“No matter how happy you are, you always want to be someone else.”
First Love From Silhouette (“America’s Publisher of Contemporary Romance”) can always be counted on to provide a holiday-themed title…
Dammit, is this one of the ones with the talking dog?
Background: Silhouette pumped out four YA “First Love” titles per month between 1981 and 1987; while the vast majority of these were stand-alone romances, a few “miniseries” appeared with continuing settings and characters. The most prolific of these sub-series was Elaine Harper’s “Blossom Valley” books, but Becky Stuart (the nom de Silhouette of Stuart Buchan) contributed four volumes as “A Kellogg and Carey Story”.
The author was kind of short-sighted in structuring the series: each book was about how life-long friends Kellogg Brown (“a small-town boy, fair-minded, down to earth”) and Carey Ashton (“a rich girl from the big city, a girl with crazy dreams and a quick temper”) begin to realize that their feelings are SOMETHING MORE and a romance develops between them. Then at the beginning of the next book they’re back at square one, and have to realize that their FEELINGS ARE SOMETHING MORE THAN FRIENDSHIP all over again.
The action is commented upon by Kellogg’s dog, Theo (“a big hearted shaggy dog”).
The Plot: Thankfully, this time around the reader is spared most of Theo’s philosophizing, as he goes missing and is absent from most of the plot.
Kellogg comes in to New York City from the Hamptons for the holidays to visit Carey and her widowed father in their posh Fifth Avenue penthouse.
Carey, never a likable heroine, is even more petulant than usual because her father has started dating again, and Carey is convinced that his new “special friend” is a gold digger. Kellogg urges her to keep an open mind, as they dine on the finest of grillèd cheese under the watchful eye of the Ashton’s black cook, Jefferson. Is it awkwardly pointed out that Jefferson is black every time he is mentioned? Of course it is.
The black cook looked up as they came into the hotel-sized kitchen. Jefferson Booker Lowell puffed up all two hundred and eight majestic pound of himself
“Got to feed the boy, Miss Carey,” Jefferson said. “Don’t feed the boy, he won’t become a man.”
Mr. Ashton’s new girlfriend comes to dinner that night, and it’s revealed that she’s a Rockette (scandal!) named Lilly LaBomba [Editor’s note: are you kidding me?] For reasons that remain obscure, Carey is certain that Lilly has A PAST and is determined to prove that she is somehow deceiving her father.
Carey and Kellogg also visit Mrs. Brinks, the little-old-lady in the penthouse next door, and learn that her children have forbidden her to leave the safety of the 27th floor because 1986 New York is a swirling cesspool of crime.
Carey impulsively decides that they should take Mrs. Brinks to see the tree in Rockefeller Center (within the safety of a taxi), although as they drive past Radio City, Carey is reminded that they have to get up and start stalking Lilly LaBomba first thing in the morning.
The next day they track Lilly to her apartment in Morningside Heights, and then some wacky subway-related high jinks ensue because Carey apparently has oatmeal for brains and ends up in BROOKLYN. When they finally make it home they find two detectives (helpfully noted that there is a “white one and a black one”) who inform them that Mrs. Brinks has gone missing. Worse yet- Theo is gone too!
Carey and Kellogg go next door to speak with Mrs. Brinks’ two terrible children, Adele and Boris, who are most concerned that it will take 7 years to declare their mother legally dead and claim their inheritance.
Carey jumps to Mrs. Brinks’ defense and tells her horrible children that their mother probably ran away because she was tired of being cooped up in the apartment, and then Adele slanders the Rockettes, which causes Lilly LaBomba to slap her… but where is Theo?
Carey agrees to accompany Kellogg into the wilds of Central Park to search for him, despite warning him that “There are muggers in there! Thieves, maybe killers!”
But Kellogg has a plan:
“We mustn’t leave fresh tracks.” He helped Carey climb onto a park bench along the path. “Jump as far as you can into the trees,” he told her. He helped her climb onto the back of the bench so she could use it as a springboard.
Sorry, kids, but once the Baseball Furies get your scent, you’re done for!
Unfortunately, the most dangerous thing that Carey and Kellogg encounter in the park are a bunch of kids talking smack about the Fresh Air Fund. They don’t find Theo, either.
Carey continues stalking Lilly LaBomba, and finds her having an incriminating lunch with another man! But they disappear before she can confront them. Mysterious.
Lilly does redeem herself a bit in Carey’s eyes when she finds Theo roaming around the theater district and bring him home, which gives Carey an idea: what if he escaped with Mrs. Brinks? Could he lead them back to her? Carey sets off with Theo onto the mean streets:
Carey wrapped herself in her warmest coat, checked that she had money and as one last precaution chose a small, heavy vase from her father’s collection and slipped it into her pocket.
Theo leads her directly to a sleazy hotel in Times Square, where he seems to be a known quantity. Carey demands to know what the grouchy proprietor did with her “grandmother”, but he claims that there are no grandmas in residence:
“Well, I think you’re lying to me,” Carey told him. “Theo says that my grandmother is here. And if I have to believe you or Theo I am going to believe Theo.”
“Dogs don’t talk,” the man said to Carey, peering through the glass at Theo.
Ohhh, Mr. Hot-sheet Hotelier, this is your first Kellogg and Carey Story, isn’t it?
In the end Carey doesn’t even have to threaten him with her concealed vase, as he admits that Mrs. Brinks is in the T-Shirt shop downstairs.
Carey rushes down, and I will give credit where it is due: I laughed out loud.
“Mrs. Brinks!” Carey exclaimed. “What have they done to you?”
Mrs. Brinks touched her orange curls with her green-painted fingernails.
“I went punk!” she said.
Carey convinces Mrs. Brinks to quit her honest job at the T-Shirt shop and return to the Upper East Side and her horrible children.
When they get there the white and black detective are back and her horrible children demand that their mother be committed to a mental hospital when they see her hair, but Carey whips off her jacket to reveal a custom-made FREE MRS. BRINKS t-shirt, which she threatens to make the latest fashion trend if they follow through on their threats.
“Right on,” said the black detective.
Mrs. Brinks announces that she’s cutting off her terrible children and giving all of her money to charity and going outside whenever she feels like, thank you very much.
Everyone, including the white and black detectives and the Ashton’s household staff go to see Lilly LaBomba perform at Radio City and Carey learns that the mysterious other man in her life was just her elocution coach, whom she had hired after Carey shamed her about her deez, demz and dozes.
In an epilogue Carey and Kellogg cuddle together under the Browns’ Christmas tree in the Hamptons… but I’m sure they’ll completely forget about those feelings they’re feeling by the next book. The end.
Sign It Was Written In 1986 Department: “I get everything by ordering on the telephone. They city’s very dangerous, you know.”