Keepsake #42 Between Us – Josephine Wunsch – a fractured Cinderella story 80’s style!


        Keepsake #42 Between Us - Josephine Wunsch

       The moment I finished this book, I was aware that something funny had occurred , not as in ha-ha funny,  but funny , weird. What was it? – a Cinderella motif when I was bracing for an ugly duckling tale? No , not quite. Then it hit me – I had just read a romance in which not a single kiss had been planted, and that the romantic conclusion was only hinted at but not necessarily eminent. So is it an ironic coincidence that this is the last of the Keepsake novels? Maybe. Maybe not. The fact that it had taken me to the final end of the book before I noticed these flaws ( if they can be called that ) says a lot in itself.
       As a reader you might’ve taken that from First Love – it had a rep for not always delivering on the romance , despite the logo , but you forgave them, after all the protagonists were usually fourteen and taking things slow and the interesting plots always made up for the lack of lip-lock. However given the playful covers of Keepsake especially this one – it’s a bit of a romantic let down.
        The story is about ugly duckling Pamela who is tall , and big boned and has a jaw like a car ashtray that won’t shove back into it’s slot. She is somewhat prickly and has the habit of talking to her twin sister Angela who died at birth ( Pamela/Angela? Whoo boy ) but appears to her like a wispy specter drawn from her imagination. It’s a cinch that Pamela doesn’t score too well in the date department , but not for any of these things , no , Pamela has her head further in the clouds than ole Angela – for she has set her sights on golden boy Jay Cunningham and the reader catches on quick that he is no Prince Charming. In some ways Pamela knows it , heck even Angela knows it,  but Pamela is so obsessed , she even makes excuses for his less-than-heroic behavior. When he dumps her during a mixer’s attempt to allow no wallflowers with a game of musical chairs – Pam soothes herself that he couldn’t have meant it – he had just too much momentum to stop in front of her chair. Mmm and that’s why he landed in front of Pamela’s cute best friend Sandi ( notice how that I bounces her cuteness off the Richter scale ) Momentum my foot! Unfortunately as Pam realizes,  to her mortification, that  nobody wants to claim her, her rescuer comes in on a sour note asking her to dance as if he had a gun held to his head.
       Get lost is Pam’s reply. But he begs her to dance with him- reason? – has he fallen head over heels for her massive beauty? No , found a glimmer or sympathy for this girl who was cheated out of a dance with her dream man? – nope –  his mother, a teacher, dubbed the Hangman, ushered him over to rescue Pam. He didn’t even want to be at the dance and describes himself as antisocial rather than shy as if to excuse his gaucheness. But after a few clumsy steps around the dance floor,  the music stops and this sort-of smudged white knight cries saved and abandons Pam.
        Ever wonder what’s the diff between Sweet Dreams and First Love/Keepsake? – the above dance scene. First Love keeps Robert Skye a prickly loner who keeps putting his foot in his mouth, Sweet Dreams would’ve waved a wand over him and turned him into a mysterious loner who said all the right things.
         Thank goodness for Keepsake, it certainly keeps you guessing.
           As Robert Skye attempts to ditch the party, Pam blurts take me with you. Must I? Robert recoils. Pam has had it, not only has she been ditched by Prince Charming, but this foot-in-the- mouth- man is giving her a hard time. Robert can’t even make it up to her by driving her home. She won’t let him. But in a cutie-move he tails her as she marches home , his car keeping pace with her. If she runs , he speeds up, if she slows down , he slows down.
           To save face Pam tells her bf Sandi that Robert drove her home which will lead to some confusions as to why she hasn’t snatched him up, but on to the side story –  School has just started and Pam meets a friendly, sporty girl named Lolly Dean ( I have loved that name Lolly ever since it graced a character in Marilyn Sachs Class Pictures- great phonetics, great imagery – Lollipops , Lolling , Lollapalooza , Lollop , Lollygag. ) They share Science , lead by Dr. Cutler whose crazy about DNA. He starts off by commenting on eye color – pointing out a boy in front -as having deep-brown-eyes ( could that be Pam’s smudged knight , Robert? ) before moving on to his main passion,  twins. Interested in Pamela’s twin history he suggests a project down the road though Pam likes to keep absolutely private about Angela.Meanwhile it is Robert in her class and as he attempts to barge past her with eyes lowered – Pam can’t help but shake him up.
    ‘“Where’s the Fire?”’ she asks startling him.
    ‘“Oh it’s you.”’ he says.
    ‘“I just wanted to look into those deep brown eyes.”’
    He blushes. It’s a great moment even if Pam knows (and we know that ) she’s being mean, what she isn’t aware of yet it that she’s made him the scapegoat for Jay. He’s the one who deserves attitude! 
        The Cinderella aspect of the story becomes clearer via Sandi’s ambition to become chairman of the Snowball Committee which,  composed of only the social elite gives her an immediate in , with the popular crowd. Recall that the original Cinderella , not the Walt Disney version, it consisted of 2 or 3 balls that Cinderella attended before nabbing her prince – in Between Us Pamela will also attend 3 parties. Sandi , though, Pamela’s bff can be a bit of a flake ( think almost-wicked soul-sister – not step sister ) – she begs Pamela over for pizza ( knowing her mother won’t allow her to have any friends over unless her good-influence friend is present )and surprise, surprise – Jan arrives to tell her she’s been accepted. Least the reader not get the message that Sandi is using the solidarity of Pam’s friendship to her advantage, she can dash off to change just before Jan arrives, leaving Pamela to clean up,  and reappears in a smashing new outfit making Pamela painfully aware of her shiny nose. 
     Here’s her truly 80’s look : white cotton pants , a royal blue sweater that deepened the blue of her eyes and her hair had been pulled back over an ear that dangled a long gold pendant. The mention of a royal blue sweater makes me think instantly of D.J. ( Candace Cameron ) in Full House – ‘member the episode – Little Shop of Sweaters where she was dying to get a royal blue sweater for a Valentine’s day party?
          While Jan keeps giving Pamela where – did –you- come- from looks the celebration is made more awkward by the arrival of Sandi’s main squeeze Derek, whose jeans are a tad too tight and his cologne, too much. Now Pamela is completely ambushed as chaperon for a party she wants no part of, and looks like a nerd for trying to back out. As both Derek and Sandi beg, while Jan is scornful,  Pamela caves.
Derek is into dancing – contest dancing ( who knew that before Dancing With the Stars,  teens in the 80’s were hoofing it?! ) and he and Sandi do a little practicing while Jan and Pam watch – just when you think nothing bad can happen – Derek attempts a little ice-dance twirling. Spinning out of control, they crash – taking a lamp out with them. Oh , and wouldn’t you know it – just as the chips of china stop flying is when Sandi’s mom comes home.
       Before Pamela can get over her guilt for not being the perfect chaperon another chapter begins with her roped into taking Sandi’s place in a service club at the children’s hospital. Foiled again! The  fractured fairy tale theme is coming along nicely – with Pamela as the titular drudge Cinderella , Sandi as her wicked soul-sister , in fact she’s not really wicked – but she is getting benefits by Pamela’s labor. Even the book’s opening of Sandi dragging Pamela to a make up consultation with Ruby , make-up artist of the stars, smacks of a visit with a cynical fairy god-mother who cannot wave a magic wand over Pamela’s flaws. Don’t expect miracles he says. It’s a transformation that impresses no one , least of all Cinderella.
        But,  wouldn’t you know it, Lolly is there as head of the Service Club and for a brief moment one wonders if this story will end with Pamela switching Bff’s. Lolly is afterall , funny , attentive , and considerate of others. But wait there’s more,  shy Robert is also part of the Service Club – but rather than be impressed with Robert’s confident manor with the children who hero-worship him, she thinks he’s crazy for being there because she doesn’t even want to be there. She can’t make headway with the kids and though hugs one misfit girl who is frightened by a boisterous boy vows never to return. Cinderella after all wants to go to the ball not do charity work.
    Meanwhile Sandi feels over extended , she can’t manage the decorations Committee for the Snowball , she feels the Service club was misrepresented , and is generally frazzled in her pursuit of popularity. She turns to Pamela for help , who has some schemes of her own. Why not get Jay , Prince Charming to head it and she can supervise.
      This is one of the things I love about First Love’s or Keepsake’s they have a handle on the internal change going on in their characters more so,  than say an average Sweet Dreams. For instance the decision between two boys is usually made by what he says and does in Sweet Dreams all things external. But there’s more going on in a First Love – even this Keepsake – Pamela knows Jay’s a bit of a creep and he flaunts his ability to hold sway over her – as in this part – ‘Jay smiled slightly, but even that tentative smile deepened the dimple in his cheek. “I’m sorry you didn’t make it early,” he said. “Then, maybe, I could’ve persuaded you to vote the other way.” and when he point blank asks if he would’ve talked to her , would she have voted his way? Her reply is – “You know it. Just ask and I’ll stuff the ballot box for you.” It’s not just about seeing his flaws , but facing the ones within herself that lead her to want this obviously unworthy boy. 
       The two activities of the Snowball Committee and the Service Club square off – the Service club is first shown with kids coloring cut-outs of fall leaves ( fall=change but Pam ain’t ready for that yet ) while the Snowball Committee is first shown cutting out snowflakes which are pretty and dazzling but ultimately copies of one another. Neither group seems pointless – but each one comes with a boy – Robert and Jay , and with friends – Lolly and Sandi. As Pam’s pulled in two directions she finds herself accepting an invite to a dinner party at Lolly’s who turns out to be a rotten cook , and her mom has kooky fantasy paintings on the walls of green roses with purple stems and pink cats ( She must’ve been eating some of Lolly’s slam dunk when she painted them.)  Slam Dunk by the way , is Lolly’s own invention – dunk everything in a pot , toss on the lid and cook. Pamela’s review – tastes like boiled salad. Sandi’s tug becomes more of an obligation when she turns up missing and loyal Pam is blackmailed by the Hangman into finding her before school ends. Turns out she was at a dance contest with Derek who loses his Mr. Mature status when Sandi stumbles and blows his chance at stardom.
       For a while Pamela seems hypnotized by the scintillating glitter of phony snowflakes along with top phony flake Jay,  she even concocts him as the prize for the most productive worker. Jay groans what if the Hippo wins? Now depending on how you look at this next scene you’ll laugh or cringe or both – keep in mind it’s 1989 – same year as Heathers who had their own put-upon obese girl. The ‘Hippo’ makes an appearance squealing at the possibility of winning Mr. Dreamboat and Pam says ‘her body was rolling like a barrel on casters.’ not the most PC description of an overweight girl. And though Jay looks even more loathsome, Pam scarcely makes it out of the scene with any sympathy. 
     So what does it for Pam? – why does she walk out on her glittering wonderland? – Rosemary  ( the little girl she hugged once and is still asking for her ) is having her operation and everyone wants Pam to be there. She caves. Little by little Pamela is changing. But it’s not until she goes over to see Sandi’s dress for the Snowball that she really sees beyond the glitter. Turns out Jay asked Sandi to the Snowball and she declined , which flabbergasts Pamela. Why? ( don’t you know this is the Prince Charming of the tale?! ) Even though Pamela couldn’t face what happened at the mixer , Sandi knew and was angry that Jay had purposely hurt her friend,  plus she’s never trusted him. Prince Charming is a Cad always has been! even the not-so-wicked soul-sister knows that! She offers to set up Pam for a date to the Snowball with a fetching in-boy called Fritz but is turned down. –
    ‘Such a short while ago I would’ve treasured tickets to Snowball. I would’ve been ecstatic if I had a date. Any date. But any old date was no longer good enough. It didn’t seem to matter if I ever met Fritz. I only hoped Robert would be waiting for me at Lolly’s house.’ –
    We never do get to see the Snowball. But Pam goes to Lolly’s party and it’s complete with real enchantment , real snowflakes – even a snowball fight which provokes Pam to expose her frets about her big jaw to Robert – who’d just lobbed the bullseye! – he doesn’t offer any horse-pucky like you’ve got a cute little chin,  no – he shrugs it off with so,  nobody’s perfect. And changing the subject offers to teach her how to ski – a future date that so elates Pamela she laughs with the sheer joy of having found herself and watches as Angela blows her a kiss goodbye and dissolves in a puff of smoke. She doesn’t need her anymore.
     See what I mean by fractured Cinderella tale? – she’s blown off the ball to hobnob with the other drudges, traded up the social elite for a humble foot( in-the-mouth )man , her not-so-wicked-soul sister will deservedly be belle of the ball, and nobody wants the not-so-charming Prince!

    A unique read – Pamela was a heroine worth rooting for , even if it did take her a while to sort herself out , and though the plot hinged on the most cliche of teen romance events , a dance – had enough dazzling bits to make it a stand out. Not really a romance , more of a pre-romance,  an intro to a future couple but still good – I’ve read worse so-called ‘romances’ where all the kissing , dates , and bickering didn’t make up for the lack of realism this tale entails!

I had a bit of a mystery develop while reading this book – the page with the copy write included a mention of Get Gorgeous by Antonia Van Der Meer a First Love From Silhouette book – which if you’ve ever browsed the FLFS ultimate list on my site doesn’t include a book called Get Gorgeous or any authors called Van Der Meer. Puzzled, I let my overactive imagination think that Between Us had been acquired by First Love , held off from publishing – but no,  wait – how could it? Get Gorgeous was published – hhmmm okay. Momentarily stalled I thought maybe it was released only on the foreign market. Finally, after searching on Abe.com I found an overpriced copy but it still revealed no answers – How could I miss it? – why wasn’t it numbered, was it a super-special? A Mail in low release? Finally I found a site featuring Antonia Van Der Meer and there was a cover – eureka! Mystery solved. Get Gorgeous,  like it’s title implies,  is a non-fiction First Love From Silhouette make- up manual – like Sweet Dreams and their non-fiction releases on Hair-dos and don’ts. The reason it’s listed in the book – is that the back pages make-up tips are reprints! Take that Scooby Doo!

Get Gorgeous Antonia Van Der Meer

     By now you’re probably looking for the usual bit of 80’s nostalgia that I tie in – truth is nothing really drove an urge to seek out pics in magazines or movies or what not – instead I’m working on a follow-up on the twin-without- her- twin theme which is also featured in a Point Horror called The Perfume by Caroline B Cooney – I reread it last night and am working on the review! 

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