Was their kiss the end of a perfect friendship or the beginning or something special?
Somehow I failed to notice that I was picking up #18 in a series (I think I assumed that “Couples” was a Scholastic imprint, like Wildfire) so when the author starts throwing a gazillion names at me like I’m supposed to already know who these people are, I was confused. But it turns out this book was pretty terrible anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
The Plot: Five years in Christmas/winter holiday titles are starting to get a little harder to come by (LEAVE SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS!) so I followed through with this, even though it was painful.
High school juniors Elise Hammond and Ben Forrest have been friends and next-door neighbors since they were in pre-school, but their friendship maybe becomes something more when Ben kisses Elise under the mistletoe at a classmate’s Christmas party. Then he freaks out about being unworthy and acts like a jerk to her for 150 pages, then he admits that he feels unworthy and she forgives him and they are TOGETHA 4-EVA, the end.
Ok, there is also a roller-thon for a charity called Stamp Out U.S. Hunger
Okaaaaaaay, if you insist:
Preternaturally perky Elise is madly in love with her long-time best friend, Ben, after their classmate Diana’s Christmas party. But despite being gorgeous (of course), tall (duh) and a teenage genius who is trying to invent a new kind of helicopter in his basement (I mean, right?) he is also a gigantic wiener who just sits there while his two younger brothers mock him for liking a girl (gross!)
Despite being a teenage genius with a smoking bod, he’s all like “I guess these 12 year olds know best, being in love is dumb.” And proceeds to cruelly ignore Elise for weeks.
(Elise tries to excuse his behavior, explaining to Diana that “his mind is all full of science things,” an excuse that I am definitely going to try out the next time I’m caught absent-minded.)
In the meantime, Diana is having her own problems with dudes being terrible, as her British exchange-student boyfriend, Jeremy, has sent in her photograph to a modeling agency against her express wishes. She can’t let Jeremy (whom we are constantly reminded is British because he declares everything to be “SMASHING”) down, she better keep pretending to like being a model and burying her true feelings to keep him happy.
If it’s possible, I actually hate Jeremy even more than I hate Ben. Diana, of course, instantly becomes a successful teen model, because that is something that happens when you feel like you are forced to do something that you obviously hate and resent in order to keep from becoming a 17 year old-Old Maid.
But Jeremy starts feeling jealous of all of the hunky photographers and teamsters that Diana is hanging around with on the set of photoshoots. A well-meaning friend suggests that maybe Jeremy has been putting too much emphasis on Diana’s looks, and so he implements that advice in the worst possible way:
“Does my hair look okay?” Diana and Jeremy were on their way to Washington to finish up Diana’s modeling stint, and she was trying to peer into his rearview mirror to see the back of her head.
“You look fine,” Jeremy said, after a moment’s hesitation. “But I’ve been thinking Diana. Beauty isn’t all that important, you know.” After all, you’ve got a brain… and a terrific personality…”
Diana gave him a strange look. “Why, I’ve never heard you talk like that,” she said slowly.
“You’re welcome. Beauty is only skin deep, as they say.”
Jeremy skulks around the set with his fragile male ego (“How could Diana ever be satisfied with boring old Jeremy, now that she was surrounded by men like these?”) until Diana breaks down crying and confesses that she never wanted to be a model:
“I only wanted to make you proud of me,” she said. “And instead I ended up making you worry.”
Girls! They can’t do anything right, they’re always either being or not-being models.
Ugh, now that that is resolved, I guess we have to get back to our “A” couple. Ben is still moping around like a whiney sack of crap:
“Everyone knows you were always a collector of poor little strays…”
“Is there something wrong with that, Ben?”
“But you’re saying it as though it were a character fault.”
“It’s not. It just means that you’re unusually kind to the underdogs of the world,” Ben said with a sad, wistful look in his eyes.
Around this time, Ben’s friend Steve starts taking an interest in Elise, and Ben is overwhelmed with jealousy, which takes the form of threatening to beat Steve up if he doesn’t get serious about SAT prep (!!!)
Finally, Ben seeks out the counsel of his friend Jeni, an undergraduate psychology major who is like “Holy crap, you need to communicate.”
But! Needless complication! Steve finally wears Elise down enough to accept a movie date, and Ben’s bratty brothers see them leaving the theater and practically break their necks to get home and tell their brother. After again mocking him for liking girls (ha, Ben is a girl-liker!), Ben resolves to tell Elise how he feels.
Let me recap: after acting like a psycho (Elise’s words, not mine) for weeks to the girl he likes, he’s now going to act on some intel from a couple of pre-teens whose mission is to make his life miserable. Ben ASSUMES that Elise is in a happy relationship with someone else, so now is the time to dump all of his crap feelings on her.
“I know it might be too late.” He sounded sad and spoke in a soft whisper. “I know you’re dating Steve now, but- I just had to say it, anyway. I love you, Elise.”
“But…” Elise didn’t trust herself to speak.
Suddenly he hung his head and looked down at his skates. “I can see it is too late. Well, I can understand how you feel, Elise…”
Of course, that clears everything right the hell up, and now they can be together! Maybe Ben had a point about Elise having a thing for pathetic losers (paraphrased).
In additional to providing young readers with a manual for dysfunctional teenaged relationships, what stands out about the book is the hilariously generic names for places. It’s like the author put things in for placeholders and never went back and came up with real names: the Roller-thon is held at Rollerland. The teens gather for subs at the Sub Shop and eat pie at The Pie Place.
The other mildly amusing thing is a minor character, a classmate named Woody, who I am pretty sure is somebody’s grandpa who is undercover-in-disguise at high school for some reason.
Woody, aside from being named Woody, which is definitely a Grandpa idea of a high school name, is constantly saying things like “Why so glum, chum?” and declines the eating of sub sandwiches thusly:
Woody patted his middle and chuckled, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could probably do with one less ‘Foot-Long-er’.”
Sign It Was Written In 1986 Department:
“Leave it to you, Elise, to think up a great project,” Jonathan Preston said, pushing back his Indiana Jones hat in a gesture of respect.
Do You Ever Think Anything You Don’t Say? Department:
“Look at all those delicate snowflakes, each one is a completely different shape. I love winter don’t you?”