I have to confess that, as a teen, it kind of passed me by that Francine Pascal's My First Love and Other Disasters is a sequel to her earlier novel Hangin' Out With Cici.
I mean, sure, they're both by the same author. And yep, they're both set in the state of New York. And okaaay, they're both about a teenager named Victoria Martin who has a sister called Nina and a best friend called Steffi and... Honestly, I don't know what was wrong with me. But before you get all *cough* loser *cough* on me, in my defence I have to point out that Hangin' Out With Cici is a time travel story. And My First Love and Other Disasters... isn't. In fact, it's a regular realistic teen-interest story about Victoria Martin's summer spent working as a mother's helper on Fire Island, NY - and trying to catch the eye of her super-hot dream guy, Jimmy.
The other main difference between these two books? My mother bought me Hangin' Out With Cici. In her mind, time travel obviously equalled wholesome reading, especially when the result of said time travel was that Victoria Martin was able to find some common ground with her mother. And she was right: that book is a good'un. Whereas My First Love and Other Disasters was a library find that prompted the very same mother (mine, not Victoria's) to roll her eyes and complain about me reading 'rubbish' again.
And I hate to say it, but this is one occasion when my mother was categorically wrong. Okay, I love to say it, but my point holds nonetheless: My First Love and Other Disasters is a keeper. Rereading it this week, I was struck by the fact that despite being first published in 1979, this novel doesn't feel dated at all. There are a few references to 'Women's Lib' in the copy I have, which was printed in 1990, but that's the kind of seventies detail I like to see. Victoria is the kind of teenager that still exists today, and that readers will still relate to.
The 'love' part of the story is pretty standard fare. Basically, Victoria has long admired an older boy from her high school who just so happens to be dating a cheerleader and is way out of her league. She mainly likes him because he's totally good looking and charismatic and popular, but she's convinced that this is more than a crush. She loves him. And it just so happens that he'll be spending the summer on Fire Island, where - if she can just convince her parents she's mature enough - she'll also be working. Oh yeah, and there's also Jimmy's less good-looking and more ordinary best friend Barry, who has convinced himself that he's in love with Victoria. No prizes for guessing how this one turns out, but there's plenty of charm in the telling. Then there's the added pressure of Victoria's au pair job - her first real taste of responsibility, with some tough choices to make along the way. Yes, it's romantic fluff, but it's also a solid coming of age story.
In fact, Francine Pascal pretty much rocks it in this one, especially when it comes to the voice of main character Victoria Martin. She's exuberant and wry and honest and yep, a little disaster prone, and wholly believable as a fifteen year old girl in a hurry to grow up. She's the kind of girl who'd probably hate Jessica Wakefield for being such a biatch, and Elizabeth Wakefield for being such a self-righteous sap. In other words, I like her.
Verdict: Anyone who associates Francine Pascal with the production-line writing of the ghostwritten Sweet Valley series she 'created' should check this book out. It's witty and insightful and a lot of fun.