Summer romance. First love. First kiss. First heartbreak. As a former (slightly) boy-crazy 13-year-old, I can totally relate to Stacey’s experience in the book. Having survived all of those milestones, reading this book a second time as an adult, provided a more, ahem, level-headed perspective.
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Stacey and Mary Anne land a pretty sweet gig — two weeks at the Jersey Shore with the Pike family. While wrangling eight kids might not be everyone’s cup of tea, daily access to the ocean, mini golf, candy shops, ice cream shops, boardwalk rides, and, of course, orange sauce-slathered Crazy Burgers sweetens the deal. Well, that, and a hunky lifeguard (yes, I just used the term “hunky,” but I’m writing about a book published in 1987, which makes this perfectly acceptable).
Stacey falls head over heels for Scott, an older lifeguard she meets on the beach. Much to Mary Anne’s chagrin, she spends more time mooning over him than she does watching the Pike kids. Rather than heeding Mary Anne’s advice that he is too old for her (18!), she proceeds to bask in the glow of his attention, and becomes something of an errand girl, fetching him sodas and sandwiches on demand. While I don’t recall my feelings about this when I read the book the first time, this, of course, got under my skin this time around and irked every feminist sensibility in my body, particularly when she expressed envy toward the other girls who were doing the same, before she joined this elite group of Scott-minders.
Here’s the line that particularly burned (emphasis added):
“How did these other girls get so lucky? Not only did the lifeguards seem to know them, but they gave them the supreme honour of letting them do favors for them. Those girls got to bring them sodas and pick up anything that fell off the stand, and one was even asked to fix them sandwiches for lunch.”
Cringe-worthy, yes? But Stacey’s dream soon comes true. After she first meets Scott, a little innocent flirtation ensues, and soon she, too, has had the privilege of fetching sodas and lunches (yay!) And so begins the one-sided, imagined romance between Stacey and Scott, an older boy who liked the attention (and favours!) received from a cute, perky, teen girl. Painful to watch, to be sure (when she considered having a shirt printed for Scott that read Stacey + Scott = LUV I wanted to dive into the book and stop her), but it also wasn’t off the mark.
Any 13-year-old girl who can relate to having been in L-U-V with an older boy can likely also remember the slightly delusional nature of that relationship. These things tend to get built up in our heads a little more than in reality. For Stacey, she imagined feelings that weren’t there that lead to heartbreak (after stumbling upon Scott and his actual girlfriend on the boardwalk.) For me, the absolute love of my (13-year-old) life told me he liked my patch-work sweater and 18-hole Doc Martins and I was sure (sure!) he loved me, too. He didn’t.
He soon found a more age-appropriate girlfriend, and my heart broke a little every time I saw them together. I was also convinced that she “stole him” from me, even though our entire relationship and future plans existed only in my head. However false the fantasy of a fairytale romance might be, to the person who feels it is real, the heartbreak is just as hard. I felt Stacey’s pain.
Luckily, the heart does go on. For Stacey, it was when she meets Toby, with whom she shares her first kiss. Toby, whose “hobby” was computers and we can all now assume is a rich Google employee, is a safer bet for Stacey. Only a year older, funny, and, most importantly, interested in Stacey.
Ann M. Martin imparts a subtle but important message: The best summer romances are those that go both ways. The fun of falling for someone comes when the other person is falling alongside you. If you are always doing the chasing, your heart is likely to get trampled. It’s a message, that like Stacey, many of us have learned the hard way. But in the end, they make those Tobys out there look even better.
Jess Davidson is a recovering communications consultant who recently made the switch to the lucrative world of freelance writing and academia. When her nose isn’t buried in a book she may be found tweeting @JessDavidson.
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