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Stuck in the 70s by D. L. Garfinkle

Stuck in the 70s

by D. L. Garfinkle

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Randomly surfing channels last weekend, I came across a classic "Three's Company" episode in which Mrs. Roper takes a cafeteria job because she's fed up by the miserly allowance her husband gives her to maintain the household. This episode from 1979 remained in my head as I read Trapped in the 70's by D.L. Garfinkle, which is set in 1978.

In the novel, Mr. and Mrs. Grey are a typical California couple having marital difficulties to which their children, 17-year-old Tyler and 15-year-old Heather, remain willfully blind. Mr. Grey has become absorbed in his work and isolated from his family, while Mrs. Grey is unfulfilled to the point where she cries herself to sleep at night. A crisis point is reached when Mrs. Grey takes a job at, yes, a cafeteria, just like Mrs. Roper. But instead of being prodded to her act of rebellion by a pair of spunky 20-something tenants named Janet and Chrissy, Mrs. Grey finds her encouragement from Shay Saunders, a time-traveling teen from the early 21st Century.

The story of women's lib and marital strife is really just a subplot of Trapped in the 70's, with the main story being a boy-meets-girl drama in which the boy is a 1978 native while the girl is an unwilling visitor from 2006 who appears one night, naked and unconscious in the family bathtub--which, come to think of it, is similar to how Jack Tripper ended up living with Janet and Chrissy in "Three's Company." The narrative of the book shifts back and forth between Tyler and Shay, with margin tags and alternate fonts to help readers tell which protagonist is speaking.

As a disclaimer, Debra Garfinkle is a friend, so I am greatly biased in favor of her book. I'm likewise biased in favor of books about time travel, and ones in which beautiful naked girls suddenly appear in random bathtubs on page one.

Four observations:

1. Star Wars was still in the theater at this time of this book, mostly because teens like Tyler and his friend Evie kept going back for multiple viewings. Younger kids like me did as well--I was seven and probably went to at least a dozen showings. Evie especially is obsessed with the character-themed collectibles. I understand trademark sensitivities when writing a book like Stuck in the 70's, but in real life Tyler would have relentlessly pumped Shay for every tiny detail about the next five movies. Also in the real world, Shay would have called up George Lucas and warned him not to create Jar-Jar Binks.

2. Strange that Tyler doesn't mention (or doesn't realize) that Shay didn't come from the future entirely by herself. She also brought with her a bathtubful of 2006 water. If only somebody had thought to save a sample, it could have been analyzed against water that hadn't travelled back 28 years in time. Perhaps it would have been different on a subatomic level, or would have shown quantum entanglement with the 1978 version of its molecules. Great mysteries of the universe might have been solved by even a tiny drop.

3. It was interesting that Tyler's and Shay's school, which each of them attended in their respective eras, did not seem to have changed much in 28 years while the local mall underwent a major transformation. Shay instantly masters the politics of popularity in the 1978 cafeteria, but she is nearly crippled by the lack of a Starbucks, Victoria's Secret, or frozen yogurt stand. I've had a similar experience. The mall my family shopped at when I was a kid has since expanded from two anchor stores to four, added a food court, tacked on a second level, and most recently popped out an entire new wing of upscale trendy shops and restaurants. Meanwhile my old high school, essentially unchanged since it first opened in 1973, is now considered inadequate and obsolete. A new $200 million school is currently under construction to replace it.

4. From the setup--modern teen travels back in time by, more or less, a single human generation within the town of his or her own birth--I expected Stuck in the 70's to be more in the mold of Back to the Future. One of the things I took for granted was that Shay would run into her mother as a teenager, or the parents of friends from her own time. She does run into her future housekeeper but that's really not a substitute for Marty McFly trying to set his future father up with his future mother.

I also expected that there would be a "closing of the circle" that time-travel stories are known for. One way or another, Shay is going back to 2006--either by some sort of time machine or by living through those 28 years and aging accordingly. She could even die before 2006 and still "close the circle" by sending a message to her mother on the day after her disappearance. I maintained the expectation of a closed circle until the very last page because I couldn't help thinking of this book as primarily a time-travel story, but it's not. The essence of the book, when the setup and setting are boiled away, is all about identity and percpetion.

Mrs. Grey is only one of several characters in the book who, through the chain of events begun by Shay's slip through time, come to realize that they are not being true to their inner selves. Mrs. Grey develops a life outside the home, Mr. Grey starts to appreciate his family more, Shay develops some much needed self-esteem, Evie learns to express herself, and Tyler gets a new haircut and bitchin' surfer duds.

This is what separates novels like Stuck in the 70's from sitcoms like "Three's Company," in which characters are not allowed to learn and grow from their experiences. At the end of the episode I described above, Mrs. Roper simply quits her job and Mr. Roper gives her a raise in her allowance--enough so that she'll now be able to buy the maple syrup he likes when she does the weekly shopping. The episode ends with the status quo restored, which is the golden rule of 70s sitcoms.

Would I, as a teen in the mid-1980s, have picked Stuck in the 70's off the shelf to read? Actually, I can avoid answering that because this book, as a time-travel story with teen protagonists that also includes underage drinking, sex, and drug use, would not have existed in the mid-1980s. But if a copy had somehow fallen through a temporal wormhole from 2007 and landed on my desk in 1986, I think I would have been disappointed by not seeing that circle closed at the end. Which is why I'm proposing an alternate ending as my latest episode of Book Review Theater!


Exterior, night, outside Jake Robbins's house in 2006. Three adults in their mid-forties sneak up the front walkway and hide in the bushes. They are TYLER, EVIE, and SHAY.

TYLER (nodding at an illuminated window above): So you're up there?

SHAY: Yeah.

TYLER: Right now?

SHAY: Yeah.

TYLER: Having sex with...Jack?

SHAY: Jake. And it's not me, you know that. It's my seventeen-year-old former self from the future.

EVIE: Except the future is now the present.

TYLER: I should go in there and break that up.

SHAY (grabs his arm): Don't you dare!

EVIE: We can't afford to mess this up, Tyler. We only get one shot and the entire space-time continuum depends on making things happen the way they're destined to.

SHAY: But I do appreciate your overprotective nature...Dad.

TYLER (blushes): I only had that one-night stand with your mother in 1987 because the paternity test said I had to, or else Shay wouldn't exist. You know Evie's my one true love.

EVIE: Thanks, babe. Hey, here comes Mariel!

MARIEL steps up the walkway and glances into the bushes. Shay flashes her a thumbs-up signal. Mariel nods and begins pressing the doorbell over and over again. A crude dragonfly tatoo can be seen on her wrist.

SHAY (winces): I told her not to get that tatoo.

EVIE: She had to, so things could happen exactly the way you remember. That's why Mariel had to take a job as your family's housekeeper and pretend to only speak broken English. I bet that's been almost as hard for her as it's been for me to get any work done without my best lab assistant.

TYLER: But you did get the time machine done, right?

EVIE: You bet! Funded by the enormous fortune we've amassed using Shay's knowledge of stock results and sports scores for the past 28 years, and using my obsessive investigations into quantum mechanics and the secret files Tyler obtained as Albert Einstein's official biographer, I've wired up Jake's Jacuzzi to a working flux capacitor...in theory.

SHAY AND TYLER: In theory?!!

EVIE: I had no chance for a test run. 1.21 gigawatts of electricity doesn't grow on trees.

TYLER (as Mariel is finally let into the house by a towel-wearing Jake Robbins): She's in. Now we just listen and wait for the signal.

SHAY (listening to a portable radio receiver): She's reaming teen-me out in Spanish. That really takes me back. I don't know how Mariel ever put up with-- Oh, there's the code word!

EVIE presses a button on a remote control device. The street lights dim, then come back up. The trio anxiously watch the window above them.

MARIEL's voice from Shay's receiver: What you do with her? Where she go? Where you hide her?

JAKE's voice from Shay's receiver: I don't know! I didn't do nothing! Please don't call the cops--I don't want to go to jail!

TYLER, SHAY, and EVIE break down laughing.

SHAY: Mariel's getting her revenge. Poor Jake--I almost feel sorry for him.

TYLER: I'll give her another ten minutes, then Jake's getting a visit from Shay's father.

EVIE: Go get him, babe!

Caption across the screen: AND WITH THAT THE CIRCLE WAS CLOSED, THE END.

( )
  tem2 | Jul 26, 2015 |
The original hot tub time machine! The end was kind of disappointing. ( )
  ptdilloway | Nov 21, 2013 |
Reviewed by Marta Morrison for TeensReadToo.com

I was on memory road while reading this book.

Garfinkle has nailed the seventies. Since I was in college and high school at the time, I remembered many of the references that were mentioned. I was also blown away about how many things that I take for granted were not around then. For today's teens, though, this book is great!

Shay is a high school student in 2006. She is burned out with life and spends her days skipping school, getting high, and having meaningless sex. She lives with her mother, who basically doesn't know that she is alive, and her housekeeper, who is really trying to get Shay back into life by taking the place of a parental unit.

After an afternoon of sex and champagne, Shay falls asleep in a hot tub. When she wakes up she finds herself in a bathtub with a teenage boy, named Tyler, staring at her. She figures out that she is in the year 1978. She and Tyler spend the rest of the story trying to get her back to 2006.

While that is happening, Shay takes a good look at her life in 2006 and her life in 1978, where she has found that she is intelligent, somewhat chaste, and has the ability to help others with their lives. This story has a good message and it's hard to put down. The characters are multi-faceted and believable. I really liked and rooted for both Tyler and Shay, hoping their lives will turn out to be great.

STUCK IN THE 70'S is also the first book I've read where the cool guy has values and is just as sweet as the geek. Whenever someone in 1978 tells Shay that she is sweet and Shay can't believe it, I remembered how powerful words are and told myself to use them to make positive changes in the world. ( )
  GeniusJen | Oct 13, 2009 |
Waking up one morning in 1978 to find a girl from the year 2006 in his room, Tyler strikes a deal with his new friend, Shay, to get her back to where she belongs in exchange for assistance in his becoming more popular at school, but when things soon get out of hand, Tyler scrambles to send her home as quickly as he can! It was a nice book. Some parts really funny and others very serious. ( )
  DF1A_ChristieR | Feb 17, 2009 |
This story of an 18 year old high school girl who falls asleep in the bathtub in 2006 and wakes up in someone else's bathtub in 1978 has a very interesting premise, but left me disappointed at the end. It's a lot of fun revisiting some of the 70's culture, but the story is not that spellbinding. ( )
  lrobe190 | Dec 22, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399246630, Hardcover)

One night in 1978, Tyler Gray wakes up to find a beautiful girl named Shay lying in his bathtub. For inexperienced, nerdy Tyler, this is not a common occurrence, but it’s even stranger because Shay insists that she’s from 2006. Of course Tyler doesn’t believe her, but once she proves it, they strike a deal: Tyler will try to help get Shay back to 2006 if Shay helps him become more popular.

But the more time Shay spends in 1978, the more she likes it. And while she helps Tyler with the popular crowd, she also wreaks havoc by going out with his worst enemy, making over his sister and helping his mother get a job as a cafeteria worker—at his school! Can Tyler get Shay home before his life is completely turned upside down?

Publishers Weekly gave D. L. Garfinkle a Flying Start for Storky, praising its "wry outlook" and "lovable hero" in a starred review. With Stuck in the 70’s, Garfinkle creates another funny look at teen life with just a touch of magic. It’s far-out, man!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:05 -0400)

A spoiled, rich, seventeen-year-old girl is mysteriously transported from 2006 Los Angeles back to 1978, where she meets Tyler, a super-smart high school senior who promises help her return her to 2006 if she will give him some lessons on how to be popular.… (more)

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