How could a dream become a disaster?
Background: Not to be confused with the similar-looking Sweet Dreams, First Love or Caprice paperback romances of the 1980s, Scholastic’s Wildfire tends to have a better quality of writing (Caroline Cooney and Ann M. Martin are a few of the authors who launched their careers with the imprint) and wackier covers than the competition.
So, I’ve had this one sitting around for a while, dating back to before the founding of this site, when I was posting YA romance covers on my personal Facebook page for the amusement of friends and family. Back in 2011, the reaction to this one included:
“Wow, can’t concentrate on fabulous Chip with that font over his head.”
“Is that what Chip wore to the Halloween dance? Or is that his daily look?”
“If a guy dressed like that I would definitely not want him to ‘sing about us’…”
“That font. Discuss.”
“Take me to the Square Dance Chip!!!”
“He’s got those dreamy crystal meth eyes.”
The Plot: Despite everything going on with this cover, I assure you EVEN MORE is going inside the book once I finally cracked it open. Told in flashback, the prose style is emotionally overheated and very heavy on the adjectives, all out of proportion with the actual plot, which takes a cue from Ten Boy Summer: for their senior year, BFFs Judy and Tammie decide to ditch their drippy boyfriends and find romance with real HUNKS.
But wait, “Winifred Madison” is ringing some bells…
Oh. Bird on the Wing Winifred Madison. Probably the author I’d vote least-likely to be toiling in the Wildfire vineyards. But here we are.
After vowing to make the most of their senior year, hunk-wise, Judy and Tammie have their wish fulfilled with the arrival of a new boy in school, Chip Mulligan. First spotted in a white-on-white cowboy ensemble, the next day the school has a whole assembly just to introduce him to the student body:
This time he was dressed not in the white western outfit but in a stunning dark shirt and a jacket decorated with embroidered traffic signs saying such things as STOP, DEAR [sic?] CROSSING, and YIELD.
“Y’know, it’s really great to be here in this wonderful, romantic city of San Francisco.”
His accent, not quite southern and not quite western, sounded as if it was straight from TV.
“And now, I’m gonna sing a lil’l song I made up, just for you.”
I mean, he gets a whole assembly to introduce himself to the school???? All the girls in school are swooning over this rhinestone cowboy, but Judy figures she has an “in” as editor of the school paper and sends Chip an official request for an interview.
He spins a tale of growing up on a ranch in Wyoming and being mentored by a genuine cowboy, before establishing himself in Las Vegas (although he doesn’t name any specific nightclubs…); off the record, he admits that he just moved from Los Angeles with his father. But Judy is persuaded to print the legend, and soon finds herself Chip’s full-time songwriter, manager of his band Mulligan Stew, and PR flack, as well as his part-time girlfriend. All unpaid, of course.
Chip is eager to add a girl singer to his act, but that is the one talent Judy does not possess, miserably failing her long-postponed try-out. Meanwhile, her friendship with Tammie, relations with her opera-loving family, her grades and after-school job at Karole’s Kookie Knook have all been suffering because of the hours she’s spending hyping Chip, booking him into such renowned Bay Area venues as The Purple Burple and writing articles such as WHAT’S GOIN’ ON WITH CHIP and ALL BOUT MULLIGAN STEW.
And, can we be honest, doesn’t Chip seem kind of dim?
“So, you’re versatile, then.” He frowned and I rephrased it. “You can sing and play in many different ways?”
Feeling her hold on Chip starting to slip, she comes up with an idea for the school’s big Halloween dance, where Mulligan Stew will be headlining:
I wanted to appear on stage with Mulligan Stew, obviously not as a singer, but simply as a presence, part of the group, an animated stage prop. I’d dress in western clothes and when Chip was singing a love song, I’d move around and smile appropriately, as if I were a singer.
So, a country-rock version of that guy from the Bosstones who just dances.
Judy gets an advance on her paycheck from the Kookie Knook, and convinces her family members to give her Christmas presents in October to put together her fab (and very expensive) western look. And at first everything is going to plan, as Mulligan Stew takes the stage and she vamps around while they sing a medley of their greatest hit, “Where’ve You Been All My Life.”
But! Disaster strikes when a mysterious figure enters the school gymnasium:
A belly dancer had just entered and stood at the entrance, transfixed. A girl with a thousand angel curls around her head like a halo, and a glittering costume. Gold breast plates with spangles and shimmering fringes, yards of gold jewelry, a low-cut belt that left her navel showing, and below that a sheer golden skirt or full pants that vibrated constantly as tiny gold fringes moved back and forth…
It’s TAMMIE! And it becomes clear to Judy as she enters the gym that she has been taking SECRET BELLY DANCING LESSONS.
Chip is transfixed by Tammie, and Judy flees and gym and runs home, heartbroken. The next day Judy refuses to speak to Tammie when she calls, beginning a lengthy estrangement between the two girls, as Judy works to repair her grades, mend fences with her boss and family and tries to make other friends, including fashion model Jennifer and nerdy Karen (they start a feminist literary magazine). But Judy is still distracted by Tammie and Chip’s very public romance.
Madison crams a lot of plot into this slender paperback. By the Valentine’s Day dance, Judy has decided to buck up, buy a new Gunne Sax dress and accept an invite from drippy Dan, able to face Tammie and Chip at last…
So Judy watches in horror as the it plays out for Tammie much the same way the Halloween dance played out for her, when Chip introduces his new girl-singer, the petite and glamorous Bunnie Brocken. As they gaze into each other’s eyes and sing a love duet, Tammie rushes out, broken hearted. Judy makes her excuses to Dan and follows her home, where they make up at last. But! Our story is no where near over, as Judy and Tammie renew their Hunk Hunt, and everyone forgets all about Chip, although Tammie learned:
“He lives in a really crummy place and his father is an alcoholic. His mother ran off with another guy and all and all it is a bad situation.”
Were you wondering about Kite Culture (Kulture?) in San Francisco in the 80s? I wasn’t particularly, but now I feel like I know a lot about it, as Judy is now required to spend a lot of time babysitting her younger brother, Josh, who is kite crazy (Krazy?) One day while she is watching him test out his latest creation in Golden Gate Park, she runs into Jerry, a senior at a different school who is deeply into kites. He shows the siblings some of his artisan creations and tells them he runs workshops for both kids and adults on kite making.
Josh is enthusiastic, but Judy plays it cool. Jerry is a hottie… but eventually she’ll have to introduce Tammie to him and what if it is the whole Chip sitch all over again???
Jerry mentions that he has a totally nerdy older brother, Jonathan, a pre-med freshman at SF State. Judy considers that maybe Jerry is exaggerating Jon’s nerdiness, and maybe she can hype him up to Tammie. But when Judy takes Josh to one of Jerry’s kite making workshops, she meets Jon and he is ALSO a hottie!
In the end, it all works out, as Judy and Jon get together, Jerry and Tammie get together, Josh gets to make as many kites as he wants, and even poor Danny starts dating Karen, of the feminist literary magazine. The only loser is Howie, Tammie’s original boyfriend, but he “has a laugh like a sex maniac” so that was probably a hard match to make.
Good Name For A Restaurant Department: The Yogurterie
Eye For Detail Department: Posters of Hunks that Judy has hanging in her bedroom include Humphrey Bogart, Baryshnikov (“the Russian dancer, of course”) and Olympic skiers. Also: Unicorns.
Additionally, Judy has a real lipstick-namer knack for naming cookies (Kookies?) at the ‘Knook: Baby Toes, Sheer Ecstasies, Chocolate Footsies, Nougies, Jelly Buttons and The Cloud.
That cover looks like she urgently wants to be rescued from a creepy stalker but she’s trying not to make a scene.
Toes and Footsies? Blergh!
Definitely not something I’d want to eat. Also, Karole’s Kookie Knook would be a decent name for a bakery, if the initials weren’t KKK.
I did not catch that!! Whoa!!!
I can’t believe I missed that, I’m losing my edge in my old age 😂
Ok, I did not notice the number of body parts-related names Judy came with, LOL
Winnifred Madison also authored “Growing Up in a Hurry,” one of the naughty “problem novels” of the late 70s-early 80s about sex and abortion. She has an oddly awesome C.V.
Looking through her bibliography, it looks like she wildly swings through both grim social-problem novels and these pulp romance paperbacks! I’m going to be keeping an eye out for more by her!
Seriously did a spit take at SECRET BELLY DANCING LESSONS. This sounds like… I’m not even sure. You did a great job describing everything. My students were very confused when I asked them if they knew what “hunks” were. It is not a term that has survived. Thanks for my morning chuckle.
Aw, that makes me sad that HUNKS are no longer a thing, I feel like its one of the few words women had available to objectify men 😆RIP Hunks.
Oh wow, I forgot all about Growing Up In A Hurry until I saw the cover, then it all came back!! Did everyone else’s school library have those paperback size hardcovers, either with the fronts and backs glued on or with like a laminated cover? (This is a terrible description but IYKYK.)
Winifred Madison also wrote Homecoming Queen, probably tied with Dreams Can Come True as the quintessential Wildfire romance.
Yes, the library-clad editions! Because these were getting so much wear and tear from young readers.
I think I might have Homecoming Queen in my Wildfire stash, I’ll have to go looking for it.
Is Winifred Madison still alive? My favorite book of hers is another Wildfire Romance called, Dance With Me.
It looks like she passed away in 2013; this obit only mentions her novel Maria Luisa, but it sounds like she had a very exciting and multi-faceted life!
Thank you so much for that information!