490. Sweet Dreams Romance Recap: California Girl by Janet Quin-Harkin

It’s time to recap Sweet Dreams #6, California Girl by Janet Quin-Harkin, also known as Rhys Bowen! Jennie is a swimmer with her eyes on the Olympics, and Mark is a grumpy loner on crutches who sketches Jennie one day in the cafeteria. We’ve got:

  • Overbearing sports parents
  • Snark about Texas drivers
  • Homesickness
  • Lots and lots of swimming
  • Learning to set boundaries
  • Dreamy grumpy artist hero!

Alas, CW/TW for ableist language and anti-fat bias in the book, which is very lightly skimmed over in the episode.

Music: purple-planet.com

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Sarah Wendell: Hey there! Hello. Thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. Wherever you are, I hope you are having a very mellow holiday if you are celebrating. This is episode number 490 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and today we are recapping Sweet Dreams #6! California Girl by Janet Quin-Harkin. We have overbearing sports parent, snark about Texas drivers, a grumpy artist hero – I think you’ll like this one. It’s a – as with all of the other Sweet Dreams, it’s a little weird, but it’s fun.

Thank you and hello and happiest holidays to our Patreon community. You guys make the show possible, help me make sure that every episode has a transcript, and that I buy these funky used books. So thank you.

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So let’s get started with California Girl by Janet Quin-Harkin. Now, I have been looking forward to this one because Janet Quin-Harkin is also Rhys Bowen, author of the, all of those mysteries, like the Evan Evans series, Her Royal Spyness, the Molly Murphy series; she’s got a bunch of historical fiction. So I am really excited about this! I think it’s so cool to read the really, really early works of an author who I like. I will link to all of these books, and I’ve got high hopes for this one.

There aren’t any names in my copy, and the spine is pristine, and the cover only has one crease. It was on sale for fifty cents at one time, ‘cause there’s a little sticker on the front. The cover image is one of the first in the series that isn’t in some kind of studio. The model, she’s in a pool wearing a red swimsuit with her goggles on her head, and her arm is up in the air as she hangs off the lane divider. The photo is by Ariel Skelley again, and I am going to try to get in contact with them, ‘cause I would love to know more about this, if they remember shooting all these covers.

Now, before I get to the cover copy, a TRIGGER and CONTENT WARNING: there is hellacious ableist language and ableism; there’s anti-fat bias, because, well, the early ‘80s; and there’s also an overbearing sport parent.

Let’s read the cover copy:

“Will she win her Olympic dream, only to lose her love?

“In California, swimming was important, and Jennie was determined to be an Olympic competitor. But at her family’s new home in Texas, football is all anyone cares about. Jennie is alone, an outsider, ‘that weird Californian girl.’

“Then she meets Mark. He was a football star until a serious injury left him on crutches. Nobody pays much attention to Mark since his accident – except Jennie. She’s seen his beautiful drawings and is falling in love with his artistic soul.

“Secretly, Jennie enters Mark’s drawings in a contest, and overnight Mark has his star status back. But he may be leaving Jennie behind. Jennie is so hurt and confused that she isn’t concentrating on her swimming.

“Did Mark ever really care for her? Is Jennie losing her love and her chance at her Olympic dream?”

So let me just tell you right now that the cover copy and the book do not match – [laughs] – okay? I wonder if there’s a name for the distance between the cover copy and the plot? Like, it’s just miles apart.

So let’s get started. Chapter one: We have an earth-shattering announcement: Jennie, our narrator, dislikes air-conditioning. She thinks this is because “I was brought up in California and was used to big windows and lots of fresh air.” Now, I know California is a very large place, but I also recall it being sometimes so hot that it’ll kill you? And I was pretty sure that air-conditioning was pretty common out there, but hey, maybe I’m wrong.

Either way, everyone in the cafeteria is talking, the AC is loud, and she does not like it. She does, however, love to eat. But her food isn’t appetizing because she has been sitting alone every lunchtime since she moved to Texas. At one point she had asked to sit outside, but it was 95 and her teacher was like, what is wrong with you? Jennie is really homesick for California. She’s also exhausted, because by lunchtime she’d already been up and working for almost eight hours because of swim practice. Then, after school, more swim.

Now, I really like this quote: “If I were an adult and belonged to a union and people wanted me to work that many hours, we’d all go on strike! Unfortunately, I couldn’t go on strike.” All right, a little pro-union sentiment is nice! It’s like when teenagers say, I thought this was a free country! That’s the new version: if I were in a union!

The details of the swim workouts are a lot: swimming thousands and thousands of meters to build stamina. Jennie had learned to sort of semi-doze through the whole thing in the morning, but then her evening workouts were tough: weights and then two hours working on timed intervals. She’s a butterflyer, the toughest and most demanding swim stroke. That is not a lie; that’s, that is really hard. I cannot do it. She’d been introduced to her coach, Tod – with one D – at age nine, after her mom, a champion swimmer, had enrolled her in a stroke clinic. That’s swim stroke, not brain stroke. She was a natural at the butterfly, which wasn’t surprising since her mom had almost made the Olympics.

So Jennie’s life is Tod and her mom and swimming and then more swimming. And in California she had friends. In Texas, “I had too much time to myself. I began to wonder if I was a person  at all or just a machine programmed to swim fast.”

Uh-oh! Some cheerleaders have entered the cafeteria, and Jennie is envious of how they look. And it is time for some fashion! Little girl-on-girl crime in this fashion, but I like this: tight jeans with the right labels on the back, satiny blouses or tight T-shirts with low necklines, curvy figures, etc. Now, the cheerleaders are literally called the Golden Girls, which has a different meaning to me now? [Laughs] Like, literally, that’s the squad name, the Golden Girls.

And then Jennie overhears them talking about her, making fun of how tall and thin she is; ugh. Then Jennie feels somebody staring at her. She’s so self-conscious already that this feeling just makes her feel worse. She eats her “cheese and lettuce sandwich, her ham and tomato sandwich, and her apple.” Those are some sandwiches.

And when she gets up to leave, she has to walk by this guy’s table who’s staring at her, so of course she trips and knocks all of his stuff on the floor, where she discovers this guy who’s been staring at her has been sketching her. “’You were an interesting subject to draw. I hope you don’t mind.’” It’s a beautiful pencil sketch, and it looks just like her! She tells him it’s really good, and he says, “’I have to be able to do one thing very well, since lately I’m so useless at everything else.’” And then Jennie notices that she had tripped over his crutches.

Chapter two: Jennie cannot stop thinking about mystery sketch guy! She’d heard another student hold the door open for him. [Laughs] The other student says, “’There you go, Mark, old pal!’” Old pal! [Laughs more] Old pal! I’m going to say that to my kids today: “Here you go, old pal.” [Still laughing]

Jennie doesn’t know anyone at school well enough to really ask them about him. Then school is over. She has milk and a peanut butter sandwich, and then it’s time for carpool to swim practice. Her carpool in California was great; all her teammates were there. In Texas it’s just a junior high girl named Lori Peterson and two younger beginner swimmers. Mrs. Peterson is driving that week, and Jennie is really bummed about it because Mrs. Peterson smokes in the car and Jennie hates it.

Lori doesn’t like swimming, and on the days when her mom doesn’t stay to watch practice, Lori will go and wet her hair and then doesn’t even bother to swim. She just goes out to the drugstore next door to meet boys.

Jennie has figured out who to ask about the mystery sketch dude: her next-door neighbor Marilyn Porter, who is apparently the world’s number one gossip. Unfortunately, Jennie’s mom disapproves of Marilyn? Whoo, listen to this quote:

“Although she lived next door to me, we hadn’t got to know each other well for two reasons. One, she was everything my mother disapproved of in a teenager. She wore too much makeup and low-cut blouses and too-tight jeans. She drove her own car too fast, and she was always arguing with her mother.”

[Gasps] The horror.

Jennie is also not very kind in her descriptions of Marilyn, which is a bummer, and it turns out Marilyn is on the same swim team that Jennie is on, but she likes seeing all the boys in their swimsuits. Marilyn is not super into the swimming part and is often late and gives excuses, and that, plus the part where Marilyn drives too fast, means that Jennie isn’t allowed to drive to swim practice with Marilyn.

It turns out that Coach Tod took the job in Texas and has been miserable. In California he had a great team of competitive swimmers. In Texas he’s building from scratch and he’s very frustrated about it, so he has put a lot of energy into coaching Jennie. Jennie isn’t liking it there much either. In California she’d had a friendly rivalry with her teammates to push herself, and she had people to tease and joke around with who understood what it was that she was doing. In Texas she’s really alone.

Today Tod is in a bad mood. He’s also an asshole and says some really rude crap about disability and crutches to “motivate her,” and Jennie thinks of mystery sketch dude and is angry on his behalf, but it makes her swim faster, so Tod’s happy.

After practice she gets the scoop from Marilyn: his name is Mark Waverly. He played football until another team playing really dirty went after him on the field. Get this: in the book it says he was in the hospital until spring. Given that football is in the fall, that is ghastly. “He did something to his back and smashed his kneecap.” Marilyn says that he used to be really friendly, and now he shuts himself off from everyone. “’You try talking to him,’ she says. ‘You’ll see.’”

Chapter three: Jennie’s dad won’t let her drive because he thinks that Texas drivers are terrible.

And this kind of makes me wonder: like, does everyone have an opinion about other places’ driving, and is there a consensus on which one is the worst?

Anyway, Jennie’s dad’s home early, which is rare, and her parents are arguing when she comes in the house, and they’re arguing about her! Jennie’s dad doesn’t like his job, he is stressed out all the time, and he thinks Jennie is miserable too. Jennie says that he is the kind-hearted one – hoo boy.

“’It’s not a question of being happy. We had to let her go on training with Tod.’” Jennie’s mom says that Jennie’s goal of swimming means more to her than anything in the world, and her dad says, “’Does it matter to her or to you?’

“’She’s dedicated her life to swimming!’

“’No, you have dedicated her life to it.’”

This sounds like a matter for some counseling, but oh dear. It turns out that Jennie’s mom, Moira, had been in a car accident with her dad, and that had prevented her from competing in the Olympic trials when she was younger, and her dad says, “’If I hadn’t been the one driving, I’d have put my foot down long ago. You’ve managed to make me feel guilty.’” Oh boy.

So Jennie leaves. She was hearing things that she’d never heard spoken out loud before. “I think it comes as a shock to kids of my age to find out that their parents feel guilt and anger and frustration just like they do.”

Chapter four: Jennie is seeing Mark Waverly everywhere now that she’s noticed him. She says hi, and he says hi back, but “the way he said it made me wonder if he’d already forgotten who I was.”

Jennie also can’t stop thinking about her parents’ quarrel. “They made it seem like it had been good luck that my dad had landed this new job in time to follow Tod.” But she knew the truth now: she knew neither of them liked Texas, and she knew her swimming times weren’t ideal for qualifying for nationals either. Jennie is feeling awful, and she’s feeling responsible for everyone’s unhappiness, which is a very unfair burden to put on a teenager. Jennie decides if she doesn’t do well at spring nationals she’s just going to quit swimming, and a nasty voice in her head points out that she’ll be a nobody with no ambitions if she quits.

To shut it up, she imagines talking to Mark, admiring his drawings, then “being the one to bring him out of his depression.” This is just a bad idea.

So then Jennie gets really, really brave – go, Jennie! – and sits next to him at lunch.

“’Oh, hi!’ I said, trying to sound casual, but probably sounding phony. ‘You weren’t saving these seats for anyone, were you?’

“He didn’t smile, and he looked at me with those deep, dark eyes. ‘People don’t exactly flock to sit next to me anymore,’ he said, ‘but then, they don’t seem to be hanging around you either, do they?’

“’I’m new here,’ I said. ‘I don’t know anybody.’

“’You should do what the counselors tell you, join some clubs. Why don’t you join some clubs?’ he asked. ‘They say it’s a good way to meet people. There’s all sorts of things going on after school.’

“’I don’t have any time,’ I said. ‘I have swim practice every night after school.’”

Mark asks her why she’s not on the high school team, and she doesn’t know how to say to him that her coach thinks that team wouldn’t be good enough for her, and she’d be wasting her time and energy in meets that don’t amount to anything. And then Mark notices her absolute pile of sandwich and just looks at her and says, how come you eat so much? Oh my God! She says she swims five hours a day and burns a lot of calories, and that’s when he figures out that she must be pretty serious about swimming. Then he puts himself down, saying you can “’waste your whole life training, and it’s all for nothing. You ever think of that?’” Okay, dude.

So he finally introduces himself and then says that once Jennie’s made friends she’ll forget he exists, because people don’t like to hang around with him, and he describes himself in a way that is deeply ableist, and I’m not using those words. She tries to change the subject and asks about his drawings, but he’s really cold and says he doesn’t show his pictures to people; they’re private. She’s so embarrassed at his rudeness, but asks, as she gathers up the rest of her lunch to get the heck away from him, why he drew her in the first place. “’Because you looked so damn depressed. You looked just like I feel.’” She leaves.

Girl, I got some red flags in this encounter, I must say.

Chapter five: Poor Jennie. Marilyn has come over to borrow her algebra book, and Jennie’s mother is extremely frosty to Marilyn, and Marilyn doesn’t even notice, bless her heart. But then Marilyn – ew! – uses Jennie’s hairbrush; tries to get Jennie to give her the answers to the algebra homework, which Jennie says no; asks who Jennie is going to Homecoming with – no one – tells Jennie what a BFD Homecoming is, with hundred-dollar corsages – whoo! – and then says, if you don’t go to Homecoming, you’re a big, fat zero.

Jennie goes to school, and everyone’s talking about Homecoming. Marilyn was not lying, it is a big ol’ deal, and Jennie realizes that she’s the only junior not going. But she also doesn’t think she would have been allowed because there’s a north-south all-star swim meet, and Coach Tod has told her that all of south Texas was relying on her to beat north single-handed. That was quite a sentence.

And Jennie’s also avoiding Mark, but there he is, at her locker! And because she’d shoved most of her stuff in it the afternoon before, she opens the door and everything flies out everywhere. Mark says he’s not too good at bending over, but if she passes things to him, he’ll put them back in the locker. He apologizes for being rude and gives her the sketch that he drew of her! “’I don’t like people feeling sorry for me and telling me to snap out of it, but then I realized you weren’t being nice because you felt sorry for me. You just needed someone to talk to.’”

None of the other football players know that, that he draws, either. Then a former teammate, Carl, who calls Mark old buddy, asks if he’s going to the Homecoming game, and Mark says he’s not, but Carl is horrified! “’We’ve been together since junior high! It wouldn’t be the same without you!’” He agrees, but he will only go to the game and not the dance.

Carl leaves, and Mark asks Jennie if she’s going, and she says no and that she doesn’t like football or know all that much about it. Then the head cheerleader, Luanne Chapman, drifts over “looking like something out of a shampoo commercial” – [laughs] – and invites Mark to carpool with them to the game. Mark looks at her and says no, actually, he’s taking Jennie. Then, when Luanne drifts away, Mark apologizes, saying he actually should have asked her, but he really would like to take her. He can’t drive, though, because of his injuries. Jennie thinks maybe she can get her dad to let her drive his car, but she’s not too optimistic about that. She is excited about going to the game with him though.

Chapter six: Jennie asks Marilyn for info on Luanne and Mark, and this is ghastly: they were a very popular couple, but after his injuries, which occurred on the field at a football game, which yikes, she heard that he might not walk again, and then she dumped him for another teammate. Marilyn thinks that Mark learned to walk just to spite Luanne.

Then Jennie has to talk her parents into letting her go to Homecoming, which takes some doing. There’s a swim meet, you’ll be tired, but they finally relent. Her dad, however, does not agree to let her drive and says he will drive her and her friend – who is a he, which makes her parents raise their eyebrows at each other – and then when Jennie says he’s on crutches, they’re all for this date because “no harm could come to me with a guy on crutches.” Can, can you hear my eye roll at this one? I, I, I hope it’s audible. Mark, Jennie was told, lives on a farm. Mark’s dad breeds racehorses, so when they drive up the lane it is a fa-ha-arm.

They go to the game. Their team wins. Jennie enjoys it. And when it’s over, they have time to peek in on the dance, and she sees people getting out of their cars to go into the dance, and the corsages are indeed opulent, and the gowns are over-the-top. One girl is in a long, flowing apricot gown, looking like a Grecian goddess, but the corsages – all right, I’ve got to read the – oh, okay. Here we go:

“On her shoulder was a huge spray of chrysanthemums. The ribbons had ‘Tina and Frank’ embroidered on them in glitter. It was horrible and showy, and it must have cost a fortune. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a tinge of envy that I was not that girl going to the dance in that beautiful dress with the proof of a boy’s devotion flying from my shoulder for all the world to see.”

Okay – [laughs] – can you imagine a hundred-dollar spray of chrysanthemums as a corsage with ribbons that are embroidered in glitter that she can read from several feet away, so these are probably really big ribbons, given my, you know, real quick crime scene analysis here. Can you imagine how big this corsage is? You know those, like, those horseshoes of horses that they drape around a horse’s neck when it wins a race? Is that what it looks like? Oh my gosh! Her back must be killing her! [Still laughing] Hundred-dollar spray of chrysanthemums, wow. Okay! Anyway, sorry!

Mark realizes that Jennie, who is wearing some corduroy pants – yeah! – and a parka, doesn’t have a corsage, so he scurries off on his crutches and cuts some big red flowers off of a potted plant outside the school and threads the stem through her buttonhole. Aw! He decides he wants to come watch her swim, and she says it’s, okay, it’s really boring, but okay, and they watch the dance together for a minute from the side of the room.

“’I think you were very brave to come.’

“’I had one bad moment, just when they played the national anthem at the beginning. I nearly walked out then. I kept saying to myself, that won’t ever be you again out there.’

“’How do you know you won’t ever play football again?’ I asked, suddenly feeling brave. ‘They said you might now walk again, and you’re walking pretty well. I’m sure if you exercise your bad leg it will be as good as new.’

“’What do you know about it?’ Mark asked, so fiercely I almost fell off my chair. ‘This leg is useless, I tell you. I can’t even feel it. It will never be any use again.’

“’I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘It was none of my business.’

“’No, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I have a bad temper. That was my Irish grandmother’s fault. I explode before I can stop myself. I guess that’s what made me a good football player.’”

Okay, bro. So again, we have another lineup of red flags here.

Chapter seven: Mark has said that he can’t feel his leg, and Jennie thinks he’s scared to not have his crutches. Whoo, boy. Mark does in fact come watch her swim on a week when Jennie’s mom is driving everyone, and Lori flirts with him in the car and says boys think she’s very mature for her age. Gah!

Coach Tod thinks Mark is there as a future swimmer, and when Mark tells him he damaged the nerves in his leg, Tod tells him swimming is great for muscle development, as is weight training, which Jennie has to do, and Jennie tells him to come to her torture session as a joke to try to head off Mark’s temper, which no. Therapy of all kinds is needed here, both emotional and physical.

After practice, Tod is very pleased because Jennie worked her ass off to impress Mark and says he should come to every practice. Mark looks at her strangely and says, “’I had no idea. To see you at school, you don’t even look like an athlete, but to see you move through the water, you’re good!’” And Tod says, “’Yeah, she’s not bad when she works.’” To which I say, fuck off, Tod.

Chapter eight: It is not a good day. The pool at the aquatic center is outdoors, but it gets very cold, and the pool heater is not working that morning. Coach Tod makes her work out anyway, and she gets so cold she throws up. I am hereby not a fan of Coach Tod. Jennie has tests all day at school; she doesn’t do well on any of them. Mark isn’t there at lunch, and then after school her practice is inside, which is a heated pool meant for teaching kids to swim, so it’s like 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit, plus it’s hot and muggy, and again, Jennie is struggling.

Then two feet and two crutches appear by the pool ladder, just as she’s about to get out of the pool Mark’s sister had gymnastics, so he peeked in on her practice, and he offers to help her out of the pool, but then he slips and falls in, and he swims! He can move his leg in the water! He challenges her to swim to the ladder and beats her, even though she is in her swimsuit and exhausted, and he is fully clothed, and this gives him quite a lift.

Chapter nine: Jennie has caught a cold, and I have to tell you, her talking about having a cold made me very nervous for her, even though this is obviously in 1981 and way, way pre-pandemic. Jennie is told not to come to practice, so she asks Mark about getting together because she would like to see his drawings, and Mark says, “’I don’t know about these fresh California girls. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that it was the man who was supposed to invite the lady to his room to see his etchings?’” [Laughs]

Also, please don’t go to people’s houses when you have a cold. Even before the pandemic, that was really rude.

Jennie sees his drawings, and they’re really good! So she takes some of them. He hasn’t even shown the art teachers at school because he’s embarrassed and he thinks that they’ll just pity him. His younger sister Josie is really rude to Jennie and says loudly when she’s leaving, “’How come you like her? She’s not nearly as pretty as Luanne.’”

Chapter ten: Uh-oh, the north-south meet has arrived, and Jennie is still sick! Mark goes with them to Houston for the meet. That’ll be an awkward car ride. She’s the top seed in five events, including one relay, and there’s a really strong swimmer who she’d met before, back in California, named Caroline Yee. Jennie wins the first four events, but she’s exhausted, and did I mention that she is sick? She loses the individual medley by two-tenths of a second, and her mom is mad at her! Won’t even talk to her on the way home from Houston!

Chapter eleven: Mark is like, you have a cold and you lost one race. Her mom is acting like she’s just destroyed the family, and her dad teases her later, saying, oh, don’t take it to heart, and Jennie’s mom flips out, saying, she must take it to heart because she knows what it feels like to be humiliated, and she has to work harder! Jennie just gets up and leaves the table.

Later, Mark calls her. He asks if her mom is still mad. “’She feels like she was humiliated because I lost in Texas.’” Mark gives her some advice to stand up for herself. “’You shouldn’t be made to feel that way because you lost one race.’” I mean, he’s totally right.

When Jennie goes to practice, Coach Tod starts berating her. Apparently her mom called him and thinks that Mark is a bad influence and that they shouldn’t see each other anymore, so Coach Tod is the appropriate person to deliver this information? And either way, Jennie absolutely loses it. She tells him that no one can make her swim if she doesn’t want to, and if they don’t back off she will quit, and he gets real pale. Yeah, I bet you got real pale, you trash human. “He looked really scared, like he was about to lose his one Olympic prospect.” Well, yes, he was in fact about to lose his one Olympic prospect. You have identified the situation!

Jennie feels bad, but she also likes feeling for the first time like “she had some power over him.” Mmm, tasty, tasty agency! Coach Tod has a word with her mom, because she’s extra understanding when they get home. Jennie is thankful for Mark because she wouldn’t have dared if he hadn’t encouraged her. “The world sure feels different when you have someone standing beside you.”

So I think this book is mostly about Jennie’s loneliness and learning to surround herself with people who will encourage her to be really good at what she’s good at.

Chapter twelve: Jennie’s confidence has taken a beating with her loss, and y’all, it was one race and she was sick; what is with these people? She’s worried she’s a has-been swimmer at sixteen years old! Christmas comes; they aren’t going to be in California with family, and she’s even more bummed about that.

Then – okay, so this is weird: you know how the back cover copy talked about how she secretly enters Mark’s drawings in a contest, and it sounds like that’s going to be a source of some tension, right? Like you went behind my back; you stole my drawings out of my room. You took my etchings; what’s up with that? So it’s three pages. Do, do you, did you think Jennie might agonize over having stolen his drawings or talk about entering them? No! They just, the book skips over all of that part, and the announcements at school that day include a big congratulations for Mark because he’s won the Texas High School Art Award because Jennie entered him. And he’s understandably annoyed about it, and he thinks everyone will treat him like a freak. The other students are actually really chill, and they congratulate him. He’s asked to design stuff for the yearbook, and then he’s called to the principal’s office because they want him to design a mural for the school. Welcome to free labor, Mark. It sucks.

So Jennie asks if he’s mad at her, and he says, how could I be? I mean, I could think of some reasons, but okay! They’re your etchings, dude. He tells her that if she’s going to try to run his life, just keep him informed.

Chapter thirteen: Mark gets super busy with the mural, and Jennie hardly sees him, and she’s really bummed, so when Luanne corners her while she’s looking at the finished mural and says all these really mean things about how Jennie fixed Mark up now and he’s not interested in her anymore, Jennie says to Luanne she was never interested in Mark and she just felt sorry for him, and of course Mark overhears this. She chases him out into the rain and apologizes and says she didn’t mean it and was mad because Luanne implied that Mark didn’t like Jennie anymore. And when he’s spluttering about how Jennie just wants to fix him and encourage him to get physical therapy, a massive boom of thunder scares the absolute poodle out of her and she leaps into his arms. He drops his crutches in time to hold her, and she says “she loves him so much.”

We skipped over that part too, apparently, the, the part where, you, you know, you have the developments of feelings? They’ve just arrived like the thunder, ka-boom. We’re just going to skip right over the emotional development.

And of course he loves her too. When did this happen? I couldn’t tell you. They’re soaking wet, kissing in the rain, and it’s Jennie’s first kiss.

Chapter fourteen: Jennie says she doesn’t want an artificial tree but wants a real one like they used to have, and Jennie’s mom is awful about it because they’re so expensive and starts giving her this nasty guilt trip about how much Jennie’s swimming costs the family. I don’t like her mother either.

Jennie thinks really, really unkind things about other people in the mall. So if there’s ever a question about whether or not you want to read one of these books for yourself, I would not advise this one because of the ableism and the deep anti-fat bias.

Mark fixes her tree problem because they have a ton of cedars on their massive property, and they can just cut one down and bring it to her house for her! Aw! Jennie agonizes over what to get Mark for Christmas and decides to get an engraved bracelet with their names on it. Then, big surprise, Mark drives himself to her house for Christmas lunch! And he’s walking without his crutches! He’s been working out in the high school pool and building the strength in his legs! She gives him her bracelet, and he has gotten her the very same thing. Aw!

Chapter fifteen: Jennie gets a few days off of swimming practice! And then Coach Tod unloads all his grown-up problems on her in a way that I find inappropriate, given that she is sixteen, you tool. Tod says she hasn’t improved her times, and she tells him she is training in a vacuum: there’s no one to challenge her and it’s awful. Tod agrees and says he’s been thinking about it, and he thinks she should move back and live with some family in California while she trains with her old team.

“I stared at him like a zombie. ‘You want me to go back to California? Now?’

“’If you want to win nationals.’

“’But my parents have just gone through all this trouble to move here! I’ve had to adjust to a new high school. You want us to go through all that again?’ I was squeaking now like a frustrated mouse.

“’Jennie, I don’t know what to say. Everything you’ve said about there being no challenge for you on this team is true. It’s very hard for you to improve in a vacuum like this. Please, go home, tell your parents what I’ve said, and think about it carefully.’”

Tell your parents what I’ve said? Screw you, dude. She is sixteen; this is your job. You’re the adult here!

Jennie tells Mark about this conversation, but not her parents, and Mark is like, yeah, you probably should move to pursue your training. But she doesn’t want to move away from him! She loves him!

She invites him down to the pool to train with her. He joins her for weight training, and then after she’s done her workout he challenges her to a race. They tie but Tod sees them both in the pool and says, “’How ‘bout you join the team? Your form is terrible, but you’ve got a lot of strength.’”

So Mark joins the team that she’s on, and it makes a difference. Swimming with people who train alongside her made swimming feel a lot more fun, and her times improve. Just like she said earlier, the world sure feels different when you have someone standing beside you.

Mark also progresses quickly, because we don’t have a lot of chapters left, and her presence challenges and inspires him, and vice versa. His butterfly stroke is terrible, and he is baffled how she can do it so easily.

Then it snows! Mark is like, go get your skis; we’re going skiing. In south Texas. And it seems that they moved their ski gear from California, so she has skis and ski boots, and Mark arrives “looking like a ski pro in a blue and white hat with a white pom-pom on it, a big blue parka, and red ski boots.” [Laughs] I hope he was wearing one of those like onesie suits; those are the best. So they go skiing in south Texas at a golf course because there’s one slope and they can ski down the one slope. It’s really cute!

She gets home, and again her parents are having a conversation that they don’t want to tell her about until after nationals, but she overhears, and this time she’s like, you’re both terrible at having quiet conversations. Now, what’s going on? Her dad tells her that his old job has begged him to come back to California, and she’s devastated because Mark is in Texas.

Okay, strap in, y’all.

Chapter seventeen: Tod gives her a pep talk that nationals are just a test! There are other Olympic trial opportunities, and she’s like, what are you on about? You’ve been yelling at me for like months now. But then he tells her that Mark, since he’s a senior, could go get a swimming scholarship at UCLA, and she freaks out because then he’d be in California without her!

Luanne flirts with Mark in the hall. Jennie gets all jealous and upset. Josie makes it worse – this is Mark’s sister – when she calls Mark’s house and Josie asks if it’s Luanne calling again. But then Mark and Jennie actually talk to each other. Thank goodness! Mark is like, this is silly. I like you enough. This whole chapter was silly, by the way.

Chapter eighteen: Jennie is packing for nationals. She’s learned that her dad’s company in California has offered to let him set up his own independent office in Houston so he can work for them but stay in Texas, which doesn’t solve any of the other things, like they don’t like Texas at all and are miserable, but oh well, this is great.

And Mark might be going to UCLA because Tod says so? And she hasn’t actually talked to Mark about this, so she’s just, you know, anxious and worried. So she talks to Mark. Tod did in fact suggest UCLA, but Mark isn’t interested because he’s decided to take the art scholarship that he won and go to UT Austin. When did this happen? I have no idea. Then she can join him there next year because they have a swim team! And she’s like, okay!

These people are weird, I’m telling you.

Chapter nineteen: She’s going to nationals! And she’s hungry, and the flight attendant gives her a ton of extra food, like a whole tray of cheese and rolls and fruit and more cake, and that would never happen today.

Jennie heads over to the aquatic center, and Rick, one of her former teammates, is there. The other coaches have a whole bunch of people. Tod has just her. Which is not great, because he has a lot to say.

She calls Mark. Mark isn’t home! Oh no! Is he out with someone else? Ma’am, we’ve been over this twice.

Then there’s a barbecue, and she goes to the barbecue, and she eats spare ribs, and then she calls Mark the next day, and Mark is not home! Oh noes! Again, we’ve done this before.

She’s all gloomy in the locker room, and then she learns, oh crap, her race is about to start, and Tod’s like, where the heck were you? And she’s like, I was agonizing in the locker room over my boyfriend doing things that he’s not actually doing; it’s all in my imagination. She gets on the starting block, and the California swimmers get lots of cheers, and when her name is called there’s polite applause, until a voice yells, yeah, Jennie, go get ‘em, girl! And there’s Mark in the stands wearing a Texan ten-gallon hat and cheering her on. He hadn’t answered the phone because he was flying out to California.

“’Ladies, this is the one-hundred-yard butterfly,’ said the starter. ‘Take your marks.’

“My whole body became tense, a bullet waiting to be shot from a gun barrel. Mark had come all this way to watch me swim, and I was not going to let him down. Even before the starter’s gun had died away, I exploded outward and hardly noticed the water as it came up to meet me. Watch out, America; here comes the new nationals champion.”

And that is the end of the book.

This was a weird one, y’all. I mean, I said that about the last one, but this one qualifies as a little weird, because I’m not sure what the tension or the conflict was, except for Jennie jumping to conclusions a lot, and I couldn’t tell you what she wanted to do, if she wanted to swim or if it was a habit, because there wasn’t a lot in the book about the actual swimming, whether she liked racing, whether she liked the sport. I wish there’d been a little bit more detail about what she thought of swimming, especially because when you’re doing all of those long, long swims, that’s a lot of time in your own head.

I’m honestly not sure what the book was about? It wasn’t about art contests, and it seemed that Mark had more to do in the story than Jennie, but everything happened outside of the narrative. I think if anything, the story is about Jennie learning that having someone with her to compete against and train with makes her a better athlete who enjoys her sport more.

I really wanted to find out what happened, and I raced through the last few chapters, and I got to the end and I was like, wait, that’s it? Did she win nationals? Does she go to college in Texas? Does she go to the Olympics? Wouldn’t going to the Olympics get in the way of college? If it was an Olympic year she might have to defer college? Like, doesn’t that happen sometimes? Either way, do I know? No, I have no idea. While it was really a challenge to put the book down at the end, I’m not really sure what happened, and I really have this wait, that’s the end? feeling.

What about you? Have you read this one? I would love to hear from you if you have read this book and if you remember how weird the ending was. Like, okay, well, we’ve reached the end of the book; that’s it! Well, thanks very much. Bye! I mean, whoo! I would love to hear from you if you have thoughts on this book. You can email me at [email protected].

As always, I end this episode with a terrible joke because that’s how we do things here. And I would just like to thank Wilbur for deciding that now is the time to jump on the desk and eat the food loudly. So are you ready for your holiday joke? Here we go.

What do you call Father Christmas in an orange suit?

Give up? What do you call Father Christmas in an orange suit?

Fanta Claus.

[Laughs] So silly! That is from Egonvector on Reddit. Fanta Claus! [Still laughing]

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading, and if you’re celebrating, have a wonderful, quiet, mellow holiday. We will see you back here next week with me, Amanda, Sneezy, Catherine, and some other folks who have some holiday wishes for you.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find lots of shows to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at Frolic.media/podcasts!
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