and then teasing it. When she struts into school, expecting admiration from her crush, she’s met with laughter. “’You stick your finger in a socket?’ Washburn Cummings asked…’Halloween was all over last month. It’s not cool, baby, to wear your monster costume after Halloween’s all finished. Noooot coooool.’” It kind of sounds like Anastasia has a crush on a big-hair hating Barry White.

– Anastasia’s dad smokes a pipe while he teaches. 1984 truly was a different time.

– Do you want to know the terrible name Anastasia originally picked out for her little brother? It’s a name she heard boys at school singing about one day at recess: One-Ball Reilly.  Now there’s a joke I didn’t get when I was 10.

Are there any young adult books from your youth you’d like to see in next week’s column? What about more recent young adult books? Let us know in the comments!

Image via Open Library