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The Long, Hot Ten-Boy Summer!

June 28, 2010

Taking a breather from The X-Files to check in with yet another one of my passions – bad Young Adult fiction. Now I did once write, “Every writer is writing what they believe is their “truth”, even the bad ones. Honor that about them. Few actively seek to write a terrible work. Honor that too.” (source) and while I certainly believe this to be the truth, nowhere does it suggest folks shouldn’t get clowned for their pedestrian prose! I’ve read a lot of terrible YA fiction. I wasn’t one of those often insufferable folks who went from reading Pat the Bunny to Bukowski – though I certainly did in fact read him. No, I read anything I could get my hands on and this often meant I read a lot of corny, formulaic, awful books marketed to my gender and age level. Besides, most of those insufferable reading snobs, haven’t read enough James Baldwin to move my mountains so they can just get up on out of here with their high horsery.

wow, what an introduction to the Sweet Dreams Series which has become my summer afternoon retro cheese! I’ve been finding these books on ebay, in my own collection and at library book sales. I have no idea why I seek to collect these corny ass teen romcoms in book form. Perhaps in order gain insight into my own distaste for anything approaching romance, because it often seems so contrived.

Selected Summary & Analysis
These are the most recent additions to my collection and I haven’t gotten to all the titles. Just five of them! Also, most I haven’t read since their original publication dates! (early to late 80s)

Sweet Dreams No. 41 – The Truth About Me and Bobby V

    How’s that for a title! I remember this one fondly as it was the only one in the series I recall with a black gal as the protagonist. Candy moves to a new school – an experience I related to many times in my storied high school years – and decides she’s not nearly as cool as she’d like to be. So she invents the titular “Bobby V” who becomes the location of all her fantasies of acceptance, empowerment and coolness she feels are elusive. I’ve always found the book far more interesting, if you frame Candy’s invention of Bobby V – who I seem to remember reminding me very of El Debarge – as Candy’s hunger for those qualities in herself rather than a boyfriend. I haven’t gotten to this title recently, but I’m sure it probably ends with a great big reversal of fortune and a lesson learned.

Sweet Dreams Series No. 5 – Little Sister

    Little Sister is the first title of the series I remember reading. Classic tropes in effect here: plain Jane younger sis, gorgeous older sister, jealousy, tall gawkiness… The dudes in these heterosexist books are interchangeable and Cindy’s crush is hot, popular and hanging out with her hot, popular older sister. This causes Cindy tremendous bitterness and resentment. Naturally, Cindy is “pretty in her own way” being tall, lean and blank canvas in the face. I’m sure you know what happens next…Yep. She scores the guy and gets a moment of Schadenfreuden when her “curvier” sister is told she’s far too “big” and short to model and the scout selects Cindy instead. Wow, that’s what I call empowerment!

Sweet Dreams No. 18 – Ten-Boy Summer

    Ten-Boy Summer is notable for being the title possessing the least amount of terrible prose. This is a dubious distinction, because the prose here isn’t that great either, but it does take a few more chances the other titles. Jill and her bestie Toni decide they are DONE with dating one boy and hopelessly waiting for it to work out. Instead they dream up the TEN BOY SUMMER, which is a contest to see which one can date ten boys before the school year starts up again. Except, well Jill and Toni strike me as more frienemies than friends so the competitive nature of the contest gets the better of both of them. Even when Jill meets some dude she thinks is “the one”. Oh noes! Will she risk loving him and losing the contest? Or loving the contest and losing the guy?

Sweet Dreams No. 128 – One Boy at a Time

    My favorite of the series! Wendy Fong was my GIRL! I had given up on the series having another black girl – apparently one was the limit – so when I saw this title at the bookstore I snapped it up and read it quickly. Wendy Fong reflected my world view and life more than any of the countless blond sad sack gals who wanted bigger boobs or a hot boyfriend. Wendy had a hot boyfriend, but wanted that dude to act right. He’d gotten a bit too big for his britches and she decided to kick his arrogant ass to the curb – to teach him a lesson. Of course, this is where the novel reverts to its SD roots! Now, Wendy’s got another sucker on the ropes and starts to feel stirrings for her old boyfriend. Oh what will she do? Exactly.

Sweet Dreams No. 1 – P.S. I love You
Sweet Dreams No. 23 – Falling in Love Again

    Oh Mariah. Girl, you’re going through some thangs! Her parents split up, life isn’t that great and it would be decades before looking like Jeanne Tripplehorn would mean anything to anyone! But seriously, this is such a grim way to start off a sappy teen romance series. It definitely doesn’t accurately reflect the tone of the series, despite being pretty daring for a teen novel. Of course dying boyfriends – oops, that’s the big downer for Mariah – are a tried and true trope for romantic novels – particularly teen novels – as it is handy for both explaining away premarital sex and also preserving virginity, depending on the needs of the narrative. I read these both in an afternoon, grateful the eBay seller had the foresight to list these two books as a set. Mariah does love again, though the light in her sad brown eyes is much dimmer. The book is also notable for teaching me how to spell one of the nicknames my auntie used to call me and any preschool aged girl relative. It’s also the name of my car, though spelled “Maryah”

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2010 8:43 pm

  2. Leah permalink
    June 29, 2010 12:17 am

    I adore bad young adult fiction. I really want to find old Sleepover Club books. I’m not sure where you are, but I was recently in a used bookstore in Chicago that had a very fabulous YA section, I was there looking through it for hours and picked up about 5 gems for 10 dollars. And just about now I really needed that piece of advice about being kind while drafting and cruel while editing, so thanks for linking to that.

  3. lemonadeandlemoncake permalink
    June 29, 2010 3:51 am

    i adora YA fiction, period. AHHH. I still read it. it seems more honest, and it’s good writing…minus a stick up its’ ass.

    have you read…

    I Can’t Tell You, by Hilary Frank?

    It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini?

    those are the two I can think of right now. Jeez. My favorite books ever. And the One Boy At A Time made me laugh.

  4. June 29, 2010 4:26 am

    Oh god, I owned Ten Boy Summer and Dear Amanda! I don’t remember Dear Amanda at all though. Was that a friend who was faraway that gave her advice or something? The Way Back Machine is dangerous indeed. Next thing you know, you’ll be breaking out the First Love from Sillohuette Teen Romance Series. Heh.
    I just recently disposed of a book called It’s Only Make Believe, from that series. I adored that book for some reason and I re-read it, and I still found it had chuckle worthy moments.

  5. June 29, 2010 10:08 am

    i’ve really gotten into the new crop of YA fiction. there’s so much more of it now that ISN’T all kid versions of harlequin romance, or serialized silliness. not that i have anything against those – i have VERY fond memories of the baby-sitters’ club. but it’s so great to be able to pick up a book like “The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks” and think “i want this on my shelf for MY daughter to read”.

  6. June 29, 2010 10:19 am

    i’ve really gotten into the new crop of YA fiction. there’s so much more of it now that ISN’T all kid versions of harlequin romance, or serialized silliness.

    It’s not a new phenomena. There’s always been great Newbery Award winning YA from wonderful YA writers like Scott O’Dell (Sing Down the Moon), Cynthia Voight (Dicey’s Song) and Norma Fox Mazer (After the Rain, Up in Seth’s Room) – wife of YA novelist Harry Mazer; it’s just not as profitable or popular as the serialized cheese – Gossip Girl and Twilight are still far more popular than Speak or other well written YA literature. The 2010 recipient for the Newberry Award – When You Reach Me is completely amazing, evoking A Wrinkle in Time and other YA sci-fi literary classics, but most kids prefer to read the Wimpy Kid books, which are insipid, lukewarm Jerry Spinelli ripoffs or that Twilight/Harry Potter stuff, which is on par with Sweet Dreams in terms of prose quality and timelessness. Of course, people don’t really see it that way, since fantasy/sci-fi are impeachable forms of literature – due to rabid fanbase – when really, the writing is pretty bad or worse than anything in serialized romances. Trust me, I’ve done the legwork.

  7. June 29, 2010 11:10 am

    Aaahhhhhhhhh! That series was available at… yes, you probably bought them there, too… the housing area book shop, up the arcade from the Base Exchange. And also the library.

    I remember reading that series! Awesome.

  8. June 29, 2010 11:16 am

    Also, my not-much-of-a-teacher, but-heck-of-a-syllabus-maker English teacher in Jr. year assigned Another Country. And it was so. good. I had no idea Modern American literature could be so good. Up till then it had been all Gatsby, which was fine, and The Scarlet Letter, which was also fine. But Another Country was just really, really, really good.

    Which I read in between Unmemorable Fantasy Novel Involving a Quest and A Weapon and A Magic Sword and Companions, and Busman’s Honeymoon, which introduced me to the incomparable Dorothy Sayers. And then probably one of these YA novels, excavated from under a pile of stuff in the basement, because who can resist a book with covers like these?

    It was an eclectic kind of year, as all reading years should be, I guess.

  9. June 29, 2010 11:30 am

    @snarky: i guess the marketing has changed recently (as in, in the last decade or so). because you’re totally right that Newbery books have been around forever. but i don’t recall them being shelved in a special area of the bookstore or library when i was the target age. when i went to find a book, i had to choose from the children’s section or the adult’s. the closest i remember seeing was the shelf that had all the BSC, Sweet Valley, etc. i was a BIG reader, and it seems like i SHOULD have been “found” by the marketers, but i never was. i remember being assigned those books in school, but i never wanted to read what the teachers thought i SHOULD be reading (i was so unique, i’m sure).

    i wonder if this is the first positive effect i’ve seen (or at least consciously noted) so far of kids/teens being so heavily targeted as a consumer group.

  10. June 29, 2010 11:33 am

    also, just to clarify, i have no qualm with limited-ish series, but the serialized stuff is TYPICALLY so formulaic that it’s not worth my time. in fact, one of my favorites in the YA genre right now is the Morganville Vampires by Rachel Caine. YES, it’s vampires, but the heroine rocks SO much harder than bella swan or sookie stackhouse (i’ve read the first 2 southern vampires and excerpts from twilight, since i couldn’t stomach the whole book, so i have at least a basic knowledge from which to criticize those).

  11. Alibelle permalink
    June 29, 2010 12:13 pm

    So when re-reading these have you found that they influence a lot of your thinking now? Not that you’re going around trying to date ten boys in one summer, but like phrases or imagery from the books that you use today?

    I went back and re-watched Toy Story and I was shocked because though I had forgotten almost the entire plot there were scenes from that movie that had found their way into my artwork and thinking (I can never see red sniper dots on people in movies or magnifying glasses without thinking of Sid burning Woody). Every time I go to a new hotel I think of werewolves and monsters and people recording my reactions like in “Fright Inn” a story from some horror book that I’ve yet to be able to locate (I occasionally doubt it’s existence, but my sister remembers it too). And when I posted about the illustrations (which are the epitomy of horror) from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark on facebook several other people mentioned that they were also forever affected by them.

    I feel like books we read up to like 13 and movies too affect us for-freaking-ever in really strange ways. Including the Choose Your Own Adventure Prom Night book I read when I was 10 that I think of to this day when I drive down a certain stretch of highway because that was the highway with my parents I was on when my adventure ended with my date’s car breaking down and me having to walk a mile in heels to my prom.

  12. June 29, 2010 12:21 pm

    when i went to find a book, i had to choose from the children’s section or the adult’s. the closest i remember seeing was the shelf that had all the BSC, Sweet Valley, etc. i was a BIG reader, and it seems like i SHOULD have been “found” by the marketers, but i never was. i remember being assigned those books in school, but i never wanted to read what the teachers thought i SHOULD be reading (i was so unique, i’m sure).

    Oh definitely. Now Newbery didn’t always reflect the reading tastes of child/YAs and it has continued to struggle for relevancy, but there are some specular books there. I think I flocked to the romance serials because I didn’t like sci-fi or fantasy as a child – no brown people – and while that’s also true of romance serials, I tended to find that lack to be less annoying, than in sci-fi/fantasy, which I didn’t really like anyway.

    The marketing of YA and Children’s lit hasn’t really changed much either. The kinds of books are similar to what was available when I was a kid and the subject matter hasn’t gotten much of an upgrade in its depiction, except all the ghosts have become vampires and all the hot girls have “Raven” tresses instead of blond hair. Otherwise the stuff is exactly the same.

  13. June 29, 2010 12:28 pm

    So when re-reading these have you found that they influence a lot of your thinking now? Not that you’re going around trying to date ten boys in one summer, but like phrases or imagery from the books that you use today?

    Ha! If ten boys would have had me at any given time in my life I probably would have attempted a “ten boy summer”! I’ve been effected by randomness in books, like for example…

    In Kin Platt’s Crocker the titular Crocker debates whether “a string” or “a series” or “several” is the best way to characterize the number of bowling alleys he is the bag man for. I still find myself pondering the question – they don’t state an actual number of bowling alleys.

    In Sandra Scoppettone’s Long Time Between Kisses I remember wondering what it was like to have a “boyfriend” at an “advanced” again – not unlike my advanced age now – and how weird that seemed. I thought you could only have boyfriends until you were like 20 and they you got a husband whether you wanted one or not. (I was 12ish when I read this). I have a “boyfriend” now and I still feel that weirdness, because I’m old! Of course, I’m glad that whole husband theory I had turned out to be false!

  14. June 29, 2010 1:16 pm

    Snarky’s, I am actively in search of a term that is not “boyfriend” or “partner.” I don’t really have a problem with other people using the words. It’s just, Jessica Wakefield (or whoever she was) and Nancy Drew had “boyfriends” and I am a woman in her 30’s, and really… not a Wakefield twin. (Although I am strawberry blonde, but do not have a powder blue convertable and don’t find clues in clocks, and was never a Teen Detective.)

    And partner just sounds like I am an extra in Wall Street.

    So I use *hug.* Which people don’t get, but it’s better than boyfriend or partner.

  15. SaraKate permalink
    June 29, 2010 5:10 pm

    Oh, MAN. I *devoured* these things around age 13 or 14, as my junior high library had essentially the whole series. It’s amazing how much of it is still lurking in my head, too — I *instantly* flashed on the big crisis scene from Little Sister (I remember the end scene from that one also) and it’s been at least 25 years. I also wrote my share of Highly Overwrought fiction around that age, of course — I placed pretty high in a district-wide writing contest with a cheery little story from the point of view of a girl whose BFF had just committed suicide. If only I had added a love interest, I’d have fit right in with this series.

    Not that I didn’t read better things as well — my mom is a voracious and eclectic reader, and I was picking very good literature off our home bookshelves at an early age. It’s just that we *also* had the collected works of Barbara Cartland. 🙂

  16. June 30, 2010 3:21 am

    I never read romance-y YA but I was all about stuff like The Girl With the Silver Eyes and that one where the main dude turned out to be a sociopath who made these other kids set a house on fire and stuff. I wish I could remember what the hell the title of that book was!

  17. June 30, 2010 3:22 am

    P.S. “Ten Boy Summer” should maybe be the theme for my current summer. Or, at the very least, the goal!

  18. June 30, 2010 1:30 pm

    P.S. “Ten Boy Summer” should maybe be the theme for my current summer. Or, at the very least, the goal!

    That’s what I’m screaming. I need to be all Picard, “Make it so!”

  19. June 30, 2010 4:43 pm

    I think I saw a ton of these at my local Buy/Sell/Trade bookstore… mayhaps I shall go buy a few after I get paid. Any books with covers like those have to be gold.

  20. June 30, 2010 8:19 pm

    Pure gold!

  21. paradi permalink
    July 3, 2010 10:05 pm

    Omg, get out of my head! I was just revisiting the only Sweet Dreams book in my collection of bad YA fiction: Dream Date, Sweet Dreams #168. Basically, the heroine tries to figure out who her secret admirer is and inadvertently makes 3 of the hottest/coolest boys in school fall for her in the process. Only one is the True Love, though.

    For truly unbelievable YA fiction, I recommend getting a copy of Tracy Harmon, Love Specialist. Some of the antiquated writing in there is too priceless to pass up. I am confident the phrasing “Tiptoe through the tulips while you can, Miss P[opularity]” and “her disgruntled swain” will never appear in a published work again.

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