This cover, y’all. And inside! We have a rather gross boyfriend, and an even worse mom, plus nature nerds!
This is undoubtedly one of the greatest Sweet Dreams cover of them all.
TW/CW: Chapter 10 is a little upsetting.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 499 – woohoo! – of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. Today, Will and Jeff from the Big Gay Fiction Podcast are joining me to recap Cover Girl by Yvonne Greene, which might be the best cover of all of the Sweet Dreams romances. We have a proto-incel boyfriend, some next-level stage mom, a teen disco – y’all, there is a lot, and I want to give you a little warning that Chapter Ten is a little upsetting, but everything does turn out okay.
I want to thank Jeff and Will for hanging out with me, and I want to thank you for listening! It is an honor to keep you company.
I have a compliment this week, which is so cool! I love these.
To Lonneke S.: Every day you speak to someone who is your greatest fan, and every time you do, you inspire that person just by being yourself. That is your superpower.
If you would like a compliment of your very own or you would like to support this show, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
This episode is brought to you in part by my favorite shoes, Rothy’s. I am not usually a person who becomes obsessed with things. Information, sure; researching obscure things; internet rabbit holes, absolutely. Shows and movies, not so much, but Rothy’s are definitely a shoe obsession with me. Rothy’s give you right-out-of-the-box comfort, they come in amazing styles and color combinations, and you can wash them! I know you’ve heard me talk about that part. I own one of nearly every style they make: the Point – I might actually own four pair of those – the Loafer, the Moccasin, and the Lace Up sneaker. I love all of them for travel, and they’re stylish and comfortable when walking, plus – this is key – they stretch ‘cause they’re woven with a thread made out of recycled water bottles. And when they get dirty, I toss ‘em in the washing machine and they come out looking like new. I love these shoes a lot. Step up your shoes and accessories this spring and get ready to be asked, are those Rothy’s? Yes, that has totally happened to me. Plus you get twenty dollars off your first purchase at rothys.com/SARAH. That’s R-O-T-H-Y-S dot com slash SARAH.
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Okay, it’s time for this recap. Let’s do it. On with the podcast.
Sarah: Thank you guys so much for doing this. I am so excited to recap this book with you. I have a listener email that I want to start with.
So Lizzy wrote to me and said, “I love your Sweet Dreams series. I went to high school in 1998 through 2002 and was a Goth, so I wasn’t sure who the super power couple was, but I’m actually married to the guy from the alternative power couple.” More than one power couple! Can you believe that?
Sarah: I’ve asked in previous episodes, as you know, where was your high school hangout? I’m going to try to get through this without laughing. Liz- – [laughs] – Lizzy’s high school hangout was a coffee cup called Mr. Toots!
Sarah: I’m so sorry! I – [laughs] – Mr. Toots! Okay.
“We would ask each other, you going to be at Toots later? I’m fairly certain the owner hated us, but he took our money and had poetry nights and let us smoke on the back deck until noise curfew. The general hangout for school was The Ugly Mug, which was the coffee shop across the street from the school. You could tell a lot about the low-key social currents of the school by who was there together and who was studying in groups.
“Thank you for making a great show.
Okay, first of all, thank you, Lizzy. Now I have to ask you, was there a high school hangout when you guys were in high school, and did it have a goofy name?
Jeff: You know, for me – I thought about this question when you actually asked it on the show.
Jeff: I graduated in ’86, so, like, I was in high school during the time of these books, actually! [Laughs] You know, like, this one that we’re doing came out in ’82, so I was just starting high school that year.
Jeff: The senior high school – I’ll just call it that – the eleventh and twelfth grade, we had, behind the school, a vintage McDonald’s with, like, the building that had the big arches on the side and everything? For the people who could get off campus for lunch, you could easily dart over there and grab lunch and come back on campus.
Jeff: It was really the mall, though, that was kind of the thing, ‘cause –
Jeff: – there was so much to do in the mall, and, you know, they were boring names like University Mall and McFarland Mall, so I got nothing for interesting names.
Sarah: We don’t have a Mr. Toots?
Jeff: Things got more interesting in college when we had things called The Chucker. I mean –
Sarah: What about you, Will?
Will: For me, I was a drama nerd in high school –
Sarah: I’m shocked, absolutely shocked by this knowledge!
Will: – so I didn’t do anything even remotely cool with anybody?
Will: But there was a local restaurant called The Village Pantry –
Will: – a kind of like Denny’s knock-off.
Will: The only reason students ever went there is because it was the only late-night hangout.
Will: It was the only place that was essentially open twenty-four hours, so if you needed, like, a late-night study session or someplace to go after the big game or whatever –
Will: – that was where you ended up going. Needless to say, I didn’t end up there very often, but that’s where, that’s where all the cool people went.
Jeff: I love that you brought it up, though, because we’ve been there together!
Will: Oh yeah.
Sarah: You guys ready to talk about this book?
Will: So ready!
Sarah: [Laughs] Okay, so overall, what’d you think?
Will: I was really surprised at how invested I was in Renee’s story!
Jeff: I know, right?
Sarah: I, I was really invested too. That’s the thing that gets me about these: I will start them and I’m like, okay, yeah, ‘80s, yep; oh, that’s an outfit; and then I’m like, oh my God, what happens next? I could not wait to read this because I really needed to know – [laughs] – if the book lived up to this image?
Jeff: And it kind of did!
Sarah: It kind of did! All right, Will, how, Will, how would you describe this cover? If you had to explain what this cover looks like to someone – [laughs] – who has never seen it, what, how would you describe this cover?
Will: Well, the teen model on the cover of Cover Girl is obviously living her best life. [Laughs]
Sarah: I mean – her hair is perfect.
Will: Her hair is lovely. She’s got it in a, a side pony with a gold scrunchie.
Will: And I think you were particularly fascinated by the fact that her, her flats match her scrunchie?
Sarah: Yes. Her flats and her scrunchie and her belt all –
Will: And that belt.
Sarah: – match.
Will: That slim belt. The pose –
Will: – can – [laughs] – the outfit is on point. It is –
Will: – very ‘80s chic –
Will: – but the pose –
Sarah: It’s amazing!
Will: She’s sort of, she’s kind of leaning back – [laughs] – but she’s, like, holding her foot kind of above her head?
Will: And she’s smiling like she’s having fun –
Will: – but in what situation would you ever fi- – well, okay, we’re, we’re not going to go there. We’re –
Will: – why would you be in this position? I do not know.
Sarah: Mine has no identifying marks, but every time Renee’s mom or boyfriend was complete garbage, there’s a dog-ear at the top.
Sarah: Right? So when I first discovered romance in the early ‘90s, the books were like massive, massive mass-market paperbacks, and –
Sarah: – I would frequently find dog-ears on the sex scenes in the library copies –
Sarah: – but I’ve never had this-character’s-a-complete-tool dog-ears, but I was forewarned: every time I turned the page and there was a dog-ear, after I figured it out, I was like, ohhh, brace yourself, Sarah; here comes more garbage!
Jeff: Old-school trigger warnings. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, right?! That’s exactly what those are!
Jeff, would you be so kind as to read the cover copy?
Jeff: “How can Renee tell Greg about her secret life? Renee’s living a life that most girls only dream of. Overnight she’s become a glamorous high-fashion model in New York City. But behind her cover-girl smile is a girl with a broken heart. She’s hiding her new life from her boyfriend Greg – who hates everything phony and loves Renee for what she used to be. Once he finds out the truth, will he ever trust her again?”
Sarah: It’s sort of a match to the plot! Kinda.
Will: It matches part of the plot.
Sarah: Yeah, yeah. It’s –
Will: I think there’s a large part of the story that they are not mentioning? Frankly, the much more interesting part of the story?
Jeff: Yeah! [Laughs]
Will: But we’ll get to that.
Sarah: Yeah, we’ll get to that, definitely.
Chapter One: Renee opens the book by telling the reader all of the things she wanted to be when she grew up: she wanted to do ballet, she wanted to be an actress, she wanted to be a model, then she wanted to be a writer, but each time all of these goals changed after one setback.
She has a boyfriend, and we get their meet-cute in the first chapter. She’s got a crush on Greg, and Greg sits in front of her in English, and she keeps chickening out of showing him that she’s interested, and her best friend Marilyn Underwood says she should ask him out because “times have changed.”
Jeff: [Laughs] Welcome to 1982.
Sarah: Yeah, right? Her teacher, Mrs. Milton – not at all inappropriate name for an English teacher – is encouraging Renee to write and wants her to enter an essay contest, and she chats with Renee about it after a standardized test. She points out that Greg also is going to be entering this test, or this essay contest, and he has trouble with developing ideas – you don’t say – but has great skills at writing imagery, whereas Renee struggles with imagery but is good at structure and development, so maybe they should get together and compare notes and work on their own essays together. Oh ho! Well, thank you, matchmaking teacher.
Jeff: I loved her for that!
Sarah: Yeah, right?
Jeff: Helping kind of nudge them together?
Sarah: Yep! And then it’s very clear from the story that Greg has also been trying to work up the courage to talk to her.
Sarah: And so they finally talk after the English teacher just, like, smooshes them together, and there’s a really interesting bit of foreshadowing in the first chapter where she starts saying things about how Jane Austen is a girl’s writer and he probably doesn’t read Jane Austen, and Greg challenges her assumption about him and says, actually, no, Pride and Prejudice is one of his favorite books! And in the beginning I was like, oh, okay, Greg! We’re cool. This is good! It’s an interesting little piece of foreshadowing.
Will: You know, I picked up on that as well. I – Renee is, like, purposefully negging in order to, like, make Greg feel good?
Will: She, you know, makes this comment about Jane Austen being a girl’s writer.
Will: She’s like – and he’s like, no, I love Pride and Prejudice! And that was like, okay, I’m kind of on board for this!
Will: He’s, like, pointing out her own sexism and –
Will: – patriarchal bullshit.
Will: I was like, okay!
Will: That’s good!
Sarah: Sounds great!
Will: Things don’t stay that way for very long, but –
Sarah: No. No, they do not. But it was good!
Will: – I was kind of on board.
Sarah: It was a good piece of –
Will: Also, I really love Mrs. Milton a lot.
Will: Is it or is it not appropriate for her to be fixing up her students? What was most fabulous about Mrs. Milton is that she’s talking to Renee and she’s essentially unloading all of her feelings about standardized testing? Right from the get-go, that Mrs. Milton knows what, what’s up –
Will: – in the American educational system is utter bullshit –
Will: – and she’s not there for it?
Will: I thought was hilarious and brilliant, and it’s like, yes, I love you, Mrs. Milton; you’re the best.
Sarah: So Chapter Two: Renee is putting on makeup because Greg is coming over, and that is a special occasion. And her mom is really happy that she’s “finally taking an interest in her looks.” And her mom is really anxious, ‘cause her mom keeps looking at the phone, and Renee mentions that she hopes it’s a new job for her mom, because her mom does not like her current job at a plastics factory where she is a secretary. Renee’s father has passed away since she was very young, so it’s just her and her mom.
Greg arrives while her mom’s on the phone. The phone rings and her mom, like, books it over to the phone to answer before it rings twice. They read each others’ essays, and Greg wrote about hiking because he is passionate about the outdoors. Renee says she’d like to help him, and Greg says that he had never would think, had never thought he would have the nerve to ask her to get together because she seems so unapproachable, and she thought the same thing about him! Aw!
Sarah: I know! And then he points out that her essays are not about things that she’s experienced or demonstrates any passion about, and it shows, and she’s a little miffed about that, but then she agrees.
And this is the first pair of dog-eared pages in my book. Greg invites her to go hiking, and then – I don’t like this – he asks her to the movies, and then he asks her a favor: “’Do you mind not putting all that stuff on your stuff when we go out? I guess I like the natural look. I hope I haven’t upset you.’” And she’s like, “’No, you’ve just freed me from hours in the bathroom; it sounds great! Most boys would expect me to do that for them, but I’m kind of glad you didn’t.’” And he says, “’I just think that all that makeup puts a barrier between two people. It can hide the real person underneath.’”
This guy! I wrote in my notes, next he’s going to lecture her about not bathing and the benefits of cryptocurrency.
Will: Okay. [Laughs] There’s a little bit of stuff to unpack here.
Sarah: Just a little! Ugh.
Will: A, a little bit, ‘cause I read this book twice – [laughs] – because I wanted to be well-informed, and I wanted to have opinions, of which I have many.
Sarah: Okay. I want to hear all of them.
Will: During the first read-through, I was kind of blinded by my rage of Renee’s mom’s awfulness?
Sarah: Oh yep, she’s next! Next dog-eared page! [Laughs]
Will: So that, I, I suspect that distracted me a little bit from Greg? So in this particular scene, frankly, he seems like the type of guy who read Leaves of Grass once, and now he’s this desperate, desperate poser, and I’m like, oh great.
Will: I – what?
Will: What in the world does Renee see in you? I mean, he’s probably cute, and he wears flannel, which, you know, okay, I understand that! I’m on board with that! So when it comes to this discussion about makeup, I think –
Will: – on the one hand, I can see it from Greg’s point of view. He likes Renee and he sees her every day at school without makeup.
Will: So it would be safe to assume that when he shows up at her house –
Will: – for this essay study session, she’d be exactly the same.
Will: So maybe he was a little bit surprised by this glammed-up, heavily made-up version of Renee.
Jeff: She spent three hours getting ready for this session, oh my God! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.
Will: Makeup in the ‘80s was an ordeal. It’s –
Sarah: To say nothing of the hair.
Will: – it’s a very – and the hair.
Will: The hair was a whole other, other thing. Anyway.
Will: So I can kind of see Greg’s point, but on the other hand, when we get to this discussion of a, a mask or that if a girl is wearing a lot of makeup it’s somehow deceptive –
Will: – I think that’s where the language is sort of pointing? And frankly, that’s incel talk.
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Then it’s time for Renee’s mom. So Renee’s like, I had a date with this guy who didn’t like my makeup, but we hung out and it was great, and he likes me and I like him, and this is awesome! And she goes into the kitchen to have some cookies, and her mom busts into the kitchen and is like, drop those cookies right now!
Renee’s mom had arranged for a photo shoot, telling Renee that it was for Renee’s late father’s family to see pictures of her, but it was actually head shots for a modeling agency. Renee’s mom did not tell Renee about this, and so she sent the head shots to the modeling agency, and the phone call was them saying they want Renee to work for them, they want Renee to model for their agency, and they are going to go to New York City the next day to meet with Photo Star.
Renee is like, you did what? Her mom then is like, all right, yeah, well, you know, go to bed now. You need to get a good night’s sleep; we’ll talk in the morning. You’ll be, you’ll be back in time for your date with Greg, no big deal. Just go to bed now. And Renee’s like, what just happened?
Sarah: I was so horrified? Oh, so horr-
Jeff: She might be the worst of the parents that you’ve presented through the books you’ve done so far.
Sarah: You’re so right. Oh, you’re so right about that.
Jeff: I mean, the parents are often never great –
Jeff: – in many cases, but this one, like –
Sarah: No. This was –
Jeff: – went next-level.
Sarah: In my notes I wrote down, well, stage mom level one unlocked!
Jeff: I have, I feel a stage mom coming on. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yep! Yep! Stage mom.
Jeff: Oh –
Jeff: – I hated so much of this chapter. It was just, like –
Sarah: It was a lot, right?
Will: Well, in my particular notes –
Will: – I say, mom, ugh, WTF? Or mom, extra-yuck, or mom, seriously, WTF! What Renee’s mom has done is incredibly wrong. It’s, it’s super, super gross –
Sarah: Superbly gross.
Will: – but she kind of lets it go because she’s excited by this idea of modeling.
Sarah: It had been on her career list –
Will: She’s like –
Sarah: – at one point.
Will: The rapid-fire sequence of events doesn’t really give her a whole lot of time to examine how shitty her mom is?
Sarah: Deeply shitty.
Will: Although I think deep down, Renee suspects that? [Laughs]
Chapter Three: The next morning, Renee didn’t sleep well – what a surprise – and her mom is making her lunch, and there’s lots of anti-fat bias, and I hate it. Renee is looking pale and drawn, and Renee admits to not sleeping well, and her mom’s like, but why? I told you to get your sleep! And as someone who has anxiety and insomnia sometimes, I just want to tell you that always works? Always. When I just –
Will: Mom, that’s not how this operates.
Sarah: Yeah! And when I’m awake at two in the morning and my brain is like, let’s sing a song really loud! How about “Tubthumping”?! Just yelling at my brain, I told you to get your sleep! works every time. I go right back to sleep –
Sarah: – absolutely. So Renee gets up to head to school, and we discover Renee’s mother’s motivation: it’s not great. She says, “’When I was your age, I looked a lot like you. Same figure; long, dark hair. Then I met Daddy, and you came along,’” and her mom mumbles the rest, and Renee does not ask for the details or ask her to clarify. She just, she just leaves, so something’s going on there.
Then she goes to school, and in the middle of class she gets a note: “Renee, call your mother at work immediately.” So there are no cell phones; there’s no texting. I would have thought my mom, like, lost a limb.
Sarah: I would have been like, oh my God, who died? It’s like when my phone rings at ten o’clock. And her mom has a to-do list for her after school. In the middle of school, after scaring the pants off of her, she’s telling Renee, okay, I need you to wash your hair, and then I need you to put on mascara and blush, because it is unnatural that you don’t wear makeup – and there’s that word again – and I need you to put on a nice outfit, and Renee is really upset, to her credit, that her mother only asked if she still looked tired, not if she felt tired. And then she said, “If being a model is going to mean taking orders from Mom like a robot, it’s not going to be much fun at all.”
Chapter Four: In walks Marilyn, the Sweet Dreams best friend who needs to lose weight to be more pretty. And it’s always like, she needs to lose ten pounds.
Jeff: Ten. It’s –
Sarah: It’s always ten!
Jeff: – always ten. Like it’s a magic number.
Sarah: Right?! So one thing I do like about Renee’s relationship with Marilyn is that they tease each other with insults in this very, like, snarky way? But they have rules: you’re not allowed to insult yourself.
So she tells Marilyn about the modeling thing. Marilyn is ex-treme-ly excited and comes home with her, even though Renee’s mom said don’t hang out with your friends after school; you have to come home and wash and become a whole other person. So Marilyn comes home with her on the bus. She’s so excited, and Renee tells Marilyn, please don’t tell anybody. I don’t want Greg to know because he hates makeup and fashions.
Don’t know what you’re going to do when you actually have a photograph somewhere, but all right.
Jeff: Right? [Laughs]
Sarah: We also learn there is a teen disco named Pizzazz. [Laughs]
Will: Hell yeah, there is!
Sarah: I love this!
Jeff: Of course there is!
Sarah: So Mari- –
Will: Keep in mind, this, this story takes place in suburban New Jersey!
Will: So of course –
Sarah: Of course!
Will: – there is a teen disco named Pizzazz.
Sarah: Of –
Will: It makes –
Sarah: – course!
Will: – perfect sense!
Will: Out of anything in this entire book –
Will: – I think this is the thing that makes the most sense! [Laughs]
Sarah: The Pizza-, the Jersey Pizzazz disco, yep.
So Marilyn is super cool while she’s showering, and she picks out an outfit, and it was an outfit that Renee had worn to Pizzazz, and it’s a pretty interesting choice: “Marilyn held up an oversized black sweater and tight stretch pants, along with my low ankle boots.”
Okay, first of all, I would wear that today.
Well, then Renee’s mom comes home and is like, what is she doing here? And that outfit is terrible. You need to dress preppy. And makes her change into a pair of tweed slacks and a red cable-knit sweater, and then gets her a, an antique tortoiseshell headband for her hair, and then they head to New York.
Jeff: Was that preppy back then? That just sounded like librarian to me somehow.
Sarah: I mean, I guess it was the tweed was the thing? But I seem to remember when I went to college, which was 1993, that was when a lot of red, plaid, and ruffles came into Limited, and Limited Express had a whole line of, like –
Sarah: – puffy shirt pirate had sex with a Scottish –
Sarah: – Highlander and a tartan suit was born? Like, it was –
Will: Sarah, you’re terrible! I’m not wrong, but you’re terrible!
Sarah: It’s very true.
Will: Well, I think in this particular case, preppy was definitely a thing.
Will: Good girl Molly Ringwald look?
Sarah: Oh, yep, you’re totally right.
Will: The mid to late ‘80s, and even that preppy look was still hanging on at the beginning of the ‘90s.
Sarah: Yes, just a little bit –
Will: Yeah, I, I –
Sarah: – like Joan Cusack in Working Girl.
Will: So I, I definitely understand the whole preppy vibe that her mom is going for and why that’s what the, the big talent agencies in the city –
Sarah: Photo Star!
Will: I mean I, I totally get it, I totally agree. But can we circle back to Marilyn –
Will: – real quick?
Sarah: And can I just say I just had the image of Joan Cusack from Working Girl, that makeup on Renee while she goes over an essay –
Will: Oh no!
Jeff: Oh my God.
Sarah: – with Greg!
Will: Oh no!
Sarah: Oh my God, Tess! So yes, let us circle back to Marilyn.
Will: I enjoy Renee a lot –
Will: – but I think Marilyn is my favorite person in the entire book. She is absolutely the best. She is a very good friend.
Will: I got the impression – these books are, as you mentioned, very, very short. For better or worse, they’re a little bit surface. They’re not going particularly deep, but I can tell that Renee and Marilyn, they mean a lot to each other. I like the way that they kind of banter, and it’s interesting, this particular female friendship? At one point they’re sort of known around school as Mutt and Jeff.
Will: Renee is the tall, skinny one; Marilyn is the shorter, curvier one. I really got the impression that Marilyn is comfortable in her own skin and she understands who she is.
Will: She’s, like, curvy and she owns it, and I was really down with that –
Will: – especially in a book from this particular era. When it comes to reading something into the text that probably is not there, Marilyn makes fun of Renee for being uncoordinated. We are kind of given the impression that Marilyn is the sporty one?
Will: So she’s kind of curvy and she’s funny and she’s sporty –
Sarah: Yeah, yeah.
Will: – and we all know in this particular era, if a girl is sporty, that’s code for lesbian. So –
Sarah: She is a little Sporty Spice.
Will: – I am so one thousand percent down with Marilyn being – [laughs] – the, the fun, snarky, lesbian best friend. Yeah. I think she’s the best.
Sarah: So she’s the Peppermint Patty of this book.
Jeff and Will: [Laugh] Yeah!
Jeff: I liked her a lot too, and I like the relationship. They seem to sort of ground each other?
Sarah: All right, it’s time for the modeling agency. Dun-dun-duh!
Chapter Five! She goes to Photo Star Modeling Agency, and she is super intimidated. She sees a model in the agency who is on the cover of the latest issue of Fashion Flair magazine, and then the director, Mrs. Floyd appears, who has already set up a meeting for Renee! And then she sees her own picture on the wall. They have, they have already put her picture on the wall. Was there a contract? Was there any kind of formal agreement, or was the phone call enough to slap this girl’s photo on the wall? This is very strange.
Renee is measured everywhere. Like, they just stand her there and measure every single thing, and she feels so uncomfortable because everyone in the room starts talking about her. She says, “I felt as if I were nothing more than a walking mannequin being readied for display.”
And then it turns out she has to stay for a photo shoot that they have booked right then and there. They go to a magazine because they, they need a cover girl, and the magazine’s like, yep, she’ll do! Let’s go, let’s do it right now. And she is staying for this photo shoot, which means she will miss her date with Greg.
So she’s really bummed that she has to break her date with Greg, but she’s really excited about having this, this new job, this, this new opportunity that, like, everyone’s like, yes, you are a model now! Despite not having signed anything or had anything reviewed by an attorney or consulted any child labor law. It’s fine, you’re a model! Presto! And she lies to Greg and says, I can’t have, I can’t have a date with you. I’m in New York; I’m helping my mom find something having to do with her mom’s job. So she pretends like her mom’s job is the issue.
And then she goes to get ready to pose for the cover.
Jeff: I had to be courageous; I was going to be a star! I wasn’t sure if I was like, yeah, Renee, you go! Or like, I’m so sorry! [Laughs]
Jeff: And I could say the journalist side of me kind of perked up here like, none of this is how magazines work!
Sarah: [Laughs] Was thinking!
Jeff: Especially back then, before we had any kind of electronic way to do things like, this whole emergency thing? No, that is not how any of this works! [Laughs]
Sarah: You mean, what, you didn’t regularly have boardrooms full of people where the noise level goes to a roar because they’re missing a cover model for their editorial?
Jeff: Yeah. That should have –
Jeff: – you know, and we’re emergency going to fix it? It’s like, no. ‘Cause you published that magazine like three months before you had to have it kind of thing.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
So let us move to Chapter Six: Renee does her first modeling job! She has had no training, no instruction, no knowledge whatsoever, but much like a historical heroine giving a blowjob, she’s a natural. There’s lots of photos for three hours, and she does a great job! She’s very, very good at this right out of the gate.
So Renee is very anxious because she has lied to Greg about breaking their date. Then her mom buys a parking pass in New York City for a hundred dollars. Did you guys catch that part? [Laughs]
Jeff: I have a whole note here. A hundred dollars is half of mom’s salary? But I know this is 1982, but I mean a hundred, a hundred dollars is half of your salary?
Sarah: Half of your salary, and you put it on a parking pass in New York City. There’s so many things in a row here. Okay, so first of all, I would just like everyone who will be listening to know that a parking pass in New York City right now is between five hundred and eight hundred dollars a month, or more depending on where you’re parking. So a hundred dollars –
Jeff: And where they were parking was not a cheap area in midtown –
Jeff: – even in ’82.
Sarah: No! So this is very expensive. I am alarmed that it’s half of her salary, and then her mom says, well, to make money you have to spend money, which Renee correctly flags as a cliché, and the fact that Renee’s mom is not a part of some major multilevel marketing at this point is quite a surprise. “It almost seemed as if she were embarking on my modeling career, not me.”
Yep, stage parent –
Jeff: She also –
Sarah: – level two.
Jeff: She also sees right here that, you know, she’s the one that’s going to be making the money.
Sarah: I do want to flag one line that I loved? Yvonne Greene, the author, really nailed this: “When we exited the Lincoln Tunnel and entered the dusk beyond, I felt as if we’d been regurgitated out of a long, grimy snake.” Yes!
Sarah: Yes. I used to commute on a bus in and out of the Lincoln Tunnel, and I know exactly, when you come out and it’s like, ka-boom! You’re in Jersey and New York is over there, and you go around the big helix. You are indeed regurgitated from a grimy snake; like, that is not wrong. That’s, that was some great writing; I was very impressed.
Jeff: Yvonne really does a good job at points in this book. I mean, she’s got some good writing going on in here, like that one –
Jeff: – very vivid writing.
Sarah: Oh yeah.
So then Renee’s mom gives her a lecture about how she has to get enough sleep because they are going to have to go cocktail parties. Yes, that is the reason why Renee has to go to sleep, ‘cause she has to go to cocktail parties. And then her mom says, you’re happy, aren’t you? And Renee’s like, sure! You know, she’s modeled for exactly once. “’I just hope I’m doing the right thing. You have a God-given talent, and I think it’s my duty as your mother to see that you take advantage of that talent while you can.’”
Jeff: So I took my notes electronically so I could change color of my pen if I wanted to?
Sarah: Oh, this is a very good strategy. Are these notes, like, screaming red?
Jeff: Well, I, I went from blue into red –
Sarah: Yep! [Laughs]
Jeff: – and went, oh Renee, admit you’re not happy! [Laughs]
Will: Car ride home with her mom that Renee immediately starts to see the million and a half red flags that her mom is starting to wave?
Will: Can we talk a little bit about Renee’s mom?
Sarah: Yes! I have a little bit more recap so we can get the full, the fullness of Renee’s mom, ‘cause there’s more.
Will: The full breadth –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Will: – of the awfulness? [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yes.
Will: Keep going, keep going! Keep listing away, Sarah!
Sarah: So my notes say, oh noes, oh noes, oh, oh no. So Renee asks her mom, why did you do all this? Why did you have photographs taken and lie to me and send my picture away without my permission and send me to a modeling agency? And her mom says that she and her late father had moved to Eastbrook thinking it would be good for her to grow up there, and when her dad died, her mom found herself in the position of having to support them, and her mom realized that her salary really didn’t cover much past the essentials. She is worried about sending Renee to college, and as a model Renee’s going to make a hundred dollars an hour. She would be able to make enough in a year to pay for college, and Renee is shocked at this. Like, she was shocked that her mom spent a hundred dollars on a parking pass; now she’s going to make a hundred dollars for an hour of her time.
Then Renee asks – this is where I start writing oh noes – but won’t it bother you that I’m being paid more than you for less work? And her mom says, nope! ‘Cause she’s going to quit her job and become Renee’s personal manager. This is –
Sarah: – this is bad. This is way bad. This is so not good, and Renee doesn’t have the language to be like, okay, wait. You’re putting the pressure on me to be the breadwinner for the whole family. I am sixteen years old. You are making me responsible for our home, our ability to eat, and paying for my college education, and supporting you, because my success is going to fund your life as well now. No pressure! She’s like an entire Rockette line of red flags, this woman.
Will: It’s just a, a parade of red flags.
Sarah: Oh geeze.
Chapter Seven: It’s mountain time! So Renee is spending the day with Greg, and oops! She forgot to tell her mom, and her mom uses Saturdays as her sleeping-in days, so she leaves her mom a note and she heads out. No cell phones! She’s gone. She’s packed a hamper of fruit and stu-, and stuff, but it’s really “diet stuff because the agency suggested she could lose a pound or two.” Now that is hot garbage, a pound or two. And there’s a whole bunch of people going hiking with them. Greg has his two cousins and their girlfriends, and everyone seems really nice and chill. You know, you’ve heard of theater nerds; these are nature nerds.
Sarah: These are nature nerds; they like to name the plants that they see on the mountain, probably, you know, in their Latin names, and Renee’s pretty game! She’s like, I’ll just make up names, ‘cause I don’t know what you’re talking about! They decide for their first hike together they’re going on a six-mile hike to the top of a mountain, and I would be like, you are out of your fucking mind!
Sarah: But okay! Then they all go to the top, and they spread out a blanket, and the couples all kind of pair off, and Greg invites her to come with him to a hike the next morning early, early, so they can see the summit in the morning.
And then Greg says something about how she looks so pretty, like a nature girl, and puts down his sister Jane spending money on makeup and stupid fashion magazines, “’all the effort made to teach girls to be deceptive and pretend to be something they’re not, you know what I mean?’” And my note was, yeah, I know you sound like an incel, and it’s terrible. I love how we’re all like –
Jeff: I would like to know exactly what he was reading?
Jeff: Where he got this.
Jeff: Was this from his dad – I hope not – or his mom – I hope not – or –
Sarah: God! Dude!
Jeff: – something.
Sarah: So Renee, understandably, feels really bad, and she actually outlines the conflict pretty well, because she agrees: style can be fickle and expensive, and it’s annoying to spend a lot of money on something and then have it go out of style, but she’s also really excited to be on a cover of a teen magazine, and she feels like a hypocrite because she’s going to be in the magazines that he is putting down. How could she tell him what she had done on Friday? Eventually she’s going to be on this magazine, so that’ll tell him pretty loudly! And yes, all of the pages on the mountain, by the way, were dog-eared in my copy.
Sarah: Then he says he used to imagine going out with her and has been crushing on her since the first day of class, and then they kiss. Aw.
Will: In this chapter, I actually think the date on a mountaintop was actually kind of cute –
Will: – and sweet?
Sarah: It was very cute.
Will: Yeah! It’s all very swoony and very sweet and –
Will: – from a, a romance novel perspective, I think it makes sense that they’re, like, in deep so quick, and there’s, and there’s that, that word that I found particularly egregious: deceptive?
Will: I’m not making excuses for Greg as a character –
Will: – but I think the conflict is a little labored here and not particularly convincing.
Sarah: No. No, and –
Will: I think it’s –
Sarah: – it’s not interesting, either.
Will: It’s kind of beating us over the head with, I’m Greg! I’m the mountain man naturalist, and I don’t like unnatural girls! Poor Renee is like, oh no! What should I do? And it’s like, I guess if that’s going to be the romantic conflict for the book that, that’s fine, but I don’t think it is, it’s not handled subtly –
Will: – in this particular moment?
Jeff: I don’t generally like romances that rely on the wedge that if you actually told the truth –
Jeff: – and you know you’re going to cross that bridge eventually –
Jeff: – and then you’re going to have more stuff that’s not talked about in a timely fashion –
Sarah: Yeah. You’re so right.
Jeff: – I really don’t like that.
Sarah: Chapter Eight: Marilyn is the greatest character in this book. Marilyn and Mrs. Milton should have their own spinoff series, because Marilyn calls to hear about her date and about modeling, and Marilyn is so proud of Renee, and she wants to tell everybody! She is so excited for her friend, she is so proud of what she’s doing, and Renee’s like please don’t tell anybody, I haven’t told Greg yet, and, like, again, you’re going to be on a magazine cover; you might want to work that out. But okay.
Then Renee tells Marilyn that her mom was so mad after she got back from hiking, ‘cause she was gone all day, because she had expected Renee to spend the day with her shopping for modeling supplies, which was baffling to me. Things like makeup and stockings – if she’s modeling, wouldn’t those things be provided? Why does she need to have them? And she made Renee do exercises. Yuck.
Jeff: Renee exercised all day long on the fricking hike! Six miles –
Sarah: Yeah, it was a six-mile hike! Up a mountain! With nature nerds! You know they walk fast.
Sarah: So Chapter Nine: There’s a little bit of a jump ahead in time, which makes sense, and Renee explains that juggling modeling, school, and Greg is hard. I just pictured her trying to juggle Greg, and that was very amusing. Marilyn now says she is no fun because she’s worried about her school grades and she spends all her time working or hiking up a mountain with Greg. And Renee says something really mean, and Marilyn doesn’t take it. She just gets up and goes and sits with somebody else. Her English teacher wants to see her essay for this contest that she wants Renee to enter, and then after school she’s modeling, and I just want you to know when I was taking my notes I wrote, and then after school: murdering.
Sarah: You know how your fingers automatically type things? Apparently modeling is not a thing I type, but murdering is, and so after school she’s murdering; it would have been a very interesting book.
And she does get new modeling jobs. She meets a really nice makeup artist named Sarah – which, again, I don’t understand why she needs modeling supplies; there’s clearly makeup artists – and then Sarah refers her to another job where she meets two models who’ve been working together for years, and they’re super nice and they are encouraging at Renee’s just starting out, and they share tips with her?
Renee’s mom has quit her job to become Renee’s manager, and it seems like Renee’s mom is very lonely and has no one to talk to because she wants Renee to do nothing but listen to her talk about doing the laundry and all the things she did around the house in the car between home and the modeling agency, and won’t let Renee do her homework.
Then, Sunday mornings she hikes with Greg. She likes being out in nature, and she says being out in nature is like a bath for her brain, and I love that because it is –
Jeff: That was great.
Sarah: – so true. So true. But Renee feels like she has to keep playing a different role for her teachers and for her mom and for the modeling agency and for Greg, and this is not good. Not good at all.
Renee has plans to go to an April Fools Bash in the evening – and this is an interesting departure from a lot of these books, because usually there’s like five dances in a year. This is the first school dance type thing, and it’s an April Fools Bash where you wear goofy clothes, and I love this. Like, I want to throw this party. And her mom says, no, you have to cancel ‘cause we’re going to a party tonight at an agency because they’re hiring a model for a makeup line, so we have to go to a cocktail party. And Renee lies to Greg again about why she can’t go and says her mom is all depressed about her job situation, and she cancels her plans with him.
Marilyn is really upset that Renee is studying and working and doesn’t have time to listen to her when she talks about her new boyfriend, and Renee doesn’t even bother to try to fix this when, when Marilyn is very, very hurt that Renee won’t make time for her.
Then she has Greg over, up in her room, to show him this photo essay book that she bought in New York, because it’s all about nature, for him to use for his essay. They’re in her room looking at, I think it’s pictures of sheep, as you do, and her mom busts into the room and says, you’re the new makeup model! You got the job! Well, the secret’s out now!
Greg handles it really maturely and doesn’t have a temper tantrum at all, no! Of course he does; he has a big ol’ tantrum, and he says she’s been lying to him, and he can’t trust her, and how does he know she’s not hiding another guy?!
For fuck’s sake, dude.
So she is devastated, and she tells him that she loves him, and he storms out, and then she tells herself in the mirror, “I hate you, I hate being pretty,” and she sobs on the bed.
Jeff: There’s a piece of the book that I highlighted here. Renee has this thought to herself where she’s saying:
“I could make nearly eight times that much. With that money I could pay for the food and rent and have plenty of money left over for college. If I could please my mother and my teachers and the agency too –“
Jeff: “ – then life would be sure to be very pleasant for me.” And she left out, you know, with that list, Greg and Marilyn and her other relationships. I was just like, ohhh!
Sarah: So then things really go off the rails. We had some rails; they are gone now. Chapter, Chapter Ten is where we leave the rails far, far behind. This could have gone so much worse, and it goes terribly.
Renee has a very early morning modeling assignment on a school day. Her mom and the agency want her to look older so she can book more jobs. So she has this makeup job scheduled. She doesn’t go to school, and they drive into Manhattan, into an old warehouse neighborhood. Un-, she’s very uneasy where she is, and then, and then her mom makes a terrible decision. She tells Renee that Renee can handle it. She is on her own for this modeling job so her mom can go and do some shopping.
What the fuck? This is where the ominous music starts playing in a movie or one of those Lifetime movies.
Will: Very, very much so. I, I, I want to set the scene just a tiny bit: New York City in the ‘80s. New York City in the ‘70s was a whole thing; not a good thing.
Sarah: Not a, not a good thing, no.
Will: They, they went bankrupt several times and the city was a dumpster fire, and the ‘80s was a whole other thing.
Sarah: Oh, it was bad.
Will: And, and right now, Renee and her mom are driving to this photographer’s studio –
Will: – and I’m going to make an assumption that this studio was most likely somewhere on the West Side –
Will: – where all the old pier buildings used to be.
Will: But by this point in the 1980s, they were all really sketchy and dilapidated and run-down, and it was actually very cheap for artists and photographers to live and do their work there.
Will: Essentially before the West Side got gentrified, it was living hellscape. Renee’s mom –
Sarah: Is like, you’re on your own!
Will: – is dropping her off in 1980s Hell’s Kitchen! Okay, scene is set. Let’s, let’s continue.
Sarah: Like, this is so bad?!
Will: Bad doesn’t even begin to describe it!
Jeff: Yeah, I would love a chapter from Renee’s mom’s point of view of like, I’m leaving my daughter here! This is fine! I’m going to go do the things! Just know what was going on in her head.
Sarah: Yeah, I’m just going to go on over to, to Bloomingdale’s. It’ll be fine. Like, are you kidding me? Holy –
Jeff: All aside from leaving her daughter with these adult people she doesn’t know.
Sarah: That she hasn’t met, and there’s no one there – the, the thing that makes me the most angry is no one in this situation is on Renee’s side. She has to advocate for herself, and she is six-fucking-teen years old, holy cow. The studio belongs to this absolute jerkwad named Paul Mechant, and he is blaring music. He bear-hugs her when they meet; is, like, super physically inappropriate – oh my God, Jeff just did a full-body shudder.
Sarah: Jeff just went, bleah! And he makes –
Jeff: I have Ew –
Jeff: – circled in red.
Sarah: There is so much ew. So he makes fun of her because she asks him to turn the music down. It very quickly establishes that he’s just going to keep mocking her. Then the makeup person arrives, and Renee can tell that the makeup person is intimidated by Paul as well and wants to stay on his good side and has worked with him before. Johnny, the makeup artist, says, “’Well, you have to laugh with him because he can be temperamental.’” Paul is absolutely awful to her. The clients from the makeup company come, and they have her just wearing a towel. He starts telling her when they’re taking pictures that she has to pull the towel down because it is in his shot. And so she’s, like, on her own, wrapped in a towel, in front of a whole bunch of adults, and they’re telling her to pull the towel down, and she gets really upset! No one from the agency or the makeup firm is on her side. They are all angry with her; they’re all like, what is wrong with you? Paul is so cruel to her that she starts crying, and he calls her a little girl, and the client rep says, well, you know, we’re going to have to call the agency and say you refused to cooperate, and Renee runs out of there.
Jeff: I have a piece highlighted in my book –
Jeff: – from this one, and it’s right after the makeup artist tells her that, oh, we just have to –
Sarah: You know, you have to laugh with him.
Jeff: – laugh with him, ‘cause he’s temperamental. So Renee thinks, I wasn’t convinced that acting like a jerk had anything to do with art, but if anybody else want – but if everybody else seemed to believe so, who was I to complain?
First of all, good on you, girl, for realizing that this is so wrong.
Sarah: This is so deeply fucked, yes.
Jeff: Yeah. But, and I totally get why she feels that she kind of needs to go along, ‘cause even if she speaks up, it’s not particularly safe to speak up in this –
Jeff: – space.
Sarah: She’s alone with two dudes until these other people show up, and they’re clearly not advocating for her.
Jeff: Yeah, so I don’t blame her at all for not speaking up more, but good on her for realizing how fucked up this whole thing was.
Will: I was sort of, I was sort of, I’m not going to say surprised, but I was really interested in how this book kind of went there.
Will: I will give Renee credit: she is actually remarkably insightful for a sixteen-year-old, and she understands what’s going on, and she understands some of the games these people are playing when it comes to Paul, and now Paul is in a particular position of power, and he is obviously abusing it, like so many other men in his, in his situation.
Will: So there’s an awful lot going on in this scene, and I really give the author credit for kind of giving us a little peek behind the curtain –
Will: – at this dark side.
Sarah: I also want to call attention to Johnny, the makeup artist? It’s not explicit in the text, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a professional makeup artist who is male in the ‘80s in the modeling world is probably queer.
Sarah: And he is also like, nonono, you have to laugh with him; you just have to pretend like, ‘cause he’s going to get temperamental. So there’s this over-sexualized, sexually abusive, cruel jerkwad photographer, and even the makeup person is like, nonono, you have to keep him happy. It, it’s, it is better for all of us. Like, he’s even aware of the power dynamic and keeping himself safe, and he doesn’t have enough power to keep her safe.
Jeff: Yeah. At least she left. I was glad she left.
Sarah: In the next chapter, her mom pulls up outside after shopping. There are packages all over the back seat, and she notices, to her credit, thank God, that Renee has been crying, and Renee tells her the whole story, and Renee’s mother is, she doesn’t think, is Renee okay? She starts turning the car towards the agency to tell Mrs. Floyd immediately what has just happened. She is more concerned with the agency than with Renee, and Renee says, no. I’m going to school. You can talk to Mrs. Floyd later. You’re my manager. I’m going to school. She’s more –
Jeff: I cheered for Renee in that moment where she spoke up.
Sarah: Me too!
Jeff: Like, good for you!
Sarah: Yeah. You’re my manager; frigging act like it. You deal with this later, and you deal with me now, and I want to go to school.
Now, after a traumatic event, does she need to go to school? Probably not, but when there is something like that that happens to you that’s going to really shake you, you want to be like, all right, I want to go be where I feel normal. I want to go be where I know what to expect. Like, I understand her thought process here?
Jeff: It was her only safe space.
Sarah: Yeah –
Sarah: – ‘cause it’s certainly not at home! So Renee goes to school, and her mom doesn’t say a word. At school, two girls that Renee doesn’t know very well come up to her, and they are so excited because she’s a model! She’s on a magazine! And Renee’s like how did you know?! And she sees Marilyn standing off to the distance with a bunch of girls who don’t approach her, and she realizes that Marilyn has told everybody. And one girl even asks for her autograph and says, you know, I collect autographs from famous people! And Renee’s like, what are you talking about?
Renee is so hurt that Marilyn has gone ahead and told everybody, but she realizes that she has been really rude to Marilyn, and she hadn’t really been that much of a friend, and I think that was Marilyn’s bid to get her attention.
Chapter Twelve: Things are tense. Greg won’t take Renee’s calls. I can’t say that I feel bad about that, but she is feeling bad about that, so I empathize with her feelings about that. Her mom is upset because of what happened and is beating herself up because the agency hadn’t told her that sex sells. Now, what rock have you been under, for God’s sake?
Jeff: Are you not reading the magazines and seeing the, what the models are up to in that day?
Sarah: Renee is the voice of reason here. I don’t agree with her reasoning, but she basically tells her –
Will: Me either.
Sarah: – no – her – I do not agree with her reasoning, but she is the one who’s like, mom, you get paid to do the job, and if you can’t do it they get someone else. She is fine with losing this makeup contract because the catalogue people still like her, and that money is better, and that’s where she met nice people anyway.
Her mom thinks that Renee is really upset about losing this makeup contract and Renee is not, and Renee notices that her mom is looking very down. She’s, she hasn’t taken a shower; she’s wearing her bathrobe; she doesn’t change her clothes. She’s, she’s exhibiting behavior of somebody who’s feeling depression. She tells her mom that she’s really upset about Greg, and her mom actually acknowledges what she has done. “’I’ve taken you away from the things that you should be concerned about: boys, your schoolwork, and Greg.’” And Renee, constantly caring for everyone around her says, “’Oh no, it’s not your fault,’” and then she says, “Inside, I wasn’t so sure.” Renee is starting to really wake up to her mom’s culpability for this situation that she found herself in, even if her mom is not.
Will: In this particular moment, she’s particularly self-serving.
Will: She’s making excuses for herself: well, I never would have sent you on that job if I’d have known!
Sarah: I can have empathy for some of the reasons why she may be projecting so much onto Renee. I mean, that’s certainly a human thing to do. But are you her parent? Yes. Are you her manager? Apparently so. You suck at both jobs right now, and you need to fix that.
All right, it’s Greg time. Chapter Thirteen: Renee has plans to corner Greg and convince him that she was the same girl regardless of whether she was hiking up a mountain or modeling, but if he can’t accept it she would just forget him, because she has to be herself first. And I was like, yes! And then she undermines all of that and says, but she doesn’t think she can forget Greg. If, if he found another girl, she would just die!
Greg is not worth that much, girl. Calm down. Even Taylor Swift thinks you need to calm down.
Then Marilyn finds her in the girls’ room, and Marilyn has a copy of the Miss magazine with Renee on the cover, and she is so excited. And they make up and kind of apologize in an awkward sort of teenager way, but the Marilyn says, “’I’m really proud of you,’” and this is so poignant for me because at no time does Renee’s mom ever give that kind of reinforcement, but Marilyn is like, I have a magazine with my best friend on the cover, and I am so fucking proud, I am going to get over all of my hurt feelings and go and find her and be like, look at what you did! I am so excited for you. Marilyn is the greatest.
Sarah: So then Mrs. Milton asks for a draft of Renee’s essay, and Renee’s like, well, nope, don’t have one of those, sorry! And she tells Mrs. Milton everything that has been going on! And Mrs. Milton’s like, do you want to write about that? And then she asks Greg to help Renee write that first draft. And Renee’s like, all right, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk to Greg, and – [laughs] – she says, “’I know you think I betrayed you,’” and he responds, “’Boy, that’s an understatement,’ he growled.” And my notes say, just dump the motherfucker already.
Jeff: [Laughs] She lied so hard to him!
Sarah: I know! And he, she betrayed him by not telling him about something he had, that she was doing that he insulted to her face multiple times. I cannot poss- – oh geeze. But then she explains everything that happened, about how it was her mother that set it up, and that she was afraid to tell him the truth – I know this is all way more energy than this fucker deserves, but okay. And then she writes, “I noticed a film had formed over his clear blue eyes,” and I went, wait, he’s dead? Solid development!
Will: [Laughs] You’re awful! Oh my God!
Sarah: His eyes had filmed over because she killed him! He has expired under the weight of his own bullshit! He is dead! No, that’s not what happened.
Sarah: Greg admits – so big of him – that he did make it hard for her to be honest with all that he said about wholesomeness and beauty, and they make up, and they tell each other in whispers that they love each other, and when, and he’s all, I want to pound Paul Mechant! Which, okay, dial it back there, bro. And then she says, “’No. He has a crude way of doing his job, but he’s just doing his job.’” No.
Sarah: And she should be able to handle things like that by herself. Also no. Oh my God! What internalized bullshit! That’s like a steaming pile of nonsense!
Jeff: Yeah, I was disappointed she went that way.
Sarah: Yeah, like –
Jeff: ‘Cause even before she had that realization of, like, you had to be a jerk to do art? I don’t get it.
Jeff: And now she’s kind of saying, oh, I get it now. It’s like, don’t get that!
Will: Instead of trying to, in this particular moment, unpack the toxicity of generational white male entitlement –
Will: – she’s just saying, this is how it works, and it kind of sucks.
Sarah: Yeah. She’s not wrong, but she’s taking responsibility for things and excusing things.
Chapter Fourteen: Greg and Renee make a date that night to get her essay done, because she needs one more thing to do on her list. And she decides to tell her mother that modeling has to wait, and I want to focus on school, and I want to focus on Greg, and she gets there – her mom’s not even home! And even worse, the breakfast things are just sitting there, the kitchen is a wreck, her robe is on the floor, and Renee is like, what the hell? There’s no note. She’s very worried!
And her mom comes home at six, and she is wearing a lavender, summer linen business suit and just announces she’s back at her old firm. And her mom realized that she “hadn’t been pulling her own weight around here” and called up the plastics company about getting her secretary job back, but there wasn’t a job as a secretary, but there was one in sales! And with her experience as Renee’s manager she qualified for this job in sales, and she got the job same day with a big pay hike from her old position! Really?
Jeff: It just doesn’t happen that way. [Laughs]
Jeff: What references did she get about being a manager? ‘Cause that job didn’t go well.
Sarah: So Renee doesn’t have to model if she doesn’t want to. I’m telling you, one good lavender suit just solves all your problems, right?
Sarah: So she brings Greg cookies that she has made as they work on her essay to celebrate that she’s retiring from modeling. She quit because of her, because she needs time for herself, and maybe she’ll get mac, back to modeling in the summer, and she is going to control it and not let it control her.
And you said earlier, Jeff, that things, when you’re a teenager, things are such a binary? And this is another example of things being binary: she can either model or not model. There’s no in between where she works with catalogues, and she works after school, and she only works with photographers and makeup artists who are safe. Like, there’s not third option; it’s either yes, I do this horrible thing all the time that I hate, or I don’t do it at all. There’s no middle ground.
So there’s one more chapter to summarize everything up. Let’s wrap everything up in a big ol’ bow. [Sighs] I don’t know what really accomplishes that, but okay! Chapter Fifteen: It’s a month later, and Renee goes into school and runs into the girl who asked her for her autograph, and Renee says, oh, I bet you threw it out! And the girl’s like, but why? And Renee’s like, ‘cause I temporarily retired from modeling? Bless her, this girl says, no, you’re still a neat girl! Why would I throw away your autograph?
Right over the school athletic grounds, there is a big old billboard for the makeup company, and there’s –
Sarah: – the model who replaced her as the face of the cosmetic company, and she says, “’I hope it was worth it to you. You may have glamour and success, but I’ve got something far more special.’ And she made her way toward Greg, who was waiting for her at the back entrance.”
That is the end of the book. What was that? You ever read a book where you’re like, okay, I don’t entirely agree with your choices, and I don’t entirely agree with what it is that you want, but it, this is clearly what you want, and if getting it is going to make you happy, then that is the right ending for you, but this is not necessarily the right ending for me?
Jeff: What about the essays? Do they turn in –
Jeff: – good essays? Did they win?
Sarah: I don’t know!
Jeff: It did solve everything that was in the blurb.
Sarah: You’re totally right! Once he finds out the truth, will he ever trust her again? Yes. Yes, he did.
Will: Well, in my notes for chapter fifteen, for the end, my only note is, huh.
Sarah: Mine is, ‘kay?
Will: I know, right? So here’s the thing –
Will: – she ended up with Greg, of course, and that’s, that’s fine.
Sarah: Comes with the territory.
Will: We, we’ve – [laughs] –
Sarah: It did what it said on the tin! [Laughs]
Will: We’ve spent nearly two and a half hours picking apart a 132-page book.
Will: So – [laughs] – so despite the obvious issues Renee and Greg will probably have, it makes sense that she would end up with him in a YA romance novel.
Will: And that I don’t have a problem with.
Sarah: It did what it said on the tin.
Will: The thing with Renee and her mom –
Sarah: It doesn’t solve any problems!
Will: Well, that’s the thing. I mean, I kind of give Renee’s mom at least one point for taking a teensy bit of responsibility herself instead of placing all of the financial responsibility on her sixteen-year-old daughter.
Sarah: Yes, that is true.
Will: So that’s good –
Sarah: I suppose.
Will: – but I think the whole magical job is exactly that: it’s kind of a magical Band-aid that doesn’t really address the inherent problems that the two of them have in the relationship.
Sarah: Yes, you’re so right.
Will: I mean, the way that this particular last chapter is presented, I think it was a head-scratcher for all of us.
Sarah: Huh? [Laughs]
Will: But I think –
Sarah: Whatever token of adulthood enters the book, the romance has to be the thing that is the most important, and it must be settled the most satisfactorily. I don’t know that I’m completely sold on that message? And I also think that it’s, like, undermining all of these other women who’ve been supportive to her: all the other models, the makeup artist who was like, hey, let me refer you to another job! You know, she’s like, to this girl she doesn’t know, who she presumably knows had to work with that gross photographer for that makeup ad, I hope it was worth it to you. You have glamour and success. There’s no empathy there like, ah, shit, I know what you went through, girl; I hope you’re okay. There’s not that.
Sarah: It’s, oh, I hope, I hope it was worth it for you! It’s very condescending. It’s like she’s, she’s become a trad wife with this incel guy.
Jeff: Aw! I envision a much better life for Renee than that!
Sarah: That’s not what I want for Renee!
Will: Oh my God, that’s dark!
Sarah: I know!
Will: That is way darker than I read it!
Sarah: Yeah, well!
Will: But you’re not wrong!
Jeff: Yeah, that’s true; you’re not wrong.
Sarah: I know! I mean, you could –
Will: The problem is that you are not wrong.
Sarah: You can make the case either way! It’s really messed up!
Sarah: And that’s not what I want for Renee. I don’t want her to be like, my relationship with this complete tool is worth more –
Sarah: – than this career that could’ve paid for my college education in a year if I didn’t have to work with gross photography guy. This is not your only option, but the way the book presents it is this is the best option. Really?
Jeff: Well, that’s how it closes, but I think, you know, the decision wasn’t fully made just around Greg; it was also made around school and the essay –
Jeff: – and I think knowing what was best for her life overall. I don’t feel like her whole thought process was on Greg, even though the –
Jeff: – that very closing scene may –
Sarah: The narrative enforces that, yes.
Jeff: – try to point that along, you know, try to point that direction.
Sarah: And you’re right, ‘cause she says, I temporarily retired from modeling, and that means that if she goes back to it, it’s her choice, rather than something that was chosen for her and her mom was like, let’s get in the car; you’re going to go be a model today. She would choose to go back to it on her own terms. That part is definitely actualization and empowerment; you’re right about that.
Sarah: She’s in a much more empowered place and knows that she has options, and that part, the, the, the element of these books where there’s empowerment for the heroine is the part that I like most? It’s often the case that the empowerment and the romance are at odds? Sometimes they go together, and that’s awesome. This was not one of those cases.
So overall, if you were going to grade this book, given the context, the time of it, what grade would you give this?
Will: Jeff, Jeff has a very serious thinking face on right now.
Will: He is seriously considering this. Like I said, I was far more invested in this than I ever would have imagined I would be? I really like this. If we’re giving it letter grades, I would probably give it B+.
Will: I liked Renee a lot, but I think from a narrative stylistic point, the story is a little bit surface, and we’re imprinting all of our own emotional baggage onto Renee and the situations that she finds herself in?
Sarah: Can confirm!
Will: So maybe that’s a good thing! Maybe –
Will: – that was the entire point!
Sarah: I mean, a lot goes on in 132 pages. There’s an A plot and a B plot; there’s even a C plot with Marilyn!
Jeff and Will: Yeah!
Jeff: I mean, I think I’d give it, I’d, I’d go for like a B. As we pointed out a few times, there’s some really good writing actually given to Renee and what she’s perceiving –
Jeff: – and some of the imagery that’s there.
Sarah: Yes, I agree.
Jeff: You know, I think if I looked at it through the lens of my ‘80s self, you know, that’s not bad –
Jeff: – at all. I read it in a sitting. I didn’t go, oh, I’m going to come back to this later. I’m like, I read it in a sitting.
Sarah: Oh yeah! Will read it twice!
Jeff: He read it twice!
Jeff: So it wasn’t like, God, I’ve got to read this book ‘cause I have to talk about it with Sarah. Ugh!
Jeff: And I certainly have books like that. It’s like, God, could this ever end?
Sarah: Yep. What am I going to find to talk about with this book other than, oh God, I have to read it?
Jeff: And even given, you know, the, the recaps we’ve heard you do so far, I think this is one of my favorite books that you’ve recapped. The other one that I liked a whole bunch, can’t remember the name of it, but it’s the one that was on Mackinac Island.
Sarah: Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Princess Amy.
Jeff: Yeah. That one I thought had some good stuff going on in it. Problematic stuff as well, but as a plot I’m like, that’s kind of fun!
Sarah: It’s a very forced-proximity plot, and everyone came up with really great fanfic endings to, like, get her past her –
Jeff: Those were brilliant!
Sarah: – concussion.
Sarah: Like, girl, go to the hospital! You lost consciousness! God! [Laughs]
Will: So, Sarah, when it comes to Cover Girl, what are your, your final thoughts? I’m particularly interested in how you think it measures up to the other books in the series that you’ve read so far.
Sarah: Ohhh. So I would probably give this book a B or a B-. In terms of the books that I’ve read – I’m looking at the list of them now – this is definitely one of the better ones of the – so this is nine – of the nine that I’ve read and the eight, with this one, that I’ve recapped, this is definitely one of my top three. I still have a big soft spot for PS, I Love You, even though it’s not a romance ‘cause he does, in fact, die in the end – sorry to spoil a book from forty years ago. See, I think this one is probably one of my top three? I’m really glad I got to recap it with y’all, so thank you.
Jeff: So before we go –
Jeff: – we know we’re in episode 499.
Sarah: Yes, yes, you are!
Jeff: So a big coming-up Happy Five Hundred. Congratulations.
Sarah: Thank you! Oh, that is so kind of you! Yes, you are indeed episode number 499. Thank you so much!
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you to Jeff and Will for hanging out with me and recapping this book.
You might have heard Jeff mention, or maybe it was Will, at the end, that the original recording for this was about two and a half hours? So there has been some editing. But I am curious: do you prefer one long episode, or do you prefer two-parters? Sometimes one works better for me or the other, but I’m curious about your opinion. You can email me at [email protected].
And I will have links in the show notes where you can find Jeff and Will and the other Sweet Dreams that we talked about.
As always, I end with a terrible joke. I like this one. Well, I mean I like all of them, but I like this one a lot. You ready? Okay. Get ready to make everyone around you groan, because that, I mean, that’s the goal here, right?
Why are there always two medics in an ambulance?
Why are there always two medics in an ambulance?
They’re not called pair-o’-medics for no reason.
[Laughs] So silly! Thank you to SchrodingersCat for this terrible joke. If you have terrible jokes that you want to share with me, you know I want to hear them, right? You should totally email me at [email protected], because bad jokes make me very, very happy!
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week for episode number 500 of the show! Yaaay! Kermit flail!
Thank you for inviting me to keep you company. I am honored to be in your eardrums right now.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
And if you would like a daily dose of happiness and love, be sure to search for Lovestruck Daily on your podcatcher, my new daily podcast with Alisha Rai, brought to you by iHeart Radio and Frolic Media.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
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There was a small sandwich shop near my university called Belly Busters. I remember that my roommate always ordered the Med Veg (Mediterranean vegetable) and a yummy peach drink.
That is an outstanding name for a sandwich shop, my gosh.
Wasn’t ’81 or ’82 the year NYC had the highest crime rate ever or something like that? I also graduated in ’86 and can confirm preppy was huge, at least at my high school–madras shorts, polo shirts, Sperry topsiders, cable sweaters, etc.
Oh my yes… polo shirts. So many polo shirts, and so many colors.
And I hated them. I was very much a band t-shirt and jeans person.
That was definitely preppy for ’82.
The book cover is an homage to Brooke Shields’s 1980 Calvin Klein ad, but with more shirt coverage.
If her mom was lucky enough to be making 13k as a secretary, $100 very well could have been half of a paycheck if she was paid weekly.
There was a sandwich shop called Sammiches near my college campus in the late 80s. It might have been a franchise. The guy who owned it was a recent college graduate–not sure how he could afford it, possibly had some family help. He shopped at the grocery store where I worked.
I was going to say the same thing about the cover and the Brooke Shields ad! And I bet back then everybody would have recognised it as that.
Yes! The cover is very Brooke Shields/Calvin Klein. We actually talked about that during our discussion on the cover, but it’s one of the things that ended up on the cutting room floor from our 2+ hour chat (hopefully Sarah won’t mind that I just shared one of the deleted scenes from this episode…)
I don’t mind at all! We did indeed.
Sarah, you’re killing me!
“She has had no training, no instruction, no knowledge whatsoever, but much like a historical heroine giving a blowjob, she’s a natural.”
“I’m telling you, one good lavender suit just solves all your problems, right?”
I’m not wrong, am I? 😀