Re-Reading “Freddie the Thirteenth”

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Freddie is the 13th of 16 children! Her family was like the Duggars before reality TV. Nine of her older siblings are all grown and moved out of the house, leaving Freddie and her older brother Glen, who are both in high school, John and Mark, who are older and both attending college or trade school, Trisha and Jan, who are both in junior high, and Danny, who’s still in grade school. (Glen, Trisha, and Danny are really the only siblings of note for the rest of the book).

The story begins on Freddie’s first day of 10th grade, which is also her first day of high school. She tries to sneak in a few extra minutes in the bathroom, since each of her siblings is limited to 10 minutes, and breaks her new blush when a snake creeps in under the door. The culprit is Danny, who said he sent his pet snake in because Freddie had been in the bathroom for 11 minutes.

Freddie and Glen walk to the bus stop, where her best friend Annette awaits. The two girls excitedly talk about starting high school and the older boys that will be there. They have an agreement that if one girl gets asked on a date, she’ll do her best to set the other girl up on a date with one of the guy’s friends.

Freddie thinks back on Bart Cunningham, a boy she met at Positive Mental Attitude camp during the summer. Bart’s father was the director of the camp, and Freddie had a huge crush on him, but his time was always monopolized by Val, a girl who attends Freddie’s school and is a year older. Bart’s family is moving to Tulsa, where Freddie lives, so she hopes to see him again one day.

They head to class, and the day goes okay – she even sees Val, who waves at her and says hello. Freddie particularly enjoys Speech class. When the last bell rings, Freddie is heading toward the bus when she sees none other than Bart Cunningham in the hallway. She hides behind Annette so he won’t see her, then explains to Annette that when she filled out a form about herself at camp, she only listed one sibling – Trisha. She was embarrassed about the size of her family and didn’t want Bart to look at her funny or ask a bunch of questions. They even talked about Trisha, so she intentionally led him to believe she only had one sibling. Now that he was here at her school, he was sure to find out the truth!

The next day, Bart finds her in the hallway and says how glad he is to see her. He offers to take her home, but she panics and says she’s actually going to the library. He offers to take her there, and they chat on the way. Then she says she has to meet her mom at the shopping center, so he drives her there and finally leaves her with her deception.

In Speech class, the teacher says that everyone in the class will give a speech, and a winner will be selected to compete with winners from the junior and senior classes in front of the whole school. Freddie wants to win, and decides she will give a speech about the downfalls of being in a big family. While leaving school, she spots Bart and Val walking side by side, and feels disappointed.

At home, Freddie is downstairs when she sees a car pull up – it’s Bart, bringing Glen home. She hurries to hide in a closet before they come inside. She listens as Bart and Glen talk, and Bart mentions he knows a girl with the same last name as Glen. Because Freddie is such an unusual name, Freddie knows Bart is figuring out that she didn’t tell him the whole truth. He leaves and she opens the closet door, only to come face to face with Danny. Danny blackmails her into doing the dishes for him so that he won’t tell anyone he saw her hiding in the closet.

Freddie tries to avoid Bart but then realizes she’s going to see him eventually. She then sees him standing by her locker talking to Annette and waiting for her. She explains why she didn’t tell him about her family, and he says she should be proud. He brings her home and gets invited to stay for dinner, so Freddie goes the extra mile to make their dinner table look really nice. Her sister Trisha then makes a big deal of making sure Freddie and Bart sit next to each other, which embarrasses Freddie. Danny also blackmails her again into doing the dishes.

Bart asks Freddie if she wants to go to the football game with him on Friday, then says it will be a double date with Glen and another girl. Freddie immediately feels guilty that she is going to be going back on her pact with Annette. But when she goes to talk to Annette about it, it turns out Annette is the girl Glen asked on a date. The foursome goes to the game and to get pizza in Bart’s car. When Bart brings the siblings back to their house, Glen doesn’t get the hint that they want to be alone and stays with them all the way up to the door. Freddie is disappointed, so when she gets upstairs and Trisha wants to know how the date went, Freddie tells her they’ll talk about it later.

The Sadie Hawkins girl-ask-boy dance is coming up, and Annette wants her and Freddie to double with Glen and Bart again. Freddie says she wants to see if Bart asks her out again before she asks him to Sadie, while Glen has already asked Annette to a movie. Freddie does her speech for the class, then sees that she in fact won for Speech 1. But it turns out that Val Edwards won for Speech 2, and Freddie is immediately intimidated about competing with her.

Freddie’s older sister Betty is about to have a baby, and asks if Freddie would come stay with her family for two weeks after the birth in order to help out. Freddie is overjoyed at the notion of some quiet and privacy, until Trisha asks if she can come too. Betty says sure why not, and Freddie lays into Trisha about inviting herself along and stealing Freddie’s chance of being alone. Trisha says Freddie is so mean now and runs upstairs, then Freddie looks over and sees Bart standing in the doorway. He asks her to go get a limeade, and she says he probably thinks the worst of her. He says he just thinks her siblings look up to her and she should be happy that they do. They go to the limeade shop and talk about her speech, but she isn’t sure if it’s a date or not. When Bart brings her home, he throws a ball around with Danny, and then Freddie goes upstairs and apologizes to Trisha.

Freddie plans to ask Bart to Sadie Hawkins and takes extra care to get ready for school. When she approaches his locker, she sees Val Edwards standing near there. They talk about the speech contest, and then someone passes by and asks Val if she’s asked “that guy” to the dance yet. Val says if she means Bart Cunningham, that’s who she’s waiting for right now. Freddie says she has to go and scurries away, sure that Bart will say yes to Val.

Freddie’s sister has her baby, so Freddie and Trisha get packed up and head to Betty’s house. They are there when Freddie receives a phone call from Bart, who asks if she wants to go out next Saturday. Freddie says she would, but that’s the night of Sadie Hawkins dance. He says he’d forgotten about that and does she have a date – she says no, but she thought he did. He says he was waiting for a particular girl to ask him, but she never did – her name is Freddie Oliver. Freddie laughs and asks him to the dance. Annette brings up doubling with her and Glen again, but Freddie says she’d rather have Bart to herself this time.

Freddie and Trisha bond, and Trisha explains how she felt Freddie was shutting her out after going off to high school. Freddie and Bart go to the dance and have a great time, and at Betty’s doorstep that night, she thinks he’s about to kiss her when she sees Trisha watching from the window.

Back at home the next week, Freddie is getting ready for another date with Bart when she finds her mascara all messed up on her eyelashes. Jan tells her that she saw Danny putting glue in the mascara tube. Freddie blows up at Danny and tells him to go play in traffic. She has a tough time getting the glue-mascara off and it makes her eyes red and puffy. She heads to the library before her date to work on improving her speech for the competition. When she goes to find Bart, his face looks grim. He tells her Danny and his friend were riding bikes in the street and Danny got hit by a car. They hurry to the hospital, where Danny is in surgery with a broken leg and ruptured bladder. Freddie feels incredible guilt considering their last argument and her “play in traffic” comment.

When Danny is awake after surgery, Freddie goes in to apologize. He tells her he was only putting glue in her mascara because he thought that would “stretch” it – make it last longer – so that she might be able to lend him some money to get a new inner tube for his football. He also says he didn’t actually go play in traffic, there were just more cars than normal where he usually rides his bike.

Freddie decides to revise her speech from being about the pitfalls of a big family to the benefits of a big family. She includes stories about Danny’s accident, Trisha spying on her and her date, and puts a positive spin on the rest of the stories she had used in her original speech. She gives the speech in front of the whole school and says she used to think she was the unlucky 13th, but now she knows she’s probably the luckiest girl alive. A few minutes later, she’s announced as the winner of the contest.

Bart takes her back to the limeade shop to celebrate, and she asks him about Val. He says when Val asked him to Sadie Hawkins, he told her he already had a date, even though Freddie hadn’t asked him yet. He says he’s liked Freddie since camp, but because she was so shy and Val was always more aggressive, he was passive and let Val keep him from getting to know Freddie better. They make it official that they are boyfriend and girlfriend, then share their first kiss.

Grade: A – This was one of my older sister’s books, and I vividly remember reading this when I was really young, multiple times. The battered copy shows a lot of wear and tear. It’s a very simple story, one that I could easily see taking place in the 50s or 60s as well. I’m still not completely convinced it’s really set in the 80s! But it’s timeless all the same.

Book Deets
Author: Sandy Miller
Year: 1985
Pages: 155

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