"It Was the Ugliest Dress in the History of Humankind" or Thirteen


Have you ever grabbed a book off the shelf in your classroom and then, uh, read it about 147 times and never bothered to return it? That’s what I did with Thirteen by Candice F. Ransom. I believe I was around middle school age when I read this one. Well, I was having a shitty time in school so that narrows it down to sometime between kindergarten and my failed attempt at college.

Thirteen‘s protaganist is stick-thin, mousy Kobie Roberts. She loves drawing and cracking jokes, often saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Kobie has recently turned thirteen (duh) and is about to start eighth grade with her hottie best friend, Gretchen. Boy, has Gretchen got a “figure”! The girls are on vacation at the beach house their parents always rent. The tone for the book is set by Gretchen turning heads, Kobie puking in front of some hot dude and both girls getting ominous fortunes from some creepy arcade machine. Oh, and Kobie develops an obsession with the Byrds’ song “Mr Tambourine Man.” This comes up over and over again.

On the first day of school Kobie is forced to wear a hideous hand-me-down dress (see title).

“Made of some stiff, sturdy fabric, the dress was mud-pie brown, patterned with little yellow flowers. Plus it did all the wrong things for me. The too-wide neckline showed that my collarbone jutted out like a coat hanger, while the full skirt and babyish puffed sleeves made my legs and arms seem skinnier.”

I have to agree the dress defines fugly, but I bet Mallory Pike would wear it! On top of this Gretchen is sporting a genuine adras jumper and imitation Bass Weejun loafers. I remember reading that and wondering what the fuck madras was. Even though that shit’s back in style now I had to look it up on dictionary.com to make sure:

a light cotton fabric of various weaves, esp. one in multicolored plaid or stripes, used for shirts, dresses, jackets, etc.

I’m still sort of lost on the Bass Weejuns thing, but they must have been very hip in the 1960s. See, the thing about this book is that it’s set in the ’60s but the author doesn’t come right out and say “This is the ’60s”. As a kid I assumed the book came out in ’60s but now I see that it was published in 1986. I must say I have to appreciate the lack of Ann M. Martin-style hand-holding and excessive explanation. Although it makes it very hard to snark on this book.

As you can imagine, Gretch’s sexy outfit and eagerness to conform wins her many new, popular friends. Kobie of the fugly dress and quirky personality is not so lucky. She ends up with a turd-burglar locker neighbor called Stuart Buckley. The Buck swipes Kobie’s locker combo and ends up slamming her locker all effin’ year long.

Gretchen tries to get Kobie in with the popular crowd. At one point Kobie agrees to go to one of the school’s “mixers”. Since Kobie’s parents are cheap shits Kobie doesn’t have anything hip and happenin’ to wear. By throwing a huge fit in a store Kobie’s able to coerce her mom into getting a rust-red ribbed “poorboy” top, some green and rust patterned tights, a pattern for a hiphugger mini to be made later, a tube of Yardley lipgloss and, despite the fact that Kobie has no record player, a Byrds album. Score! By the way, it made me uncomfortable that Kobie liked the song “Mr. Tambourine Man” because I’ve heard it’s about drugs. But supposedly Bob Dylan says it’s not about drugs… uh huh.

Anyway, you’d think with such a bitchin’ outfit the mixer would go famously. However, Kobie fucks things up by putting waaaaaaay too much setting lotion on her hair and ending up with a very stiff, frizzy hairdo that I can only imagine looks something like Olivia Davidson’s hair in SVH. Gretch gets some guy to ask Kobie to dance but the guy’s not really feeling it. Finally an embarassed Kobie goes backstage only to have Stuart Buckley try to grope her! Ewww!

Later in the book Gretchen gets into a car accident that not only impairs her vision (join the club, ho) but renders her no longer hot! Waaaaaaah! Seriously, I imagine would be really shitty but Gretchen acts like more of a bitch to Kobie than she needs to. Meanwhile, Kobie thinks this whole thing is her fault for not answering a chain letter and that the accident had something to do with the fortunes she and Gretchen got from the arcade machine while they were on vacation at the beach before school started. Kobie’s had said “A room without mirrors is like a body without a soul” (Gretchen’s room now has no mirrors) and Gretchen’s said “There are dark days ahead; do not be discouraged.”

Gretchen decides after one crap day back at school that she won’t be coming back for the rest of the year. Instead she’ll be tutored at home. Kobie is scared shitless at the prospect of having to face the rest of the year alone. I’m not sure why as it seems Gretchen’s been ditching her most of the time, anyway.

Somehow despite a disastrous home ec project, a costly Heath bar binge, a humiliating play audition and a hugely anal history teacher Kobie manages to turn things around a bit. She realizes that Stuart is an annoying little prick because, as Allison in The Breakfast Club would say, his “home life is unsatisfying”. Kobie doesn’t get a part in the play, but she has some fun painting scenery. After seeing some of Kobie’s drawings (thanks to Stuart) the art teacher lets Kobie focus on drawing for the rest of the class, and if that’s not bitchin’ enough Kobie gets a record player as an early birthday present!

Kobie finishes eighth grade, which Gretchen will have to repeat because apparently she was a big, whiny, lazy-butt whenever the tutor came over. But it’s all good because Kobie discovers Gretchen, too, thought the accident might have had something to do with the fortunes and that she was miserable, too. Finally both girls understand that fortunes had nothing to do with the accident and that Gretchen’s dumb ass should have worn a seatbelt. They’re friends again and we know everything is sha la la la when Kobie once again humilates herself in front of a boy… this time by getting herself covered with garbage.

Overall I have to say this book is pretty good for YA. I like that Ransom shows Kobie’s personality through dialog and actions rather than saying “Kobie’s unique!” or “Kobie’s not good with social interactions”. Is that really so hard, various ghostwriters of BSC and SVH?


The cover of this book confused me. Which one is supposed to be Kobie? I assume it’s the skinnier one who’s laughing (I can’t imagine anyone laughing at Gretchen’s fortune) but Kobie’s supposed to have stick-straight brown hair. And, uh, I don’t think Gretchen’s supposed to be some chunky lesbian with an afro. But I could be wrong about that.

I love the Madame Zaza arcade machine because it’s sort of a chick version of the Zoltar machine in Big.

Thanks again for reading and commenting! I’m working on another Girl Talk recap for next time… MUCH better snark material.


One Response to “"It Was the Ugliest Dress in the History of Humankind" or Thirteen”

  1. agree, this book (and all kobie roberts’ series) is great, i read again and again and still funny 🙂

    i’m from indonesia by the way, and this book translated to indonesian language about 10 years ago.

    can’t find it at book store, right now.

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