Mary Rodgers Essay - Critical Essays

Rodgers, Mary

Introduction

Mary Rodgers 1931–

American novelist, columnist, playwright, screenwriter, composer, and lyricist. Rodgers's books are humorous and entertaining portraits of the Walter Mitty-esque fantasies of the modern young adult. Imagination is a primary quality of her books, from the wildly wicked reveries of Simon in The Rotten Book to the fantastic transformation that takes place in Freaky Friday. Her settings are contemporary but the lessons her characters are taught are traditional morals associated with cautionary tales and ugly duckling stories. This moral element is not overtly obtrusive and the entertainment value of the stories remains high. Critics note, however, that her stories are so rife with current phrases, events, and commercial slogans that they are already becoming dated and may in the future become mere artifacts of the early 1970s. Rodgers also wrote the screenplay for the film version of Freaky Friday, and, in collaboration with her mother, Dorothy, writes a monthly column for McCall's magazine entitled "Of Two Minds." (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52, and Something about the Author, Vol. 8.)

The Rotten Book is really two books, a worldly satire and a simple, rather old-fashioned cautionary tale. The trouble starts—for Simon and the reader—at the breakfast table where Simon is dawdling with his egg and his father is holding forth on a "rotten" little boy who's ungrateful for what he has (which matches what Simon has) and who's "going to land up in jail one of these days." Whereupon Simon, wondering what the boy did, goes through a day of being absolutely rotten to everyone and everything…. [At the end of the day] Simon is taken away handcuffed while his family cheers. "He'd probably spend the rest of his life in jail (and) never even get an egg for breakfast." Cut to the breakfast table where Simon praises the egg and proceeds to behave like a model boy. The father's self-righteous condemnation of a little boy is odd to start with, and if he and Simon's mother are going through this elaborate charade on behalf of an egg, it's ludicrous. Either way, father's letter-perfect pompous and in today's context (and today's plots), the child is supposed to rebel, not capitulate. If he were to rebel, jail's not the timeliest deterrent; if it's meant simply as a warning, there are others more suitable. And suppose he didn't eat the ∗∗∗∗ egg—would he have to feel rotten? (p. 926)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), September 1, 1969.

Gregor Samsa's "Metamorphosis" to insect form is no more disconcerting than the opening of Freaky Friday: "When I woke up this morning, I found I'd turned into my mother. There I was in my mother's bed … with my father sleeping in the other bed. I had on my mother's nightgown and a ring on my left hand." But once past the alarming Oedipal implications, which Ms. Rodgers mercifully ignores, this becomes a conventional situation comedy in which 13-year-old Annabel, whose mother has switched "bods" to teach her a lesson, tries unsuccessfully to cope with cooking, laundry, budgeting, and all that…. At the height of a company crisis mother switches back (just how is never explained)…. It all ends as a lesson in mother-knows-best, and the rest is like the silly TV show you hate yourself for laughing at … but can't stop. (p. 267)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1972 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), March 1, 1972.

Jane Langton

Mary Rodgers has the knack of catching the sound of a real child talking. When Annabel [in Freaky Friday] says, "Oh, wow," it is because writer, character, page of print, and reader have all been catapulted into an Oh, wow mood. Plenty of other writers try to hit young readers with "now" ideas and phrases—make love, not war; I mean; you know; Fascist pig. You wish they hadn't. Why didn't they try to be, like, universal and timeless? But in this book the pages rush by,… and it might all be happening in the apartment next door. Freaky Friday is unputdownable. It is a gem. (p. 5)

Jane Langton, in Book World—Chicago Tribune (© 1972 Postrib Corp.), May 4, 1972.

Robert Berkvist

God rest ye, Lewis Carroll. Alice, in one guise or another, is still tripping through the looking glass. Listen: "When I woke up this morning, I found I'd turned into my mother." How's that for a trip, eh, Lew? Oh, nothing serious, of course. Not that kind of trip, just one of those wish-fulfillment jobs.

The lass doing the wishing is Annabel Andrews, a feisty 13-year-old with crushing problems—a handsome, "fantastically cool" father, an attractive but annoyingly strict mother, a disgustingly neat 6-year-old brother named Ben …, rampant orthodonture and, well you know, problems. There must be a way out….

One Friday morning, Annabel wakes up in her mother's shoes. (She wakes up in her mother's bed, too, but that's someone else's trip, not Miss Rodgers's.) She sees her father—er, hubby—off to work, the kids off to school and then goes about her business. Her business turns out to be a matter of discovering what it's like to be Annabel's mother and, in other more complex ways, what it's like to be Annabel. There's lots of spiky, convincing dialogue and an ingenious wrap-up. (p. 8)

Robert Berkvist, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 16, 1972.

Beryl Robinson

[Freaky Friday is as] bright and breezy as the title, a truly funny story about a girl who awakens one morning in her mother's body, and who—during an incredible day of revelation and opportunity—sees herself as others see her and faces her mixed-up adolescent problems squarely…. She receives surprising insight into her mother's problems…. There is wisdom as well as humor in this fresh, original story, and the impact, despite the story's fantastic basis, is successful and convincing. (p. 378)

Beryl Robinson, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1972 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), August, 1972.

[Freaky Friday takes place in New York and deals with adolescent growing pains. The characters are smart but the problems and preoccupations are not very far out]; middle-class television comedy is about the mark. It has a marvellous theme—bright but bolshie teenage Annabel wakes up one morning as her mother, and finds in the proper tradition of magical wish-fulfilment that life is not quite as cushy as she expects. Some of it is very well done, properly uncomfortable and again, very funny—for instance, the supposedly parental interview with her headmaster in which she starts by defending but ends up lambasting herself—but it is also a bit schmaltzy at times, and falters sadly at the revelation that mom herself has engineered the switch; she will not say how and Annabel cannot imagine—no doubt the author could not either….

[The book is somewhat glossy and ends a little too neatly], with ugly duckling Annabel converted into a swan. (p. 1433)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), November 23, 1973.

Virginia Haviland

[A Billion for Boris is a] deliciously original, engaging and consistently inventive story told by Annabel Andrews of Freaky Friday. Boris, who is Annabel's boyfriend, and Ben, her seven-year-old brother, complete a trio of brilliantly perspicacious and likeable characters, while a supporting cast of adults is equally well-drawn. Boris' defunct TV set, restored to working order by uncannily clever Ben, projects the next day's programs, thus providing remarkably valuable information…. Boris quickly perceives that the announcement of race-track results would be an open sesame to untold amounts of money. The author adroitly resolves the ethical problem of Boris' success at the betting office, and she portrays with comedy and poignancy Boris' earnest endeavors to alter the life style of his mother. (p. 144)

Virginia Haviland, in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1974 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), October, 1974.

[When Boris] acquires a TV set that broadcasts tomorrow's programs [in A Billion for Boris], Annabel wants to use their foreknowledge for good deeds like helping the police entertain a lost child or providing a Daily News journalist with scoops, but Boris has bigger plans. It seems that Sascha, his mother …, is not after all evil but just a flighty writer, and the only way he sees to straighten her out and make his own life bearable is to win $12,000 on the races…. [When] he loses his sudden wealth in the end on a disqualified front runner, Sascha … comes up not only with a $50,000 check from Hollywood to pay the bills but also with the apparent revelation that she loves him. This leaves Boris, who has essentially learned his lesson without suffering for his mistakes, blubbering with joy—but it's poor reward for readers who have taken in all the cheap crises and social insensitivity of Freaky Friday without any of the compensating laughs. (p. 1104)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1974 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), October 15, 1974.

Alix Nelson

It's too bad we don't reserve a special set of adjectives for books that really are commendable—witty, original, entertaining, well-plotted and well-wrought; as it is, copywriters … have so diluted those terms that when the genuine article [like "A Billion for Boris"] comes along it's like crying wolf. Wolf!…

While I'm not saying this is "Eloise" of the seventies, "A Billion for Boris" does assume an urban and sophisticated frame of reference on the part of the reader, and it evokes so much New York City local color … that it really is the perfect New York City book.

Ah, but its smart high-school repartee is so snappy (and so true!) it ought to delight the cognoscenti and...

(The entire section is 278 words.)

Janet Maslin

Freaky Friday is about a mother and daughter who magically exchange bodies for a day…. [This] production takes on a spooky, unexpected verisimilitude that ought to make it at least as interesting to adults as it is to children, perhaps even more so. Mary Rodgers's screenplay, based on her novel, supplies enough faintly Freudian undertones to pique a grownup's interest even further. Try to imagine how Annabel Andrews, a 13-year-old tomboy, must feel when she finds herself with a mature figure and a husband she suddenly starts calling "Daddy," and you begin to get the idea.

Rodgers's book concentrated mainly on Annabel and included a few soggy lessons in mutual understanding, but the movie is...

(The entire section is 166 words.)