I know what this looks like…
…but while the story was extremely silly and far-fetched, it was well written. It has a beginning, middle and end, a goal-driven main character, and some nice touches of local color that brings the setting of Tempe, AZ to a reasonable facsimile of life. Unlike most Harlequin or Silhouette romances, I did not get to the end of the book and throw it on the ground and yell “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” like Bunny Breckinridge in Plan 9 From Outer Space.
The Plot: Holly Hanson has just turned 16 and is having a hard time finding an after-school job in the college town of Tempe, AZ (relatable plot point!) and needs to save money to pay for her tuition at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. When one of the local fraternities advertises for an assistant cook, she storms the frat house with her recipe for “pull-apart coffee cake” and eventually wins over the house cook Mrs. Clausen and convinces her to give her the job. But! She is only hired on with the caveat that she can’t date any of the frat guys, because apparently the last assistant girl-cook did not come to a good end. Unfortunately, Holly has already met smarmy, after-shave drenched bro Greg. I can see how conflicted she is, who wouldn’t want to go out with a guy this witty:
“Mrs. Clausen, what a choice you’ve made. Good thing we left it all up to you. The guys will definitely appreciate the visual interest you’re adding to our meals.”
But he does have some pretty smooth moves:
“Greg cocked his head and grinned. His long arms seemed to stretch casually out in a yawn, and then Holly felt them slip around her shoulders.”
Despite the fact that the jacket blurb promises that “Greg comes up with a plan” so he and Holly can date, Greg in fact has no plan. Unless just pretending not to date around Mrs. Clausen counts as a plan. Holly’s parents are okay with this because they believe that “she should make her own decisions and learn from her own mistakes.” They’re also cool with coming home and finding their 15 year old daughter alone in the house with 20something Greg. I get kind of a hippie-ish vibe from Holly’s parents, probably because it is mentioned that they participated in a Bike-a-Thon.
Holly’s age appropriate friends come off as stupid jerks: they stop speaking to her when she refuses to set them up with the other frat bros in her place of employment. Good job, Holly! Do not be party to statutory rape! Also, make those skanks do their own work in finding boyfriends!
The plot thus far is mildly complicated by Jeff, who is a freshman fraternity pledge who went to high school with Holly and is also the fraternity steward, which means that he is the liaison between the bros and Mrs. Clausen when it comes to meal planning, and also the killjoy who gets to scold the bros for ruining several hundred dollars worth of pots and pans after they made popcorn balls “on a dare”. So, actually, maybe we shouldn’t worry about the bros dating high school girls, since they are all like “Dude, I DARE YOU to make popcorn balls!” “No way bro, I had a friend who got killed making popcorn balls during rush week!”
When Mrs. Clausen has to leave town for a family emergency, Holly and Jeff work together to make sure all of the meals are served on time. Jeff also warns Holly that he found out that Greg is dating another girl and has bet TEN OF YOUR EARTH-DOLLARS with another bro that he can keep up the deception until the Spring Formal. When Holly confronts him, he’s all like “What? It’s not like I said that I DIDN’T have a bet that I could deceive you until the Spring Formal. What’s the big deal?” He doesn’t seem too crushed when Holly says she doesn’t want to go out with him anymore, although he gave Jeff a black eye for his trouble: “Weird. It’s like the guy’s out of another era. Can you believe he tried to start a fist fight?” Sweet Valley High devotees refer to this as a “Todd-Punch”, after Elizabeth Wakefield’s dull, yet surprisingly volatile boyfriend. Mrs. Clausen is so impressed with Holly’s work in her absence that she gets to keep her job AND go to the Spring Formal with Jeff! Next stop, Le Cordon Bleu!
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Title! Department: “All I’ve got to say is that with all the creative cooking you do, I wish you could work on a recipe for romance.” (p. 42)
Sign It Was Written in 1986 Department: Holly fantasizes about being the personal chef to the President, the Queen of England and… Elton John. “At the end of the meal, Elton John himself walked back into the kitchen, asking her if she’d made this delicious dinner. When she blushingly admitted that she had, Elton John asked her to come be his personal cook!” (p. 17)
Oddity Department: The book has a really high body count for a YA Romance. Along the way we hear about a dead husband, a dead father and a dead sister. I hope it wasn’t the pull-apart coffee cake!
Unexplained Department: None of the outfits described in the book match the colorblind hobo ensemble seen on the cover 😦