Making Out 4: Ben's In Love by Katherine Applegate (and Michael Grant)
Making Out 4: Ben’s In Love by Katherine Applegate (and Michael Grant)

Title: Making Out #4: Ben’s in Love by Katherine Applegate (and Michael Grant)

Tag line: …with two girls (who just happen to be sisters).

Summary: First Zoey Fooled around with Lucas, and Jake found out. Then Claire wanted Jake, so she broke up with Ben, but ended up alone. Now Nina is in love with Ben and Claire wants Ben back. Will Claire try to steal her boyfriend back from her own sister?

Initial thoughts

I have such fond memories of these books! I first encountered them when Mizz magazine or Just Seventeen or something gave away a free copy of Zoey Fools Around. The first 6 books were released in 1994, so I was somewhere around 11 years old. I had been a devotee of SVT, but SVH never grabbed me and when these books came along I was hooked! I recently found out that the authors had been ghostwriters of some of my favourite SVT books, so I guess it was a natural transition. I’m excited to see how they hold up!

This is the books where Ben and Nina get together, and really, that’s all I care about because Nina is my Fave and after book 3 I just need her to have some happy.

[Wing: In fab timing, I met Katherine Applegate over the weekend, and one of the things we briefly talked about was Nostalgic Bookshelf, these recaps, and how wonderful Nina is as a character. (I also had her sign a copy of #3 Nina Won’t Tell for Dove, because of course I did.) Applegate was charming and friendly and smart, and seemed utterly delighted that I wanted her to sign a Making Out book, which was, she said, a blast from the past. If you ever get a chance to talk to her or listen to her speak, I highly recommend it. She was terrific.]

[Wing: Oh, right, this is a book recap. For all that I love Nina and Claire, I still deeply dislike Ben, so. This is a thing. As long as Nina is happy, though, I persevere.]

[Dove: I know for certain this is the first book I read, despite the early ones being free with Mizz. I can’t remember why I did that – I probably lost the first one before I got a chance to read it, and back then I was used to Sweet Valley, where you could just jump in and start reading anywhere. I don’t like Benjamin, but gosh do I love Nina, and I would follow her through a billion Benjamin-heavy books if necessary.]


Christopher Shupe by Aisha Grey
Christopher Shupe by Aisha Grey

These books always open up with some diary entries, but they’re the sort of diary you’d write if you exclusively followed those social media “get to know me” prompts. Today our diary question is something like “Describe your Boyfriend” and we check in with all our girls. Zoey provides the most literal physical description of Lucas possible and it’s hilarious to me that she is the romance writer, because almost all the other descriptions are more evocative than hers: Aisha compares Christopher to a painting – Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp; Nina says “I’ve never really had a boyfriend, but if it works out with Benjamin, it will be like I started right at the top.” Claire gives us a run down of the island boys she’s dated and explains of current beau, Jake, that “nowhere in his face, or heart, will you find guile, or malice or selfishness.” Like, Zoey… You need to up your game, girl.

Something I love about reading these books now is that they are like a soap opera – we pick up where the last book left off, and  go straight in to the action: Aisha catching Christopher in the act of cheating. Literally, he has another girl in his room, on his bed. Christopher tries to placate both women, claiming he and Aisha never agreed to be exclusive but they are having none of it, and the exchange between them makes my heart sing:

“I love your hair, by the way.” Aisha told the girl, for no reason except that none of this was Angela’s fault… Angela stopped halfway down the steps and scooped the long blond ponytail over her shoulder. It fell to the middle of her behind. “Thanks, but I’m thinking of cutting it, it attracts all the wrong kinds of guys.” She disappeared down the stairs, a clatter of sandals, and a moment later Aisha heard the door to the rooming house close.


Enter Badass Aisha
Enter Badass Aisha

Aisha Badass +1

Girl on Girl Crimes -1

[Wing: This is one of the reasons I love Aisha so, so much, and appreciate what Applegate and Grant did here. It’s not Angela’s fault (and she’s sharpily funny there, which I love), and Aisha is putting the blame squarely where it belongs.]

Christopher tries a bunch of manipulative shit – he claims he was sweetening the girl up to do some work for her family, he claims again that he and Aisha never made it exclusive, he even suggests Aisha has been seeing other guys. Aisha is having none of it though and leaves. DAMN AISHA! I wish I’d been that self possessed at 17. [Dove: Aisha just rocks through this, not buying Christopher’s bullshit and not blaming the other girl.]

Aisha Badass +1

We skip across town to the Passmore house where Nina is reading to Ben about choosing your own family. Benjamin is distracted though, which is understandable really, since at the end of the last book  earlier that day Nina told him she was in love with him. Nina panics and assumes Benjamin regrets asking her to Homecoming, he assures her he doesn’t, but he seems pretty confused about the change in their relationship status. The updated prints in 2014 didn’t go as far as to dabble in social media, [Wing: This actually breaks my heart, I want to see them on social media! Which is part of why Dove and I wrote social media into that fic we wrote and will probably post at the end of the series recap.] but I’m gonna bet Ben would be filing this one under “it’s complicated.” He still has feelings for Claire, but Nina is awesome and his great friend and he loves being with her and he’s scared of hurting her… It’s a LOT for a boy to process. I’m just going to say it: I love Nina and she loves Ben. Hence, I ship them hard, and I always did. She is edgy and cool, he is kind and honest, with her at least. I will probably talk about them way too much and entirely overlook their flaws. By the way, In my head, Benjamin looks like Lucas from Empire Records [Dove: That is literally who I cast when I first read it too. This is spooky.], while Nina is Janis from Mean Girls. And no, I hadn’t seen either of those films when I first read these books, but it’s firmly head-canon for me now.

Nina Geiger
Nina Geiger
Benjamin Passmore
Benjamin Passmore

BenjaNina +1

Lit bonus: Nina is reading A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke to Benjamin.

Zoey is in her room, being pressured into sex by Lucas, when Aisha arrives straight from Christopher’s. Lucas, who knew about the other girl, slinks off and Aisha rants about men being pigs. Zoey throws out a #NotAllMen, but Aisha shuts that shit down. Aisha is such a badass.

Horn Dog Lucas +1

Aisha badass +1

[Wing: These counters are delightful, by the way. They make me laugh every time I see one.]

We finally see Claire! Both Geiger Sisters are at home discussing the homecoming dance and they are actually being kind of sweet, for them.

“You still haven’t brought Jake to his knees yet? I’ starting to have a better opinion of old Joke.”

“I may just have to stay home with you,” Claire said.

Hands up if you wanted a Widow's Walk?
Hands up if you wanted a Widow’s Walk?

Except Nina isn’t staying home! And if Claire is surprised her sister is going to the dance, it’s nothing to the news she is going with Benjamin. She takes it well though, because Claire is a much better person than the rest of us.

Aloof Unavailable Claire +1

We follow Claire upstairs, through her room filled with her weather station to her Widow’s Walk. Hands up if you wanted a Widow’s Walk as a teen because of these books? I know I did, and with only the vaguest idea of what one was. [Wing: ME! Though not in Maine, because cold. I still want a widow’s walk, really. Still not in Maine, though.] [Dove: Again, I say: I had no idea this was a real thing. I thought that Nina had given it clever name, referencing Claire’s potention to be a black widow type, and it had stuck.] Claire mulls over the news about Nina and Ben. Because Claire is awesome, she concludes that although it’s a bit uncomfortable for her, Benjamin is an excellent romantic prospect for her sister. She thinks about her own relationship prospects with Jake, whose brother she killed in a drunk driving accident. God, these Island kids live such complicated lives.

Aloof Unavailable Claire +1

We read a bit of Ben’s diary – He’s thinking about Nina and Claire and comparing them. He’s torn between what he had with Claire and the possibility of what he could have with Nina and basically pretty unsure about it all. Come on Ben, Nina’s great. Get with the program.

Zoey is in a bad mood because math is hard and she has to go to gym class. Ah, who am I kidding, that’s a perfectly acceptable reason to be in a bad mood, you carry right on, Zoey. She bumps into Lucas, who wastes no time saying something sleazy :

“The guys particularly like it when the girls stretch out – you know, bending over to grab your ankles and all that. I’m trying to figure out how to smuggle binoculars into class”

Lucas Cabral
Lucas Cabral

and then Louise Kronenburger of Homecoming Court arrives. Apparently, she’s not wearing a bra, so Lucas stares at her tits. She wants to talk about Homecoming. I’m English, so I have very little concept of Homecoming – it’s a dance AND a football game, right? And a bit like prom, people vote for a King and Queen? Well, K-Burger says there are official duties too, and she and Lucas need to conspire. Zoey’s mood is even worse and I’m pretty sure she mouths the word “Slut” to Lucas as he leaves with Louise.

Girl on Girl Crimes +1

Horn Dog Lucas +1

Lost in Translation +1

[Wing: I’d forgotten how sex-driven Lucas is at least in these early books. Also, RE Homecoming: in general, this is an autumn thing (October, mostly). It is both a formal dance and a football game, though usually the football game is Friday night (when USA high school football games are most often played) and the dance is Saturday. There are kings and queens (but most dances have something similar; the Valentine’s Dance, for example, had a Sweetheart Prince and Princess), and students vote for them, so: popularity contest. Some schools do a whole week leading up to the game and the dance, with pep rallies and spirit days (80s wear, weird hair day, camo day, etc.) to build the anticipation. Also, while prom is usually limited to juniors and seniors (and their dates), Homecoming is open to all high school students.]

Things don’t improve for Zoey, when she discovers the damp towel she keeps in her locker smells… damp. [Wing: I just gagged a little. Thanks, Zoey.] No one will lend her a towel and she ends up drying herself with paper towels while Aisha rants about Christopher. The girls begin teasing each other pretty viciously, which is depressingly accurate for what I remember of being 17. Claire calls Zoey a “waif” and Zoey tells Claire:

“It’s terrible when the wheels of fashion turn against the fuller-figured gals, isn’t it Claire?” Zoey teased, “your little snide remarks don’t bother me, not anymore. Now the world sees that small is beautiful. This is my hour. Juglessness rules. The unbuffered shall inherit the world. Flat is Powerful.”

This little rant is pretty funny, especially as Zoey is still covered in wet paper towels, but I have to say, she’s not coming off that well in this book. I’ve got my eye on you, Passmore.

Girl on Girl Crimes +1

Lucas heads off campus for lunch at Burger King. This struck me as terribly glamorous as a child: Leaving School. To buy lunch. In a proper franchised outlet? Truly the American Dream. [Wing: My high school did not have an open campus like that, and I am still disappointed. Though I had a “press pass” and so left sometimes anyway. Never got caught.] Anyway, while he’s there he bumps into a couple of guys he knew in “The Youth Authority” – I never heard this term before or since. Is it common? – and they seem like a fucking delightful pair. In the short encounter, we establish they are misogynistic white supremacists.

How Lucas should deal with his old friends
How Lucas should deal with his old friends

[Wing: Always punch a Nazi, folks. And in case I’m not being clear enough: white supremacists count.]

The girls are all eating lunch on campus. They discuss Nina and Ben going to Homecoming; Zoey and Aisha think it’s adorable and tease her. It’s a cute scene and I remember why I wanted to hang out with these girls. They chat about boys, and Claire puts her foot in it, teasing Aisha about Christopher. Whoops.

Next up: Jake, making his first appearance! He’s hungover and flunking a test – he meant to study/ watch the movie of the book with one of his football buddies, but they got drunk instead. Oh, Jake! He’s not in a good place – he fell in love with Claire and now he’s discovered she was driving the car when his brother died, he’s burning up with guilt. Claire helps him cheat on the test and then asks him to love her, and forgive her. “One out of two isn’t bad,” he said sadly.

Wasted Jake +1

Dinner at the Grey house. The family chats, and I like the little details about Aisha’s parents; her dad works at the library on the mainland and is a birdwatcher. Her Mum has made some amazing sounding boozy cherries and they’re eating them with ice cream. I could so eat that right now. The scene ends with Aisha explaining why she dumped Christopher and her Mum praising her for being so damn awesome.

Badass Aisha +1

[Wing: Baby!Wing would have been delighted by Aisha and her family. It’s great to see these black characters not be stereotypes and their story not just be about tokenizing the “black experience.” Adult!Wing is delighted, too, of course, but baby!Wing didn’t get to see that nearly as much as adult!Wing does.]

Nina is distracting Zoey while she tries to do homework. Nina wants dating advice – she’s only kissed one boy before – the experience triggered memories of her childhood abuse and she was sick all over him. She doesn’t want that to happen with Benjamin. Zoey is brilliant here and I forgive her a bit for her bodysnarking, slutshaming ways. She listens while Nina explains what she’s worried about and then helps her prepare for a first date with Benjamin by demonstrating how a boy might make a “move.” It’s super cute and when they end up holding hands on the floor,  I really believe they are BFFs for the first time in this book. [Dove: Grudgingly agreed. Zoey is really at her best when being a good friend to Nina. It’s just the other 90% of the time, she’s clutching her pearls, shaming other girls for liking sex, or wailing “Oh, Lucas!” in anguished tones.]

BFFs 4Eva
BFFs 4Eva

BenjaNina +1

We see a bit more of Benjamin’s diary. This time, he’s talking about why he prefers the company of women -it’s because, for the most part, they have something to say and say it well whereas most of the men and boys he knows aren’t forthcoming with conversation. Of Jake he says “He could be in the room for an hour and unless he farted or cleared his throat or something.” This is pretty gendered bullshit, but I’m willing to accept that Ben, being from a small island, has a pretty tiny pool to draw from. I hope when he goes off to college he’ll expand his social circle beyond the monosyllabic males of his hometown. [Wing: Not to mention that we see the guys being more open with other people who are perhaps less obnoxiously judgmental toward them, Benjamin.] [Dove: I can see that Jake is pretty straight arrow, and I could imagine that Wade was even more so (Wade doesn’t seem to have any qualities beyond dudebro), but Benjamin even admitted that Lucas was a good improvement on Jake. So, yeah, Benjamin, maybe meet more than two people before coming to a final decision.] Then he starts talking about other senses and Nina and Claire and it’s all still very confusing for the poor lad.

We get some Christopher POV. He leaves his restaurant job, has a 3 hour nap and then heads off on his paper round. He takes a detour by Aisha’s, and realises he’s messed up. YEAH YOU DID. A two hour nap before doing some maintenance and then heading to the school to teach gym. He’s a hard working guy, that I will give him – he’s working around 75 hours a week in his multiple jobs, determined to save enough for college. Then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like “he was entitled, he felt, to a little comfort when and where he could get it.” Get back in the doghouse, Chris.

Nina is seeing Claire’s old therapist and I don’t know much about these things, but I really feel like the therapist shouldn’t say things like “The same boy your sister was seeing?” Like, shouldn’t Nina be the one to bring that up? Anyway, they talk about Nina’s Uncle and Claire and Benjamin. I love Nina. Have I mentioned?

Zoey and Christopher are working at the restaurant and Christopher is pumping her for information on Aisha. Zoey is wise to the approach though, and isn’t giving anything away. Christopher isn’t quite as conversationally nimble, and let’s slip that Lucas knew about the Other Girl before Aisha told everyone. Zoey  is not impressed and instantly calls Lucas to rail at him for not looking out for his fellow Island Kid , Aisha is relieved because she “wondered if Lucas was reacting out of some personal guilt.” [Dove: *sigh* Zoey.]

Girl on Girl Crimes +1

Nina is alone in her room, listening to Stone Temple Pilots and running through date scenarios with her Red Hot Chilli Pepper posters. This is horrible, because Nina is still very much processing the abuse of her Uncle, and as much as she likes and trusts Benjamin, the thought of physical intimacy makes her feel ill. Oh Nina!

Zoey leaves work and pretty much trips over a drunk Jake. Things are still weird between them after their break up, but Zoey can see Jake isn’t doing well. Jake rambles some hero worship of Dead Brother Wade, and Zoey tries to drop some truth – that Wade was a bully and a drunk. Jake’s not having it.

Wasted Jake +1

Back to the Future:  In the 2014 reprint Stone Temple Pilots and Red Hot Chilli Peppers were replaced with Black Keys and One Republic, respectively. [Wing: NOPE.]

It’s the middle of the night and we skit around the Island, checking in with all the Kids. I like these vignettes – Zoey is at her Quote wall (Soul meets Soul on lovers lips – Shelley) Nina wakes up from a dream about Ben; Jake half wakes from his drunken stupor and thinks of Claire; Lucas is having a dirty dream about Zoey; Ben dreams that he dreamt he was blind. He dreams of Nina; Claire is dreaming of a storm. Christopher is waking up for work; Aisha is having a dirty dream about Christopher and then wakes, annoyed at her subconscious.

Horn Dog Lucas +1

Badass Aisha +1

BenjaNina +2

The ferry my friends used to ride to "Town" This is NOT the Island Breeze

The ferry my friends used to ride to “Town” This is NOT the Island Breeze

All the kids are on the ferry to the mainland for school. This was one of the details about island life that I was jealous of as A kid reading these – it seemed so exotic have to travel to “The Mainland” for school. As a teen, I had friends who didn’t exactly live on an island, but in a part of Cornwall where the quickest route to “Town” was by ferry.  Apparently, the reality was a massive pain in the ass. Anyway, I digress. Zoey is under dressed for the weather and Nina is sucking on an unlit cigarette (which I also thought was so cool. All the cool points of holding a cigarette and gesticulating, but none of the downsides.) They’re talking about Homecoming outfits and Lucas is trying to get out of trouble with Zoey.

Lost in Translation +1

Next we are with Ben at school. He’s really smart, and most of his teachers accommodate his blindness well in class, but there are still some days he struggles with lessons. I really like how Ben’s blindness is handled by the authors, by the way. He is never a figure of pity, or of inspiration. He’s just Ben, who happens to be blind. But he has his bad days, and he thinks he might have bitten off more than he can chew with physics and calculus. He sounds off to Claire and as they walk to the ferry together. Claire broaches the topic of Nina. This is so sweet, because Claire really does love Nina, despite all the time they spend at each other’s throats. She’s worried about Nina getting hurt, because she knows how easy it is to fall for Ben. He thought he was “conveniently non-threatening” and had no idea the depth of Nina’s feeling for him. And he still likes Claire.

Christopher catches up with Zoey and Lucas and tries to talk to Zoey about Aisha. They end up in the entry to an ally way, while Lucas goes for coffee and the two white supremacists from Burger King show up – actually, I don’t think we are supposed to know it’s them. This scene is horrible – they beat Christopher violently while Zoey screams in the background, kicking him when he ends up on the floor and it fades to black. [Dove: I read that as “fade to bleak”, which also works.]

Jake is at football practise, hungover. He’s not playing his best, and the Homecoming game is tomorrow. After practise, one of his teammates gives him a pep talk – we need you to win the game! – advises him to lay off the booze tonight and gives him a vial of coke – “instant concentration” for the match. Jake says he doesn’t need it, but he still puts it in his pocket. Uh oh!

Wasted Jake +1

Nina and Aisha are at the mall, supposedly looking for a Homecoming dress for Nina. Instead, she’s bought a Pearl Jam CD*

Even in the 2014 reprints, these kids don’t have phones, and someone pages Aisha over the Mall tanoy system. There’s a phone call for her and it’s Zoey – she’s at the hospital with Christopher. We learn that Christopher will be ok but he’s swollen and bruised, with some broken ribs. As soon as Zoey says he was beaten up, Aisha gets it: this was about the colour of Christopher’s skin, and the girl he was talking to. They talk to the police who say there’s not much they can do as neither Zoey or Christopher can describe them. Aisha is still mad at Christopher, but she also loves him. She goes to his side, and he’s out of it on painkillers but they are pretty cute together.

* Back to the Future: 2014 Nina doesn’t buy CDs, which is understandable. She buys a copy of Rolling Stone instead, which feels pretty much as obsolete as a CD. Doesn’t 2014 Nina get all her music news from Buzzfeed, YouTube and Snapchat?

We leave the hospital and Aisha is quietly raging. When Zoey presses her, she explodes – years of frustration bubbling over – “You were standing right there, but oh, no, you can’t give any kind of description . But I’ll bet if they were black guys you’d have remembered them. Damn right you would.” She and Zoey shout back and forth before Nina intervenes and they reach a truce- “You two aren’t mad at each other. You’re mad at the guys who hurt Christopher.”

Badass Aisha +1

[Wing: Aisha is not wrong.]

We go home with Lucas, and there’s a great description of his Mum, a “faded woman” who barely exists, not “really a person at all but a subset of her husband.” This is the first real Lucas moment of the book, but I can’t enjoy it because we discover that he did see the men who beat up Christopher and he can identify them – it’s the white supremacists from chapter 4. I knew he should have just punched them on sight.  He won’t tell anyone though, because he’s not “going to turn Christopher’s problem in to Zoey’s.” Yup, let that sink in – Lucas won’t identify the men who assaulted his black friend, so he can protect his white girlfriend from the possibility of maybe being harmed.. Oh, Lucas! You are not winning any points from me in this book.

[Wing: Jesus, I’d forgotten about this, too. What the fuck, Lucas? WHAT THE FUCK.] [Dove: This re-read is sobering. I don’t remember Lucas being this much of an ass.]

Aisha is doing Christopher’s paper round while he is in hospital. It’s stupid o’clock in the morning and freezing cold. Zoey shows up to help, but Aisha isn’t exactly pleased to see her, despite the fact she brings coffee and pastries. Aisha concedes she’s not mad at Zoey, she’s mad at the world. What follows is probably the first explanation of Privilege Theory that I ever heard – I was probably about 10 or 11 when I read this and it’s always stuck with me:

“See, I’m as smart as you are, Zoey, maybe smarter in some subjects. I guess I’m more or less as pretty as you are, I can work as hard as you do, I can deal with people as well as you do, I even come form a family that’s not that much different from yours. And what you think it ‘Hey Aisha and are are friends, we’re mostly the same, what’s the big problem?’”

…Only, we’re not. No one will ever call you a nigger Zoey, or tell you to get out of town and go back to the ghetto where you belong. And no one is ever going to refuse you a chance or a job or whatever because you’re the wrong shade. Cops aren’t going to pull you over because you look suspicious driving a nice car or… or treat you like you must be a shoplifter every time you walk through a department store. There’s a big difference between you and me Zo. It’s not your fault. I know you’re not racist, but just the same it’s hard not for me to resent it sometimes when it’s like the whole damned world is going ready to open up for the lovely, lily-white Ms. Zoey Passmore but just waiting for the right time to try and step on the lovely, ebony Ms. Aisha Grey.”

The standing ovation Badass Aisha deserves
The standing ovation Badass Aisha deserves

For a kid who had mainly been reading Sweet Valley and Point Horror books, this was mind blowing. And Aisha’s impassioned speech makes Lucas’s silence on the identity of Christopher’s attackers even harder to bear. [Dove: Outstanding.]

Badass Aisha +25

[Wing: Aisha. Aisha, you are the best.]

We get another music reference – Ben is musing on the difference between his and Nina’s musical tastes as he gets ready for the Homecoming Game. Which is somehow linked to the dance? Anyway, Ben is taking Nina to both, as his date. Zoey repeats the sort of things Claire has already said to him, echos of the exact things that are playing on his mind – he knows this date is a big deal for Nina, and is worried about making any kind of misstep.

BenjaNina +1

Back to the Future: 1994 Nina relys heavily on a few bands – we get another mention of Pearl Jam and The Chillies. 2014 Nina is also into Black Keys and The Strokes. Benjamin in any timeline prefers Mozart – here we get Symphony No. 40

Lucas is watching Jake at the big game. He’s all over the place. We also learn that the guys who have been nominated to be Homecoming King all have to wear white tuxedos, rented by the school? This is so strange to me – We had “discos” in the school hall till around the age of 14, we’d wear our best jeans and maybe dance with a boy from the nearby boys school, and perhaps even have a snog. By 15, the school didn’t want to facilitate teenagers getting drunk and besides, we’d realised the dodgier nightclubs in town would let us in, and serve us drinks. But my nieces all had Proms, so I guess Homecoming will start over here soon enough too. It’s sad to see the old traditions die: I hope that in boring seaside towns up and down the English coast, teenagers still shun school arranged activities in favour of 50p shots of Peach Schnapps and the last bus home. [Dove: My school tried to have a “prom” for the leavers on the final year. It was held in a pub, and everyone rocked up in jeans, except for the daughter of a teacher who wore a full-length gown… in tartan.]

[Wing: The white tuxedo thing is weird, particularly because the school is renting them for the guys. Also: white tuxedos in general are super impractical, why are they a thing? Why are white dresses a thing? In my experience, most of the drinking happened before and after the Homecoming dance; we were too busy dancing to drink much during.]

Anyway. At half time, Lucas is putting on his suit with the other guys, he’s not into the whole Homecoming King thing, but it’s important to Zoey. There’s some jokes about K-Burger. Jake is pretty down about the score in the game and sneaks to his locker to snort the coke his team mate gave him. Which, btw, Jake hoofs up like a pro, is this supposed to be his first time?

I feel like you've done this before Jake...
I feel like you’ve done this before Jake…

Shame the Slutty Slut +1

Wasted Jake +1

Lost in Translation +1

The girls are also changed for the half time announcement, in powder- blue dresses with bare shoulders and plunging necklines, waiting for the convertibles that will take them onto the football field. Is this real life? [Wing: I have never seen a Homecoming court where everyone matched. This is weird. Also, those dresses sound horrific.] Louise Kronenberger is also a nominee, and there’s some jokes about her sex life but she gives it all back, teasing Zoey about Lucas. Jake arrives, much perkier now, and flirts with Louise. Lucas tells Zoey that Jake took drugs, but she doesn’t believe him even though he’s being weird. She rides to the field with Jake, who is buzzed and chats away about how Claire isn’t all that, and how he’ll win the game in the second half and any other words that occur to him.

Lost in Translation +2

Nina narrates the game and the announcement for the benefit of Benjamin. And us. She’s hilarious. A massive big deal has been made about the announcement during half time, but apparently every one knew who King and Queen were anyway? It’s Lucas and Louise Kronenberger.

BenjaNina +1

Jake has a couple more lines before heading out for the second half. I know very little about American Football, but it seems like The Drugs Don’t Work and Weymouth High still loses the game. However, after the match the coach confronts Jake – the coach from the other team is suspicious of Jake’s performance in the second half and wants a drugs test. Apparently though, coach has a strategy for this kind of occurrence: Jake can refuse the test, be banned from the team for a week and then do the test to be reinstated. Seems like Coach has been here with his teams before.

Wasted Jake +1

Jake’s pretty bummed out when he leaves though. He ditches the cocaine, but heads to a party with the stoner kid from the Homecoming court and Louise K-Berger. He gets wasted, they start chatting, he ends up on a bed with her, she’s making all kinds of moves and

He felt barely awake, in some halfway state between consciousness and nothingness. “Claire?” he asked. “Yeah, it’s Claire,” a girl’s voice said, laughing.

Fade to black, but I’m pretty sure the implication is that Louise sexually assaults Jake while he’s too drunk to know what is going on, let alone consent. I’m not sure that the series ever views it in these terms though, because it was the Nineties and consent was really not a topic, least of all the idea that a man could be a victim of sexual assault at the hands of a woman.

Wasted Jake +1

Aisha, Nina Zoey and Lucas are delivering Christopher’s papers. It’s early and cold, they’re tired and grumpy. They come across a passed out Jake down on the dock. It’s too cold to leave him there, and they can’t take him to his house so they take him to the Gieger house, as their Dad is least likely to notice. Claire sees them arrive and goes down to the room where the gang have left Jake to sleep it off. Claire feels responsible for Jake being in this state – if she hadn’t driven while drunk and killed Wade, would Jake be in the state he’s in now? She looks after him, giving him water and aspirin.

Aloof, unavailable Claire -1

Wasted Jake +1

Zoey and Lucas head to hers to go to bed. Lucas pressures Zoey for sex. She explains how consent works. He applies some more pressure. She asks him if he even brought a condom with him. He didn’t, which handily proves her point that while he might think he’s ready, he’s clearly not prepared. He misunderstands and asks if she’ll do it if he gets some condoms and Zoey, who embodies patience that Lucas does not deserve, spells it out once more: “I’m saying that when I decide I’m ready, you’ll be the very first person to know.” Zoey is great here, and makes her boundaries really clear. I wonder if Lucas revived the message though? We better not see this bullshit again.

Condoms, condoms, condoms!
Condoms, condoms, condoms!

Horn Dog Lucas +10

Ben’s diary – he’s musing on love. Different kinds of love, and the different women he feels it for. His Mum, Zoey, Claire and Nina. He’s struggling with the idea of swapping love-her-like-a-sister-love that he feels for Nina for another kind of love. [Wing: I’m not sure I believe you can make this swap, at least not in this direction.]

Ben and Nina are on their way to the dance, being hilarious and sparky. They like being with each other, and are able to read each other well. Nina realises she should feel nervous, but instead she’s having fun, and Benjamin likes the way she gives him time to listen to what is happening around them and orientate himself. They are so cute together.

The kids all pop to the hospital to see Christopher on the way to the dance. He’s much better and is going to stay with Aisha’s family at the guesthhouse while he recovers. We also learn that Mr Geiger has been paying his hospital bills – Nina says it’s “Liberal White Guilt.” Which is interesting, as I’m not sure we’ve particularly seen Burke presented as a “liberal.” [Wing: Agreed, and I would have pegged him as more conservative due to the business breaks.] Island solidarity is nice, though. Before they go, Christopher wants to talk to Lucas alone.

We arrive at the dance and Nina is on the edge of panic. She’s convinced everyone is staring at her, judging her and her date with Benjamin, thinking about what they’d heard about her Uncle. Ben is super supportive though, and she styles it out by slipping on some dark glasses of her own and an unlit cigarette.

BenjaNina +1

There’s dancing. We find out that Christopher wants Lucas to get him a gun, and Lucas is a bit annoyed that Christopher thinks he can. Lucas ignores the fact that Christopher probably wouldn’t want a gun if someone (like, I dunno, LUCAS?) would identify the people who beat him up… Anyway, Lucas can’t think about it for long, because he has Homecoming King stuff to do, like judging Louise K-Berger, while trying not to be attracted to her. Louise plays up to it, and lets slip that she had “sex” with Jake the night before, and virgin shames Zoey. They have a first dance, like at a wedding. This is weird.

By the way, I totally picture Louise K-Berger as Sharon, from My So-Called Life.

Louise Kroneberger
Louise Kroneberger

Shame the Slutty Slut +1

Girl on Girl Crimes +1

Lost in Translation +1

Nina is narrating the dance for Benjamin, including Lucas and Louise’s big dance. Have I mentioned how hilarious and adorable they are together? No? Well, they are! [Dove: Nina should commentate every school event ever. Even in other fandoms.] Zoey is fuming that Lucas is dancing with K-Berger, so indulges in a bit more slutshaming. Finally, we get to the root of her issue with Louise: Zoey feel insecure in her relationship with Lucas, does he love and respect her enough to wait till she’s ready to have sex?

Benjanina +1

Girl on Girl Crimes +1

Shame the Slutty Slut +1

Horndog Lucas +1

No one is as cool as Christian Slater and Winona Ryder. Even in 2014.
No one is as cool as Christian Slater and Winona Ryder. Even in 2014.

Meanwhile, Benjamin is really enjoying his date with Nina. She’s making his pulse race, and while it’s caught him off guard he’s not one to ignore a good thing. He chats to Aisha and we get a celebrity reference – they look like Christian Slater and Winona Ryder – “Cool, but not phoney.” The music has turned to slow dances, and Nina is uncomfortable.. She and Benajmin head outside and she’s on the edge of a panic attack. She’s been having a great time, and she wants to kiss Ben, but she can’t help but think of her Uncle. She tells Ben all this, and he’s lovely. He tells her that they don’t have to do anything, but goes on the record as saying he’d like to kiss her if she wants. He finally sees what has been in front of him the whole time! He invites her to go on a second date and Nina has calmed down enough that she lurches in for a kiss! And she isn’t sick! It’s lovely. And it’s the end of the book!

Actual footage of BenjaNina's first kiss
Actual footage of BenjaNina’s first kiss

BenjaNina +100

Back to the Future: Apparently, no one is as cool as Christian and Winona- this is still who 2014 Aisha chose to reference. [Dove: I bet 2014 Nina knows who they are. Heathers would be in her Netflix queue.]

Final Thoughts

Although the book is called Ben in Love, and Benjanina are adorable, the clear winner of this story is Aisha, with a banging 31 Badass Aisha points.

Overall, these books have really held their own in the OMG TWENTY-THREE years since they were first published. There’s some typical wincing at the different social norms of the past– I read a lot of current YA, and there is stuff in 90s books that would never make it past a publisher now without being analysed further in the story – Like Jake’s encounter with Louise. Or the slut shaming of Louise. Or anything with Louise in it – That said, I think the story line with Christopher is handled really well, and I loved Aisha’s speech to Zoey – way ahead of it’s time for this kind of series. I’m interested to see if Lucas does the right thing in the next book, as I genuinely can’t remember.

The writing is good, and the characters are so well developed, which shouldn’t surprise me, because I still enjoy work by these authors now, in a totally nostalgia free way. If you haven’t read Michael Grant’s GONE series, then what are you waiting for?

[Wing: Well, Dove has just perked right up again at that mention. She loves the Gone series, introduced both Raven and me to it, and tells everyone to read it (or at least that’s my impression). And it is a lot of fun.

I had really forgotten how much I dislike all of the guys at this point in the series. I hope they are redeemed eventually, or I am going to question my fond memories.]

[Dove: I’m agreeing with everyone here. And for the record, yes, I pretty much recommend Gone to anyone who likes books. I’m also finding the guys are a lot asshattier than I remember them being. I know for sure I like them all by the end of the series (except Ben, fuck that guy), but I’m hoping it’s because they’re nicer, and not because of my nostalgia.]

2 thoughts on “Making Out #4: Ben’s in Love by Katherine Applegate (and Michael Grant)

  1. I did not enjoy this book. I am leaving my complaints here before I read your recap:
    – Christopher is the victim of a hate crime
    – Lucas knows who’s at fault but won’t say anything because he’s worried about his white girlfriend
    – Meanwhile, Zoey is concerned about becoming a welfare queen. I know this is post Reagan’s bullshit but I have no sympathy
    – Aisha and Christopher get back together because ???
    — At no point does Christopher express regret or accept blame for his lies. He blames Aisha for being mad that he cheated. At no point does Christopher apologize. “Sorry” is worth nothing. Sorry for what? Getting caught?
    — Aisha told her family that Christopher cheated. Momma Grey said boy bye (almost literally, it was glorious.) How do you walk that back??
    – Louise Kronenberger, constant victim of slut shaming, is now a rapist

    “Hands up if you wanted a Widow’s Walk as a teen because of these books?”
    I did not know familiar with one then, but I sure as hell want one now!

    ““It’s terrible when the wheels of fashion turn against the fuller-figured gals, isn’t it Claire?” Zoey teased,”
    I would like to know when fuller-figured gals were EVER in fashion. My mom laments the shame having a butt while Cher’s pancake butt was all the rage in the 60s/70s. Was there a full figured pop star in the 80s that I’m forgetting, because the 90s went hard on heroin chic. Momma LOVED J.Lo’s emergence because it was the first time she’d seen a curvy woman celebrated for being curvy.

    “Wing: Not to mention that we see the guys being more open with other people who are perhaps less obnoxiously judgmental toward them, Benjamin.”
    Christopher and Lucas seemed a fairly random pairing, so yeah, that’s on you Benjamin.

    “Even in the 2014 reprints, these kids don’t have phones, and someone pages Aisha over the Mall tanoy system. ”
    What? No. ‘Aisha ignores a call from Unknown, and then panics as she listens to the voicemail.’

    “It’s stupid o’clock in the morning and freezing cold.”
    I love this description. That’s how I feel about every morning in which I need to set an alarm.

    Badass Aisha +25
    Yes, she was 100% right about everything – except taking Christopher back.

    “We also learn that the guys who have been nominated to be Homecoming King all have to wear white tuxedos, rented by the school?”
    I’ve never heard of anything more than ‘dress nicely.’ Also, dates to the homecoming game are not a thing. I can see where they would have been in the past. One note for this: It’s called Homecoming because it’s meant to be the alumni reunion. It’s a college thing that trickled into high school, is my understanding of the tradition.

    “He didn’t, which handily proves her point that while he might think he’s ready, he’s clearly not prepared.”
    Zoey was so right about this except for the goddamn welfare inference. Also, what is up with the sexual pressure in this series? (see: Grey family asking Aisha and her response, “of course, they all do.”) The boys start pressuring as of 2 weeks of dating. I don’t recall hearing any friends getting pressured until they were together for several months? I feel like a year was usually the baseline to start considering intercourse, though perhaps this rings false since no one actually fools around. It’s kissing or intercourse only.

    “By the way, I totally picture Louise K-Berger as Sharon, from My So-Called Life.”
    Yes! Or maybe Kat from 10 Things had she decided to lean into the sexual reputation. I absolutely get the expectation to sex, but it’s so much further down the line than any of these current relationships.

    “Dove: I bet 2014 Nina knows who they are. Heathers would be in her Netflix queue.”
    Absolutely. Heathers’ reputation has only grown with time.

    “If you haven’t read Michael Grant’s GONE series, then what are you waiting for?”
    It just arrived in the mail, alright?! Start recapping that for me please! Though I know it’s 4x the size of a Making Out.

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