You’ve heard of comfort food well in the realm of book gourmands there is such a thing as the comfort pb ( I say paperback because I doubt anyone dusts off their tomb of War and Peace for a relaxing weekend. ) My comfort pb’s were quite obviously young adults – but there was a stack I was most fond of, the ones I returned to when I wanted a quick pick me up. The Candy Papers by Helen Cavanaugh was always in that stack. To examine the book at face value one could dismiss it because despite it’s First Love logo there’s scarcely a romance , and there is really no plot. So why , you may ask do I love it – the characters! They’re an eclectic bunch to say the least and rarest of rarities is that the numbers favor grow ups to teenagers.
I’ll try describing this one without giving too much away – it’s one to seek out and read – as most of the magic cannot be felt by relating what’s going on but by being there in the moment and watching as a high school-er discovers ( or more likely has always known ) that the world isn’t just high school but rather a interconnection of people that keeps growing and growing based on the warmth you bring to each encounter.
The Plot –
Despite her lightweight name Candy Sutherland is a kindhearted , sensible , people-magnet with a penchant for strays. She loves her job at Otto’s Market mainly because it puts her in line to meet all sorts – from human to animals. Her boss Otto Reindhart is a gem , a softhearted elderly German whose accent and penchant for slipping into his old language even has Candy saying Ja in a friendly way. At the books start Candy is adjusting a sign in the window HELP WANTED – STOCK & DELIVERY PERSON changed from Otto’s original HELP WANTED – STOCK & DELIVERY BOY – STRONG , HONEST , GOOD DRIVER – NO PUNKS. He’s not to blame his last delivery boy was stealing whole slabs of meat and racking up parking tickets and has left him saddened and disappointed.
Even Candy is hoping for someone better, her boss deserves it , and goes outside to admire the sign.
Across the street, she notices that a boy sitting on a bench is watching her. Then he begins calling to her. But it’s such a gusty day she can’t hear him. He jogs over hoping he’s the first one to apply for the job. He’s Larry Egan – has beautiful navy blue eyes – that if it was up to Candy, she’d hire him on the spot and he’s in his first year at college. Of course he’s hired and one of the defining character references is Sweetheart the pregnant cat Candy managesd to get Otto to keep ( at least until she has her babies ) who weaves in between Larry’s feet. A good sign. Also Larry admits he needs a job to eat , it’s a habit he can’t break. Joking but still – Otto is promptly, gesturing for him to follow him and into the backroom. And prepares Larry a good meal.
But the book’s not really about Larry and Candy though they do get together. It’s more about Candy hoping to get her longsuffering mother to stop from turning into a complete bigot like her mother ( right now she’s about half way there.) Candy recounts how her grandmother used to say Eye-tailan with such scorn and her mother now in high heels and pearls at dinner looks down her nose at the growing diversity of the neighborhood. Part of her wants Candy to quit her job because of that , part of her selfishly wants Candy at home to slake her boredom and feeling of uselessness. Candy wants her mother to open up to the world – possibly take a job if only to become more tolerant.
But Candy never dwells on this for very long she’s too busy – so busy she constantly has to make notes to remember things jokingly referred to by her bff Ellen , echoed in the title – as Candy papers.
One of her notes is to remind her to buy Miss Raven her special soap. Miss Raven is Candy’s fifth grade teacher , now retired and has become a stand-in grandma and sounding board for Candy. She’s on a fixed income – but Candy knows she needs the lavender soap and buys it for her – she shouldn’t have to do without such a small luxury. The other note mentions Carlos, an eight year old street smart kid, who’s probably been skipping school and thinking about the thin sweat shirt he wore made her dig out a nice sweater of her own to take to him hoping he wouldn’t scoff it as merely a girls cast off.
The beauty of this story is that even though Candy seems like the biggest do-gooder in the world she never , never comes across that way – her interest in her friends just causes her to do nice things, it flows so naturally it becomes genuine. And we like Candy for it!
Her bff Ellen has taken her mother’s side and also her stance – Candy doesn’t have a lot of spare time and now Ellen feels squeezed out. She even takes on the same bigotry when Sammy Cline appears as they are walking to school together. Sammy Cline we are told is about 30 years old but has the mind of a six year old. He’s also riding a huge custom built tricycle and calling to Candy to hold up. Ellen takes one look at that ‘retard’ and takes off. Candy can’t help but blush a bit but holds her head up high as she accepts a ride to school on the back of his bike but notices Ellen doesn’t even glance at them as they zoom past.
Ellen tries to weasel Candy into quitting her job and after blowing up and finally screeching threats – Maybe I’ll have to find a new best friend. Candy with dignity says – You do what you have to do.
Things get more interesting and more complicated at the store when a three legged mutt ( a cross between a golden retriever and a German Shepard ) arrives and scares the blazes out of the normally formidable Mrs. Kapov ( she’s deathly afraid of them after an attack that has left a ghastly scar on her leg ). Mrs. Kapov owns the boutique nearby. Mr. Dombrowsky who works at the pharmacy comes to her rescue. Candy takes the stray back to Otto’s who says Mein Gott knowing she’s putting him in another fix. But he’s a sweetie and Otto promptly feeds him though warns the cat can stay , dogs nein!
Candy takes the now dubbed Romeo home. ( He’s called Romeo because he develops a definite romantic fix on Mrs. Kapov much to her horror , and repeatedly returns to her shop doorway.) Mrs. Sutherland kicks up a fuss , stirring up old wounds in Candy that she’d never been allowed to keep any of the strays she’d brought home and wished her father would show a backbone and stick up for her once in a while.
Meanwhile Ellen has decided to hang out with a wild crowd that skips class and hangs out in the school parking lot , and Carlos makes his appearance by teasing Larry and Candy – is he going to be your boyfriend, Candy? Larry plays it smooth, though, he says he’d probably have to get in line. Carlos not to be outdone assures him, Candy has no boyfriend, you can be first in line.
Larry says that kid’s got good ideas.
The book starts off with multiple dilemmas that not only tie off neatly in the end, but intertwines the characters in order to solve them- The fate of Romeo – does he get his nervous Juliet, Mrs. Kapov? Yes – when she learns he’s incapable of attacking her – he even licks her old scar as if to make up for what the last dog has done that and the fact that her store needs some sort of security after being robbed and vandalized , she’ll feel safer with him around. Another dilemma is the fate of the impish Carlos ( who, by the way, did accept Candy’s sweater ), his mother gets rushed to the hospital ( kidney stones )
leaving him with the possibility of child welfare coming to collect. So for the first time in Candy’s life the stray she brings home is human. Her mother balks but is faced with listening to her own bigotry when she takes Carlos to the supermarket ( after buying him new Nikes and a watch ) and a lady in line slurs mixed marriages. Mrs. Sutherland even has a job offer that could give her some influence, that in the future might help Carlos’s mom get a better job. Miss Raven even helps out Carlos and his mom by offering to rent them the upstairs rooms in her house ( she’d been tutoring Carlos.)
And Mrs. Kapov needed some help after the trashing of her store and hires – Ellen which they delight in surprising Candy with the news. Ellen tells her the wild gang wasn’t so hot , and she’s sorry she was so mean – Larry had got to her before Candy and told her about a double date he’d been asking Candy about and she accepted even before making up with Candy. What a cool moment! – she knew that Candy was so nice , she be forgiving. And she was right! And the kittens are all sold via a clever sign Larry and Candy cooked up declaring SOMEONE IS WAITING TO BE YOUR FRIEND – inquire within. All but one kitten who is brought to Candy in a picnic basket by Larry. When she says it’s a little late for a picnic – he says that’s a good name for him or her. Candy is so happy she nearly cries – Larry having waited the whole book – takes his moment and kisses her – not caring that her mom , dad , Carlos and Ellen are looking on because it’s in approval.
* fave line – [ Mom was walking around the kitchen the way she does when she’s upset , her high heels hitting the linoleum sharply , like the sound of caps going off. pg60. ]
* What t.v. shows did people watch in 1985 well Candy’s Dad asks Carlos if he likes The Fall Guy – t.v. show!
A sweet , warmhearted story propelled by a grand character! And I haven’t even mentioned some of the funny stuff – like when Candy’s mom drops by Otto’s market in the middle of a crisis and finds three people on the floor. Or a customer named Bingo Stevens or the two women who meet and become friends simply because of the sign! Or how Mr. Dombrowsky calls Candy everything from Tootsie roll to Candy kiss. Definitely *****
I decided to incorporate some great 80’s pics of retro grocery stores – it’s hard to believe decor has changed that much but check it out – those steel rimmed vegetable bins that look more like pool tables , great wall graphics , neon signs! And pretty pastels.