Just Sixteen by Terry Morris – is Just So-So
You know what I mean? Not bad, but not exactly great either. It’s better written than some other Wildfire’s & Sweet Dreams or should I say has more verve , better scenes – but as for better writing, it sort of drops the ball on making an actual point. Most heroines have a goal – the good ones I mean , the so-so ones think the goal is in landing a boyfriend – since this is a romance, it’s a given , that their will be a boy and that she will land him. But there has to be a better goal than that!
If only the flaws ended there… the back blurb gives the juicy idea that the story is about older man , Roger ( as a kindof Bruce Patman type – aha Roger Patman ) who is rich and spoiled and trying to get our young , just sixteen heroine Nancy into bed , or at least alone on a ski weekend. The cover helps probe this idea along – with Nancy a fetching redhead , allowing her hand to be held in a pleading , teasing way by the charming Roger before a roaring fire. Skis are propped in the backdrop. Considering the skis are on the cover , and the first paragraph has the two skiing – the reader can assume that the goal of the book is not whether Nancy will go on the ski trip ( looks like she already has! ) but will she succumb to the spoiled Roger on the ski trip. And what a dilemma that should be because , according to the back cover – Roger always gets his way. Nudge , wink! Just the type of conflict to have any pret-teen plop down her money. But….
Is sex a big issue in this book? – no.
Is sex even an issue in this book? – no.
So what is the issue?
Hard to say.
The story starts off on a thrilling cliffhanger – Nancy and Roger are lost cross-country skiing and nightfall is rapidly approaching – have you brought me out here to freeze to death? Is the implication. But the author, drawing out the readers interest, cleverly back peddles to Nancy and Roger’s meeting, months earlier ,during spring clean up, when the curbs of Cherry Lane are picturesquely piled with peoples junk and Nancy has come out early to claim some treasures. Just as she’s reaching for a rolled up red rug , a hand darts out and beats her to it. Nancy, fueled with firey indignation, makes Roger grin as he effortlessly hoists the rolled rug onto his shoulder and leaves. The very figure of the mighty over the meek. Nancy is furious.
It’s another case of love at first argument!
It’s a good scene and spins nicely into describing Nancy’s background. Her family isn’t poor – but they aren’t rich. Her father an engineer at a maple syrup factory had his hand crushed in a bit of machinery sending her mother back to work – and leaving Nancy in charge of her young siblings. She’s turned her father’s old work shed into a getaway, the reason she wanted the rug. Normally if this were a Sweet Dream romance , Nancy would get a call from a gabby bff whom she would pour her heart out to – Wildfire or rather Terry Morris , does something unique – she takes us to Roger’s house.
Never before has a boy’s pov been given ( well hardly ever ), we usually had to guess what he was thinking or take his word for it. Instead the next chapter sends us to Roger’s where we learn he wanted the carpet because it symbolizes his much needed escape to college in the fall. He’s a single child whose smothered by his mother , and needled by a father who wants him to win at everything he does. The carpet had been shoved to the back of his closet – brimming with expensive sports equipment and seeing it he feels guilty about taking the carpet from Nancy like an unfair prize considering he could afford a brand new carpet to fix up his dorm room and who knows wether this remnant will fit? Also Nancy had every right to it as much as he did. So he ties the rug to the back of his motorbike and takes it to Nancy’s with a note of apology offering to buy her a Coke. Nancy is pleased – why hold a grudge and accepts.
Now in most stories this is where a dilemma comes to trip up our sweethearts. And in this book the dilemma might be Roger’s age – he is heading off to college after summer – she is just sixteen. But the difference in their ages is not the issue , not really , rather circumstances surrounding their decision making skills lead to most of their problems ( which could strike anyone from 16 -60 ) – for instance their first date to which Nancy hesitates over accepting is awkwardly set up. Roger will have two of his friends ( people Nancy has never met ) pick her up and take her to their ( not Nancy’s ) school for Roger’s tennis tournament where Nancy can watch Roger’s killer instinct on the court. Then the foursome will head to a disco where the rule is they don’t serve drinks but don’t complain if students bringing their own.
Naturally Roger’s pals have brought enough wine to get hammered , and though Nancy intends to stick with Coke , she finds she can’t get with it. In order to relax a glass or two is necessary and Nancy gives in. ( I had to laugh a little, okay a lot , as everyone insisted you couldn’t enjoy disco without a belt or two or three- that explains it’s flash in the pan death – the hangover! )
Do you think Nancy danced like this?
The joy is fleeting , Bob pukes in the parking lot and must be hauled back to the car, Nancy feels a head ache coming on and as Roger snaps at her , she knows the momentary relaxation she felt from the wine wasn’t worth the lie she’ll have to tell her parents or the discomfort she’s now feeling.
Two weeks pass before Nancy and Roger are reunited by what else – heaping piles of rubbish on a school recycling drive. They cut that scene to have a magical walk in the woods – and I love how Wildfire’s font allows for more descriptive passages – “They ran through the tall grass , stumbling over the uneven ground , yet staying on course , laughing and panting until they reached the woods. The pines gave off a strong , minty scent that blended with the slightly acrid odor of the layers of dead leaves underfoot , which were as dense and springy as highpile carpet.”
I was always partial to plush carpeting myself.
Anyway – They both discover each blamed themselves for the rotten first date – Nancy for being a wet blanket and Roger for well I’m not too sure. The reader gets a sneak peek at Roger talking to Bob first he blames Bob for the rotten date but has to admit he’s never been that concerned over Bob puking or passing out before – only because it had been Nancy. She’s different , not just some girl. She’s THE girl. The day ends on a low note however when they drop in for lunch with a chatty farm wife ,one of Roger’s old bosses and she worms out of Roger his summer plans.
Roger is going white water rafting.
Oh and to add insult to injury as his prom approaches he can’t ask Nancy cause he asked some other girl and doesn’t plan on reneging. Nancy almost admires him for this – almost.
Gypped out of his prom and the summer , Nancy mopes for a while before getting a job as a lifeguard. This is where she meets a nerdy boy , Jerry who scares all the young swimmers in the pool with a remote controlled sea monster. When she lectures him , he exposes the chip on his shoulder for all the girls like her who run off with the Roger’s and leave guys like him , the Jerry’s in the dust. She invites him over for a heart-to-heart.
Now , normally in a Sweet Dreams , Jerry would magically turn from nerd to hunk and Roger would be left in the dust – but Wildfire plays it cool – Roger maybe spoiled but he’s not one note – he has many sides – and for all the back blurb implication that Roger wants everything his way – ha! Nancy is not without a selfish streak ; wanting him to give up summer plans made prior to meeting her , moaning and groaning if she doesn’t hear from him , and fuming over the piddly post cards he sends her. Like Roger – Nancy is no one-note saint. As for Jerry, he becomes a loyal friend distracting her from her feeling of abandonment by taking her out to a carnival to release her anger on the bumper cars and the two wile away the summer. As just friends. Just about the time when I was wondering if seeing Roger’s side of things had only been a freak event – we get a glimpse of Roger’s camp out – and why he was sending though terse post cards. He’d tried to pour his heart out in letters only to find his sentiment was too corny , not real enough , he tore up the letters and hoped Nancy would understand. She didn’t.
Then the day comes – Roger returns. Da-da-da-dat-da-dah! But Nancy’s steaming again – instead of racing right over he goes home first. ( yes why don’t those pesky parents take a number ! ) And Nancy is astonished by the sight of him when he does show up- big, brawny.. hairy. He left a boy and came back a man – as in mountain man. Kissing him she thinks ,first off, – is like pushing her face into a bowl of shredded wheat.
Can they ever renew their feelings? – of course. After awhile the shredded wheat isn’t so bad – and then he shaves and it’s no longer an issue. But as the trend of this novel each elation ends in a thud as another problem pops up. So when Roger invites her to dinner with her parents , the reader isn’t surprised when it goes lousy. Roger’s ma is a pretentious snob who is hoping college will either cool down or demolish Nancy and Roger’s relationship. Although a new revelation is made another facet of Roger’s personality – that Nancy believes what his parents felt for Roger wasn’t love but pride grooming him to excel and wondered what would happen if he failed. A statement that should’ve given a clue to the plot development only it curiously doesn’t. There is sadly no showdown for Roger.
Roger leaves for college and to solve the writing issue – Nancy suggests he jot things down – whatever he wants , whenever and then to mail the jottings to her at the end of the week. Meanwhile Nancy does some writing of her own getting a job on the school paper and making a hit of her quirky column dubbed Gleanings.
Their phone calls bring about loose plans of skiing over Thanksgiving weekend – but when Nancy’s parents get wind of a weekend trip for two – it’s a big fat no. After Roger went ahead and made plans , invested money – like all the other college students – only he’d forgotten his date was just sixteen and might have a couple of objecting parents. Those killjoys. Although Roger’s intentions might’ve only been on skiing we’ll never know because Nancy doesn’t sneak away with Roger instead they agree to join her school ski trip – which isn’t as glamorous. Rather than the ski lodge he’d planned there’s a nice , over crowded, youth hostel. Sounds like they traded up from a discreet affair to an orgy – just kidding. Anyhoo we’ve come full circle. Roger can’t sulk for too long , there’s skiing to be done – but as they try out a cross country trail , he notices Nancy’s a worse skier than he imagined or she let on. Their pace is slow going and as Nancy stops to take a break at an abandoned cabin , Roger checks his watch – they don’t have much time to make it back before dark. Nancy however, doesn’t want to look inadequate and presses on. Before long they’re lost and can’t even make it back to the cabin. No magic helicopter , trusty Newfoundland with emergency liquor barrel or bad girl nemesis suddenly finds them. No , Terry Morris puts her sweethearts through the mill , under blankets of pine branches , shivering against the cold and fighting hypothermia – they barely survive. In fact when they are found late the next morning they are taken to the hospital and Roger loses his big toe to frostbite.
Normally this kind of over the top punishment is supposed to follow a lesson – a what have you learned from this? Tone. Only what? What have they learned ? that Roger’s little piggy will never go to market? That he should’ve listened when she said she couldn’t ski too well or that she should’ve spoke up and said this isn’t my pace? Nothing , nada! Nancy is more optimistic about her learning experience and believes they’ll deal with each other more honestly and realistically and though she didn’t know what lay ahead for them ( more catastrophes? ) she thought – “ how wonderful to be just sixteen and alive!”
As you can see it’s not a bad book – but it’s rather like this old John Steinbeck book I read once called Tortilla Flat which featured a batch of characters in a series of anecdotal incidents connected only by two bookend events ; In the beginning two houses are inherited signifying a character’s sudden wealth and in the end the two houses burn down returning the character to poverty. I think Just Sixteen might’ve rounded itself out if Roger’s folks had showed up at the hospital and seen their son in his less than perfect state. And Roger finally stood up to them. Well not on his missing toe – okay, flat on his back , told them off. The characters and events were good but the plot just wasn’t there. Maybe the writer should’ve had Nancy do the typical thing and sneak off with Roger on a ski trip to show the dangers of allowing Roger to always take the lead or something , anything to show a significant character change! Oddly enough I liked it – even though it needs a little shove in the plot department. Even Nancy could’ve used some direction – other than that better than quite a few other Wildfire’s & Sweet Dreams I’ve read. I’d give it
*** stars for prose , characters and enjoyment – ** stars for plot.
Reading this my mind cackled over the 80’s possibilities maybe even late 70’s so I dug out this groovy fabric catalog I found at an auction and scanned these photos – very over the top opulence – very haute disco chic to get your groove on! Like a grown up version of a Wildfire cover.