There’s an old adage – it’s not where you’re going but how you get there that was wonderfully mixed up for Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot – It’s not how you get there but whose taking you – which can be used to defend many slight novels. We can forgive a writer or character a lot of things so long as the who ,of whose, taking us through the story, is believable. Though I must admit , I’m not overly fond of the trick writers have of building up an event that barely warrants a paragraph in the end ( i.e. it’s not Wally World that’s the story of National Lampoons Vacation it’s getting there ) – but like the movie this only works when the events are more exciting than the end result could ever be. Unfortunately most of them time that’s not the case and as a reader it’s a rip-off and considering their audience , children – almost unforgivable. This is no, Night of the Prom – it’s Day of the Prom Committee which doesn’t have the same zing – but if you want a night of the prom story -skip this and read a Caroline B Cooney dance book – Last Dance ( but actually any of them will do. )
Instead this overstuffed romance is about a prickly girl, Barbara whose unwillingness to let anyone make a decision besides herself leads to the constant stalling out on a possible romance with an upbeat boy – Michael. Though in the end there is a prom, there is also a side story about a class marriage , a bff whose unlucky in love , the P.K’s ( popular kids ) vs the underdogs , riffs in the prom committee , a school board who wants to ditch sororities , a committee to fight this decision, a doomed engagement between the prom queen and king , a resolution between the popular kids and ordinary joes , plus a love scene in the pouring rain while changing a tire – oh not to mention ogreish parents who don’t allow their daughter to date but would’ve been put out had she missed the prom. Have I missed anything – somehow I almost feel like I have.
Right off the bat Spector wastes no time in flinging us an odd metaphor for our heroine Barbara – I could count the number of boys I’d dated on one and a half hands- which comes across vaguely morbid – why not say I could list the number of boys I’d dated on my baby toe and unless you’re some freak who could write Moby Dick out on the head of a pin the odds are – it’s gonna be a small list. And there’s a visual gender bender in the vein of Nancy Drew’s Bff George , this heroine’s best friend is called Kris. Klever for movies in which you can always see the boy-named girl( think Elizabeth Shue as Chris in Adventures in Babysitting ), not so klever for books in which you cannot. And while these two characters are supposed to be above the sort of pretentious superiority of the P.K.’s ( a.k.a Popular Kids ) Kris can’t help but gloat her recent boy conquest which hopefully made all the P.K. girls jealous – sabotaging the next paragraph where the girls insist that the P.K.’s are snobby ….and they aren’t? But this is supposed to be for the set up in the end – foreshadowing a moral ( can you guess? – Not all popular kids are evil? Right! ) – but since it’s cast by the side character and not the main character who goes through this revelation that element gets rather muddled.
Speaking of muddled, Spector starts the book with an argument between Barbara’s hunk and a boy , who, though has more background given than the Bff fads into it, only to make a walk on towards the end , as if to say – look I didn’t forget him. And despite the bulk the story never quite falls into it’s groove. Most of the problem lay in our heroine Barbara who is one of those no-nonsense anal-retentive girls who is naturally editor of the school paper The Call. She’s down on romance because she hasn’t been bitten by the love-bug yet – and harps about the P.K.’s advantages more out of jealousy ( sounds like Andrea – Onnndrea from the old 90210. ) than any personal injustices. Her staff is full of childish boys to inflate her competence and one semi arrogant hunk Michael McNally who likes to get her goad but can seemingly go too far ( but since Barbara can be stuffy and as egotistical can we blame him? ) At this point any frequent reader of Sweet Dreams knows the deal – Barbara needs to loosen up and Michael’s just the hunk to do it. But least we think Barbara is a lost cause – the writer hurriedly throws her some sympathy casting her with a depressing home life complete with a super strict father who has nothing much to say to her accept for getting a homework update – and the motivator Standford – rah rah rah – her mother isn’t much help either , and Barbara tells us she’s been ‘liberated’ and is almost single minded about her booming real estate career which makes the parents come across as cardboard ogres – they do an unbelievable 1-80 at the end if only, not to cloud Barbara’s sunny ending. Kudos have to be given however to making the lead popular girl Joanne Le Flore -though voted best dressed a little overweight! Nice to see that the ‘villains’ have physical flaws rather than mere personality disorders.
Spector attempts to run the gamut for her heroine exploring all avenues , chewing up all scenery to keep our romantic couple apart til the big finale and hoping to find legitimate reasons for doing so. Never have I seen a Sweet Dreams story so packed and the reader feels it – the font is smaller the pages wordier – and stuff is just flung at you – like flaky bf Kris getting all worked up over each boy – one of which she sobs wanted her to ‘put out’ on the first date , to Lisa a spectacular P.K. who’s flaunting her engagement ring at seventeen. Not a big shocker that the plot twists away from Prom talk to the old hat ‘marriage game’ to iron out these issues – brought on by a young economics teacher Mr. Rozzo. But perhaps Mr. Rozzo has been paid off by Lisa’s parents because we all know how this is going to go ( engagement’s off! )
Of course Barbara and Michael are paired off in the marriage game and spend most of their time bickering over his phony Porsche – we can’t afford one! She hisses. To children – Boy he insists. Girl she counters. There are also too many scenes rehashing things we already know – she wants to be a journalist – no duh , after the beginning which set the tone why keep bringing it up or is this only to counter with Michael who wants to go into plumbing supplies zzzzz to inspire a widen your horizon’s speech from Barbara – as if we’d buy it, as if he’d buy it. Their first ‘date’ ( pizza to discuss their ‘marriage’ ) picks up towards the end as Michael wants to know whether he’s obligated to ask a girl to the prom when he barely knows her though doesn’t want anyone else to snatch her up ( and he’s not talking about Barbara ) but rather than feel relieved at this opportunity Barbara who must have putty in her ears – wails that he has a steady girl ( yeah, and that’s why he’s trying to get out of a prom date , sheesh! ) And considering they’ve never had a date , tend to rub each other the wrong way she’s a little premature in the jealousy department!
There is nothing much new to be honed here and the books zig zags crossing off improvements on Barbara’s identity like a contestant in a shopping game-show madly running around snatching items off shelves. Journalism – gets accepted to Berkley -check , also improves her writing style – check , Sees that the P.K.’s are only human too – some are downright friendly ( who would’ve thought ) – check , offers to let Michael drive giving up control – check , becomes more trusting – check ( well I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt – towards the end ,one more misunderstanding nearly blew up into another plot twist and was saved ,only by the sheer volume
of the book – there wasn’t time! ) , resolves issues with her parents – check.
Well that last one I’ve been absurdly generous by considering her ogreish parents turnaround as ‘progress’. They are first set up as cold slave drivers , reinforced in a scene in which Barbara comes home late after her car gets a flat , and is chewed out by mom and dad – even though Barbara has never been late before because she’s never dated before ( as though dating is synonymous with lateness? )A statement which doesn’t even give the parents pause as in – maybe we are being too harsh – nah – instead lets toss out the patented – That’s no excuse for being late for supper. Absurd! And it’s not as if they have any grade slippage to wave in her face to prove she’s on a downward slop to community college and they have good reason to come down so hard , nope, all they’ve got is one day late for supper not curfew which I suppose in their cardboard ogre minds ( the writers convenience ) is the start of scholastic suicide. First stop – late for supper in her final weeks of high school to…mmm what exactly can she do to upset her perfect record? In the final chapters however as Barbara gets ready for the Prom – her mother suddenly becomes intuitive about her daughter – knowing she needs a bottle of dusty pink nail polish ( but she didn’t know her daughter had spent her entire high school years hardly dating if at all? ) , that her father’s heart was breaking at the thought that his daughter ( Barbara ) might not get to go to the Prom – how did these genius’s ever think their daughter was going to get a date to the prom if she never dated! And as the father rushes to take pictures I eerily recall all those snapshots on Dateline of screwed up families that knew enough to look good. I didn’t buy it – the scene is only there to coddle Barbara into having the perfect night.
All and all this was a scatty read – enough plotting here for two Sweet Dreams but it’s buoyed in my opinion by the changing of the tire , in the pouring rain scene and it’s clever end sentence that winks at it’s own logo – Barbara’s sweet dream had become a reality.
I was at a loss as to what pop culture I was going to add to this article – as you know I like to pair up something I find in the story with something remembered – but I wasn’t that inspired over clothing descriptions or locals and the only thing I could say about the cover is how wrong it is for the book. I could never see Barbara as the sultry type , or one that would wear a cashmere sweater with a lace collar, or stand around with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. Too romantic , too sexy even – the model clearly belongs on another cover. They should’ve swapped her out with a model’s on SD #139 The Right Combination or even #74 Don’t Forget Me which are better picks. One model has her arms folded across her chest , the other has a slightly awkward hair cut and a barely there smile. Both achieve a preppy elusiveness.
I decided to add a video – since there was a moment in the story in which pop culture was mentioned and that’s when Barbara and Michael are in the car together and Led Zeppelin?! is playing on the radio. But for all those people out there thinking heavy metal in a Sweet Dreams romance?! Might not recall how soft – heavy metal could be and my guess is because of their upcoming scene …that they’re listening to Fool in the Rain!