Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Boyfriend School
(This DIK review was written by a reader)

Sarah Bird
2003 reissue of 1989 release, Contemporary Romance
Ballantine, $13.95, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 034546009X

Grade: A
Sensuality: Subtle

While The Boyfriend School is not a romance novel per se, it shows up on several romance readersí Desert Isle lists because it is an affectionate and hilarious view of the genre. Iím not sure how readily available it is, but check out your local library and you might get lucky.

Gretchen Griner is a young, broke photographer working for the Austin Grackle. Trout, her editor and sometime boyfriend, cheats on her both personally and professionally. She reluctantly agrees to cover a Luvboree convention of romance novelists, figuring it will be a bunch of "frumpy housewives in polyester either writing or reading about raven-tressed sex goddesses." Much to her surprise she meets Juanita and Lizzie, two intelligent, vibrant authors who quickly set her straight about the appeal and integrity of the genre. Lizzie, a former academician, wonders:

"Is it coincidental that the most denigrated literary form on earth is one created and enjoyed nearly exclusively by women?"
By the end of the convention, Gretchen is hooked and determined that she can write a romance of her own. The characters in her novel quickly become much more interesting than her own love life, which is pretty bleak. Lizzie fixes her up with her brother, Gus, a loser quickly nicknamed The Wisp by Gretchen. Trout is still cheating on her and making fun of her new aspirations. Gretchen is indignant.
"Trout, canít you see beyond the stereotypes? These are real human beings populating the pink ghetto. They support each other like no other writers Iíve ever known. . . What right do we have to condescend to them because they dare to keep the dream alive that a woman can find a man who will love her?"
As Gretchen tries to write her romance novel, she finds that she is curiously unable to write any decent love scenes. Juanita and Lizzie tell her she needs to find a romantic man of her own, someone dark and a little dangerous. Gretchen scoffs at them, believing that the two-timing Trout pretty much represents the type of available male in Austin. Until one night, she encounters a hunk wearing a black leather jacket and riding a motorcycle, and suddenly she wants all of those romantic fantasies to come true. . . .

In addition to being a wonderful defense of the romance novel, The Boyfriend School is an entertaining romance in itself. Gretchen tracks down her mysterious biker and finds he is an illegal New Zealand immigrant named Rye St. John. While he is maddeningly elusive, he has a habit of speaking in phrases that could have come straight from a romance novel. Can they have a future together? Does true love really exist? Will their relationship finally inspire Gretchen to write a decent love scene?

Finding out is an hilarous and surprising romp. I guarantee that any romance fan lucky enough to find The Boyfriend School will not be disappointed. Aspiring authors will also appreciate Gretchenís rocky road to crafting the perfect romance novel, including a first draft that has the characters making love in the first chapter (rejected vehemently by experts Lizzie and Juanita) and a heroineís name that isnít acceptable to her editor ("Market research shows that readers indicate strong preferences for smart-mouthed tomboy heroines with names ending in -ie or -y.").

By the way, this novel was made into a perfectly horrible movie with the awkward title of Donít Tell Her Itís Me, starring Shelly Long and Steve Guttenberg. If you see it in your local video store or on late- night television, stay far away.

-- Susan Scribner

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