The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
|Genre||Young adult novel|
|Media type||Print Paperback|
|Followed by||There's a Bat in Bunk Five|
The story follows Marcy Lewis, an amply-contoured ninth-grader who hates her looks. She has a verbally abusive father and it seems her parents, Martin and Lily Lewis, are always fighting. She also has a younger brother named Stuart who tends to carry his teddy bear, Wolf, with him everywhere he goes. Her dad doesn't make her feel good about her excuses that result in her failing gym for the year. Marcy refuses to take gym due to her insecurity over her large figure. Marcy only has one friend, Nancy Sheridan. Nancy later admits she was Marcy's friend only because her mother told her to be, as both of their mothers were friends and participated in the PTA. Later on, Nancy grows to like Marcy as a good friend. However as Nancy was very popular Marcy sometimes got jealous of her.
Her English teacher, Mr. Edwards, leaves after the first month, believed to have taken a job in administration. After going through a lot of substitute teachers, the school hires Barbara Finney, a teacher whose methods are completely unorthodox, and, unlike most of her teaching colleagues, was willing to listen to her students. Through a school club she sets up, called Smedley, Marcy meets a lot of new friends. She even meets a boy who seems to be attracted to her, Joel Anderson, whose attorney father works with the Board of Education.
Then one day, the principal, Mr. Stone, comes to observe Ms. Finney. She teaches the syllabus material well, but the same unorthodox teaching techniques that work for the kids by Ms. Finney are abhorred by the school administrators, including Stone, and the vice principal, Mr. Goldman. Marcy and her friends suddenly find themselves coming to Ms. Finney’s defense when she is threatened with the loss of her job, mainly because she refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Marcy and her friends help start a protest and she, along with her friends, are suspended by Mr. Stone. During the situation with Ms. Finney, Marcy gains an ally in her mother, who is the president of the PTA. This pits both Marcy and Lily against Martin, who, like Mr. Stone, believes that Ms. Finney isn't a proper teacher, and is unpatriotic, and because of that, should be fired. Joel's father joins the fight and sides with his son, much like Lily sides with Marcy. Also siding with Lily and Marcy was Nancy's parents. Of the four students, besides Marcy's father, Robert Alexander's mother sides with Stone against Ms. Finney, and punishes her son for his involvement in the protest.
Ms. Finney brings a legal case against her firing; once in court some of her students speak in her defense. She also brings up the legal case for refusing to say the school Pledge of Allegiance. Martin becomes impossible by trying to sabotage the family's car to keep Lily and Marcy from attending the hearing. During the School board hearing, the fiercely divided board reluctantly reinstates her due to there being a legal precedent to support her stand. However, Ms. Finney, realizing that she would be going back into an impossible situation and after seeing the community so fiercely torn apart and divided by the issue, immediately resigns. Marcy and her friends feel betrayed, but come to understand her reasons, as they eventually use her lessons as they move forward in life.
The story ends with Marcy becoming closer to Joel; Lily going to night classes at the local college; Marcy's relationship with her father still strained; and for the most part life returning to normal. They get a new English teacher, who is more in line with the administration's expectations; and Ms. Finney takes classes in bibliotherapy, counseling using books and writing, which interests Marcy.
The most recent edition of the book has an afterword by Danziger explaining why she initially wrote the book and why it is still relevant today.
The title of the book comes from one of the many excuses Marcy offers to her gym teacher, named Ms. Schmidt, but she called her just Schmidt, such as "the cat ate my gymsuit" to get out of physical education classes.
Followed by There's a Bat in Bunk Five.