Waking Up, by Amanda Carpenter

>> Friday, October 09, 2009

TITLE: Waking Up
AUTHOR: Amanda Carpenter

PAGES: 189
PUBLISHER: Harlequin

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Category romance

REASON FOR READING: Someone mentioned it as an old category romance in which both hero and heroine were young, and where there was a surprise about the hero. The latter is pretty spoilerish, so don't read the body of the review if you don't want to know.

Robbie Fisher had always been a couple of years and a few changes behind her neighbor, Jason Morrow. Still, he'd lent an ear to all her dreams and troubles right up to the time he'd left for university.

Now he was back in Cincinnati, looking after his parents' home for the summer. But Robbie no longer felt comfortable confiding in him. He was the man with the golden future, while hers was still in question.

What could he be to her now? Stranger, big brother, friend or something disturbingly new? It was a dilemma Robbie could discuss with no one--Jason least of all!
Robbie and Jason have been neighbours forever, and they grew up being both playmates and good friends. In the past years, however, with Jason away at Uni, they've grown apart. Jason has been back in town for a while now, working at an accounting firm in town, but he hasn't really been in touch and things are still somewhat distant between them.

It all changes when Jason moves into his parents' house for the summer while they're away. He and Robbie are soon back to their bickering and teasing, only it's not so comfortable now as it was all those years earlier. Jason is looking at Robbie differently now, and so is she.

I very much wanted to like this. I normally prefer somewhat older heroines than 22-year-old Robbie, but that's mainly because in books such as this they tended to be paired with much older, cynical men. Jason is 24 himself, and he's no high-powered billionaire looking for a little woman to bring some innocence into his life. He's pretty normal, with a promising career in front of him, but only just starting out.

I suppose from the way I started the last paragraph, it's obvious I wasn't able to like it, much as I'd hoped to. Jason was all right, and I wasn't at all disappointed about how his character was developed. Robbie, however, was another matter. She might have been 22, but she read like a 12-year-old.

I think partly this might have been because the book was quite dated in several things. The sexual mores were clearly different in this Harlequin world, and this is quite clear in how Robbie reacts. Yes, of course she's a virgin, but that was just as expected and perfectly believable. The problem is her reaction to anything sexual. Jason is quite tentative and sweet in his advances, but Robbie keeps reacting as if he's proposing a threeway with a donkey. She's forever shocked and scared and practically runs away in disgust. I do understand that what's freaking her out is really that it's her friend Jason kissing her, but she comes across as incredibly immature.

And it's not just Jason kissing her she overreacts to. She overreacts to everything, all the freaking time. After they have sex for the first time, she freaks out completely at the idea she's having *shudder* an affair. She actually tells herself to calm down, it's only with Jason, she's not *shudder again* promiscuous. She just cannot deal with it, and ends up trying to break up with Jason in the final scene arguing she cannot have an affair, because she wants to get married some day. It's not said explicitly, but the implication is that if she has an affair, she'll be damaged goods and no man would want her.

There's other examples of very dated elements, but those just made me smile and shake my head. I think the most dated thing of all is that Robbie has been out of high school for four years and still living at home, doing mostly nothing, just working every now and then as a waitress at a restaurant. She's not particularly satisfied with how her life is going, but not in much of a hurry to do anything about it. And no one is worried about this. I guess that was what struck me as something that's really changed. These days, with someone with her background (solidly middle-class) the pressure would be really on for her to do something with her life, acquire at least some skills that will allow her to make a living. Her father wouldn't be so nonchalant about her still living at home these days, but in this book, Robbie's dad clearly assumes she'll get married soon enough and her husband will provide for her. Nothing to worry about.

In addition to the datedness, there are also quite a few cliched plot points (which I suppose makes the book feel even more dated). There's an older, sophisticated woman Robbie is jealous of, of course (although to be fair, this one's actually not portrayed as a man-hungry bitch, so I didn't get angry, I just rolled my eyes at how cliched it all was), and there's the annoying ending with Robbie misinterpreting Jason welcoming a friend into his house, and just taking off to the Virgin Islands (yet another dated thing: it was another world where a woman whose job is being a waitress a couple of nights a week could afford to take off on a luxury beach holiday at the drop of a hat).

To cap it all, the writing was pretty bad. It was quite clumsy, with point of view handled especially badly. As most old Harlequins, the narration is all supposedly from the POV of the heroine. And yet, every now and then, with no rhyme or reason, we get a sentence from an omniscient POV. It was especially bad with descriptions of the heroine. It didn't feel like it was done on purpose, for effect, it just felt weird and kept bringing me out of the story.

I mentioned earlier that the main reason I wanted to read this was a bit of a spoiler, and here goes. Well, Robbie was a virgin, but so was Jason, and I've got a thing for that particular plot. Unfortunately, Carpenter didn't take advantage of this. It's was just sort of "'I'm a virgin as well' - 'Oh, right' - And then they made love." Maybe if we'd had a bit of Jason's POV it would have been more interesting, but this was just blah.

MY GRADE: A C-. I think I probably would have loved it if I'd read it 15 years ago, but it hasn't stood the test of time well.


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