Tagline: Boys and gym. What a disgusting combination!
Mallory has never been a sports person. in fact, you could say gym is her least favourite subject. But now Mal's worst subject has turned into an absolute nightmare. Gym class has gone co-ed!
Mal feels totally gross in her ugly, oversized gym suit. And once they boys find out she can't play volleyball, they decide to make her life miserable.
Mal's always hated gym. But she's beginning to hate boys even more!
Right away, we're thrown into the busy pandemonium that is the Pike household. Mrs Pike tries to kick everyone outside, which is good because Mallory invited Ben Hobart over for a study session, but the quiet ends up being short-lived when the boys all come back in the house to bother Mallory and tease her about her ~*~boyfriend~*~. This leads to Mallory and Ben relocating to the Hobart residence, where Mallory was treated to a nice quiet household, younger brothers who do their own thing away from her and Ben, and homemade chocolate cake. Ben assures Mallory that it's not always like this, but Mallory sees the Hobart residence as heaven.
Things kick off though when Mallory goes back to school, and it's time to start a new unit in gym class. To Mallory's horror, not only is it volley-ball, but it's being done co-ed with the boys' gym class. At first, Mallory tries to stay home from school, but the rest of her siblings want to jump on the bandwagon, so that ends things quickly. Next, Mallory decides she's going to pretend to faint in the changeroom, just before class, so she won't even have to change. But then she gets nervous, waits too long, and "faints" with no witnesses. The phys. ed. teacher just tells her to haul her butt out into the gym.
The good news is that the teams are picked at random, so Mallory doesn't have to worry about one of her classmates deliberately picking her last. Unfortunately, once the game gets started, things go very very bad. The athletic boys on the opposing team purposefully target the ball right at her, and she keeps ducking or running away. A boy on her team tries to get the ball in her stead, but ends up plowing into Mallory when she doesn't get out of the way fast enough. Her gym teacher keeps yelling out advice to Mallory, but Mallory just feels even more singled out and targeted. All in all, it's an absolutely miserable experience for her.
Mallory's day doesn't get any better when she shows up at the Newtons for a baby-sitting job. Mrs Newton warns Mallory that Jamie's been acting up lately, but Mallory assures her that everything is going to be okay. Unfortunately, it isn't, and Jamie spends the whole time being a brat. He breaks all his crayons and throws them at Lucy's bedroom door while she's napping, claiming he's making "rockets". Then he screams that he wants to call and hang out with his friend, which wakes up Lucy. Then while Lucy's getting changed, Jamie runs off and hides, frightening Mallory. Eventually Mallory finds him, and they get into a juvenile insult match, before Jamie starts running around the house again. He eventually knocks over a vase, and then cuts himself on one of the glass shards. As Mallory tries to clean him up, Jamie fights and screams, acting more like Mallory's trying to amputate his finger than put a band-aid on it.!
Meanwhile, Jessi has her own baby-sitting woes with her siblings, in particular Squirt, who's being a handful. This leads Mallory to the come to the conclusion that all boys are awful! This is further reinforced during her next gym class, where things aren't any better. She gets clobbered in the face by the ball, and while the boy who served it apologizes, Mallory's had enough. She snaps at him, she snaps at her gym teacher, and gets sent off the court for the rest of class. Mallory goes home where her mom leaves her in charge of her siblings, because she has to pick up Margo from school. The boys annoy Mallory, and she runs to her room to wallow in despair.
Mallory eventually comes to the conclusion that if she benches herself, she won't have to play volley-ball. At first, she has an internal conflict, warring over her need to be good and have an unblemished school record, but eventually she decides to go through with it. It leads to her getting detention. Mallory muses that this might be the start of her descent into a life of mischief and crime, but ultimately decides that detention isn't so bad when she realizes that she can do her homework in peace and quiet, completely undisturbed. No volley-ball and time to do homework? This seems like a win to Mallory, until she's told that her parents will receive a written notification about her detention. This leads Mallory deciding that she'll just have to commit mail fraud and intercept the mail every day for the next few weeks, until the volley-ball unit and all her detentions are over.
At the next Club meeting, Mallory declares in front of everyone (including Logan, who was attending the meeting) that boys are pains and that they are no good. She mentions that Logan and Ben may be the exceptions (Ben waited after school for Mallory, even though her detention), but that overall, boys sucked. Later, Jessi tries talking to Mallory, saying that she's just equating boys with her hatred for volley-ball. Mallory insists that they're one and the same: boys love volley-ball, so volley-ball is horrible just like boys. When Jessi tries to tell Mallory that she likes volley-ball, Mallory stubbornly ignores her.
Eventually, Mallory sits for the Hobart boys, and realizes that they're perfectly fine. She then comes to the conclusion that it's because they're foreign, and that there must be something about the way Stoneybrook raises children that's adversely affecting the boys. Mallory eventually decides it's because of phys. ed., and how much importance is placed on boys and sports and winning. Mallory keeps contemplating all this while the Hobart boys calmly watch a martial arts film. Eventually Ben returns home, and is surprised at how good his brothers are being. Mallory cannot believe him, and keeps telling him how she'd trade brothers with him any day.
It comes to Mallory's attention that by constantly sitting out phys. ed., she runs the risk of failing, so she decides to try volley-ball again. Her teammates don't greet her warmly, and eventually Mallory gives up again. Instead of barking out encouragement, her teacher tries to actually talk to Mallory about what's going on. However, she ends up just further creating resentment in Mallory by equating quitting volley-ball in gym class to being a failure in life, and Mallory just doubles down on her detentions. Since clearly detention isn't a deterrent for Mallory, she instead gets assigned to wash all the pinnies from the phys. ed. classes using the washing machines in the home ec. room. This humiliates Mallory, as she has to keep the classroom door open, and everyone in her class stops by to tease her.
So things continue, with the Club members having trouble with the boys they sit for, and Mallory having trouble with phys. ed. class and the boys in her class. Then Mallory forgets to get the mail, and her parents finally find out about the detention. Her mom sits down and talks to Mallory, and Mallory breaks down crying, explaining everything. Her mom talks her through things, and Mallory realizes how good it feels to cry and get it all out and to stop trying to act so tough. She promises her mother to talk to her teacher and actually try volley-ball.
So Mallory talks to her teacher, and although her teacher isn't willing to make someone sit out and give Mallory pointers, she does offer to talk to the boys' gym teacher and have them lay off Mallory a bit. She points out that in terms of game strategy, they're playing exactly right, but that she can see how it's getting on Mallory's nerves and making her life miserable. Mallory survives the last 4 sessions of volley-ball, but is ultimately happy when it's over. Unfortunately for her, she now has to worry about getting impaled by arrows, as they're doing archery next and it's still with the boys. However, unlike volley-ball, there's a sense of order and precision to archery. Because of the high risk factor, everything has to be done on command: everyone shoots together, everyone retrieves together. Also: everyone was on even ground, because it was everyone's first time doing archery. Because of how few people could shoot at a time, Mallory gets lots of time to watch people and absorb the instructions and think about it. When she goes to shoot, she finds she can't even draw back the string, but her teacher then gives her a smaller bow. With a lighter bow, Mallory is actually able to shoot, and is actually pretty good at it! By the end of class, Mallory has a bull's-eye, and her teacher asks her to try out for the school's archery team!
Mallory then spends time agonizing over whether she should even bother trying out. Eventually, she does and predictably makes the team. When she gets home, she finds that her brothers had baked a cake for her and written "Congratulations Mallory" on it (well, as best they could haha). This proves to Mallory that maybe boys and gym aren't all bad all the time.
The "subplot" in this one is all of Mallory's wanting to switch brothers with Ben coming to fruition. They switch brothers for one night. Mallory's expecting a night of peace, but what she gets is terror. First, the boys are really excited about bunk beds and sharing one room for all of them. They've always wanted bunk beds, and sharing one room made it seem even more like a sleepover party. Then Mallory introduces them to the rec room, which they interpret as the "wreck" room, and get excited about a place they're allowed to make a mess in (they have a living room and a den at their place). The girls get really excited about their guests, and teach the boys all about jumping up and down on furniture, which is something they apparently don't do at their home. The Pike household also had all sorts of games and things that the Hobarts weren't used to, and they weren't used to sitting at such an unusual dining space for dinner. (The Hobarts have a dining table that seats 6: their parents at either end, with two boys on each side on their own chair; the Pikes have a long table with bench-like seating, almost like a giant indoor picnic table.) Then with so many "siblings" to distract them, the boys couldn't settle for bed, and the girls were excited for new guests, and they tried telling scary stories and having one giant slumber party in the boys' room. Mallory cannot believe it, and can't wait to swap back with Ben. The night-time doesn't get any better, as the boys can't sleep all in the same room and bunk beds prove to be too distracting for them. Eventually Ben calls Mallory and asks if she wants to swap back. Mallory is expecting Ben to tell her how terrible her brothers were, but he says they were perfect guests and tells her about all the special things they did together. It makes Mallory realize that boys are boys, and to appreciate her own siblings a bit more.
- I don't remember liking this one. At all. I also get this one and Mallory on Strike mixed up.
- I like how right on the first page, Mallory goes into her rec room, declares that it's pandemonium, and proceeds to repeat herself because "no one had paid any attention to me the first time". It's such a childish thing to do!
- I always like when the ghost writers take time to single Byron out as being quieter, more sensitive, not as athletic as the other two triplets.
- This book always makes me glad I only had one sibling, and that we were far enough apart in age that I never saw him! It also makes me very very very glad I live alone now!
- Also: thanks to Mallory gushing over Mrs Hobart's homemade chocolate cake, now I want chocolate cake! The problem is: I'm not generally a fan of chocolate cake, so there's no point in my buying or baking an entire cake just for myself! haha
- In my middle school, we were allowed to wear our own clothes for phys. ed. class. In high school, we were given school t-shirts that we were expected to wear (the t-shirts came in 4 colours, and were evenly distributed, so it was a quick and easy way to always establish teams) but we could wear whatever we wanted on the bottom. I can't imagine having a standardized gym uniform. I felt ugly and awkward enough doing phys. ed., and I got to wear whatever I wanted!
- That being said, unlike Mallory, I always loved volley-ball. It was the sport I was best at (which really isn't saying much haha)! In middle school, our phys. ed. classes were segregated, but volleyball was one of the units we did together due to the limited amount of nets you could set up in the half-gym (in the half-gym, you only got 2 nets [one in each half, so each gym class would only have one court to play on]... in the full gym, you could get 3!)
- As annoying as Mallory's whining and moaning is, I have to admit, it's probably fairly realistic. I was fairly over-dramatic as a preteen/teen (I still am!) and I definitely was not the biggest fan of phys. ed.
- Her pretending to faint reminds me of how she pretended (and then actually did!) sprain her ankle to get out of the Sports Festival thing.
- Mallory notices that Jamie is acting up, deduces that he's probably feeling jealousy or resentment towards Lucy... but she still then goes on to gush about Lucy and talk about Lucy and be like, "OMG JAMIE, LUCY HAS CHANGED SO MUCH SINCE I LAST SAW HER, THIS IS GREAT!" Like, wow, baby-sitter of the year here haha
- Again, this just served to remind me how much I'm glad I don't have children and that I live alone! haha
- As juvenile and stubborn as Mallory is being, she actually does somewhat have a point about the way boys are taught in phys. ed. and how girls are taught in phys. ed. It's part of this toxic masculinity that makes boys feel like they have to be the strongest and the winningest at everything.
- I hate however how when Jessi says she doesn't mind volley-ball, Mallory is a jerk to her and just insists that Jessi is being crazy and has taken one too many balls to the head.
- I think part of what makes the Hobarts act up at the Pike household and the Pikes behave in the Hobart household is how the households are. It's hard to see yourself as a guest when it's a house full of children and the Pikes are clearly lackadaisical about child-rearing, whereas the in the Hobart household, everything is quiet and calm, so the Pike boys are able to better see themselves as guests and behave accordingly. Furthermore, Mrs Hobart made them a special dinner and they ate in a dining room, further reinforcing their status as guests. This is even lampshaded by Matthew telling Ben, "We had a great time. They have bunk beds and you can do whatever you want here."
- I have always wanted to do archery. I think I might do it this year! I'm sure I'll be terrible haha
- I can sympathize with Mallory not wanting to try out for the archery team. I spent my childhood and adolescence believing that I was terrible at sports (and while I generally wasn't great, I wasn't terrible either; I mostly lacked confidence. There were a few sports I enjoyed that if I had had more self-confidence and put more effort into, I probably would've been pretty good at!), and so that meant I could never do anything even remotely athletic. At all. It's taken a few years, but I now actually enjoy physical activity! I'm still not great at it, and I would definitely never call myself an athlete, but it's something I can do and feel proud of myself for.
- We of course, never hear about Mallory doing archery ever again. Never.