Patti was a serious student; Spencer was an irresponsible playboy!
Background: Is it a major holiday? You can bet that Elaine Harper and First Love From Silhouette have got us covered with another appropriately-themed teen romance set in the northern California town of Blossom Valley!
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).
This week in Blossom Valley, the local teens have forgotten about the freshman class running a prostitution ring out of an abandoned shed, and incredibly meddling neighbors doling out bad advice to teenaged girls, and peril at the bird sanctuary part I or II.
I believe this is the last of the holiday-themed Blossom Valleys, and First Loves in general seem to have gotten harder to find and much more expensive over the seven years I’ve been doing this, which is why it has taken so long to get to this specific title…
The Plot: …but it is worth the wait because this one is hilarious.
Set at Camp Redwood Skies, which the handy map in the front of the book informs us is JUST NORTH OF THE BIRD SANCTUARY (!!!!) the book opens with Cabin 6’s Cabin Leader Patti Pearson, surveying her domain, noting that
Patti could take pride in her performance as cabin leader. She had seven campers well trained and completely under her thumb.
It is unclear exactly what a “cabin leader” is. She’s not a counselor (they show up infrequently in this book with surprise inspections), but is in charge of the other girls in her cabin, making sure they do the assigned chores, providing wise counsel for personal problems, and leading them on various activities. It appears to be an unpaid position, so I guess Camp Redwood Skies has figured out how to run on child slave-labor. Although the campers do earn points for doing their labors, and the cabin with the most gets the honor of shooting off the fireworks at the camp’s 4th of July celebration.
As she surveys the work her campers have done cleaning the mess hall’s kitchen, she catches a glimpse of Spencer Henderson, the hunky son of TV Star Vance Henderson, and lazy and irresponsible Cabin Leader of Cabin 12, stealing a bag of potato chips out of the pantry. Oooh! That’s hunky Spencer Henderson is SO INFURIATING!
Patti righteously stomps off after him, finding him playing poker, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with his charges in an abandoned shed in the woods. THIS WILL NOT STAND.
Patti is further infuriated when she sees that Spencer has hung a sign on Cabin 12 indicating he had taken his charges on an Owl Walk.
“Owl Walk indeed!”
Patti is itching to rat Cabin 12 out, and is even further infuriated when camp director Mr. Grimshaw praises Spencer for taking his charges on an enriching Owl Walk.
At breakfast the next morning and throughout the day, Patti harangues Spencer with Owl Facts:
“Tell me what kind of owls you saw.”
Spencer looked a little surprised, because he really didn’t even know Patti. “Hoot owls,” he said.
Patti gave him a superior stare. “That’s not a kind of owl.”
Patti was no stranger to owls. She had once seen a TV documentary on them, and Patti never forgot anything she saw. She continued to grill the apprehensive Spencer. He knew, of course, that female owls were larger than the males and that the male horned owl had fewer notes in his call. Had Spencer happened to hear any of those calls? Had he happened to run across the rare spotted owl? Possibly it existed in this redwood forest.
Patti even follows Spencer to his ceramics class:
Patti heckled Spencer. He was the most uninterested participant in the ceramics workshop.
“Owls make neat sculptures,” Patti suggested.
So the whole first part of this book is Patti following a total stranger around shouting about owls or muttering “Owl Walk” derisively under her breath, the way normal people might say “bull shit.”
While taking her campers on a highly enriching and morally uplifting hike to gather leaves for their highly enriching and morally uplifting campfire skit costumes, Patti stumbles across a motorcycle hidden in the brush. Patti immediately assumes it must belong to Spencer, explaining how he was able to sneak beer and cigarettes into camp. Patti steals the helmet to use for her costume, after which she’ll present it to the camp director as proof that Spencer has been corrupting his charges with nightly “orgies” and doesn’t know an owl from a hole in the ground.
Patti’s charges think that she is interested in Spencer THAT WAY which is SO ROMANTIC, especially after he appears, Jason Vorhees-like at their cabin after the campfire:
“Hey, gang! You should see who is standing out in the road in front of the cabin! It’s him!” One of the girls peered out the screened upper part of the cabin as she raised her head from the bunk she was making.
“He’s looking right up at our cabin,” another girl squealed with delight. “I think I might faint.”
Seeing Patti wearing the helmet at the campfire skits, Spencer knows that she’s on to him, and announces that he and his cabin are putting her “under surveillance” to make sure she doesn’t rat them out to the camp director, calls her uptight, and forcibly plants a kiss on her (gross), which of course means that Patti can’t get him off her mind (ugh).
The surveillance extends to the square dance that night, and all the girls in camp are green with envy that hunky Spencer Henderson can’t tear himself away from Patti’s side. But Patti has switched gears from Owl Facts to Deadly Motorcycle Statistics, carrying on right through the dance:
“All join hands and form a star!” shouted the fiddler.
“There were like a hundred-and-seventy-five-thousand motorcycle accidents in 1981!” Patti harangued him when he encircled her waist to give her a dizzying whirl.
The only thing funnier than berating someone with Owl Facts is angrily square-dancing with them.
And so, the rest of the book is somewhat anti-climactic, although they do go on an actual Owl Walk with Phil and Daphne, two of the counselors who are deep into owls. Patti and Spencer learn that Spencer’s orgy shack is really a nesting habitat for barn owls. The campers hear some pygmy owls, which Phil finds unimpressive (“they’re very tiny- only about the size of a sparrow and the blend in with the trees.”)
Pfft, pygmy owls, who cares? Phil makes everyone sit in a circle:
“I’m going to call out the great horned owl. He’s king of the owls.”
YEAH, Phil is up in the highest strata of Owl Society. He summons owl royalty.
Patti notices that Spencer is bringing the hammer down on his campers, enforcing discipline in his quest to win the fireworks honors for cabin 12. Patti wonders if she should take credit for these changes:
Was it partly because she had caught him in his mischief and lectured him?
Yup, that must be it.
Patti is also supposed to be changed by Spencer’s influence, loosening up and having fun, but this is only portrayed through a series of mild, well-mannered pillow fights in cabin 6.
There are some other adventures along the way, including a point where both Patti and Spencer think the other has been eaten by a giant squid during a trip to the beach (don’t ask).
Patti stumbles across the motorcycle in the woods AGAIN, even though Spencer promised to return it to his friend in town, so although she informs him that she normally wouldn’t be caught dead on the back of a death-machine, she will ride with him in to town to make sure he really returns it. Patti finds that ride exhilarating, and being so close to Spencer also quite stimulating… at least until they pull into a gas station and run smack into camp director Grimshaw.
Ordering them to his office later that afternoon, Patti and Spencer know they’re going to be sent home for rule-breaking. But Patti has a plan! Putting her debating team skills to use, she and Spencer prepare their arguments about why they should be allowed to stay. Going into full-on forensics meet mode in the face of authority, (“first I’d like to correct a misconception in your statement…”) they make their case and are allowed to stay, although for their punishment, both cabins are disqualified from the fireworks competition.
Watching the fireworks together, Spencer announces he is going to join the debate team when school stars in the fall and confesses his love to Patti:
“Other girls, how do they see me? ‘Hey, there’s a real hunk of beefcake,’ they say… You’re the first really intelligent girl I ever got to know very well.”
I really hope that “Hey, there’s a real hunk of beefcake” is an exact quote.
Sign It Was Written In 1984 Department:
She had gone by cabin 12 on Wednesday, and that cabin was for sure the Animal House of Redwood Skies.