|[||Tags|||||amm is green behind the ears, ann actually wrote this one?!, ann m. martin wrote this book, ann's non-bsc works, boys, just a summer romance, non-bsc snark, parody of itself, romance, things ann knows nothing about, wish fulfillment||]|
It's still snowing here in Chicago, and I still need to avoid thinking about my Serious Novel (tm), so why not hearken back to the heady summer days of 1987 for. . .whatever this is.
Sadly, this is not the cover I had as a wee!alula, which featured an incredibly dramatic sunset and Our Heroes in red, Baywatch-esque bathing suits. While I was trying to track down my lost cover, which even the Internet has forgotten, I noticed on the Wikipedia page for this book it is tagged under both “American children’s novels” and “American romance novels.” That is weirdly accurate for this book, and weird in that I didn’t find any other books with only those tags. (That is, under romance I found a few books that were tagged both as children’s books and YA books, but no others with just those two.)
This book definitely reads like a children’s book (and not a great one) in scopes, stakes, depth, and so on. And romance genre is a weird thing to try to do in a book for kids. It’s not that kids’s books don’t sometimes contain romantic arcs, especially in historical fiction or fantasy settings, but mostly the romance is secondary to the main plot—Ella in Ella Enchanted breaking her obedience curse, Cimorene and Mendenbar defeating the wizards and freeing the King of the Dragons, or. The closest I can think of to “children’s” books that are primarily about the romantic plot are Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen and Sister of the Bride, written in 1956 and 1963 (both of which are discussed in Lizzie Skurnick's excellent Shelf Discovery. And even those couple the romance with some aspect of coming-of-age or maturing on the part of the heroine. That’s the other weird thing about this book. Melanie doesn’t learn anything, sacrifice anything, make any mistakes, or change in anyway except acquiring a boyfriend. No one does. I don’t read romance-genre books, but from poking around Dear Author and online reviews, I get the sense that’s pretty unusual even in genre romance books—the romance is a reflection or an outgrowth or initially a means to or conflict with the love story. This is just. . .nothing. Not even fluff, really. What's the level below fluff?
The thing is, this book isn't awful like Slam Book or Missing Since Monday. It's weird, as is inevitable, because I kind of think Ann writes about concepts like "clothes" and "romance" and "teenagers" sort of like some kind of alien observing love through some kind of cosmic Babelfish translator, but its offenses are more irritating than enraging. It also is just not very well-written, and I thought, well, maybe I'm spoiled and snobby and expecting too much. I keep hearing this is the Golden Age of YA and all, and I cringe at pretty much every writing forum I find that scoffs at literary fiction, so maybe I am just unreasonable, and this was perfectly acceptable in 1987. And then I went to my Kindle.
So, as an exercise in comparison, here are the about the first 200 words of Just a Summer Romance:
Melanie Braderman settled herself comfortably in an armchair at her family’s beach house. She propped her legs up on the coffee table and sighed happily. “I love the rain,” she said, looking at the streaming windows.
“You’re weird, you know that?” said Timmy disgustedly.
“You tell me so several times a day,” replied Mel.
“And it never seems to do any good.”“Maybe it’s because you’re the one who’s weird.” Mel opened an Agatha Christie mystery and got prepared for a long, leisurely read.
“Mom!” yelled Timmy. “Mel said I was weird.”“I did not, Mom!” shouted Mel, putting her book down long enough to stick her tongue out at her brother. “But you are a pest. You’re the Grand Pest of the World, Ruler and Leader of Pestilence, Head of – ”“Melanie! Timothy!” Mrs. Braderman stuck her head out of the kitchen. “One more cross word and you can both spend the rest of the day in your rooms. You’re giving me a headache. It’s too muggy to argue.”
“Yeah,” said Mel. “This argument’s forfeited on account on mugginess.”
And here are the about the first 200 words of Taking Care of Terrific, by Lois Lowry, published in 1983:
I threw down the book I’d been trying to read, stared out my bedroom window for a while at the tops of the trees, sighed, and picked up my sketch pad. I doodled a few designs: leaves and stems curling around each other, intertwined. Carefully I colored in the leaves with a green marking pen, leaving some white spots for highlights, so that they looked glossy and radiant.
Maybe, I thought glumly, I’d feel better if someone sprinkled me with fertilizer. Plants do.Once I bought a dumb little jade plant at a street fair. It really needed somebody; it looked crummy and neglected, like an orphan who’s never been taken to the zoo. I gave it to my mother on her birthday, and she took over with her little tweezers and tweakers and her bottles of plant food, talking to it: “There, now. This will make you perk up,” and eureka, it perked up. Grew. Flourished.
Probably my mother talked to me like that when I was little. She hasn’t for a long time, though. My parents chose the Carstairs School because in the catalogue it said “We encourage independence.” (It also said, “We charge fifty-two hundred dollars a year tuition for day students, plus lab fees and books, and our graduates get into the best Ivy League colleges”; but the thing that hooked my parents was the “We encourage independence.”)
Which one of those sounds like a writer who respects her readers? Which character sounds like someone who has interesting things to say? Which carrot, I ask you, has a flavor?
Anyway, Ann ham-fistedly begins introducing us to the Bradermans, and Mrs. Braderman tells Melanie that M&Ms will ruin her teeth and complexion. I think Mrs. B has about twenty lines in the whole book, and fully half of them are repeating “Melanie, your teeth, your complexion.” Shut up, Mrs. B. More clumsy exposition follows, including the joke about “Bedside Manor” she uses in Stacey’s Lie. Ann’s wheelhouse is the size of an ant hill. Actually, I don't remember if I knew how to pronounce "Melanie" when I read this, although I do remember hearing my nana would have named my uncle Melanie if he had been a girl and asking "like Watermelony?" because that's how it made sense to spell it in my head.
Amusingly and ironically, in light of my children's lit quality diatribe, Mrs. B frets about Mel reading Agatha Christie, because she (Mrs. B) was still reading Nancy Drews at that age. Um, really? I’m assuming Mrs. B is probably fairly close in age to my mom, who was way into original Nancy Drews—when she was about 8. Maybe she read them once in awhile for nostalgia or picked up a new one at a baby-sitting gig once in awhile, but teenagers were definitely not the audience, even then. Also, it’s not like Miss Marple books are all that much more complex or racy or anything. I’ve never been a huge Christie fan, but I read a book of Miss Marple short stories at my grandparents’ when I was eight or so, and I think I read And Then There Were None a couple years later. (Also, I read a bunch of Mary Higgins Clark books at my grandma’s, which felt a little “racy” and sophisticated to me at age eight, even though they really aren’t.)
Blah blah Melanie’s “summertime” best friend Lacey, lives in New York, blah blah freshman year of high school jitters. Melanie complains that “Mom, do you know that I am fourteen years old and I’ve never had a boyfriend? I don’t think I’ve ever been whistled at.” Her legs are “nice and tan” but too skinny, the horror. (Because eating your weight in chocolate is totally cool if you’re skinny, but having 2 oreos is a crime if you’re fat.) Also, Mel has nice hair with “just enough wave so that Mrs. Braderman assured Melanie she’d never have to spend a hundred dollars to get it permed.” Well, thank GOD for that! Mel whines more about not having a boyfriend.
Lacey shows up. “If Mel was pretty, then Lacey was gorgeous. And of course, being from New York City, she was sophisticated. Her hair really was permed. Furthermore, it was blond. At lease it had started the summer that way. By August, thanks to the sun, it was blonder than blond. It was the color of cornsilk.” Wow, a Stacey/Laine/Dawn combo. And of course, “sophisticated.” I really don’t think Ann understands that word. However, in a daring deviation, Lacey is sophisticated but shy! And because she’s shy, she values “Melanie’s imagination and sense of fun.” Because shy people are boring and joyless! Shut up, Ann.
They decide to play Trivia Chase and Melanie brings out a ton of junk food, prompting Mrs. B’s second “Your teeth, your complexion.” Melanie complains she worries too much, and she should worry about getting her (Mel) a boyfriend, because all fourteen-year-olds want their parents to find them dating partners.
The next morning it has stopped raining and Mel and Lacey go to the beach, and treat us to some descriptions of Fire Island that I think are supposed to be lush and lyrical. They are not. The girls eat donuts on the beach, which is totally cool if you are skinny, and the rest of the family eventually joins them. They play Frisbee and Mel’s brother Timmy throws the Frisbee into some dude’s face. Mel scolds him and goes to apologize and then OMG! “It seemed all right – no bump or bruise. In fact, it seemed better than all right. Mel suddenly decided it was the most gorgeous face she’d ever seen. Wide-set brown eyes looked back at her from under a mop of dark curls. A handful of freckles were scattered across his nose. And a grin that lit up his entire face.”
He walks off and she yells for him to wait, and then when he pauses, says “Oh, nothing,” instead of asking his name. This is meant to provide some level of suspense or drama. It does not. Does Ann think being too dopey to ask a guy’s name qualifies as intrigue? Mel tells Lacey she’s in love.
Mel proceeds to spend the day scanning the beach for Mystery Boy and being kind of rude to Lacey by ignoring her the whole time. As they walk home, Mel shows off her “intelligence” by claiming the boy hasn’t been on the island long because a) he didn’t know Bedside Manor was the doctor’s house when Mel offered to walk him over and b) he doesn’t have a tan. Lacey calls her a “detective” and Mel preens about how reading mysteries pays off, since she “already” knows two things about him. They then have some very forced dialogue:
Mel smiled. “Well, it pays off. I mean, already I know two things about him. One, he’s new here, and two, he’s just beginning his vacation.”
“What do you mean, ‘already’?”
“Hmm,” replied Mel. “I’m not sure.”
Then Lacey invites her to get ice cream after dinner and Mel is happy, because she’s mildly obsessed with junk food or something, since ice cream “contains all the right ingredients—sugar, fat, and chocolate.”
They get in line for ice cream and Lacey tries to talk to Mel, who ignores her because OMG! Beach Boy is in line. “It looks like…yeah, I think he’s getting fudge ripple. Now he’s paying the guy…now he’s getting his change…He’s putting it in his pocket…He’s licking a drip on the side of his cone…Hey, he’s all alone! He’s not with anybody! He’s just walking toward the Harbor Store. Gosh, that’s sad. All alone in a great place like Fire Island. I wonder what he had to buy at the store.” Thanks for the thrilling play by play, Mel. Also, does Ann think most teenagers are dumb enough to think other teenagers routinely travel alone? Does she think this kid rented his own cottage?
Mel and Lacey have a “funny” conversation about ways to say Mel is dingbats crazy with her obsession, and then Mel proves her devotion/obsession by ordering fudge ripple instead of her usual cookies and cream. Lacey sighs and offers to go to the store to enable more spying, but Mel already saw him leave. Lol, stalking is so cute.
Well, it is for kittehs.
The next day, Mel sees Beach Boy twice more—in the morning at the ferry, meeting “a middle-aged man with curly gray hair [who] stepped off the ferry. He saw the boy immediately and held his arms wide open for a hug.” I will refrain from making a tacky rent boy joke. Later she sees him clamming alone, and tells Lacey it is sad and beautiful. “He must be very lonely, but he always seems so…serene. That’s it. He seems serene. Like he’s at peace with himself.” Lacey points out he’s not dying, and Mel declares she “will crack that shell he’s hiding in and get to know the beautiful, secretive soul inside.”
A couple of days later, Mel and Lacey get up early to watch the sunrise, which apparently they’ve tried and failed to do for years. They slept in their swimsuits to facilitate this, which seems super unpleasant to me, but whatever. They watch the sunrise, but OMG! Beach boy is there, too! Mel hops up to go a’stalkin’ over Lacey’s feeble protests about something silly called “invasion of privacy.” They follow him almost out of Davis Park, to an isolated house, and he goes inside. Lacey wants to go home, but Mel can’t believe she would give up this opportunity to spy on Beach boy, maybe even find out what he eats for breakfast! Lacey says she wants to go home, eat, and read on the beach like “a normal American.” Mel snipes not all Americans sit and read on the beach, and Lacey snarks back that even fewer spend the day hiding in sand dunes to spy on a guy their younger brothers hit with a Frisbee. Mel ignores this and demands that Lacey fetch her brother’s binoculars and cover up for her with her parents.
Mel sits and stares until the boy comes out to the porch and zomg! he’s wearing the same swim trunks he wore on Frisbee day. “That’s no coincidence, she thought. It’s fate; it’s kismet.” Wearing the same swimsuit more than one day on a beach vacation: DESTINY.
A woman in a white dress or uniform comes out with a tray of food, but ohnoes! Mel cannot see what it is, even when she squints until her eyes sting. Thank the Lord Lacey comes back with the binoculars, and also a bag with an orange, a muffin, and a hard-boiled egg. Mel decides Lacey’s feeding her means she’s totally fine with her BFF ditching her to be a creeper, but alas! Beach boy has already snarfed down all his breakfast. She spies some more and then OMG! A hand claps over the binoculars. When she shrieks and looks up, Beach boy is in front of her. So, she stared at him creepily and then got so distracted counting the windows she didn’t notice him straight in front of her. She’s not even a good stalker.
Beach boy asks what the hell she’s doing, and she says “Bird-watching,” which apparently he finds charming enough to forgive the spying and blatant lie, especially when she adds “There are great birds here. I saw a – a flamingo and a loon and twelve robins. Oh, and a sea gull.” So, if you ever get caught stalking, say you saw a flamingo and all is forgiven. At least if you have lovely eyes, hair, and are not fat.
Mel is disappointed he doesn’t immediately recognize her as the sister of the kid who beaned him with a Frisbee, but he politely says it was no big deal and Mel is “unreasonably glad that the Frisbee hadn’t flawed it in any way.” Then, HILARIOUSLY, she stares at him some more and goes on a long mental tangent about his limpid eyes. I guess she and Pete Black read the same books. She’s sure those eyes indicate great sensitivity, because handsome men are never assholes.
She shows off her “intelligence” by saying he can’t have been in Davis Park long, because he didn’t know about Bedside Manor. It’s. . .really not that funny? There’s a boutique a in my hometown that sells super-posh, pricy linens called Bedside Manor and I’ve never seen anyone collapsed in the street from the sheer hilarity of it. Anyway, Beach boy asked his Daddy-O about it, so now he’s finally in on the joke. Mel asks if his father has been here before (heh heh) and if he owns the house, but they’re just renting it for the summer, and Justin has only recently arrived because he had “work.”
Mel rambles about how her family owns their house (la-di-dah) and how her parents bought it before her older sister was even born and it’s like their first child. She stretches out her legs, and according to the e-book, wonders if she’s “walking” too much. My guess is that’s supposed to be “talking,” (I think she’s sitting down) but really, who the hell knows? Maybe Ann has some weird rule about how many steps you can take in front of a boy you like after spying on him with binoculars. “She wondered if she was acting the way you’re supposed to act the first time you talk to a boy you like. She wondered if Dee would handle things differently. After all, Dee had had a lot more experience than Mel. Then Mel wondered how it was even possible to like someone you’d barely met. For all Mel knew, the boy was an ax murderer.
No, she thought, not with those limpid eyes. It was not possible.”
Thanks, Ann. Great fucking advice. (Do I think you should go around assuming every guy you meet is a serial killer? No. Do I think it’s stupid to assume someone must be safe because he’s good-looking? Yes.)
The conversation has lagged, because despite Mel’s purported “imagination and sense of fun,” she’s boring as hell, and distracted by being hungry but not wanting to eat in front of a zomg! cute boy. This is realistic, but still annoying. When she thinks her stomach might rumble causing her to die of embarrassment, so she “solves” the problem by offering him half of the muffin. He teases her for having packed provisions, and then like a comparatively socially competent person, makes small talk by asking where she’s from. Bronxville, New York, which according to Wikipedia is among the top 20 highest income places in the United States. The Bradermans didn’t want to raise their kids in the city, to Mel’s chagrin, especially when Justin says he lives in New York.
Really?” asked Mel with interest. “Where?”
“On what?”“On whether I’m at my dad’s apartment or my mother’s.”
“Oh,” said Mel knowingly. So his parents were divorced.
Detective Mel, my ass. His mom has a collie dog named Rochelle, which Melanie finds hilarious. I have no idea why. Justin says his mother is kind of like Auntie Mame, which is a reference I’m pretty sure I didn’t get when I read this, and is kind of obscure for a kid’s book. Also, to my vast amazement, it’s being referenced more or less correctly, as part of Justin’s mom being “wild,” although I’m not sure hula lessons and spending the weekend on a yacht are the pinnacle of wildness. (Also, Rosalind Russell=amazingness. The movie is so hip—even dated hip—I’m kind of surprised Ann would like it.) His dad is a movie director, because of course he is. She asks what he does when his dad his away from New York on a movie during his time to live with him, and he says she asks a lot of questions, despite the fact that she has yet to ask TWO REALLY OBVIOUS ONES. She says maybe she’ll be a reporter some day. Anyway, when his dad is working he stays with his dad’s housekeeper, Laila, the woman in the white uniform, which seems weird and kind of depressing to me. (Not the uniform—although that does, actually; how many people after the Victorians make their housekeepers wear uniforms? Especially at a beach house?); but that custody arrangement. But dwelling on that might actually involve him or Melody having more than an ounce of personality or depth, so we resolve this by Melanie musing on how rich the boys family must be that it might be glamorous to have divorced parents and two houses for a week, but then she would be glad to live with two parents in her “snug, housekeeperless,” home. In one of the richest towns in America. Like, this is a little bit realistic in that when you grow up in a wealthy community you might not perceive yourself that way, but it seems tacky for Ann to specifically place her in a wealthy suburb and have her say this. Poor Mel! No housekeeper! However does she manage! Also, it’s interesting that Ann’s weird cluelessness about money (of course average newlywed couples can buy second homes in summer resort towns!) well preceded her growing rich of the fat of Kristy’s Great Idea.
He offers to walk her over to the Casino (restaurant/snack bar/rec center) and says it’s her turn to do some talking, and she tells him her sister’s name and her brother’s name and about Lacey, but when they get to the Casino, Timmy is there yelling at her she’s supposed to go home because they are having a “lobster picnic” since their father is arriving from the city for the weekend. Apparently this is both tragic and humiliating, so she allows Timmy to lead her away with a non-committal “See you around,” and then FINALLY realizes she never asked his name, or told him hers. Mel, you’re a moron.
Then it occurs to her that she knows where he lives, so she can always go a’stalkin’ some more. After that, she starts fretting about whether “the boy, in thinking the morning over, would decide she’d been too pushy – following him down the beach and spying on his house. Then she worried that he’d think she didn’t like him – after all, she hadn’t told him her name.” “Pushy” is not quite the word you want there, dear. She’s so distraught over this she can barely taste her lobster (poor baby!) or be bothered to talk to her dad, so she goes to sulk on the doubt and omg! Beach boy shows up, having followed her from the Harbor Store. They walk alike, they talk alike, they even kinda stalk alike! They quote a Robert Louis Stevenson poem to each other, and Mel asks if his mother or father read it to him, but no, it was his housekeeper. Wah-wah sad trombone. Mel asks what he’s been doing all summer, and he says “just working” (because all wealthy teenagers are employed from the age of thirteen-up in Annlandia) and Mel is “incredibly glad his work is finished.”
They FINALLY get around to exchanging names, so I can start calling him Justin. “Justin Time?” the ever-witty Mel “jokes.” No, Justin Hart, which is almost as bad, at least in terms of being a totally Mary Sue-esque name. (Sidebar—I know of the expression “Gary Stu,” but I always tend to think of that as being about male wish fulfillment fantasies, like Wesley Crusher, whereas Justin and his too-cute name are, I think, about female wish fulfillment fantasies, where the value of “fantasy” is “really fucking dull.”)
Mel says she’ll be a freshman in high school in the fall, and she’s terrified of being hazed by upperclassmen writing an “F” on her face in red lipstick. I still do not get this as an ur-example of hazing. Justin asks if anything happened to her older sister, and Mel says no, but uses it as an opportunity to passive-aggressively mourn how much prettier Dee is than she. Justin says he’s an upperclassmen and wouldn’t want to haze her, and Mel is shocked that he’s fifteen and not fourteen. Really? That seems. . .a bizarrely specific thing to assume. Like, if you’re five years off about a teenager, that’s unsettling. (My cousin was 6 feet with broad shoulders by the time he was 12. Of course the second he opened his mouth you could tell he was nowhere close to adulthood, but once in a while I did see older teens scoping him out from the back and then doing a double-take.) Justin says he goes to a private school and is vague about it and Mel asks if it is “Ethical Culture,” where Lacey and her siblings go, which definitely confused me as an eight-year-old reading this. I mean, Ann feels the need to laboriously describe The Wizard of Oz over and over but just throws out Ethical Culture like it’s common knowledge? Weird. Like, in general I like when authors use real specificity and let the readers infer things—there are great New York details in The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and Harriet the Spy, for instance, but they are details that feel really inhabited and natural the characters. This is just random name-dropping—if Ann were more consistent, I would think we could maybe infer something about Lacey’s family versus Stacey’s and Laine’s via school choice, but she’s not. Anyway, if you really want to stay unspoiled for the DRAMAZ of part two, ignore this link; otherwise, I suppose it’s vaguely possible Justin is being cagy about his school because it’s this one. (That’s never really followed up on in the text, so I may be giving Ann too much credit.)
He asks her to get ice cream and a walk through the wildlife preserve tomorrow at sunset and Mel practically wets herself with happiness as she goes home and dramatically announces to her parents that she has. . .a date! Her father is mildly annoyed at not getting to meet him, since they are meeting at the Casino, but Mel whines and they don’t pursue it. Maybe she’ll get eaten by a bear. Her mother hugs her and says she’s “so happy” for her, which is nice I guess, but it’s a date; she didn’t get engaged.
But dating is srs bizness, as Mel pontificates to Lacey. “It’s funny. Your first date is kind of like your birthday or a big holiday. You think about it and plan for it and dream about it, and then all of a sudden – boom, it happens. It’s right there. You think your birthday will never come – and suddenly it’s over. I’ve been dreaming about getting asked out on a date ever since Dee started dreaming about it. And then last night Justin asks me, and now, in twenty minutes, it will start, and in a couple of hours it will be over. I can’t believe it.” Um. Okay. I don’t know if I even remember my first real “date” (not because I’ve had so many—yeah, no, but because it wasn’t a dramatic formalized thing. But you know, I’m fat and have red hair and glasses, so it probably wasn’t even a date.)
Lacey says “Mmm,” as apparently Mel has been blathering on like this for fifteen minutes straight, and imaginative, “Detective Mel,” can’t imagine what the problem might be! Instead, she describes Lacey’s “to die for” outfit of a “hot-pink T-shirt under a cotton jumpsuit made from a wildflower print.” If “to die for” means “wouldn’t be caught dead in.” Mel herself is wearing a “typically Mel” ensemble of “baggy jeans, new sneakers, and a sweat shirt that said “If God had wanted me to cook, he wouldn’t have invented restaurants.” She suddenly wonders if she should change, and I call bullshit. Like, it’s fine to be the kind of girl who is totally comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, and it’s understandable to be a little obsessive about dating as a young teen, but I find it highly unlikely she’s been dreaming about going on a date for YEARS but is also so “laidback” and “down-to-earth” she doesn’t give a thought to what to wear before the last minute. She asks Lacey if she can borrow her other jumpsuit “with starbursts all over it” and Lacey says she doesn’t have time to change, and Mel looks fine, and then adds fairly bitterly that since Justin met her wearing a disgusting sweatshirt and spying on him and still asked her out, he probably isn’t going to be repelled by her current appearance. Except, amusingly, she also adds that Mel was carrying a bag with a hard-boiled egg in it, like that’s specifically a well-known turn-off. Mel is still too dopey to catch a snap that Lacey is feeling a little jealous and left out, especially since Mel ditched her in the morning to go spying and has been talking her ear off about the date, and Lacey scampers back home, to Mel’s puzzlement.
She bids her family adieu, especially since her dad is going back to New York, and frets more on the way about whether she’s dressed right, and whether she should pay for her own ice cream, yadda yadda. But then she sees him and his limpid eyes and everything is super. He compliments her t-shirt and says he has a “collection” he saves of t-shirts with slogans he likes. Isn’t that just. . .kind of having clothes? He says his favorite is one of a set he wears with his dad, where his shirt has an arrow saying “I’m his kid<--” and his dad’s has one with an arrow the other way saying “I’m his dad-->,” and I call bullshit that that’s ANY teenager’s favorite t-shirt. My brother had a shirt he loved that said “I’m the big brother.” WHEN HE WAS FOUR. Apparently the dad/kid shirts are humorous to Mel (or maybe it’s the concept that they have to walk exactly next to each other so they don’t point to strangers?) and she says she has one of those “Grandma and Grandpa went to Florida and all they brought me was this dumb T-shirt” shirts, but she was too embarrassed to wear it and he agrees, and I fail to see how that’s any stupider than “I’m his kid <--.”
Justin says his father has been away, but is coming back soon, but mysteriously says they won’t see each other. Then he distracts Mel with ice cream, because like Claudia, “I could probably recite the ingredients on any package of junk food you handed me – Yodels, Ring-Dings, Ding-Dongs, Twinkies, fruit pies…You name it – I know it, love it, and eat it. I’ll have a butterscotch sundae. It’s the sweetest thing I can think of.”
When they are eating their ice cream, Justin says it feels like he’s known her longer than two days, and Mel is marginally witty when she says it feels like at least three days. Justin drama-llamas he wishes it didn’t feel that way, and Mel “feels something tear inside her.” Ew. Also, for bonus Freudian imagery, Ann interrupts the dialogue throughout this scene to describe exactly what Mel is doing with her whipped cream and her cherry.
Like, line of dialogue, Mel picks up the cherry. Line of dialogue, Mel holds the cherry while rearranging the whipped cream. And for the kicker, not only is the imagery hilariously creepy, it doesn’t even make chronological sense, since he chooses to wait for “the moment that Mel was about to pop the maraschino cherry into her mouth to drop his bombshell,” and then in the next line she hasn’t picked it up yet. ANN. It is too early in your career to start with the crack.
Anyway, Mel pathetically whispers “Why?” and he says “Because it’s going to be so hard to leave.” “That was when Mel popped the cherry into her mouth. She sat there for several seconds, unable to chew it. “What do you mean?” she finally asked, tucking the cherry into her check like a hamster.” Sexy!
Also, with adult hindsight this strikes me not so much as passionate and tragically romantic, but kind of manipulative. It reminds me A LOT of a guy I met early my freshman year of college who fretted to me a lot about how he wasn’t sure he could handle the responsibility of having sex with a virgin, because he didn’t want to hurt me, since I was so “white and pure and round(!) like a snowball.” It just smacks of engineering a scenario where you get to disclaim any nasty stuff like emotions first, and put it on the other person to either disprove or to deal with.
Justin says he’ll be back in a week, but Mel whines about how then they’ll only have two weeks, and asks what could be so important to take him away from Fire Island for a week. Um. He’s fifteen. Does she really think he’s totally independent to go or stay? He says he has to finish his “work,” and Mel FINALLY asks what he does, but in the most whiny, passive-aggressive, “what work could POSSIBLY be worth leaving Fire Island for?” kind of way. He says it’s hard to explain, but he’ll be back Saturday. They have a “scuffle” over who should pay for the ice cream; Mel says boys shouldn’t always pay (true) but Justin points out he asked her, and says she can pay next time if she wants, which practically causes her to explode from happiness again. They go for their walk and then Mel goes home, to find Lacey sitting on her (Lacey’s) porch in the dark. Mel starts gushing about her date, and Lacey says she’s busy, and instead of taking a hint, Mel argues with her until Lacey says she really doesn’t give a shit about the date and she doesn’t like being used. Mel protests, and Lacey says Mel is acting like she can just expect Lacey to be waiting for her whenever Justin’s not around, and Mel oh-so-adolescently snaps that Lacey’s jus jellus. Lacey says yeah, actually she is, and their summers are supposed to be about them being BFFs, and is on the verge of tears. Mel pretends not to notice, and obnoxiously says she thought Lacey would be happy for her (for fuck’s sake, it was a sundae, you get married), but Lacey is obviously “too immature” for that. As opposed to the incredible maturity demonstrated by spying on a boy through binoculars, like grown-up sexy sophisticated ladies do. The girls flounce off and omg! Don’t speak for three days.
During that time, I guess, Mel is playing Trivia Chase with Dee and Lacey’s sister, and I guess knowing that Silly Putty was sold in an egg and Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame is supposed to prove she’s really smart. I don’t know why Ann doesn’t just say Trivial Pursuit, since she describes the game board enough to make it clear that’s what it is. Lacey’s sister says Lacey is stubborn and Dee says it will work out, and Melanie drama-llamas that some people NEVER make up. Then she goes for a walk in the rain, goes home, and writes in her journal: "Blackbird, fly away. Violet petals on the wind. Good-bye, Lacey. Good-bye, Fire Island.” HAHAHAHAHA.
The next day Lacey comes over, and Mel obnoxiously blames Lacey for the whole thing, forces her to grovel, and never apologizes for being thoughtless or insensitive or ditching Lacey in the first place. Actually, she passive-aggressively observes how FUNNY it is that even though Lacey is more “sophisticated” than Mel, Mel is the first one to have a boyfriend. Lacey refrains from shoving her off the pier and gives a non-committal shrug, so Mel badgers her about if Lacey has ever liked a boy and scoffs when Lacey says she’s unsure, and then that she worries boys won’t like her. Which is pretty rich from the girl whining about the tragedy of never having a boyfriend at the ancient age of fourteen a week ago. Mel insists boys must like Lacey because she’s “sophisticated” and wears cool clothes (what every teenage boy cares most about!) and Lacey tries to articulate that maybe there’s more to it than that, and she doesn’t know what to say to “boy-people,” and right now, she’s more worried that Justin will change the relationship between her and Mel, which Mel basically blows off. So I guess that conflict is resolved!
Also, Melanie's kind of a self-centered brat, if you hadn't noticed yet.
On Saturday, Mel gets up early to meet the ferry, and wears the make-up she demanded her sister help her apply the night before. Maybe it’s because I have lot of eye issues, but I wouldn’t want to share a mascara wand with someone, even if I had a sister. Justin arrives and they go to drop off his luggage, and for no particular reason, Mel decides she doesn’t want to meet Leila. They go for a walk and Mel tells him all about her fight with Lacey, and he observes it happens to guys, too, although never to him. Mel says she guesses they realized no one did anything wrong, although Lacey felt hurt. Okay. He asks what else she did and she says she played Trivia Chase and wrote in her journal and worked on a watercolor and read an Agatha Christie book and Justin is amazed at what a super-Renaissance woman she is. FYI, she will do pretty much nothing interesting in terms of writing or reading or art ever again in the book. He fobs off a question about what he did by omg! Holding her hand.
The next day they visit with their respective fathers, and the day after that they go clamming and for a walk in the wildlife preserve, where they see a few deer, and Justin says if he were a deer he wouldn’t be scared of Mel. Hot. Another couple days and they have another boring conversation about how long they have until Labor Day, and Justin says ominously he won’t be back next summer, and says they should enjoy the time they have, and then break it off completely without staying in touch. Mel is horrified, but Justin insists it is better this way and kisses her, making her “tingle with pleasure.” And they agree it will have to be “just a summer romance,” and I think this is supposed to be very moving and passionate and not what it actually is, which is boring.
Labor Day weekend, Justin comes to the house and invites everyone, including Timmy and Lacey, to join a volleyball game on the beach, and Mel bugs Lacey a bit until she says Justin seems like a nice guy. Mrs. Braderman suggests inviting Justin to a seafood cookout and he arrives promptly at seven, looking both “well-dressed and casual,” and Mel brings up his limpid eyes again. They eat dinner and play Trivia Chase men against women, and the women win because of Melly Sue. She walks him partway home and asks if she’ll see him the next day and he says maybe, but definitely Monday to say good-bye, and they have another passionately dull conversation about “just a summer romance/but it doesn’t have to be/oh, but it does.”
But on Sunday there’s a hurricane coming (I don’t know, in 1987 would that really not be predicted until one day before, or are the Bradermans just as feckless about weather reports as the people of Stoneybrook?) and the island is being evacuated in the morning, and Mel is primarily worried that she won’t get to say good-bye to Justin, so she runs out at night to go to his house.
It’s all dark, but that’s because he’s having a candlelight supper, as divorced dads and their teenage sons and long-suffering housekeepers so often do, and they go sit on the beach, which is totally sensible when a hurricane is imminent. Justin’s dad is pleased to be refunded one day’s rent, so I guess what with him being a movie director and a cheapskate, I should be glad Ann didn’t just make him Jewish, probably because a stereotypically Jewish name isn’t as sexy as Hart.
Mel tries to convince him that even if they can’t continue their romance, they could at least keep in touch as friends and try to see each other, and Justin says he couldn’t bear to see her knowing she’d been with other guys, and claims on her behalf she would feel the same. Ew. She pitifully begs for his address if only to send a Christmas card, and he mocks the idea. Finally he grudgingly allows her to give him her address, but claims there’s no point in giving her his, since his mom is moving to LA and his dad might move to a different apartment anyway. Mel finally thinks that this is beginning to be a bit suspicious and asks if he’s dumping her so she can’t dump him and he is shocked and appalled at the very notion, and coaxes Mel into saying she’s not actually being dumped. He’s actually kind of creepy in this scene, under all the Nice Guy crap. They kiss again, and Mel muses pseudo-poetically on how they are like waves on the sand. In front of them, the waves poured endlessly over the sand. “Coming and going, thought Mel. The waves were a little like her and Justin. Justin had come into her life and was leaving. Maybe that was the way things were. Coming and going, arriving and leaving, greetings and farewells.” Then, in a one sentence paragraph, the book tells us, solemnly, “They didn’t say good-bye.”
Blah blah blah storm comes early, and Melanie boards the ferry, thinking Justin Hart would now be just a memory. OR WOULD HE?
Part 2 is marginally more exciting. I guess. Maybe. Also, Ann tries to describe "humor," which is always funny, although not usually in the way she means it to be.