Book Review

Major Crush


Title: Major Crush
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publication Info: Simon Pulse, Simon & Schuster 2006
ISBN: 1-4169-1830-2
Genre: Young Adult

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.

Comments are Closed

  1. Thanks for sharing this.  I don’t get to see enough YA novels, and except for authors like Sharon Shinn, I seldom seek them out. 

    I re-read Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s YA Mara, Daughter of the Nile the other day and it reminded me all over again why this was the book that led to my love of romance novels.  Lord Sheftu…Mmmmmmm…

  2. jmc says:

    I used to be a closet YA reader, but I’ve become bolder about it since the Harry Potter and Traveling Pants books sold so well. 

    I think my favorite YA books (L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books) were also my very first romances.

  3. sleeky says:

    If you can find Rosemary Harris’ _the Moon in the Cloud_, _the Shadow on the Sun_ and _The Bright and Morning Star_, those are some choice historicals.

    Also, check out the movie “Drumline.” 🙂

  4. cassie says:

    I re-read Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s YA Mara, Daughter of the Nile the other day and it reminded me all over again why this was the book that led to my love of romance novels.  Lord Sheftu…Mmmmmmm…

    I liked that book a lot too.  That one and The King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel.  And anything by Robin McKinley… and the list goes on.  While I’m kind of a closet romance reader, I’m fairly unabashed about my love of YA books, which is maybe a little strange since most of the ones I like contain quite a bit of romance.

  5. sarah says:

    _The Hero and the Crown_ and _The Blue Sword_ by Robin McKinley are fabulous, and actually listed under YA. Both involve ass-kicking females and The Blue Sword even manages to throw in a yummy desert prince. Both are definitely worth a read, though I don’t think they’re technically romances.

  6. Indygodusk says:

    This review brought back so many memories. Thanks! I managed to unearth one of my favorite YA series from the shelf and had to sigh happily: _Into the Wind_ by Jean Ferris.  I highly reccomend it because it has Pirates (including Jean Lafitte), a brave yet vulnerable heroine, and a dastardly British Captain.  And cool pirates! 

    I also love McKinely.  I didn’t read a ton of SVH, but I always wanted Nancy Drew and Frank Hardy to get it on, or at least have some romance, because they had this great sexual tension but stupid Ned of the no-personality always stood in their way!

  7. Katie says:

    Being not far from the young adult age myself, my favorite series is a little more recent that than good ol’ SVH, but also “written” by Francine Pascal: Fearless.  Gaia Moore is an awesome high schooler born without the fear gene.  (Sounds terribly corny, but produces a girl who kicks ass like mad.) 

    And recently I checked out “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfield from the library and was blown away by the realistic voice of a high school girl unsure of herself and constantly struggling to find her place.

  8. The opinion of the Bitches means everything to me. WOW!

  9. OH MY GAWD, I’m so happy I’ve got tears in my eyes! Jennifer is my best friend, so I rock too!

    I hadn’t read a YA since the good ol’ SVHs in the early eighties, and then I met Jenn. She asked if I wanted to read her YA and I said something like, “Grrr. . . I. . . uh. . . You say there’s no sex?” After reading the book, this quickly changed to something more like, “How old would I have to be to make sweet, sweet love to the hero? Because this is Alabama, right?”

    I LOVED IT. And I’m so, so proud. The Hand Scene, Sarah. THE HAND! Mmm. Can you even imagine the teenage tingliness? Or the tractor? *sigh* She is so, so good at bringing back those feelings of complete confusion and excitement.

    All right. I’m done. For now. SQUEEE!

  10. karibelle says:

    OMG, Sarah!  I soooo remember that SVH.  It was the one where Elizabeth had a head injury and was acting more like Jessica than even Jessica, and Jessica was all “Oh, it sucks being the good twin,” and poor Todd.  It was Todd, wasn’t it?  Anyway, it was just so “Days of Our Lives” evil twin/mistaken identity.  It don’t get any better than that!

    I will have to check out this one as well.  I am starting a collection for my daughter in a few years so maybe I will add this one.

  11. Maya says:

    Readers who enjoy high-quality YA novels might like to take a look at Susan Juby’s ‘Alice’ series (‘Alice, I Think’, ‘Miss Smithers’, ‘Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last’). I stumbled across them in my local library and they have shot to my all-time top10 booklist. Screamingly funny.  Alice lives in a small remote town, and struggles to deal with all the usual teenaged angst-inducing things plus a brilliant younger brother, semi-socially dysfunctional hippy parents, her family’s chronic financial shortfall, and the negative social fallout from being home-schooled.  How she manages all of this while forming her own HIGHLY unique identity really did have me snorting pepsi through my nose, as the cover blurb by Meg Cabot promised (even though I’m well past YA age myself. Sigh).  Check it out.

    (Disclaimer: I didn’t write these books.  I have no financial stake in these books. I’m gushing only because I think they’re really, really good.)

  12. Sam says:

    Oh my – the Sweet Valley High books made me vomit, but I LOVED Anne of Green Gables – go figure. This book sounds like a lot of fun – thanks for the review!

  13. sherryfair says:

    Hmmmm. This review & the comments have set me musing about something ….

    Just a question here, which sort of ties in with the recent AAR At the Back Fence column.

    Are readers more inclined to pick up books that feature heroines who are their age or younger … but less likely to pick up a book in which the heroine is older than they are?

    Or let me put it this way: Would you be more inclined to read about a teen … or a post-menopausal woman?

    What’s the age of the oldest heroine who appears in a book reviewed by the Smart Bitches … as opposed to the youngest? I’d exclude any undead or supernatural beings who don’t wear out over time like real human beings. (That might include Joan Rivers or someone of her ilk, BTW.)

  14. Hmmm. I’d theorize that we can all relate to having been a teenager, but some of us haven’t lived with menopause yet?

    That said, I wouldn’t have thought I’d enjoy a YA, but I did. And in the few Debbie Macomber books I’ve read, I’ve always enjoyed the oldest woman’s romance the most.

  15. Jami says:

    (Waving at Victoria and Jennifer, who I was fortunate enough to meet this past weekend – hey ladies!)

    I was also enthralled by SVH – did anybody besides me obsess about being a “perfect size six?”  I couldn’t have the silky blonde hair or the turquoise green eyes without serious intervention, but hey, any girl can attempt to live on coffee and apples.

    I haven’t read much YA recently, but I will definitely check this one out – if only to then pass it onto my niece and impress her with the fact that I’ve met the author! 

    As to the question of older heroines,  at the risk of sounding horribly ageist – is it because many people read to escape, and we don’t want to escape to a place in life we’re not excited to get to?  Sure, high/middle school was horrible for most of us, but in reading YA we can go back and vicariously triumph over our tormentors.  And romance – well, who doesn’t want to envision themselves as a hyperorgasmic woman who has the power to attract and keep her mammoth-erection sporting consort? 

    But for now anyway I don’t fantasize about hot flashes and vaginal dryness.  I’m ju

  16. Oh, no! I think a post-menopausal woman snatched Jami away by her long, flowing hair before she could finish her thought! Jami! Are you okay?

    (And how did security know I was talking about hair? My security word is “Hair86”. I’m creeped out. Time to put on the old aluminum foil hat.)

  17. did anybody besides me obsess about being a “perfect size six?”

    This made me very sad, because none of those flashy, trendy kind of YA books would DARE mention a size six these days, you know? It’s size zero or bust. *retch* What have we come to?

  18. Jami says:

    Okay, I’m cracking up thinking of Victoria in her aluminum hat, protecting herself from the harmful rays.

    yeah – I was thinking of the size six too.  These days, when an actress is a size six she’s got a “womanly” or “realistic” figure.  In whose reality?

  19. dl says:

    Did you read my mind?  Wow, I’m not the only adult browising YA shelves. Recent years have been a real famine of quality YA titles.

    Our daughter person wasn’t allowed to read SVH…role model hell.  She was reading classics for AP English?!*!  Recently picked up “Oh My Goth” by Gena Showalter, and read it before passing to daughter.  It was fun, but wanted to slap heroine for the way she treated her father.  Also read Timothy Zahn YA titles before passing them on the the kids.

    Sherryfair…age of heroine?  Most any if well written, but…prefer between early 20’s and late 30’s.  Younger is immature and older is unrealistic & unsexy (look around at the grocery store…frumpy & dumpy).  Really, what are the chances of finding an over 40 cutie without major hangups, baggage, and love handles?

  20. Anne says:

    Would you consider some YA manga series? I liked Mars, Marmalade Boy and Kare Kano quite a bit.

    And I’m now trying desperately to remember the YA romances I read as a teenager. There was one called something like In Real Life It’s Just Kate. The author’s last name started with an M.

    I missed most of the romantic implications of Mara Daughter of the Nile because I read it in about third grade. I was there for the adventure more than the romance and was always rather surprised by that aspect of it. Hm… At about the same time, I read a book about Esther by Gladys Malvern called Behold Your Queen. That had some romance elements.

  21. Ziggy says:

    “Fifteen” by Beverly Cleary is a brilliant YA romance novel. It’s a little dated, but that’s part of the charm of it: it evokes so beautifully what it’s like to be 15 years old and in love, and at a certain point in time. I guess it’s more of a coming-of-age novel with strong romantic elements than a straight “romance”.

    “The Outlaws of Sherwood” is a fun YA novel by Robin McKinley about, surprisingly enough, Robin Hood. It’s great at the beginning, but in my opinion loses focus at the end because she gets caught up in the fates of secondary characters who didn’t interest me personally all that much. I fell in love with her Robin though, and her Marian is a firecracker. “Sunshine” is another fun McKinley YA with strong romantic and supernatural elements. Her world-building is particularly strong in this novel, and the lead character is both vulnerable and likably snarky, though I have to say it had the same problem as “Outlaws”, in that things went somewhat incoherent towards the end.

  22. cassie says:

    I loved the secondary characters of Outlaws, almost more than Robin and Marian, which I think is why I had trouble really getting into it the first few times I read it, and sometime in the fourth or fifth re-read, it clicked with me.  As for Sunshine, I never thought it was a YA book (a little like Deerskin, it has more adult themes) and I don’t mind the tangents or mysterious ending, but I wouldn’t mind a sequel to find out what happened or another book maybe centered on Mel.

    Another YA Robin Hood story I like a lot is The Forestwife by Teresa Tomlinson (it’s a trilogy, but I love the first book and am so-so on the other two).  It has a rather bittersweet ending, though.

    Recent years have been a real famine of quality YA titles.

    Really? I haven’t noticed that (at least not any more so compared to other genres), but then I spend a lot of time re-reading old favourites and going through backlists or out of print books of authors I’ve just discovered.

  23. Diana says:

    Oh, I have to respectfully disagree with DL about the dearth of quality YA. we’re experiencing a golden age of YA right now! Some of the best YA I’ve ever read (as a YA and now) is being published right before our eyes! Libba Bray, Scot Westerfeld, Holly Black, MT Anderson… almost every book I’ve read this year has been YA and I’ve been blown away so many times i don’t know how I’m ever going to make it back…

    I was lucky enough to get an ARC of MAJOR CRUSH and I ADORED it! I’m with Victoria about “The hand” scene. Man alive, what a story! Run and get it.

  24. Angela H says:

    I just finished “Major Crush” which I purchased based on SB Sarah’s review.  I loved it!  It was so sweet.  And it made me relive my own marching band days.  Well done, Jennifer.  I’ll look forward to your next book.

  25. Angela, didn’t you so wish you were back in high school and in that tractor with Drew? This is the point at which I wished there were YA erotica.

    What?  8-/  Okay, so there’s a reason Jenn monitors my posts to her blog very closely. Damn underage fans.

  26. Angela H says:

    Victoria, LOL!  My first boyfriend/first kiss was actually a trombone player in the band.  We got together on a LONG bus ride from PA to Toronto on a band trip.  Trombone players have really kissable lips.  Sigh.

  27. Mm. In college I discovered that drummers have really good rhythm. Same goes for drum majors I’d bet.  :coolhmm:

  28. Thank you so much, Diana and Angela!

    And Vicki…you are not helping. I guess this is what I get for having a critique partner who writes adult historicals. What will my editor think if she comes over here and sees you with your bodice unbuttoned? Drew is a Nice Boy.

  29. saranicole says:

    Oh wow… lots to comment on.  Well, I’ll preface these comments with a confession: I pretty much ONLY read YA Fiction.  (I think it’s because I’m only 22 but am mentally stuck as an 18-year-old.)

    I bought Major Crush without even really knowing what it was about.  I read the word “band major”, knew I would like it, so bought it.  And it was REALLY good.  I REALLY REALLY liked it.  The Hand Scene… oh man.  Fabulous.  I think I’m going to read this book again tonight after work…

    Then, just another plug for “Fifteen” by Beverly Cleary.  It was totally cute.  I also liked “Jean and Johnny”, “The Luckiest Girl”, and “Sister of the Bride”, all by Beverly Cleary.  They’re all super-clean.  Books you wouldn’t worry about your daughters reading.

    Can I just say that I TOTALLY agree that Nancy Drew and Frank Hardy should have hooked up?  OYE.  While I love Ned and was heartbroken when they broke up in the “College Years” or whatever they’re called, I STILL want Nancy and Frank together.  Frank makes Ned look like brain-dead jock boy.

    I was a size six in high school… What I wouldn’t give to be that still…

  30. Bridget says:

    NEED HELP PLEASE…I know this is not the forum for this topic if no one here can help please send me to one that can. NEED HELP BADLY. Recently took in my 18 year old godchild whom has lived in foster care for the past 6 years. She was orginally put there because all she wanted to was read romance novels refusing to do anything else parents gave up on here and gave up their rights. She has aged out of the foster system and now living with me. Since living here for the past 2 month all she does is read romance (not my cup of tea, don’t know anything about them) She doesn’t bathe, brush teeth, do the 1 chore a day she is assigned don’t want to go to work does nothing but read. she will get up at 4 am just to grab a book if she has to go to work that day (I refuss to let her stay home) It was nothing for her to go through 5 or 6 books a day I recently took her books and allowed her 1 book a day thinking that once she finished reading it she would get up and get a life the rest of the day. WRONG!!!!!!!!! she rereads the same book all day long. She has no disire to meet people or date. She says she is saving herself for marriage. On 2 occasions I found her watching porn on my computer. Tonight I got curious about her books and skimmed through one to see what it is she is reading that has her interest so badly. Got to about page 135 without nothing leaping out at me when I noticed she had some pages dogged eared I skipped ahead to those pages and it was all about people having sex. I then when through about 10 of her books (she has 75 and counting) all of her books are like this only sexual pages dogged eared guess I figured out why she reads so many in one day the same ones over and over. I take her books for 2 days for not doing a chore (cleaning microwave, clearing dining room table 5 minute chores) so she buys books while at work (works at walmart) she has bounced her check book twice doing this. On a average week she spends about $70 on romance novels. I took her in with the agreement that she gets a job keeps the job and put all her money in saving so she can get on her own one day in the near future. Can’t save money when your spending your whole pay check on romance novels. We charge her nothing for living here offered to teach her how to drive so she can have some indepents she doesn’t want to do anything but read read read. Do I need to go find this young lady some mental help. I am besides myself don’t know what to do who to talk to nothing. I just want her to be able to be able to live on her own at this point I am thinking that will never happen. The girl doesn’t even feed herself I have to tell her to get her butt up and fix herself lunch and she has the book under her arm the entire time she is doing that. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Don’t want her to live here forever and don’t want to kick her out into the streets she has no family other then me!!!!!!!!! I have enough on my plate with 3 small children don’t know how much more of this I can take. Thanks in advance for any help you can give!!!

  31. saranicole says:

    I love romance novels as much as the next romance-reading woman, but I am also happily married with 4 lovely pets, have a full-time job, am very involved at church, cook at least every other day, and do half the household chores (I love my husband!).

    I’d say your goddaughter has a sex addiction.  Get her some psychiatric help.  Especially considering she’s around your small children.  What if THEY caught her looking at pornography?

    Good luck!

  32. Suze says:

    Do I need to go find this young lady some mental help.

    Yes.  Has she never seen anybody before?  No diagnosis of autism or OCD or anything?  This isn’t self-centred, misbehaving kid behaviour, this is a medical issue.

  33. Bridget says:

    Ok back lol, Thanks last month for your help. Still working on getting her help have to go apply for a medical card as I nor she can afford the help she is going to need. Christmas week I reached a I can’t take it anymore point, and told her the books had to go, told her I don’t have a problem with reading I love a good book here and there also but I don’t let it run my life. Also told her that is she continues to want to read I support that but she would have to change the types of books she wants. Told her no more books with sex scenes in them. She and I agree that she would find some books that might interest her and that would meet my approval. She came home from work with a list of books tonight that she is interested in, being clueless about romance can you gals maybe give me a yes or no about them? Thanks in advance. I looked them up on amazon but looking at the covers I am already saying NO but then I don’t have a clue what is on the inside and I do want to try to be fair about this. Here is the list that she would like to read…
    The only romance type books I have every read was the vc andrews books. I know those would be save reading for her. Other then those I am at a lost. Please give me a list of those type authors. I would love for her to be able to fulfill her desire to read but I want something that is safe for her mentally.
    Fire & Ice/ Julie Garwood
    shadow music / Julie Garwood
    the texan /bobbi smith
    shadow dance / Julie Garwood
    wild thing / marjorie m liu
    dawn keepers/ jessica anderson
    find me debra /webb
    stay the night /lynn viehl
    the treasure /iris johansen
    chances / nora roberts
    an angel 4 emily/ jude deceraux
    Thanks again Hope all had a wonderful Christmas and new year

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