This is, thankfully, one of those times that there is a surprisingly pleasant story lurking in the mass-market paperback behind the photographic cover, complete with likeable protagonists, wacky sidekicks, and parents who are SO EMBARASSING.
As I recently mentioned, I think Scholastic’s Wildfire imprint has it all over their 1980s competition- best photo-covers, best writers, and Caroline B. Cooney is probably the best of the best in this genre, and would become best known a decade later for The Face on the Milk Carton and its sequels.
The Plot: High school senior Holly Carroll feels triply cursed: the daughter of strict parents (her father is a minister, her mother a psychology professor); she lives in a New Hampshire resort town that is nutty for winter sports, while she hates the cold weather; and her over-stuffed high school has assigned her to basement janitor’s closet with 13 other misfits for her homeroom. Also, she has been going through life with the name “Holly Carroll”, which she informs us that certain wags have amended to “Christmas Carol” “Hymnbook Hannah” and “Hollyberry”. Holly has resigned herself to slogging through the school year and then escaping to someplace warm for college, such as Hawaii, Key West or Mexico.
Holly’s parents are well-intentioned, but tend to rely on guilt to keep Holly and her brother in line:
My parents don’t let us eat breakfast out. They feel it’s decadent. How can you thank God for McDonald’s hotcakes?
Everything hurts my father. Starving children in Africa, imprisoned people in America, young mothers dying of cancer, teenagers on drugs, and other people’s marriages breaking up. My father is bruised and battered by the entire world.
Sometimes I wonder if my father goes through life feeling guilty, or if being a minster sort of takes the edge off.
While her classmates are mainly occupied with dating and designer jeans (“My father does not allow designer labels in our house. ‘If God had meant for your jeans to have somebody else’s name on them…’”), Holly keeps herself occupied becoming fluent in Spanish (all the better for living in a tropical climate), watching reruns of old TV shows and working on her elaborate Victorian dollhouse. Her classmates regard Holly as slightly odd, but they’re mostly okay with her choice of hobbies and, for a 17-year old, Holly is enviously self-confident.
However, some of that enviable confidence is shaken when she takes an interest in her neighbor, Jamie Winters (CONTINUING ON A THEME!), who is a year younger than she is. Despite the fact that Jamie is genuinely funny and nice, her classmates react with naked horror and endlessly accuse Holly of “robbing the cradle”.
While Holly tries to sort out her feelings for Jamie, she has a series of mild misadventures, including rebelling against her parents and planning to go see an R-rated movie (she’s caught and grounded for 2 weeks); enrolling as a test subject in the local college’s psychology department (she’s a part of a experiment to beat a polygraph test and fails miserably) and breaks her ankle while ice-skating (cementing her hatred of all winter sports).
Her friends try to set her up with various “more suitable” boys, including a 21 year old pre-med student (“Jonathan looked like someone my mother would want a poster of”) and school hockey captain Pete Stein (“Why can’t you try learning about the things Stein likes?”), which only makes Jamie and his hobby of rebuilding antique steam engines seem all the more attractive to Holly.
Holly’s parents worry constantly that some of their parishioners or students will spend the holidays alone, so the family’s Christmas dinner includes
A few stray foreign students (including a confused Hindu and a fascinated Moslem), a few students too broke to fly home for the holidays, a couple of elderly widows, one man in his fifties whose wife had just left him after thirty years of marriage, and my grandmother.
Holly gets an octagonal Shaker barn and flock of miniature chickens to go with her dollhouse, and is saddened to learn that Jamie’s parents are not supportive of his hobby and did not buy him the antique steam-powered thresher on his wish list. In fact, his parents are pretty much huge jerks when Holly meets Jamie for a date:
Mr. Winter just stared at me. “He’s getting picked up by a girl?” said Jamie’s father, as if he hadn’t known women could vote, let alone drive.
Jamie is pretty mature about his parents’ jerkitude, admitting that his parents “feel kind of temporary” and he’s just putting up with them until he leaves for college. This attitude, combined with a winning idea for raising money to build the school’s biology department a greenhouse, gives Holly and Jamie the confidence boost to ignore their classmates teasing and actually sit at the same table in the cafeteria. The end.
Of course, going by the cover, it’s hard to see what the fuss is all about, since Jamie easily looks at least 35. He has Dennis Quaid-levels of eye crinkles. And speaking of the cover, the wide shot version of the photo was reused for the reissue of Love Comes to Anne, in which we can see that Jamie is menacing Holly with an impressively fake-looking snowball.
Sign It Was Written In 1983 Department: “If Hollyberry married Vice-President Bush, she’d be Hollybushberry.”
Also: After the failed dates, Holly worries that she is “the sort of girl who would have to resort to meeting men by computer.”
GAAAWD, DAD! JUST SHUT UP! Department: “My father embarrassed me horribly by hanging around to chat with everyone about drugs. He’s not very subtle. He’d heard the drug scene was getting bad again, and he wanted to know for sure so he buttonholed each of my friends and asked them where they bought drugs.”
Maybe It’s Maybelline Department: Holly’s best friend, Kate, aspires to a career as a Lipstick Namer. The proposed shades she comes up with throughout the book include: Cinnamon Snowhaze, Frozen Plum Wine, Icicle Peach, Burgundy Chill, Wine Glacier, Snow and Honey, Maple Syrup Icicle, Bronzeberry Glacier, Winter Apricot, Frozen Burgundy and Winter Mist. Again, Caroline Cooney has a way with a theme.