As a teenager, I loved Sweet Valley High, but particularly the ones that dealt with romance. I almost passed out that one time Bruce Patman put his hand on Elizabeth Wakefield’s breast. It said “breast” in a SVH novel?! DUDE.
Little did I know then the education I’d get from real romance novels, and from YA romances that are actually high quality. Lucky me, as a Smart Bitch, I received an ARC of Jennifer Echols Major Crush. I’m so jealous of the YA readers now who have much better books to read. What was I thinking?
But enough about me.
Virginia Sauter is the newly-appointed drum major at her rural Alabama high school. She’s also a former beauty pageant queen who rebelled, cut her hair off, pierced her nose, quit the majorette squad and went band. WAY band. So far band that she was voted co-drum-major.
Unfortunately for Virginia, she shares drum major responsibilities with Drew Morrow, who held the position solo last year, and who has some degree of resentment about sharing the position with a girl this year. There’s never been a girl drum major, and to make matters worse, in their first performance, they suck.
Even worse: Virginia has had a crush on Drew for a long, long time, and he refuses to acknowledge that she exists – a decision that certainly contributes to their suckiness as drum majors.
Seems that drum majors, and I didn’t know this, keep the time and tempo of the band through their conducting. If the drum majors don’t work together, they sound like crap – or, as one character says, like a symphony warming up before a performance begins.
Fortunately for Virginia and the band, the new band director, Mr. Rush, intervenes, and lays down the law. They will work together or they’ll both lose their positions. And further, Mr. Rush has ideas about how they can work their differences to the band’s advantage in competition, beginning with a new, feminine drum major costume for Virginia, and a ballroom dance-style dip for both of them to begin their performance.
The challenge of working together forces Drew and Virginia to become friends, despite or perhaps because of the enormous attraction between both of them, and while there are complications – Drew has an evil girlfriend, and Virginia doesn’t feel sure enough of herself to make any move on Drew – the story gets it’s drama from so many clever, interesting characters and plot points that serve to set this book apart. From the guy who’s harbored a crush on Virginia since forever, to her African-American best friend and beauty queen who cannot wait to leave small town Alabama behind her, to her parents and their secret that Virginia’s keeping from everyone, there’s plenty of drama to keep the book moving.
One of Echol’s gifts in this novel is keeping the story very contemporary without making it seem like she’s name-dropping. Like the writers of a really good teen television drama, she’s able to portray a high school teenager’s thoughts (the book is told from Virginia’s perspective in first person) without sounding like she’s trying too hard. Authenticity of tone and setting come easily to this author.
The two best points of this book for me are Virginia herself, and her friendship with Drew. While it might be difficult for me, a 31-year-old schlubby lady living in Jersey to relate to a teenage beauty queen and drum major in rural Alabama, it is not hard for me to relate to someone feeling like they have been dropped into a situation that seems like too much, too fast, and too emotionally difficult. It’s a mark of brilliance on Echols’ part that the character who doesn’t fit in is a beauty queen who quits the pageant circuit to join the band. One doesn’t think beauty pageant contestants suffer often from feelings of awkwardness, low self-confidence, or alienation.
The other delicious part of this book is the dramatic sexual tension between Drew and Virginia. Forced to work together and talk to each other on long-ass bus rides all over the state, they form a friendship of sorts, and become each other’s confidantes, revealing the truth behind their public images. Virginia shares with Drew the secret she’s been hiding from everyone, and Drew tells Mr. Rush and Virginia why he’s gone from being a laid-back relaxed high schooler to a stressed-out responsibility-driven drum major obsessed about being perfect and getting the highest possible score on his SATs.
The one problem I had with the story was that the HEA didn’t seem 100% guaranteed, because one question -the financial security of Drew’s future – is left unanswered. There’s a throwaway comment by the band director that seems to indicate that everything will be fine, but I wasn’t sure at all by the end, and I wanted a complete happy ending for these awesome characters, because I was rooting for them the entire time.
I have a serious weakness for YA romances, from the 1-800-WhereRU stories to vintage SVH, and this one is a definite keeper. A full band salute to Jennifer Echols from this very giddy Smart Bitch.