80s Flashback: Princess Amy (Sweet Dreams #4)

Princess Amy (Sweet Dreams #4)
Melinda Pollowitz
First published 1981

My history with this book
As previously mentioned, I was a big fan of the Sweet Dreams series in junior high. I remember enjoying Princess Amy very much as a kid, although I didn’t remember much about it other than that there was a love triangle.

My thoughts
Thankfully, reading Princess Amy was better than my last attempt at a Sweet Dreams book. Although Princess Amy was a little dated, it was still an entertaining book and I can see why I liked this one as a kid. Sixteen-year-old Amy Painter is being sent to spend her summer vacation with her wealthy aunt aimg_3309nd uncle on Mackinac Island. She’s dreading the trip because her aunt Marcella and her cousin Candace are terrible snobs, but her mother insists on it because she wants Amy to meet a “better class of boy, handsome ones, rich ones” (ugh).

Within hours of her arrival, Amy acquires two admirers, working class Pete and rich douchebag Guy. She’s dazzled by the handsome and charming guy, but also a little scared, while she feels safe with the nice but slightly dull Pete. When she first meets Guy, he pretends to drown her in the pool. She complains to her aunt, who basically tells her to suck it up because he’s a good catch (again, ugh).
All of the rich kids are portrayed in the sort of broad rich-kid stereotypes that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched Caddyshack or The OC. The girls are all skinny and eat nothing but lettuce, while looking down on Amy, who’s said to be a size 12, which I’m guessing is more like the equivalent of a size 8 in 1981 terms. The body shaming is pretty awful in this book. Aunt Marcella tells the housekeeper not to allow Amy to have any bread, and she buys Amy an outfit that’s one size too small: “Why of course it won’t fit, dear. It’s an incentive. I got a size ten so you’ll have a reason to knock off that extra weight.” Amy bristles against this, but in the end, she does lose some weight, and I wish she had been able to stay happily at size 12, just to spite her aunt and cousin.
Seemingly unbothered by Amy’s weight are the romantic rivals, Guy and Pete. Candace refers to Pete as “weird,” but this makes no sense because Pete is way too boring to be weird. Guy, on the other hand, spends most of his time playing a live action form of Dungeons and Dragons, which no one thinks is at all strange. Was Dungeons and Dragons way more mainstream in the early 80? Or perhaps everyone just acts like this is totally normal behavior because Guy is rich and hot?
Pete is safe and dull, but he’s also a bit possessive (he doesn’t want “to share” Amy). Guy is scary and exciting, but does things like abandon Amy in the woods (on horseback, although she’s never been on a horse before) to run off and kill a dwarf or whatever. It’s fairly obvious that Amy is going to end up picking Pete, but Amy is in constant angst over having to choose between the two of them. I kept wishing someone would point that Amy is 16 and she doesn’t have to choose one of these idiots as a life partner. Why can’t she just date them both for the few weeks she’s on the island? But romance is always serious business in Sweet Dreams books.

Would I want my kid to read it?
I wouldn’t stop him, but I’m not going to suggest to him that it’s a can’t miss classic.

Is there any objectionable content?
No, except for the above-mentioned body shaming.

Can you read it aloud?
No.

Availability
It’s long out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.

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80s Flashback: Little Sister

Little Sister (Sweet Dreams #5)
Yvonne Green
First published 1981

My history with this book
I read a lot of Sweet Dreams books when I was around 11 or 12, and the cover of this one looked very familiar, so I was sure I had read it. But I remembered nothing about it, and the plot didn’t come back to me when I read it (possibly because it’s a really unmemorable book).

My thoughts
I was pleasantly surprised that the first Sweet Dreams book I revisited wasn’t too bad (How Do You Say Goodbye), but unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Little Sister. It’s the story of Cindy Halley, an upper middle class white girl from the suburbs (80s teen romance series didn’t have a lot of racial or socioeconomic diversity, unless the white middle class suburban heroine was dating someone from the “wrong side of the tracks”). Cindy’s life is miserable because she’s just turned 16 and she doesn’t have a boyfriend. It’s not terribly img_3286surprising that Cindy is dateless and not as popular as her older sister, because Cindy has all the personality of dry toast. She spends the first few chapters of the book whining about her lack of dates, until popular senior Ron inexplicably becomes interested in her. Ron is a sort of magical unicorn, a star basketball player who’s also a talented actor, hard-working, and devoted to his family. He’s also lacking in a personality, which may be why he and Cindy are attracted to each other.

Once Cindy has a boyfriend, she spends the rest of the book terrified that Ron is going to fall in love with her sister Christine, because Ron and Christine are playing Romeo and Juliet in the sch0ol play. I was sort of hoping Ron would dump Cindy for Christine, because although Christine is awful, she’s more interesting than snoresville Cindy. Of course, Ron sticks with Cindy because the heroine of a Sweet Dreams romance never gets the short end of the stick.

Although it’s less than 150 pages, I struggled to finish Little Sister. Cindy and Ron are painfully dull, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about them. It’s also obvious to everyone but the terminally stupid Cindy that nothing going on with Ron and Christine, so there’s no real tension in the story.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Nope.

Is there any objectionable content?
Attitudes about dating feel a little dated, but there’s nothing terribly objectionable about this book (unless you object to being bored to tears).

Can you read it aloud?
Please don’t.

Availability
Little Sister is long out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.

 

80s Flashback: Stranger with My Face

Summer of Fear
Lois Duncan
First published 1981

My history with this book
I remember very clearly reading this book in seventh grade. My best friend also read it, and we had a lot of discussions about it. I recall it being quite suspenseful and scary.

My thoughts
I loved Stranger with My Face as a pre-teen, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it almost as much as an adult.

Our heroine Laurie has a storybook ideal teenage life. She lives with her artist mother, writer father, and younger brother and sister in a beautiful cliff-side house on an island off of Massachusetts. She’s dating the popular Gordon, which has made her part of her high school’s ruling clique. But her newfound status is threatened when she misses a party because she’s home sick and her friends claim they saw her on the beach that night. Laurie claims innocence, but her friends are suspicious, and soon she begins to feel like someone has been in her room and there are more incidents where people think they see Laurie when she couldn’t have been there.

Laurie soon realizes that there is indeed a stranger out there stranger-with-my-facewho looks just like her, a long-lost twin sister who wants her life. This book has lots of gothic elements: a long-lost evil twin, a supernatural twist (astral projection), and a scarred (literally) love interest. Duncan specialized in thrillers, and some of them had a supernatural bent, but of the ones I read as a kid, Stranger with My Face was definitely the scariest and creepiest.

I enjoyed many things about this book: the spookiness of the plot, the sense of atmosphere, the evil villain, and the romance between Laurie and the island’s outcast. I particularly liked that the ending doesn’t tie things up in a neat package. There’s an end to the story, and it’s not an unhappy one, but it’s not necessarily a happy one either. I don’t recall what I thought of the ending when I was a kid, but reading it now, I appreciated that Duncan didn’t go for a big showy happy ending. The uncertain ending feels unexpected for a book of this type.

Does it hold up?
Much better than I expected.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Sure.

Is there any objectionable content?
Nothing terrible. There’s an adoption plotline that feels quite dated, but probably wasn’t unusual for the time the book was written. There’s also some vague Native American mysticism related to the astral projection plotline that I assume doesn’t have much to do with any actual Native American traditions. The mother of Laurie’s friend Helen says some awful things about their friend Jeff, who has terrible facial scars, but Helen shuts her mother down, and Laurie and her family embrace Jeff and don’t care about his appearance.

Can you read it aloud?
No, it’s too long and the target age is too old.

Availability
It’s still in print, but the current version has been revised slightly by the author. I read the original text, so I’m not sure how extensive the revisions are. I believe they are fairly minor. It’s not hard to find used copies of the original text. The cheesy cover pictured here is the paperback edition I read as a kid.

 

80s Flashback: Someone Is Out There

Someone Is Out There (Windswept #2)
Carole Standish
First published 1982

My history with this book
Someone Is Out There is one of many teen romances I read as a pre-teen. For some reason, this one seemed more memorable than most of the others I read and so I tracked down a copy.

My thoughts
I think the reason that Someone Is Out There stuck out to me is that in addition to the requisite romance, it’s also a mystery. The Windswept series featured romances of course, but the romance was always in the context of a slightly Gothic mystery, which gives the books more compelling plots than the usual 80s teen series fare.

Our heroine Marcie has big plans with her friends for her Christmas break, but because her grandmother has a broken leg and can’t travel, Marcie and her parents must travel to Cape Cod for the holidays. Shortly after her arrival, Marcie is drawn to a creepy shasomeone-is-out-thereck near the beach, where she meets a handsome young fisherman named Peter. Although Peter warns her away from the shack, Marcie is a budding Nancy Drew and she can’t leave well enough alone. Of course, Marcie is also drawn to Peter, who’s got just the sort of brooding mysterious demeanor that sets a teenage girl’s heart aflutter.

Marcie soon learns that the shack belonged to a murdered fisherman who was the business partner of Peter’s uncle, and that the uncle, and Peter by association, are suspects in the crime. Marcie can’t believe that a dreamy (albeit troubled) young man like Peter could possibly be guilty, so she’s determined to clear his (and his uncle’s) name.

I was pleasantly surprised by my re-read of Someone Is Out There. I wasn’t expecting much, and the first chapter, which was filled with clunky exposition and awkward prose, didn’t fill me with confidence. For example, this passage was painful:

She sat down on the edge of one of the twin couches that flanked the walls of in the William’s spacious living room, quite unaware of the lovely picture she made. She was wearing a plaid skirt in which green predominated, and her turtleneck sweater picked up the green tone. The color of the clothes made her eyes seem more green than hazel, and agitation brought a flush to her cheeks that was actually very becoming.

However, I ended up enjoying the book much more than I expected. The writing improved after the first chapter, and the author does a nice job of making the atmosphere of Cape Cod in the winter come alive for the reader. The mystery is a little weak, and I guessed the killer’s identity early on, mostly because there aren’t that many characters in the book. But also, I’m an adult who’s read hundreds of mysteries over the years, and I’m sure the mystery was much more mysterious to me when I was 12. Also, the climax of the mystery isn’t very suspenseful, since it happens mostly off the page after Marcie is knocked out.

I really love the cover. Marcie’s plaid coat, with its built-in scarf, is so 80s. Peter is lurking in the background wearing what appear to be a wool pea coat and high-heeled boots. Since he’s usually described in the book as wearing waterproof gear appropriate for life on a fishing boat, this outfit makes no sense, but I suppose the turtleneck and pea coat do have a sort of Cape Cod in winter vibe.

Does it hold up?
Yes, much better than I expected.

Would I want my kid to read it?
Eh, if he really wants to.

Is there any objectionable content?
No

Can you read it aloud?
Not really, but it might be hilarious if you tried.

Availability
The Windswept books are out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.

80s Flashback: How Do You Say Goodbye?

How Do You Say Goodbye? (Sweet Dreams #16)
Margaret Burman
First published 1982

My history with this book
This was one of several Sweet Dreams books I read as a pre-teen. I’ve found copies of a few titles I remember from the series, and I’m going to make my way through them over the coming months.

My thoughts
I read a lot of what I think of as generic teen romances from approximately age 11 to 13. Most of these books were in series put out by various publishers. The Sweet Dreams series was the longest-running of the various teen romance series, with a whopping 230 volumes published between 1981 and 1995. I think I stopped reading these types of books around 1984 or 1985.

From what I can remember of these books, they were usually about an ordinary teen girl, with supposedly normal teen problems. The plots often centered around a girl who was torn between two equally attractive guys. These books were total wish fulfillment for your average 12-year-old girl, who probably wasn’t dealing with the tragic issue of having two hot guys wanting to date her.

How Do You Say Goodbye is a very typical 80s teen romance. Our heroine is 15-year-old Lisa, who describes herself as follows:

I guess I’m what you’d call ordinary. Even my name, Lisa Kentwood, is ordinary. Some people say that I’m pretty because I’ve got this long strawberry blond hair that falls straight to my shoulders, but frankly, I think my looks are just ok.

Sweet Dreams heroines are always pretty, but never the most beautiful girl in the class, which I suppose serves to make them more relatable. Lisa’s main interest in life is baking, and she has a small business baking and selling elaborate desserts. Lisa’s biggest problem is that she can’t say no to anyone. She’s overcommitted in her baking because she never turns down an order. She’s dating her childhood friend, the nice img_2854but kind of dull, Lawrence, and although she likes him, he doesn’t exactly set her heart afire.Then she meets manic pixie dream boy Alex, and suddenly she’s dating two guys, because she’s unable to tell Lawrence that she doesn’t want to go steady with him. Of course, this blows up in her face. But in the end, everything works out fine. Lisa wins a major baking competition, Lawrence forgives her and ends up dating her best friend, and Alex also forgives her and wants to keep dating her.

When I read the description on the back of the book, it sounded vaguely familiar, but once I started reading the book, it really came back to me and I found myself remembering bits and pieces of the story, so this book must have had at least some impact on me as a kid.

The story felt a little dated, but not as bad as I expected. The constant references to “going steady” seem dated even for the 1980s, and I remember thinking when I first read it that going steady felt very 1950s. I wasn’t particularly interested in Lisa’s baking when I was a kid, but that plot detail held up pretty well, since we now live in a time when bakers get reality TV shows and our nation’s cupcake obsession is only just now waning. The most dated aspects are the hilarious descriptions of outfits. For her first date with Alex, Lisa wears a ruffled Victoria blouse, velvet pants, and a glittery belt. In another scene, she dons a pair of yellow satin pajamas tucked into knee-high boots.

Re-reading it gave me a certain nostalgic pleasure, and although it’s not exactly a classic of children’s literature, it’s not a bad book. I get the appeal of these books–there’s always a happy ending, the heroine always get her man, and being ordinary is rewarded. They’re aspirational, but in a “this could actually happen to me” sort of way. The sort of problems the heroines face are pretty mild; these are definitely not “issue” books. Of course, Alex is the sort of magical unicorn perfect teenage boy that doesn’t exist in actual high schools. Were he written today, the heroine might wonder if he actually liked girls, but in the world of 80s teen novels, everyone is straight* (and mostly white).

Although the heroines of these books are always in high school, the reading level feels more appropriate for junior high. Maybe I just have different expectations from reading a lot of very good young adult books published in recent years, but the writing in this one feels rather unsophisticated.

Does it hold up?
Better than I expected.

Is there any objectionable content?
No.

Can you read it aloud?
Not unless you really want to embarrass your kids.

Would I want my kid to read it?
If he really wanted to, but it’s not something I’d push on him.

Availability
It’s out of print, but it’s not too hard to find used copies.

*M.E. Kerr’s I’ll Love You When You’re More Like Me, which has an openly gay supporting character, is a notable exception.