New loves… old friends… Does growing up mean choosing between them?
This is a recent reader-request, but also a book that I’ve picked up probably 20 times in the past two years, before rejecting it and throwing it back on the pile. Dell’s Young Love imprint doesn’t have the best track record, including both some of the best and worst titles reviewed here…
And this is yet another one where the cover art and jacket-copy doesn’t do justice to the actual content. In fact, this is on my short list for “most misrepresented”.
The Plot: While it does nominally have to do with the changing relationship between long-time friends (one popular, one dowdy) because of BOYS, the changing points of view manages to empathize with every single one of its characters, including douchey boyfriends, Bitter Divorced Moms, and even ex-middle school bullies, all in prose that is constantly colorful and occasionally poetic.
High school juniors Polly Quinn (beautiful, outgoing and intellectual) and Naomi Denning (frumpy and business-tracked) have been BFFs since Polly’s family moved to town in the third grade. AS the book opens, Naomi is desperate to keep the attention of her boyfriend, Danny, a Neanderthal that wants her to go on a diet and enjoys sucking face at horror movies on double dates with his older brother, Donny (who “has the IQ of an after-dinner mint”) and his girlfriend, whom they refer to as “doorknob” because that what she has the IQ of.
Meanwhile, Polly is in no hurry to get serious with ANY boy, even though she is madly pursued by official Big Man On Campus Boom-Boom Bottzemeyer, a dude who has a fedora for every occasion. Polly is also saddled with a single mother, a middle-school English teacher with tough reputation, a father who is long gone, and a second-period class in “Personality” which seems like an exercise in psychological torture.
Things get shaken up when Naomi, as usual asking herself What Would Polly Do? breaks up with Danny and starts spending time with the young unmarried couple who rents the upstairs apartment (shades of Looking On and Nothing Ever Happens Here…); meanwhile, seemingly on a whim, Polly starts hanging around with Jonathan Stephens, nicknamed Crow for his black hair and beak-like nose. A longtime classmate of both Naomi and Polly’s, who also has a long memory:
“I remember when we were in fourth grade, some kids teasing you out in the play yard. They were croaking like parrots and saying ‘Polly want a father? Polly want a papa?’”
Polly picked at the chair’s paint. “You remember that?”
“I wanted to kill those kids.”
She looked up. “So did I.”
“I remember you kicked Boom Boom Bottzemeyer in the stomach. I couldn’t believe it- I couldn’t believe it- he could have creamed you, just by sitting on you! He was so fat then. He was teasing you the worst of all.”
While Polly and Naomi both seem to be clinging to the lower rungs of the middle class, Crow is straight-up P-O-O-R, with a widowed father who runs a struggling second-run movie theater and isn’t around much. He gets Polly interested in planting a garden in the backyard of the first house he’s lived in that has had one.
Their relationship puts a strain on the one between Polly and Naomi, who soon regrets breaking up with Danny, who immediately gets involved with the awesomely-named Marcia Melon:
Everything about Marcia was small and soft and round, like a kitten. Or a rotten potato.
Peter and Tess, the undergrad couple who lives upstairs, provide a distraction, especially after Tess leaves Peter and Naomi starts spending every evening upstairs, ostensibly typing papers for Peter, but also learning about zoology (his specialty) and nursing a doomed crush.
The shifting viewpoints serve the story well: Polly is critical of Naomi being “used” by boys she likes, but Naomi seems to have a better sense of self than anyone gives her credit for; Polly’s breezy attitude about romantic involvement can drift into casual cruelty towards both friends and boyfriends (she crashes Naomi and Peter’s fieldtrip to look at fungi by literally turning cartwheels up to his door and inviting herself along); even Danny and Boom Boom get to have souls and insecurities under those fedoras.
And then there is Crow, who as the book goes on is less romantic outsider and more cringe-inducingly needy as the spring wears on:
“You don’t need to give me things,” he told her. “Just waking up every morning and thinking of you- it’s Christmas.”
“You shouldn’t tell me things like that.”
“Why not?” he pushed his dishwater-steamed glasses up on his nose. “Why not?”
“If you don’t know- “
But he put a hand over her mouth. “No, really.”
“You should learn not to say everything that comes into your head. You should learn discretion.”
I mean… she’s not wrong.
Naomi and Polly are on the outs after the afore-mentioned picnic, in which Naomi and Crow are drug along like 3rd wheels, (and Naomi suffers a final indignity when she returns home to find that Tess has returned to Peter and has to listen to their bed springs all night) (seriously, try not to die of second-hand embarrassment).
Polly accepts Boom Boom’s invitation to the prom and tries to pass it off as adorable impulsiveness to Crow, with whom this does not go over well. When she feels pangs of regret, Naomi advises her to cancel on Boom Boom, after all he can get a date with any one he wants, and talk things over with Crow, then is frustrated when Polly disregards her advice.
In the meantime, she gets back together with a newly chastened and sensitive Danny (Marcia Melon turned out to be a pill and a social-climber) and accepts his invitation to the prom, although she turns down his suggestion that they go all the way on prom night- somewhat to his relief, as he’s not sure he’s ready either.
In the end, Polly and Naomi reconcile, Polly admitting that maybe she doesn’t have all the answers. With graduation looming, Naomi shocks her parents by announcing she wants to go to college after all and major in biology. They agree to help her find out about those student loans everyone’s talking about.
And finally, Polly decides to swallow her pride, after weeks of waiting for Crow to call her she goes to his house- they both admit that prom night was the worst of their lives, and while their futures remain ambiguous, Polly made it in time to taste the first peas out of their garden.
Sign It Was Written In 1981 Department: This is confusing, because the song that everyone is incessantly listening to is “Part Time Lover”… but it wasn’t released until 1985???? Did Springstubb predict the future? Was Stevie Wonder reading YA Romances????