Why didn’t anyone tell her that the biggest danger for a teen model was growing up?
This cover is pretty much the girl-version of last week’s cover. Maybe Sylvia should date Marcus!
(j/k: nobody should date Marcus)
The cover photo and blurb is deceptively serious for a plot that frequently falls well into “wacky scheme” territory.
The Plot: Sylvia Eisenstein has successfully fended off puberty, so at the age of 14 she has become the face of the Miss Nature Coconut Crème Rinse Shampoo’s print advertising. Sylvia admits that she can be a spoiled brat at times, but it quickly becomes clear that her tantrums are a defense mechanism, employed when the adults in her life forget that underneath the 50 pounds of green eye shadow she’s only a high school freshman, and not a very worldly one at that.
These adults include her mean agent, Miss Audrey; the lecherous executive of the Proctor & Gamble-like company that makes Miss Nature shampoo; and her well-meaning but absent-minded parents, whom she refers to as “Mr. and Mrs. Eisenstein” (Mom is trying to get ahead in the world of professional cat shows, Dad is a chemist tinkering away in the family basement).
Luckily, Sylvia has two down-to-earth BFFs in her corner: childhood friend Camille, and boy-next-door Brad. Camille and Brad will be on hand to assist Sylvia in launching the next phase of her career.
Sylvia sees the writing on the wall: she knows that she’s not going to keep her lithe, model-perfect, flat-chested figure for much longer:
I’m worried, because both my mother and grandmother have these enormous zonkers, and if I grow things like those, I don’t know what I’ll do. I certainly won’t be asked to model any more designer jumpsuits.
Sylvia wants to break into acting, and she sees her opportunity when her agent invites her to party in Greenwich, Connecticut which will offer the opportunity for much networking with industry “contacts”.
Sylvia’s mother, always slightly uneasy with her daughter’s chosen career, refuses to allow her to attend a party with those industry “degenerates”, leaving Sylvia and Camille to hatch a plan to get Brad (just two days away from getting his driver’s license) to take her.
Furthering her career is only half the reason Sylvia is desperate to get to the party: the other is that she is madly in love with her 28-year old photographer, Tony. While Tony is one of the few adults in the industry that is actually nice to Sylvia, he is also one of the few that is completely professional towards her. Sylvia and Camille decided that with a fancy black satin cocktail dress, Sylvia will be able to turn his interest personal.
In the meantime, Sylvia still has to dispatch her duties as Miss Nature Coconut Crème Rinse Shampoo, which is moving into the realm of television commercials. Sylvia has an inkling that “Acting” is not all that it’s cracked up to be, as she fends off the advances of both the middle-aged executive and the washed-up Hollywood director shooting the commercial. The former also has a weird Veronica Lake fetish, and Sylvia is forced to dye her naturally auburn hair platinum blonde.
Sylvia and Brad finally make it to the party in Greenwich, but she immediately finds herself in way over her head, as she fends of the even-more persistent advances of a bunch of creepy old dudes. Her agent, Miss Audrey, gets drunk and loudly makes fun of her crush on Tony:
Miss Audrey laughs, lights up a cigarette, and grabs a nearby glass of wine. “Photographer, big brother, and lover.”
“Lover?” Jack Redkin grabs hold of my bare arm. He whispers loudly into my ear. The feel and smell of his breath makes me frightened, makes me feel like bugs are crawling all over me.
“I thought you were saving yourself for me. I thought the forest was pure, Miss Nature.”
Things only get worse when she tries to get away from him and falls down the stairs, splitting the back seam of her cocktail dress. Brad finally rescues her and drives her home.
The humiliation of the party fiasco is compounded by the debut of her TV commercial, right in the middle of the Merv Griffin show. Far racier than she and her family had anticipated, it causes a scandal: Camille is forbidden from associating with her, and the school drama club works a parody of the ad into their variety show.
In the middle of this, Sylvia gets her first period, the death knell of her career as a teen model.
She uses the occasion as an excuse to stay home from school, but in doing so discovers yet more bad news: she finds her father puttering around his workshop, drunk, because he’s been fired from his job.
This all sounds really sordid, but it is mostly played for laughs; while all of these gropey old men are terrible, it’s never depicted as more than Sylvia and her friends are able to deal with on their own.
The blurb on the back cover plays up the “rivalry” between Sylvia and Tammy, a new girl on the scene, whom Sylvia encounters at a Bloomingdale’s fashion show:
Believe it or not the main model for this little fashion show just turned twelve.
We’re not modeling kids’ clothes either. We’re modeling adult stuff. Every time I see little Tammy skip out in an adorable little strapless jumpsuit with a ton of gold eye shadow circling her eyes and her hair all teased up like the queen of the Nile, I swear I feel like throwing up.
Do you know she can’t even smile because she still has her baby teeth? If she smiled we’d all burst out laughing and then the jig would be up.
Despite what the cover would have you believe, Tammy only gets a brief mention in this one chapter, which is mostly about Sylvia bonding with another teenaged model, Anne, a hardened veteran of 16. Anne can’t wait to quit and go to secretarial college.
The camaraderie between Sylvia and the other models she works with is a welcome relief from the bumbling and exploitative adults in her life.
After her father loses his job and Sylvia finds out there is no way to access her earnings, which have been placed in trust until she is 18, she talks with a perfume sample demonstrator at a local department store, and learns that the position is pays well. With the woman’s encouragement, Sylvia is hired for the position, which is hawking a new, space-themed cologne while dressed like a sexy alien and speaking in a robot voice.
“It’s as sure as a laser ray. Only nine-ninety-five at the Surfire counter. Buy it.”
Sylvia is fired after one day, after getting caught socializing with some of her classmates instead of pressuring them to buy cologne that everyone admits smells like cat pee.
Sylvia has one more heartbreak in store, as she learns that Tony is going to marry her mean agent, Miss Audrey. Sylvia feels less betrayed over her unrequited love, and more because Tony could be reliably counted on to make fun of what a bitch Miss Audrey is.
However, everything is neatly wrapped up in the end, as Sylvia’s father sells his formula for a color-stay lipstick (inspired by his experiments after a brand Sylvia had been using suddenly turned bright orange); Sylvia will serve as the spokesmodel, in a new, science-themed ad campaign.
Sylvia also is on her way to getting over Tony, as she is asked on a date by an age-appropriate friend of Brad’s to a dance at the local JCC.
Jack Redkin, the leering director of her notorious shampoo commercial is blacklisted from Madison Avenue and is reported that he
“Ran off to Europe and started doing that awful movie with that twelve-year-old Norwegian girl. Well, it didn’t look very good.”
So, he kept on being creepy. The end.
Sign It Was Written In 1982 Department: “She’s one of those ex-hippies who refuses to believe we are in the 1980’s. She thinks this is 1968 and she’s all prepared for a little campus unrest.”
Meta! Department: “Just my luck that as soon as I work out a decent plan to save my life, the hero in the story turns into an orange-haired rock singer with a message about vegetables. This never happens to any of the heroines in the young-adult novels Mrs. Eisenstein buys for me.”