How could nature have produced such virile perfection?
Background: I am on the record about how I’ve turned around my opinion on Silhouette’s First Love romances (“AMERICA’S publisher of Contemporary Romance”), at least when it comes to Elaine Harper’s terminally loopy Blossom Valley adventures, especially when they involve tenuous connections to major holidays and constant bird-based peril.
First Love published 236 titles between 1981 and 1987, so this one originally appeared very early in the run, although I have a reissued edition with “A Blossom Valley Book” on the cover and the “Special Offer” price of 99-cents. And while there is nary a mention of the infamous, drama-fueled Bird Sanctuary in the story, it is featured on the map of Blossom Valley on the inner cover.
The Plot: The good folks over at Fiction DB inform us that this is the very first title Elaine Harper penned for the series, as well as the first set in Blossom Valley, and is thus the origin story of recurring character Janine Anderson, last seen around these parts as the freezer queen who broke Todd Roberts heart, leading to much bird-based drama.
I will warn you up front, the whole plot is given away in the title on this one. As the story opens, studious Janine has moved to the geographically fuzzy Blossom Valley from Oregon shortly before the start of her Junior year of high school. Her parents are apparently suffering from sticker shock about the prices in… whatever part of California Blossom Valley is located in, forcing Janine to take a job to help chip in financially:
If only inflation had never been invented…
The job that Janine was able to acquire is as a babysitter and mother’s helper for the five children (and cat) of high-strung Mrs. Weichers, a woman who takes to her bed as soon as Janine arrives every afternoon.
On this particular afternoon, Mrs. Weichers breezily assures Janine that “I’m afraid the children are real hellions today!” before bedding down for the afternoon.
As Janine tries to get the children (and cat) under control, she suddenly hears a “sonorous male voice”, and she takes her time looking over the teenaged stud who has shown up to do the Weichers’ yard work:
Her gaze moved up over a seemingly endless stretch of blue jeans, up past a white athletic jacket marked with the red letters BV for Blossom Valley High, and past a pair on incredibly broad shoulders to a swarthy, laughing face surrounded by curly, dark hair that tumbled over the newcomer’s ears. Eyes so intensely brown as to be almost black peered down at her with amusement.
“Oh, incidentally, I’m Craig Matthews. I’ve come about the yard job…”
Janine had started to restore her neat piles of laundry, but her hand trembled at the proximity of the handsome, vital male who loomed over her.
This is going to be the bulk of book: descriptions of Janine eye-groping Craig Matthews. And you know what? I’m kind of here for it. As (ahem) problematic as the gender politics will get with the one, at least Harper lets her heroine full-on objectify Craig every chance she gets.
Janine and Craig grow to share a friendly rapport on the days they work together at the Weichers’, even after her two new Blossom Valley friends Sarah and Adele inform her that Craig is “the supreme dreamboat of Blossom Valley High!” They also inform her that he is the steady of stuck-up Cheer Captain Stephanie Quayle.
What is a girl to do? Well, while making oatmeal cookies with the hellacious Weichers children, she bakes him a special, extra-large cookie, which moves him to put the moves on her- when in walks Mrs. Weichers!
“So, this is what I have been paying you for! Goodness knows what has been going on in my own home, right before the eyes of my children! Well, it’s happened for the last time! Neither of you need come back here again. You’ll get your pay in the mail, little as you deserve it, using my home for such carryings-on.”
Craig tries to take the blame for the scene because he knows Janine needs to keep this job, but she’s not having it:
“Such impertinence! I will tolerate neither your disrespect nor your using my home for your clandestine lovemaking!” Mrs. Weichers shrilled. “You know I have a nervous condition and your behavior has aggravated it severely!”
Janine puts off telling her parents that she was fired, hoping to get a new job before they find out. Back in school Craig is absorbed in the new basketball season and his friend-group of jocks, and Janine finds she can easily avoid him in the halls.
To keep her mind off of him, she spends time with Sarah and Adele and a group of boys that they casually date; class clown Todd Roberts is especially eager to win Janine over, even talking his boss at the ice cream parlor into hiring her. While the trainee-pay is half of what she was making at the Weichers, Janine takes the job, since she has put a new dress on layaway for the homecoming dance.
Even then, she doesn’t make enough to pay it off and has to attend the dance in her 8th grade graduation dress. Accompanied by Todd, she has a passable time, at least until Homecoming King Craig asks her to dance:
He was wearing a tuxedo and a ruffled yellow shirt…he could have been in the movies with Lee Remmick or Bo Derek swooning over him. Prince Charles, or any of the world’s other princes, would have looked like creeps beside Craig Matthews.
But the idyll ends when Craig is swept away by Stephanie for the mandatory homecoming photos, leaving Janine with Todd, who is jealous and grabby.
“Aw, Janine, don’t go square on me. After we went to the HOMECOMING dance together. Everybody kisses after a big dance like that.”
Janine is very much NO THANK YOU, and Todd wrestles her right out of the car, pointing out that he got her the ice cream job so she OWES him. Gross.
At least she is able to put in her notice there, as her Spanish teacher is impressed with her ability and invites her to apply for both a paid tutoring position and the chance to be selected as an exchange student to Uruguay. Glad to put some space between herself and Todd, Janine gains self-confidence as she proves to be a capable peer tutor. Does she dare dream that she will be selected for the exchange program as well?
“…playing games like Jai Alai. Eating all kinds of new foods that tasted like tacos and wearing a serape.”
The competition is tough (can anyone even compete with Andy Pearson, King of the Debate Club?) and Janine is again thrown for a loop when her spring tutees are the basketball team… including Craig! The team has been focused on getting to the state finals, and now the teacher wants them to catch up before college applications are due.
Janine and Craig again prove to be a good team, working together to keep the basketball players on-task. Janine continues to worship Craig from afar, joining the booster squad with Sarah and Adele to cheer at the final games. When Craig (inevitably) leads the team to the final victory, Adele insists they crash the victory party at a seedy roadhouse. Janine clutches her pearls when she realizes that most of the guys are there (gasp) stag. When Craig shows up, he saves Janine from having her coke roofied by a disreputable senior and drags her out of there and drives her home. Angrily insisting that if she’s the kind of girl who frequents places like that “I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed” and gets even grabbier than Todd. Gross, gross, gross.
Things get resolved at the end of the year, as the basketball team passes Spanish, Todd wins his campaign for class president, and Janine is chosen as the alternate for the exchange program… and then gets to go after all when Andy Pearson decides to really focus on the debate team his senior year.
On the last day of school, Craig’s finally admits that he loves Janine (what?), clears up the misunderstanding about how everyone thinks he and Stephanie are an item, and asks Janine to the all-night Grad Night party (she is able to get her dress out of hock just in time!) He is Berkeley-bound in the fall, and tells Janine she should apply there, so “That way we can be together again.”
Janine, you might want to keep your options open, I hear those foods that taste like tacos they’ve got in Uruguay are pretty great.
Sign It Was Written In 1981 Department:
“She would have looked more dramatic and striking with dark eyebrows like Brooke Shields.