Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review: The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer (1995)

The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman was published in 1995, and not long after that, I borrowed it from the Wallkill Public Library. Within two years, I owned a copy, and within ten more years, I had to replace that copy because the binding was broken and the pages were falling out. I LOVE this book.

The premise of the story is that Kate, who is very tall and wears very thick glasses, is writing a romance novel based on a real-life romance that happened to her at Christmas. Referring to the standard structure for a romance novel, as well as The Romance Writers' Phrase Book, she relates the events leading up to her falling in love with Richard Bradshaw, her older brother's best friend from childhood, who has come home to Minnesota for the holidays. But despite the fact that this is a romance novel, with all the sugary sweetness and cheesiness associated with that genre, it's also a well-written book with a strong female protagonist and lots of wonderful cultural references that taught me about everything from linguistics to classical music to the poetry of Dylan Thomas.

Also involved in the story are Kate's parents, Nels and Becca Bjorkman, and her brother Bjorn, as well as Bjorn's wife, Trish, his friend Fleur, and Kate's selfish, backstabbing best friend, Ashley. There is also Midgely, Kate's former English teacher, who is dying of cancer. The cast of characters really serves to flesh out the novel and make it a really strong contemporary YA novel, with or without the romance angle.

These are just some of the ways in which this book has influenced and connected with my life:
  1. Because Kate's father is a linguistics professor and could detect Fleur's city of origin just by her accent, I made sure to take a linguistics class in college. I don't use it for anything now, but I loved the class and did well in it, and it was partly because I wanted to understand this book better.
  2. I had a pretty crappy best friend when I was 14 and 15, but I don't think I realized it until I saw the way Ashley treated Kate in this book. The school year after I read this book was the year I ditched said terrible friend - I don't think that was entirely a coincidence.
  3. Fleur's feminist critique of Hamlet in this book has come to my mind every single time I've been assigned to read the play. I was never smart enough to actually borrow her argument and use it for an assignment, but I think I understand the play better because I've read this book.
  4. I can quote Dylan Thomas. I don't have the need to do so very often, but I know it this book that first introduced me to "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." 
  5. Kate's family is Swedish. My fiance's family is also Swedish. This really has nothing to do with the book per se, but it makes me happy to continue finding connections even 15 years later.
  6. This book taught me a lot about writing. Midgely, Kate's teacher, gave me my favorite writing mantra, "Write it and see how it feels," and he also taught me that what happens in real life might not always work in fiction, without some changes.
  7. I bought and still have The Romance Writers Phrase Book. I deem anything associated with this book worth exploring.
Like I said, I LOVE this book. And though there is one reference to living in the 90's that might date it for some teen readers, it is still in print! I really recommend it to teen girls in high school who are skeptical of romance - and Christmas magic - but still want a little bit for themselves.

Louise Plummer blogs at The Chattering Crow.

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