Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
When I decided I wanted to do a Valentine's Day edition of Retro Fridays this time, I knew I wanted it to be something old and sappy and sweet and a favorite. And it didn't take long at all before my mind alighted on a title I am almost sure you have never heard of--Romance is a Wonderful Thing by Ellen Emerson White. Now, I regularly fly my White fangirl flag as you know, but I don't know if I've ever talked about this early, lesser known book. I'd been a devoted White reader for years before I ever heard of it and then it was only thanks to my friend Nan (a devoted EEW fangirl herself) who clued me in to its existence. So I ordered a copy off Half.com because, naturally, it was out of print. And when it arrived in the mail I devoured this trim little 188-page treat that night. First though, before we even get to the improbable title, how about that cover on the left?! It's hard to really take it in, isn't it? Just that awesome. I mean, I dare you to look at it and not burst into the theme song from The Facts of Life. Or Family Ties. I used to own the cover on the right and then gave it away as a gift. When I found a replacement copy it came with the cover on the left and I still haven't been able to wipe the grin off my face. As for the title, I don't know what to say except you're simply going to have to overlook it.
Patricia (Trish) Masters is your basic good girl. The oldest of two, blond and pretty, she's an honors student, plays on the tennis team, and is everybody's friend. Colin (Mac) McNamara is your basic screw up. The only child of a cop and a nervous stay-at-home-mom, dark and lean, he's flunking out of school, has the worst reputation of any kid in school, and is nobody's friend. But Colin likes watching girl's tennis. And one day he runs into Trish after school and, even though he makes her nervous, she finds herself wanting to get to know him better. Over the next several weeks they find reasons to run into each other again and again and both of them are surprised to find they're neither of them exactly what their reputations would have you believe. Trish is a lot less confident than she appears and she longs for someone to talk to about the changes coming into her life. Colin has a past, and even though it's not the one people attribute to him, he's its prisoner just the same. The question is can these two very different young kids overlook their differences and stick together long enough to help each other deal with their fears?
Even now it's hard for me to believe Ellen Emerson White wrote such a sweet teen romance. She generally deals in much more painfully conflicted fare than this. But I'm ever so glad that she did. That's not to say that the characters in this one, particularly Colin, don't have their fair share of trauma. And the classic White dialogue is present and accounted for in the wonderfully dry exchanges between characters. Here's a typical exchange early on:
Trish meandered through the Boston Public Library. She didn't like using the little memory-bank computers the library had instead of a card catalog, so she usually just wandered around, picking up books that looked interesting. For a minute, she watched a man reading a book upside down; then, realizing it was probably getting late, she walked toward the main staircase. Hurrying, she almost bumped into someone.
"Excuse me--" She stopped and stared, recognizing Colin.
As he saw her, he stiffened.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Uh, well." Trish frowned at her books. "The same thing you are, I guess."
He ran his free hand through his hair, unmistakably rattled.
"Sports," he said. "I like to read about sports."
"I don't know. You know." He backed up toward the stone railing, dropping two of the books when he hit it sooner than he expected.
"The Old Man and the Sea?" Trish asked, bending to pick one up.
He got to it first. "Fishing."
"How about Richard the Second?" She picked up the other one.
She gave it to him. "What are you, a brain?"
"I gotta go, I'm late." He turned, walking swiftly down the stairs.
Trish watched him go, confused.
"Hey!" He was suddenly back. "Hey, woman!"
She looked at him uncertainly.
"It's getting dark outside." His voice was accusing.
"Oh?" She tilted her head, not sure what he meant.
"You walk around in the dark every night?"
"I only live a couple of blocks away."
"So you walk around in the dark? You know how stupid that is?"
"No," she said, grinning. "I'm not a brain."
"Yeah, well, how long you gonna be in here?"
"I don't know, I guess--"
"Well, I'll wait," he grumbled. "Don't feel like reading about you in The Globe tomorrow."
"You don't have to--"
"I said I was waiting already."
"Um, I guess I can go now." Trish started down the stairs.
He nodded, indicating that he'd be by the door.
"You really don't have to do this," Trish said once they were outside. "I can walk by myself; I do it all the time."
"Terrific, you do it all the time." He shook his head.
And, in the end, it's a love story. And an incredibly genuine and endearing one at that. Colin and Trish are easy to like and they certainly stand out as being two of the least acerbic of White's protagonists. It's impossible not to fall for Colin, with his smart mouth and terminal self-deprecation. He hides his true self exceedingly well, only letting his guard down when he's at home talking to his cat Ophelia. Or, increasingly more often, when he's with Trish. I know this is another out of print book I'm recommending, but used copies are available very inexpensively. And if, like me, you're in the mood for a cozy, utterly disarming read during this dreary season, Romance is a Wonderful Thing is just the thing.