Steffie Can’t Come Out To Play By Fran Arrick

To meet a man like Favor on her very first day in New York City…

Runaway teen stories if this era can be numbingly repetitive- when 14 year old Stephanie Rudd explains that’s she ditching her terrible family and terrible mill town of Clairton, Pennsylvania, to grab her chance at being discovered as a fashion model in New York City, you know exactly where this one is going, right down to what block she’ll be working as a prostitute in no time flat.

The Plot: The catalyst for Steffie’s leaving is the return home of her 19 year old married sister, Anita, put out of the house by her husband when she becomes pregnant. Already the primary caretaker for her much younger brother, Danny, Anita’s difficult pregnancy is just one more burden for Steffie to shoulder.

Taking a city bus to Pittsburgh, where she boards a Greyhound, she arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal with $9 in her pocket and no idea what to do next.

She is immediately spotted by a man offering to help:

A tall man, handsome, he was wearing a dark fur coat- all fur– and it was open, so I could see this gorgeous gray suit he had on… and a silk tie. He smiled.

He was sure no street bum, like I’ve seen hanging around the corners in Clairton. He could have stepped out of a fashion magazine, too. His coat was so beautiful, and that gray suit. And his shoes… sharp. No scuffs. They just looked expensive. You had to be rich to afford things like that.

Apparently Covenant House wasn’t shipping out literature en masse to Clairton because girl! Only pimps wear fur coats!

The man soon whisks her into his bronze-colored Cadillac (RED FLAGS!):

“Ohh! What is that?” I asked pointing to something very-complicated looking on the dashboard.

“Ahhh. My very specially-constructed, built-in, nothing-else-like-it-in-the-world tape deck. Here, come on…” He leaned over and pulled out a tape. “You like this?”

The music had a heavy beat. It seemed to fill up my head, it was all around me. Hearing music like that, in something small and closed like a car, I don’t know, it does something to you.

He finally introduces himself as Favor and takes Steffie out for a steak dinner, a new wardrobe and finally back to his luxuriant apartment:

The bedroom had mirrors with black steaks like marble running through them. There was also a tiny marble fountain built into the floor that had real water running through it. It made such a pretty sound.

It takes a cringe-inducingly long time for Steffie to figure out that Favor doesn’t want to be her boyfriend, but a week later she’s picking up her first John on 8th Avenue.

Interspersed with Steffie’s journey into Times Square’s underbelly are passages featuring two NYPD officers, 20 year veteran Carl Yarbro and rookie Ed Feltcher. Feltcher is worried because his wife is pregnant for a second time and what if it’s a GIRL? Yarbro and his wife have some hinted-at tragedy involving fertility issues, leaving them childless. The cops are pure plot mechanization, as they pop up every few chapters, in between Steffie’s monologues, to comment on SOCIETY, but they don’t really do anything until they are conveniently on hand at the end.

Most of Steffie’s encounters with her clients are glossed over: the real drama comes in her interactions with the other girls in Favor’s stable, including his Main Lady, Glory, and her wives-in-law, Patsy and Brenda, who (not wrongly) regard Steffie as an extremely annoying co-worker, who is constantly complaining, getting them arrested and hogging the boss’s attention. Steffie’s jockeying for favor, including keeping tabs on for whom Favor is buying the NICE nightgowns with lace on the hem (not Brenda!) is pretty cringe-worthy.

As are pretty much every vignette with Yarbro and Feltcher, AKA The Pussy Posse (no, not the one with Leonardo di Caprio); Feltcher ogles, while Yarbro’s approach to law-enforcement is basically “Whaddaya?”

Favor finally has enough when Steffie and Patsy get into a fight in the street over a teddy bear, which is witnessed by Yarbro and Feltcher, and gentlemen, do you have some PHILOSOPHIES to share with us?

“There’s all forms of prostitution,” Yarbro said softly. “All forms. Lots of people prostitute themselves every day in some way or another. But the legit people, they do it with their minds mostly. ‘Yes, Boss,” ‘Yes I do,’ ‘Yes I will.’ Compromise, it’s called.”

Yarbro also relates this unintentionally (I mean, I’m assuming?) hilarious anecdote about pimpin’ not being easy:

“Orin Blue was a pimp, had a hunk of Fifty-Fifth Street and Eleventh Avenue. He had three girls and all of them were junkies. They needed and he provided. All three of them died the same year.”

“Man, in the same year?”

“Yeah, Orin Blue was put right out of business!”

But Yarbro finds he can’t get Steffie out of his mind, so he finds her living on the streets and take her to The Greenhouse, a runaway shelter, before going and beating the crap out of Favor.

After three days, the staff at The Greenhouse convince Steffie to call home, and try to convince her parents to come and get her. When they refuse they buy her a specifically non-refundable bus ticket back to Pittsburgh, and when her father picks her up at the bus station he informs her that her older sister and her baby died that morning. Because maybe things weren’t quite depressing enough.

Sign It Was Written in 1978 Department:

“Favor’s steak was eighteen dollars!”

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BIRTHDAY! BIRTHDAY! BIRTHDAY!

Today marks the 5th birthday of this blog! As thanks to all of my loyal readers, please enjoy this stock photo of a cupcake:

And check back on Friday for a new Lost Classic review!

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Project Boyfriend By Stephanie St. Pierre

Can Stacey capture Max’s heart, or is her downhill romance destined for a crash landing?

This one came out in 1991, fairly late in the run of Bantam’s Sweet Dreams romance imprint, which I didn’t notice until I sat down to type this up: those covers remain stubbornly stuck in the 80s…

The Plot: …which I guess is suitable for a retrograde YA romance?

High school sophomore Stacey Hollis hates all things athletic, much to the chagrin of her BFF, Emily, who is dragging her off the couch and out to something called The Windmere High Three-Day Sports Carnival as the novel opens. Stacey would much rather spend her time reading her favorite hard-boiled detective novels featuring the studly private eye Dirk Hanson. Continue reading

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Too Much In Love By Patty Brisco

Then Holly tells Jeff that she’s going to have a baby…

Most of romance writer Patricia Matthews credits under the pen name Patty Brisco appear to be in the Gothic and Mystery genres- this contemporary YA Romance/social problem novel for Scholastic sort of sticks out like a sore thumb in her bibliography…

The Plot: …especially when it is liberally padded with extensive details about football strategy.

The cover, title and tagline pretty much tell it all, as we’ve seen here before: young couple from different social strata (this time it’s a poor girl with a single mom and an upper-middle-class boy with a socially conscious family) date despite their parents’ protests, go too far and 17 year old Holly Austin has just started to suspect she’s pregnant as the book opens. Continue reading

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Sister of the Bride By Beverly Cleary

Barbara will be in on all the fun…

Does our centenarian national treasure really need an introduction? Probably not, but maybe her early Young Adult novels do! Beverly Cleary’s YA romances from the 1950s are less well-known than her later works featuring Henry Huggins and the Quimby sisters, although they have been consistently in print for nearly 60 years: Fifteen, The Luckiest Girl, Jean and Johnny and Sister of the Bride were all reissued by Dell in the 1980s as part of their Young Love series, and in subsequent editions with increasingly  dull cover art.

Sister of the Bride was the last of the four to be published, and the only one after 1960. And, delightfully, this coming of age story set in the San Francisco suburbs is notable for the fact that THE SIXTIES are definitely coming!

The Plot: High school Junior Barbara’s MacLane and her entire lower-middle class family’s life is upended when her sister Rosemary, a freshman at Berkeley, announces her engagement to a former Air Force Captain eight years her senior. Continue reading

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Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Beverly Cleary celebrates her 101st (!!!) birthday today, so I invite you to Drop Everything And Read, maybe starting with the three Cleary YA classics we’ve reviewed here!

We’ll return next week to finish off the informal quartet of Cleary’s YA work with Sister of the Bride, a tale of Vespa-riding teenaged lotharios, sequinned oven mitts, sensible brown towels, tattooed earlobes and Bay-area beatniks!

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Hollywood Daughters #3: Encore By Joan Lowery Nixon

Erin Jenkins, teen star, feels closer to her show-biz parents than to her real ones, who don’t approve of her television career…

Background: The first volume of the Hollywood Daughters series dealt with former child star Abby “Cookie” Baynes and her struggle to break from her Shirley Temple-like image and get away from her domineering stage mother in the early 1940s. After the tragic death of her father and a number of personal setbacks, Abby finally gets her big break and joins a USO tour with fake-Bob Hope. Renaming herself Abby Grant, she seems to have a bright future as a comedienne.

The second book in the trilogy focused on Abby’s daughter, Cassie, who has zero aspirations of following in her mother’s footsteps and instead pursues a career as a photojournalist and a romance with a USC film student in the late 1960s…

The Plot: And now we arrive at the present day (ok, the present day of 1990) and focus on Abby’s granddaughter, Erin, who has a co-starring role on a bland-sounding TV sitcom, The Family Next Door. Continue reading

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