Oh, to be a girl again and be preoccupied with girlish things … the right shade of lipgloss, the perfect pair of platform shoes, a special date for the dance and a sparkly new dress to wear, the heady anticipation of that first kiss, and the second or third….
Alas, the ravenous reader is no longer a girl- far from it – but through the magic of books I’ve spent this week recapturing some of the splendid anticipation and excitement that is girlhood. Come on over – I have the house to myself, we can turn the hi-fi up as loud as we want, sneak some rum into our cokes, and I’ll tell you all about it. Welcome to Sunday Salon.
Dedication, the new novel by the authors of The Nanny Diaries, Emma McLaughling and Nicola Strauss, is about as girlish as it gets. Kate Hollis, a 30-something environmentalist, has been yearning to forget her high school boyfriend ever since he stood her up for the prom. It’s been quite impossible, though, since he’s a mega singing star who used her and her family as material for the lyrics of his hit records. Now, he’s back in her life, complete with entourage and paparazzi, begging her for a second chance.
The book see-saws between Kate’s formative years, from middle school through college, and the present day. The reader gets to watch Jake and Kate’s relationship develop from gawky adolescent crush into steamy teenage romance. McLaughlin and Strauss (and how cute it that, anyway, two girlfriends writing a book together?) do a great job of capturing the feel of middle school and high school relationships and friendships, for no matter what the actual era, the boy-girl dance doesn’t change all that much. I was catapulted right back to my first romantic experiences, especially with scenes like this, where the smallest physical connection becomes heightened with meaning and sensation.
Jake grins, his green eyes glittering as he slides his flip-flop across the stair next to my sandal, the tip of his toe touching mine. “What’s your deal, Katie Hollis?”
My breath quickens. “I don’t know…I guess I just think people should say what’s on their minds.”
He lies back on the landing, his face in shadow, his shirt riding up, revealing the ivory contours of his hip bone, the muscular indentation, the downy hairs running from his belly button into his shorts. Our toes touching. “So?”
“Yes?” I ask.
“What’s on yours?”
“Like, what specifically?”
“Like you and me, ” he says into the darkness.
Oh my, is it getting warm in here?
As much fun as it was, reading Kate’s story and reliving all that teenage angst, I admit to identifying more with Kate’s mother, particularly when she tries to warn her daughter about the danger of living your life based on your obsession with another person. “We want to send you off on an amazing adventure somewhere wonderful and new that you can make all your own,” she tells Kate on the eve of her high school graduation. “Instead, every single discussion we have about what’s next for you is a ringing chorus of JakeJakeJake. He can’t be the core criteria for your life planning…you can’t plan your life with a man as the primary building block.”
While my older and wiser self pumps her fist in solidarity with Mrs. Hollis, my teenage self remembers only too well the giddy sense of a love so deep that being near your one special person seemed the only thing that could ever matter. The big question is, will an older and wiser Kate allow her dreams of Jake and all his celebrity glory to engulf her once again.
I’m not telling – you’ll have to read the book and find out.
Now I’ve left Kate’s story behind and moved on to Rules for Saying Goodbye, a debut novel by Katherine Taylor. It’s the story of (another!) girl named Kate who meanders through a rather melancholy girlhood in a chilly New England boarding school, and on to a somewhat dissipated, aimless life as a single girl in Manhattan. This is a much less plot driven novel than Dedication, a more thoughtful look into the inner psyche of Kate’s character. Kate and her entourage of friends, along with her wealthy, yet bitter family, seem on a perpetual quest for contentment, like restless dogs pacing in a kennel. “I was careful, no matter where I was,” Kate thinks, “never to refer to home as anywhere specific…home became less and less of a place, and more a general sense of wherever I felt most comfortable at the moment.”
Taylor’s writing strikes the perfect balance between wit and acerbity, allowing us to smile as we trail along with Kate down the road to maturity.
I find myself sympathizing with this Kate, too, yet in an altogether different way, for I sense her dissatisfaction with all that life has on offer, as if nothing can be good enough for her, and she not good enough for anything. It’s part of the territory of being 20-ish, perhaps, because even though at her age I was married and raising a baby, I was often consumed with thoughts of what might have been. And, much like Kate, I lacked the initiative to go in search of any other possibilities. Will Kate stop wandering around waiting for things to happen and actively take control of her life?
You’ll have to read this one and find out, too.
Which brings me to the giveaway part. Way back when I was a girl, I started sharing books with my girlfriends, who were all readers, of course. Part of the fun of reading is passing along good reads to others, isn’t it? So, the first person to comment with a request for Dedication or Rules for Saying Goodbye will receive a copy. (One book per person, since that way two friends get to win!)
And now it’s back to the reality of life as a 50-something, which means getting my rather creaky bones up from the chair and going off in search of warm milk. <smiles>