A Country Christmas
by Elizabeth Doyle, historical (2002)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7344-5


Firstly, I think I better tell you that the heroine, Charlotte Bass, is sixteen going on seventeen and the hero, Shaun Matheson, is nineteen. If you go "Eee!" at the thought of kids this young marrying and having kids when they are barely out of childhood themselves, you may want to stand a little bit further from this book.

But I'm sure you know - ahem - somebody who, as a teenage girl, underwent a phase where Mommy and Daddy just didn't understand and they were the Most Unfair and Evil People ever. This teenage girl would lament bitterly to her friend via the phone how everybody just wait, one day a pop star/rock star/Jamie the football captain will notice what a babe she is and marry her and then the world will understand how SPECIAL and TALENTED and AMAZING she is and they will beg her for forgiveness. And because she is SPECIAL and TALENTED and AMAZING and KIND, she'll forgive everybody.

Not that you and I were ever that silly, I'm sure. We certainly don't relate to Charlotte Bass, artist and misunderstood romantic, the anti-Daria, who sighs as she toils in drudgery, dreaming of a handsome stranger to sweep her from her 1831 Peachem life, Peachem being a simple American town. That stranger arrives in the form of dazzling Bostonian boy Shaun, her brother's Harvard buddy, who also happens to be very rich, very seductive, and very gallant. He takes her to the dance, pays her flattery, and for the first time, she feels as if her dreams are coming true.

Silly girl. Thank goodness I'm never like that, I... sigh. Hand me a Kleenex. I hate nostalgia. I hate that cute one from the Monkees for never coming down here and marry me into a life of castles and butterflies.

Like so many girlish fantasies, sex never actually factor into them, except maybe for some disquieting, indescribable rumblings in one's heart and um, there. And while I wanted so badly to say that I shriek in terror and scream, "Take that away!" when they start doing that petting thing (because happy kids shouldn't be doing this, et cetera), I actually found that scene when Shaun offers to show her his penis so that she knows how to draw one pretty... er, erotic, especially for a scene of non-coital sexual awakening.

But it can't last, of course, and like all first crushes, he always turn out wanting in some way or the other. In this case, he leaves for his home (and - oh dear - a betrothed) and never writes back to her eager, earnest letters of love and all, until the letter arrives one day with a curt bye-bye in it. And of course, I have to tell myself that this isn't about me, I will not search out my first boyfriend and call him names for treating me like that (stealing my stamps, how dare he!) and I will definitely not cry for poor Charlotte. Because I'm not Charlotte and this is not about me. What are you looking at? You haven't seen a woman cry before? Go away.

I love Charlotte. She's like all those repressed childhood dreams made life for me, bringing back all those daydreams, yearnings, and other embarrassing thingies of my past, and I love it when she grows up and learns that it's not her fault that he treats her like that - it's his fault.

But I must say that this book really stumbles in the second half when Charlotte and Shaun try to go at it again. In this instance, Charlotte becomes as selfish and cowardly as Shaun when she ropes in poor unsuspecting Giles, whose fault is that he is not as sophisticated or worldly cold as Shaun. Then again, at Charlotte's age, do boys like Giles ever stand a chance against the dazzling princes like Shaun?

I really agonize whether to give this book a keeper grade. By the time I finish the book, I actually find Shaun and Charlotte weak and selfish, and it is poor heartbroken Giles who has my full sympathy (and some leftover repressed girly crushes of mine for underdogs). If the author has made Charlotte ditch Shaun and love Giles, I would have given this book a direct two thumbs up and a high keeper grade. After all, it's all about me and my life, isn't it? But this book in the end makes selfish people out of daydreamers and romantics, and I can't help feeling sad for everybody in this book. But they'll learn. I should know. It's all about me, isn't it, this book?

Ms Doyle, if you somehow have my missing childhood journals in your possession, I really want them back, thanks.

Rating: 90


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