Working At Love By Judy Baer

If it were up to me, I’d be on my way to the beautician’s right this minute to copy the spikey, Billy Idol-inspired look of this week’s cover model onto my own head.

Sadly, the amount of peroxide it would take to scald my locks platinum would probably render me bald. I think I’d skip the black rubber hoop earrings as well.

Background: Clearly, this week’s volume was chosen based on the cover, not on any sort of literary merit. But let’s take a moment to differentiate between the different contemporary YA Romances with photo covers that crowded the spinning racks at our local libraries and bookstores throughout the 1980s.

The best of these were those published under the Wildfire imprint (a subsidiary of Scholastic) which managed to attract solid authors such as Caroline Cooney and Ann M. Martin, and feature likeably goofy cover-photos. The plots are slight, but usually well-crafted: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The teen-heroines are usually likeable and have a clearly articulated goal. It is everything you could want in 130 pages and for $1.95.

At the other end of the spectrum is First Love (an imprint of Silhouette Romance, which recently fully-merged with its parent company, Harlequin). First Love books tend to read like they were scraped together from the purged text of other, also not-very-good teen romances, and feature numbingly repetitive covers. Selected First Love titles originally sold for the low, low price of 99 cents. I’m fairly certain that even in 1981, this was not a very good value.

Somewhere in between these two extremes are the Sweet Dreams romances (parent company Bantam), which we will be looking at this week.  These are inoffensive books behind bland photographic covers, one of which gave Courtney Cox her start as a teen model.

OK, I admit it: I’m just stalling for time at this point. I read this week’s book three days ago and it has almost completely evaporated from my mind.

Also I am still hypnotized by the cover model’s hair.

The Plot: As the book opens, 17 year old Marli McKensie  and her best friend Christie Hammer are rushing to open up the consignment store that they have opened as a project for their high school business class. The FUNK-CHIC BOUTIQUE specializes in vintage clothing. (Aside: …which explains why I’ve had this stuck in my head all week!)

Christie thinks Marli spends too much time worrying about their business and not enough time daydreaming about “big hunky, beautiful guys”  like Shawn Gillespie:

“He’s in my English class, and when he smiles, it practically lights up the room. Everyone is always trying to make him laugh because it’s so great to listen to him.”

Marli (which is infuriatingly spelled “Marlie” about 25% of the time- Bantam cheaped out on proofreaders), has no need for hunks, however, since she is dating John, The Most Popular Boy In School. Who is unsurprisingly kind of a jealous d-bag, who is constantly whining that the FUNK-CHIC BOUTIQUE is taking up too much of Marli’s time that could better be spent reassuring him that she would never cheat on him.

The situation is further exacerbated when Marli and Christie decide to hire someone to help out in the store and John can’t stand the idea of Marli working side by side with some dude around all of those poodle skirts and sweater-sets. Passions might become inflamed. Marli promises that she’ll hire a girl-person.

 Christie puts an ad in the school’s newsletter promising “minimum wage- maximum satisfaction!” which of course causes all of the wrong element to apply for the job. When Shawn shows up as the last applicant, Christie just gives him the job. John is not happy, and tries to insult him by calling him “Gilligan”, and causing a scene in the middle of the store. Luckily it is full of college girls who are all “Right on!” when Marli tells him that she’s not going to give up running the store to spend more time with him. Christie is pragmatic when the college students spend their dollars on flapper dresses in solidarity:

“Sounds like it was pretty good for business, though,” Christie observed. “Who cares if it was sympathy buying? Income is income.”

John need not worry, because Shawn is dating Lissa, a girl with issues of her own:

“Lissa hates going places alone. She says she can’t even stand walking into a room by herself.” He shrugged. “It’s just a hang-up of hers, I guess.”

Lissa only even let Shawn take the job because his father is worried about getting laid off from his job and Shawn has to pay for college himself. And she’s still constantly complains about how he can’t take her to Rockin’ Fifties every minute. It is never explained exactly what Rockin’ Fifties is, but everyone goes there.

After Mrs. Reginald von Wentworth brings several trunks full of clothes into the shop to be sold, Marli and Shawn have work late to steam, tag and display them. Then the doorknob falls off the door, locking them in. Now they have to wait until somebody notices they’re missing! They bide their time making peanut butter and raisin sandwiches and eating them off of cardboard plates, in a scene that is for some reason given more detail than any of the actual characters. Also this happens:

“Anything we could use for drinks?”

Shawn twisted the cap off of the juice. “Nope. I guess we’ll just have to share the bottle.”

The idea of pressing their lips to the same glass gave Marli a little shudder of pleasure.

Um, gross. As the evening wears on they eventually start trying on the different vintage outfits in order to ward off cabin fever (they’re not very hearty campers) and when Marli puts on a wedding dress they start dancing around the store and accidentally-on-purpose kiss.

Luckily, at that point Marli’s parents show up to let them out of the store. It’s a close call, another 20 minutes they’d probably resort to cannibalism.

Shawn is overwhelmed with guilt, of course, and tells Marli that what happens on the mountain has to stay on the mountain (or you know, in the store in the strip-mall), and they should just be friends because they are seventeen years old and it is their duty to devote themselves to horrible and codependent relationships with other teenagers.

John is super-pissed about Marli getting locked inside her own store. Didn’t she KNOW that he was TRYING to call her PRACTICALLY ALL NIGHT?!?!

“There is nothing to talk about, Marli. I told you hiring Shawn Gillespie was a stupid idea, but you wouldn’t listen.”

“Shawn is a good worker,” Marli defended herself.

“And what else? A good kisser? A good-“

We never get to learn what else John thinks Shawn might be good at, because Marli slaps him across the face and breaks up with him. Which is kind of a confusing message: if you’re dating a control freak, violence is the answer? I guess.

A late-breaking complication ensues when Marli and Christie have to turn in the report (65% of their final grade!) This is resolved when Marli turns in their cash-box and the teacher is all like “this is very non-traditional!” A+!

Shawn breaks up with Lissa and asks if Marli would like to go get tacos. The end.

Mullet Department: “Shawn did look like a fifties guy in his rolled-up jeans and white socks, but he also looked very much up-to-date with his auburn hair cut close in front and longer in the back.”

Good Name for a Restaurant Department: “The Barrel, a big keg-shaped building that still had curbside service.”

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7 Responses to Working At Love By Judy Baer

  1. Pingback: Holly In Love By Caroline B. Cooney | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  2. grace says:

    This book is obsessedc with the 50’s. Only the hair-do on the cover remains inexplicable in that, or any other, context.

    • mondomolly says:

      It’s pretty close to the haircut Madonna had in the video for “Papa Don’t Preach”, which I was actually watching yesterday for purely academic reasons and thinking for the only time ever that Madonna looks absolutely adorable. I still wish I could pull off the cut/color.

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