Skiing snowmen in a frosty Montana playground!
While the back cover proclaims this as part of THE HIT SERIES! I wonder exactly how big a hit this series was: I have never come across any fond remembrances of it, although per Fantastic Fiction it did run 32 numbered volumes and nine additional unnumbered Super Specials, of which this is one.
Background: And Linda A. Cooney is an author that is unfamiliar to me- at a glance, it appears she wrote for a number of third-tier YA Romance series in the 1980s and 90s, including Sunset High (not to be confused with the marginally more popular Sunset Island series), Class of ’88, Totally Hot and a few volumes in the Couples series.
This copy lists 23 Freshman Dorm titles (plus one coming soon!) on its flyleaf, so I imagine this plot picks up in the middle of the Freshman Dorm Girls’ Freshman year…
The Plot: …but it also doesn’t really give us a recap of what has happened thus far (very Couples of you, Linda A. Cooney!) so it took me awhile to figure out which of the characters are even the main Freshmen, although I suppose I should have been tipped off by the gate-fold art, which shows the main Freshmen: Faith, Winnie and KC. Although they get as much plot-time, Liza and Kimberly are CLEARLY only supporting Freshmen! Figuring this out is hampered by the fact that there isn’t really much that distinguishes anyone’s personality from the other (except Liza, who we will get to presently).
But! If you can stick it out this far, this book is truly an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bizarre plot twists, questionable character choices and descriptions of ridiculous outfits.
The main Freshmen, Faith, Winnie and KC are Freshmen at the University of Oregon, and life-long friends, who decide to spend Christmas vacation helping KC’s newly widowed mother get her Montana dude ranch up and running. Along for the ride are Kimberly and everyone’s frenemy, Liza:
She knew Faith felt bad about inviting her roommate Liza along. Although none of them was exactly thrilled with Liza- she was so loud and brash, with her tight neon clothing and carrot red curls.
Liza is so loud and annoying and her brightly-colored clothes hurt everyone’s eyes!
The reader is reminded that Winnie is the ditz of the group, and she is also a newlywed. Why is spending her first Christmas as a married woman 2000 miles away from her husband? Oh, she’s Jewish, no big whoop. She also might be an actual child:
She looked at Winnie, who was now slouched down in the seat reading a copy of Mad Magazine. Winnie was so buried in the magazine that her Mickey Mouse print leggings, red high-top shoes with their lace bows, and bright red tunic-top were all that KC could see.
Upon their arrival in Towerton, KC shares the details of a family feud (her Grandmother broke off an engagement with the local land-baron and he “made life unpleasant for her”) and KC falls in love with the photo of a cowboy on a rodeo poster.
They arrive at the Angel Ranch just in time to see the villainous Jake Tower driving their horses out of the barn, necessitating KC and Kimberly to go round them up because “We know horses, remember?” and also because “Liza probably would have scared the horses off with her loud mouth, bright hair and neon clothing.”
OK, so Winnie is the child-bride, Liza wears loud clothing, KC is the daughter of the ranch owner… what’s Kimberly’s deal? Apropos of nothing, while they round up the horses she mentions:
“Remember when I was accused of stealing? I’ve never stolen a thing in my life, not even a ballpoint pen, but everyone assumed I did it, because I’m black.”
Oh man, that is worked in even more awkwardly than your average Jessi Ramsey introduction.
Ok, ditz, loudmouth, daughter, token minority… what’s Faith’s deal? I am going to tell you now, that having read this entire book, I could not tell you one distinguishing characteristic of Faith.
While rounding up the horses, they encounter Yale preppy Casper Reilly, whose car has broken down and claims to be in Montana to write a paper about the tourism industry. Coincidentally, he shall be the only guest at KC mom’s ranch!
Casper seems to immediately feel a connection with Kimberly, although KC thinks it’s hopeless:
Poor guy, she thought. He’s not her type at all. He’s in for a real letdown.
OK, literally all we know about Casper is he is a serious and ambitious Ivy League freshman. Kimberly is also serious and studious… I mean… what’s not being said here? OH IS IT HIS NAME IS LITERALLY CASPER, KC??????
So, we learn that Jake Tower is the grandson of the land baron Grandma jilted, and also that he has a twin. And also that while KC and Kimberly were collecting the horses and meeting Casper the friendly white-dude, somebody has been busy:
Someone had scrawled an obscenity across the side of the barn in bold red paint. Under it were the words: GO HOME!
Meanwhile it is awkwardly shoehorned in that Faith had a fling with a movie star named Alec Brady while he was filming a movie on campus, and that movie has now opened in town:
Alec Brady was so sexy, with his muscular physique and action-ready stance. He seemed- as Liza’s acting teacher would say- centered and in touch with his deepest animal self.
Liza is on the prowl for bands to play at the dude ranch, which is how she encounters Billy “Coyote” Gates, the lead singer for the hottest band in town, whom she immediately gets a hate-boner for when he suggests that they gate-crash the party he’ll be playing at later that night:
“A brassy little number like you has probably crashed a few parties in her time.”
Liza’s shoulders rose angrily. “Who the hell are you calling a brassy number, you…you…egomaniacal local yokel!”
It’s Old Man Tower’s barn dance that he’ll be playing, and KC decides that if they crash the party, she will be able to REASON with him about his grandsons’ terrorizing her mother.
THING DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN, as KC is swept off her feet by the mysterious rodeo rider from the poster, and Faith undertakes a very dumb plot to get back at Liza for being SO ANNOYING by making her and Coyote fall in love.
KC and Mystery Man are making out when she gets a heads-up from Jake’s fiancée that Old Man Tower is onto their gate crashing and about to call the sheriff… but then Jake shows up and spills the beans that Mystery Hunk is his own twin, Jeremy:
Jake laughed. “You fool! You’ve been here making out with one of the bitches from the Angel Ranch.”
Ok, so apparently, we can’t say that the word “bitch” is spray-painted on the side of a barn, but we can call the main character a bitch to her face? The morality of this book is confusing.
KC’s mom is not too pleased about the girls making more trouble with the Towers, especially since she has only one guest booked into her ranch.
Kimberly is trying to make the most of that one guest, as she takes Casper on various adventure tours, including to the local ski slopes, which unbeknownst to them is owned by the Towers, who shut down the lift with Casper and Kimberly still on it, 20 feet in the air. After they escape to safety, they find themselves growing closer than ever, despite the fact that (as Kimberly points out) he is white.
Meanwhile, Liza and Coyote continue their adversarial courtship, when he asks her to the town’s winter carnival to compete in the snowman-building contest. Oh-ho, Coyote doesn’t know what he is in for:
“Snowmen are my specialty,” she boasted, letting her guard down a little bit. “Back in Brooklyn, which is where I am from, people would come from all the blocks around too see the snowmen I made in our front courtyard. When you have a talent it’s wrong not to use, it, right?”
Oh, also she is from BROOKLYN.
There are more complications. KC’s mom won’t be able to make the next payment on her loan, and it turns out the banker she has been dealing with is Jake Tower’s fiancée, Suzanna. KC for some reason gets sent to try and make a deal, and Suzanna agrees to restructure the loan. Meanwhile, everyone prepares for a formal dinner to introduce the ranch to the town’s merchants association. Liza gets the bright idea to steal Alec Brady’s phone number out of Faith’s address book and invite him to the ranch, which will make it a Hollywood hotspot. But for some reason she leaves him a message saying she’s Winnie.
Everyone gets mad at Winnie for using vinegar in the soup instead of chicken stock during their test-run for the merchant’s dinner, which seems out of proportion to the actual problem. Alec Brady also calls Faith back and said that Winnie left him a message, which makes Faith even madder, so Winnie decides to run away back to her husband.
Casper accuses Kimberly of reverse racism for not dating him, and also, he turns out to be an undercover reporter for The New Yorker writing a sarcastic review of the dude ranch, because contracting undercover snark to college freshmen is TOTALLY something The New Yorker does.
Liza and Coyote discover Faith is behind them dating so they break up, and then make up.
But in the weirdest plot of all, KC hears Suzanna telling her extremely detailed plans to a Tower henchman to ruin KC’s mom, marry the idiot Tower Twin, steal Old Man Tower’s fortune and STRAIGHT UP MURDER Jeremy by having him ride a mad bull named Bloodfoot at the next rodeo and paying off the rodeo clowns to make sure he gets trampled to death.
KC tries to warn Jeremy, but there is the whole thing about The Rodeo Code, and if it is his destiny to die in the ring, blah blah… KC ends up running into the ring herself to save him. Later Casper redeems himself by tape-recording Suzanna’s confession (oh and also he decided to write a completely different article about how Montana is great!)
Oh, also there is a blizzard, which ruins the merchant’s dinner and Winnie gets lost in, but she gets saved by Alec Brady as he arrives in town. The ranch will be saved!
Everyone reconciles with their romantic partners, and learns a valuable lesson about how lying is ok as long as it is in the service of getting your friends to hook up with their Hunks of Destiny.
Sign It Was Written In 1992 Department:
“I’ll go down to The Hungry Horse and advertise for local musicians. There’s got to be all sorts of singing-cowboy types around here. I might discover a country-singing hunk like Billy Ray Cyrus.”
Wow, that is…something. I actually was a college freshman in a dorm in 1992, but none of this stuff happened to me!
I have accepted that fact that YA series gave me an unrelastic vision of what my teenage years were going to be like (and also probably how exciting my baby sitters’ private lives really were, LOL) Thanks for commenting!
University of Springfield, in Colorado. Not Oregon.
Oh man, I will go double check- I swear at the beginning they were driving from Oregon, but as I said there is so little exposition I could have missed the fact that their actual college was in Colorado!
LOL I remember this series. I read maybe the first six books. There was even a very short lived TV series based on it. It was horrible and changed all the character’s names, which always drives me insane.
Oh man, I wonder if that is the “hit series” the cover references!
Also IMBD’s description makes it sound Peak Nineties:
“Drama student Molly heads to Western Pacific to be with boyfriend athlete Danny who soon is her ex. Her dorm mates include KC who struggles financially, wealthy Lulu, slacker dude Zack, Joe the hunk and bookish Alex.”