Wow! I have to admit, I was really charmed by this book; I think it's right about when LJ and the strip started to develop a stronger identity, tone, and characterization. I laughed at a number of the jokes, and smiled at others, and identified with quite a few. A lot of the jokes are original and funny. Elly comes off as smart and caring; Elizabeth is multi-dimensional and gets some great storylines to herself. John is a jerk, but has a few decent moments. Mike doesn't really appear that much, but when he does, he keeps his brattiness down and is pleasant to his sister. Elly appears to actually enjoy spending time with him. The supporting characters play important roles, and the storylines are realistic and engaging. Even filler ones I don't bring up here are amusing or serve character development in some way.
I've written this one slightly out of order; a number of the storylines (The historical society; Liz wanting to get her ears pierced) are spread over over the course of several months, and I lumped all the strips together. I actually like the way these storylines occur over time; it really does make the characters appear to have interesting, fulfilling lives with a number of things happening.
Rescue Guy: Unnamed man with mustache who coordinates the rescues efforts for John and Phil
Peter Radcliffe: The wonky town councilor Elly meets with who eventually takes over her theater campaign
Woman in Elizabethan outfit: compliments Elly on the party
Henry: Leering Man at party
Sandi: Mike and Elizabeth's babysitter
Greg: Connie's husband/Lawrence's stepdad
Miss Blais: Liz's first grade teacher
Melody Morrison: popular girl in Liz's class
Red Headed Boy: Liz's desk/lunch mate (OH GOD POSSBILY ANTHONY!)
Paula: toxic little brat/Liz's friend
Mrs. Soames: hard of hearing resident at Mrs. Baird's senior apartment complex
Molly: Greg's daughter--older and sassier
Gayle: Greg's daughter--younger and quiet
The books begins with the camping trip mentioned at the end of Home Fries. Phil and John pack up the station wagon and head on out. In a nice bit of foreshadowing, they forget the oars once they leave, and later, as they approach the "virgin country" Phil remembers so well, he realizes it's nothing like he thought it would be. They stay the first night a hotel, and head out on a canoe the next morning. Choppy waters and a strong wind soon force their boat out further from shore than they expected. The waves get high enough to swamp the boat, and overturn it. The two leave the boat and all their supplies behind and swim to a nearby island.
Thankfully, John has some waterproof matches on him, and Phil is able to start a fire. John finds the remnants of a small shack they're able to stay in to shelter themselves from the elements when it starts to rain.
Meanwhile, Elly gets a call from the fishing lodge. She learns that the men's canoe washed up on a shore, with no sign of John or Phil. Panicked, she tells Michael and Elizabeth what happened. Georgia comes over and the two commiserate, Elly berates herself for being such a nag.
Back on the island, Phil and John huddle for warmth in their makeshift shelter and fire. Phil rethinks the events, and says that "it all happened so fast--we didn't have time to think!" John counters that, "If we'd been thinking, we wouldn't have been out there in the first place."* John says that his values have changed, and he can't believe he used to be lusting after sports cars.
Elly and Georgia drive to Parry Sound (Carol Enjo takes the kids) and Georgia points the rescuers to the correct area to search. Locals do their best to make them feel better.
The rain clears up a small private plane sees the men on the island. Another plane goes out, with Elly and Georgia on board. They reunite happily.
John and Elly return home. Mike and Elizabeth are glad to see him, as are Annie and Carol. John is sick with a cold and body aches afterwards.
The series ends with a wordless trip featuring Elly watching her kids sleep, and then curling up in bed with John.
School starts--Mike is in the fifth grade, and Elizabeth the first. Mike and Elly argue about his clothes, and Gordon makes a stupid pun ("Maybe that's what the call it a WARdrobe").
In another series of strips I like a lot, we see Elizabeth get destroyed at school (not that I like seeing a little girl get destroyed; I like how realistic it is). Her teacher is smug and overbearing and often criticizes her in front of the whole classroom. Liz forgets her pencil case on the first day and gets called out. She struggles with the academics. The teacher embarrasses her when she's caught nibbling on her pencil. ("Someday you just feel like biting something," she thinks sadly) A mean girl refuses her attempts at friendship (possible Melody Morrison), and the boy she ends up sitting next to teases her about her name (causing her to insist that people call her Elizabeth and not Lizzie).**
With the kids back in school, Elly has time to tackle the historic building preservation project she was involved in last book. She meets with a town councilor and is stymied by the bureaucracy. She decides to take matters into her own hands by parading around with a sandwich board. John mocks her repeatedly, and Mike is humiliated to have a mom who actually cares about stuff. He begs her to stop, and asks why she just can't stay at home. Elly, predictably, feels guilty. A few other people join her on the line, but eventually Elly feels overwhelmed.
Later, she is asked to sort through old props and costumes at the theater house. Mike comes along with her, and enjoys looking at all the costumes, thinking that they would be awesome Halloween costumes. He suggests to Elly that she throw a party, inviting all the bigwigs she's trying to impress. Elly thinks it's a great idea.
On the night of the party, she and John dress in fairy costumes. All the bigwigs--the downtown development board, the mayor, the police chief--turn out for the party and have a fun time. Later Elly reads in the newspaper that one of the Council members has taken the preservation of the building on as his own pet project, insisting that he was the championing voice for it. Ely is excited to have won, but disappointed that someone else is taking the credit for her work, and a little sad to have her project be over.
Phil comes over to help Mike with his music lessons. He's made some progress from earlier but not a lot. Phil says the kid "wears him out." Phil stays for dinner, and talks with Elly about maybe asking Georgia to marry him. He asks John for advice too*** and eventually decides he's going to do it. Elly is over the moon, and can't wait for her brother to start collecting "a home, a family, a mortgage, a diaper pail. . . " Her countenance is gleefully malevolent.
Meanwhile, Liz is back at school. She struggles on tests, but makes a friend with a cute freckle faced kid and OH MY GOD I JUST REALIZED THAT THIS KID MIGHT BE ANTHONY. His name is never mentioned in the book.
The family prepares for Christmas. Elizabeth really wants a "space babe" doll, the popular toy that, of course, is sold out. Elly rushes to a store to stand in line and fight for one of the new remaining space babes in town She gets it, and hates to admit it, but it is a pretty cute doll. John thinks it's ugly, and mocks Elly for working so hard to get it.
There's a Christmas strip I really like: it's Christmas morning and Mike and Elizabeth have just woken up; they're staring at the presents under the tree. Elly is beaming and says to John, "I wonder what precious thoughts are running through their minds." The kids are both thinking, "I wish it was all for me." I love this strip because of the way it skewers the corny sentimentality that Elly secretly wishes for.
Connie and Lawrence come for a visit. Connie brings Greg over to meet Elly, and announces that they just got married. She was the one who proposed, and Greg said yes.
Lawrence isn't taking this so well. He and Mike are awkward around each other at first, and he's upset that he's going to have to suddenly share his mom with someone. Worse, Greg has two teenage daughters. Connie admits to Elly that Lawrence isn't taking the change so well. Greg is nice enough, and although he offers to adopt Lawrence, is careful to give him his space.
RETCON ALERT: Elizabeth asks Elly what happened to Lawrence's "old" dad. Elly says, "Lawrence's parents were divorced a long time ago. His dad moved back to Brazil."
Phil comes over the visit. Hes' stressed out the wedding, concerned that Georgia is trying to make him domestic. He's taken up smoking again.
Mrs. Baird visits at the same time. She tells Elly that she's moving into a senior apartments building (Liz protests, "But that's for old people!") and is putting her house up for sale. Elly tries to convince Phil to buy the house. Mrs Baird points out that has "a lovely room for a baby," and Phil runs screaming from the scene. Phil tells Elly to stop meddling in his life.
Mike and Elizabeth are sad Mrs. Baird is moving. They build a snowman in her yard right in front of the "For Sale" sign.
Back at school, Elizabeth is jealous of Melody Morrison, a pretty, popular, and "perfect" girl in her class. Elizabeth's absolutely toxic friend Paula helps fan these flames by constantly talking down Melody, and saying that "she thinks she better 'n' anybody." For Valentine's Day, Ellie has to convince Elizabeth to send cards to everyone in class, but Liz only wants to send them to the kids she likes. She throws a tantrum about sending one to Melody, and doesn't give one to her on the Valentine's Day Party in her class. Liz receives 20 Valentines, and Melody only 19. Paula announces to her that she "beat" Melody, but Liz feels guilty, since Melody gave her a Valentine. Liz tries to apologize to Melody, but can't, and dubs her "stuck up”. After a talk with Elly, she eventually talks to Melody. Paula gets angry at her, and tells Liz she can't be friends with both her and Melody.
Elly finds out that Connie and Greg are moving back to Scarborough/Milborough. Elly is excited, and tells the news the Annie, who's disappointed that she's going to have to share Elly with someone else. Elly offers to let Connie and Lawrence stay with them while they look for a house. Connie eventually decides to buy Mrs. Baird's place.
Meanwhile, Phil is being an asshole. He tries to quit smoking, but gets angry when Georgia throws out his cigarettes. He picks fights with her, and threatens to call off the wedding. Georgia tells him, "If you really don't want to go through with this, I can't force you," and says that if he wants to call it off, to tell her now so she can get on with her life. Phil is hurt, and can't imagine Georgia without him.
Georgia meets with Elly to plan the wedding. John smugly tells Phil that all he had to do on his wedding day was show up.
Jean, John's assistant, signs up for ballroom dancing classes, and gives John two passes to the class. He begrudgingly shows them to Elly, who thinks it's a wonderful idea, and can't believe how romantic and thoughtful John is being. He admits that it was Jean's idea. The two fight and bicker throughout the classes, but Elly enjoys herself while John acts like he's marching to his death.
Elizabeth wants to her ears pierced because her horrible friend Paula does. Paula teases Elizabeth about it. Elly refuses; he doesn't think Elizabeth is mature enough to handle the responsibility. She eventually gives in, and she's totally right, since Liz acts like a baby when her ears hurt, and doesn't want to do the upkeep.
Mrs. Baird moves and Elly helps her get situated to her new place. Mrs Baird is very happy there, but wishes there were more men.
Mike meets Lawrence's step-sisters when he and his family move in. Lawrence tells Mike that one of them is upset since she had to leave her boyfriend. Lawrence teases them. Elly complains about what a "gloomy" pair the girls are.
"Liz" watch: Elizabeth goes by Elizabeth almost entirely throughout this book
"Elly is Fat" jokes: One; Elly says her body shape is "fate." Elizabeth asks what fate is, and John tells her it's "fat" with an "e" on the end.
Coffee Cup to Head Watch: Right after this joke
Frumpiness: Elly looks cute and age-appropriate throughout this book. She wears her hair down and dresses attractively. The fairy outfit she wears on Halloween is somewhat revealing. She's even seen wearing a fairly skimpy top to bed during the late fall.
Multi Culti Milborough: Group scenes at Liz's school feature more than just white faces. Elly spells out Lawrence's ethnic background by saying his father was from Brazil.
Puns: Although not as hugely wordplay themed as this past week of strips, there's a number of puns (of varying degrees of funniness) in this collection. Probably ten throughout the whole book. Characters respond to puns the way normal people would, with eye rolling or smirking.
OF COURSE they had a third kid: John sweats and twitches at even the mere mention of a “vasectomy”
An' watch: Too many to count. Mike, Elizabeth, and their various friends are constantly saying an', 'cause, gots, hafta, pun'kin, diff'rent, and other foobish slang words with dropped sounds. Paula even shortens “then” to “'n'”
*Yes, because of a very small possibility of you being hurt or injured, you shouldn't have gone camping in the first place. Weak, John. It's a wonder Mike even went to Ireland years ago—after all, he might have died in a plane crash, and therefore the risk is too high.
** As much as I like this storyline, it makes the later strips where Liz is a teacher even more mind-boggling; she's exactly the kind of prissy, smug, overbearing teacher she hated when she was in elementary school. I wonder if her kids are as miserable as she was.
*** Shades of the “usurp” strip. When Phil says he's feeling “ambivalence” about marriage, Liz asks what the word means, and John says “That's what you call when you're faced with an emergency.”