Martha would have to wing it!
Another holiday, another seasonally appropriate title from First Love from Silhouette author Elaine Harper!
Background: 236 First Love titles were published between 1981 and 1987 by Silhouette, “AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance” (distinguishing itself from its main competitor, the Canadian-based Harlequin, which would fold Silhouette into its own operations in 2012). While I have complained before about the lack of effort that goes into these titles, I have to give Harper credit for creating an extremely complex universe for her “Blossom Valley” sub-series.
The Plot: This is actually the book to which Christmas Date is the sequel to. That book, you may recall [Editor’s Note: no, you don’t], involved teenaged matchmaker Amy Norwood pining away for sophomore basketball star Jack Anderson, who is hung up on a glamorous older woman. Then for a time he gets stranded at a bird sanctuary and Amy fears he will have to live there FOREVER.
Be still my beating heart, the events of this book take place simultaneously to those of Christmas Date and we finally learn what happened at the bird sanctuary!
Blossom Valley High senior Martha Brewster is disappointed when the only students that sign up to spend a weekend helping at her uncle’s bird refuge are Harland Blacker and his band of aggravating hippie friends:
Everyone knew who he was. Harlan Blacker and his gang strode belligerently through there almost every day. Today there were three guys and two girls. The girls always wore messy legwarmers that sagged around their ankles and long, shapeless skirts and sweaters. The guys usually wore some kind of well-worn, faded Guatemalan Indian shirts or T-shirts bearing slogans proclaiming some cause.
Also along for the weekend is the kid brother of Martha’s BFF, Jack Anderson. Jack isn’t interested so much in birds as he is in Martha, and Martha quickly assesses that she can use his interest in her to shield her from Harlan, who has no regard for the personal space of others, especially when he’s Mansplaining about Thoreau to her:
“There’s this book, Walden Pond, where this guy decides to give up all of the latest inventions and so forth. He goes out to this pond in the woods and learns to survive. That’s what we sort of were planning to try out.” Harlan was leaning so far up into the front seat now that his face was only about three inches from Martha’s she shifted a little toward Jack to distance herself from Harlan’s exuberance.
Harlan wouldn’t be able to tell how much younger Jack was than she, and she would make Harlan think Jack was her boyfriend.
Also along for the weekend are Steve and Wilma, a couple from Harlan’s crowd whose relationship has fallen on rocky times because Wilma has become bored; she spends the whole time pursuing both Harlan and Martha’s uncle Bill, a bachelor with a prolific collection of ragtime records:
The day they arrive there is an earthquake that triggers a landslide, blocking the road back to town. WILL THEY HAVE TO LIVE AT THE BIRD SANCTUARY FOREVER????
The earthquake also causes an oil tanker to spill its cargo, and the coast guard shows up with a bunch of oil-slicked waterfowl for Uncle Bill and the teens to clean. While initially terrified that the birds are going to eat him or something, Harlan soon becomes the team’s most dedicated worker, which causes Martha to view him in a new light:
Sometimes as he squeezed the suds through one of the wild creature’s feathers, he would speak soothingly to it. His large hands and muscular arms handled them gently, for in a short time he had developed skill and sensitivity in dealing with these frightened wildfowl. As he and Martha worked together to de-oil a double-crested cormorant, he said “I’ll name this one ‘Scrapper’. He’s got a lot of fight.”
This book is only 154 pages long, and fully 100 of them are just descriptions of washing birds. Including a scene where Martha and Harlan are assigned to wash a red-necked grebe (Harlan immediately names it “The Red Baron”) and they use it as an excuse to keep accidentally-on-purpose touching each other’s hands, which must have been really awkward for the bird.
Martha breaks Jack’s heart when she rejects his advances on a moonlight hike, and Jack calls home to complain to his family that “Birds are dying all the time, we have to sleep on these hard bunks, and everybody here is weird”, which is a more concise summary of the entire book than I could possibly write.
Martha comforts Harlan when his favorite bird dies, and when Jack sees them he decides to run away from the bird sanctuary FOREVER, and for some reason everyone is afraid that he’s going to throw himself off a cliff in despair.
(Except Harlan, who is still yammering non-stop about BIRDS)
Uncle Bill goes to retrieve Jack, who was not going to commit suicide after all, he was just sick of BIRDS and the fact that there is nothing to eat except eggs, which are pretty much also just BIRDS.
Harlan has a man-to-man talk with him about getting crushes on older women, which seems to calm Jack down, and then Uncle Bill’s hippie friends show up with a complete Thanksgiving dinner and as they sit down to eat everyone shares what they are most thankful for.
Harlan, I bet you have something to say…
Harlan remarked that the thing he was most thankful for was that some of the birds had come out of the crisis alive.
Sign It Was Written in 1984 Department: “The vice-principal admonished the students that anyone caught smoking in the bathrooms would be severely disciplined. Cigarettes were only allowed in Smokers’ Corner outside, behind the cafeteria.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Title! Department:
Terry examined the record collection.
“Here’s just the thing for a Thanksgiving party,” she exclaimed. “The Turkey Trot!”