Marci's Secret Book of Flirting. by Jan Gelman. 1990. Knopf. 104 pages. ISBN: 9780394919317
When I was in middle school, I was very particular about the kind of books I would read. I wouldn’t read anything dealing with serious illness, or where I knew a character would die. I didn’t like fantasy or science fiction, and in my mind most historical fiction books involved illness or death, so those were automatically off the list. This meant that I was almost exclusively interested in funny books and books about innocent first love. Paula Danziger, Ellen Conford, Gordon Korman, and Jerry Spinelli were some of my favorite authors during those years - mostly because these were the authors my local library had on its shelves - but if Jan Gelman’s Marci’s Secret Book of Flirting had been available to me, I can guarantee I would have checked it out 100 times.
Marci is twelve, and she has just started junior high school. Realizing she is now old enough to start dating, Marci really wants the boys in her class to notice her and take her seriously. Unfortunately, though, Marci and her best friend, Pam, are totally clueless about flirting. There are boys they like, but how do they catch their attention? How do they make it clear they’re interested? A variety of sources ultimately inform Marci and Pam’s plan of attack - including a mission to spy on Marci’s older sister, letters from Marci’s former babysitter who is now in college, and a few of their own failed flirting attempts, all of which Marci carefully documents.
Though I had never read it before, this book’s characters and situations instantly made me nostalgic for the early 1990s. The interests and concerns of Marci and Pam really remind me of a lot of the sit-coms I watched when I was a kid, which were the basis for a lot of my pre-teen romantic fantasies. Whereas many contemporary titles focus on dating itself, this book focuses on the difficulties young girls have even knowing how to get to that point. Flirting is the main focus, and Marci’s careful notes on the behavior of the boys in her class as well as the older girls in whom boys are interested would have been welcome advice to my twelve-year-old mind. The boys are also well-characterized, and I found some of their behavior funny, even as it mortified the main characters. The advice of Marci’s older babysitter is also really valuable and applicable to the real world.
There aren’t many middle grade romance novels like this out there these days. Contemporary middle grade romance tends to involve much more actual dating and much less admiring from afar and agonizing over each and every movement. (Gary Paulsen’s Liar Liar, Flat Broke, and Crush are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head, and they’re from the male point of view.) Best friends like Marci and Pam exist in books from every time period, but I think stories like this one have fallen by the wayside, and I miss them! Thankfully, there are still lots of them out there in used book stores, many of which I never knew about when they were published.
Jan Gelman had a handful of other books in the 80s and 90s, but these days, she is a business consultant. Her brief bio on her company’s website mentions her young adult publishing career in passing, but mentions no specific titles. It looks like Goodreads has the best list of her published works. I would definitely like to read more - on my next trip to the used bookstore, I will at least be on the lookout for the sequel to Marci’s Secret Book of Flirting: Marci’s Secret Book of Dating.
I purchased Marci's Secret Book of Flirting from my local used bookstore.
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