Oh my God, this book is awful. It’s so atrocious.
Do I really have to go into more detail than that? OK. But you will regret it. (Or if you are awful like me, you will enjoy the evisceration of a book.)
Megan, Vivian Schurfranz, 1986.
I thought I had read every Sunfire novel before, but this one must have escaped me or not been part of my library’s collection or something. I know for sure I would have read it if I had had access to it, because the girl on the cover is wearing an enormous white fur hood and I would have been There For That at age 13 or whatever.
The basic premise of this book is “1980s girl transported back in time to 1860s.” OK, that’s not the actual premise, but it may as well be, because everyone in this book would be exactly at home in 1986, the publication date, and no one acts anything like someone in 1867 should act. Not one person. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so awful. We will start with the name Megan, which was not at all common ANYWHERE in the 1850s, partially because it was a nickname for Margaret for the longest time and partially because it just wasn’t popular. You know when it WAS popular? THE 1980S. I had a quick browse through some data that covered about 90,000 women’s names in the 1850s, and you know what was on there in the top 700 names? Besides the obvious ones? Permelia, Sophronia, Jerusha, Melvina, and Hulda. You know what WASN’T? MEGAN.
Okay, the actual premise of this book, apart from being an excuse for me to complain, is that Megan is the daughter of a man who has been sent to Alaska immediately following the Alaska Purchase in order to be the government liaison for the United States there. So he is a bureaucrat, basically, but it specifically says on the back cover that Megan “gives up a life of luxury in Washington, D.C.,” which is great except no one in her family actually acts like it. In one of the worst cases of “sure, whatever, it’s fine” that I have EVER seen, Megan’s mom is A NURSE. A nurse who WORKS OUTSIDE THE HOME. Oh my god. Nurses in the 1860s who weren’t battlefield nurses were definitely lower-class and poor women who didn’t have any other way to feed their families, and there weren’t even any nursing colleges until the 1880s! Nursing was a low-class, low-status job, and the wife of a Washington DC bureaucrat WOULD NOT HAVE WORKED ANYWAY. She just wouldn’t have. There is no way around this. This is the epitome of one of those books that says way more about the time it was written in than in the time it’s set.
Okay. Fine. So we’re in Alaska, where Megan is totally excited and happy to uproot her entire life and move from a city to the ends of the inhabitable earth, as 15-year-olds in fiction and nowhere in real life totally are. Anyway, the writing in this book is totally atrocious as well. Here’s Megan’s mother: “There was a time when I thought we’d never arrive. By railroad to Chicago, then overland coach to Seattle, and finally these days on the steamer.” Do you….frequently recount the details of your journey to someone who has just been on it WITH YOU? I don’t. Anyway, the main problem here is that Megan’s father’s main job is going to be to regulate trade, in particular the fur trade, between the Americans and the Russians and the local Tlingit people.
Anyway, on Megan’s first day in Alaska and while she’s still on the boat, she meets Adam Logan, whose dad runs the local general store. (And also he refers to him as “my dad,” which is not particularly common for the 1860s, either, but whatever, we’re down the rabbit hole now.) They introduce each other using first names only, which is AGAIN something that would Not Be Appropriate for the daughter of an important official, but I FEEL LIKE I’VE MENTIONED THIS BEFORE. Megan is all swoony over Adam after he offers to give her a gift of some cloth, and she thinks “What was wrong with her? Was it because she’d never had a boyfriend before that…?” YOU WOULDN’T HAVE HAD A BOYFRIEND AT ALL BECAUSE THAT WAS NOT A CONCEPT FOR GENTLY-RAISED YOUNG WOMEN IN 1867, OH MY GOD.
One of the other 10 million things that bugs me about this book is that Megan’s family apparently employs no servants. Do you know who had servants in 1867? FUCKING EVERYBODY. If your average middle-class home could afford a maid-of-all-work and your average lower-class home could probably afford a young girl, or at the very least a woman to come in and help with the heavy laundry, you can bet 150% that a BUREAUCRAT from WASHINGTON would damn well have servants!
This book is a war crime.
Anyway, Megan goes to “school,” although she doesn’t actually learn anything other than reading a few novels here and there, and mostly she spends her time “helping to teach” the other students. One of whom is Ivan Zolotov, who is a student a couple of years older than Megan who spends the entire book speaking in terrible, terrible “bad English.” Also I will note that Russians use a patronymic system of identification, since Ivan’s father is named Peter, he would instead go by Ivan Pyotrovich Zolotov, and Ivan Pyotrovich commonly and Ivan only to his very good friends. Whatever, who even cares anymore.
Anyway, Ivan is a very cute blond guy who helps his parents work all the time, and Megan offers to help him learn English, although frankly he seems to have a pretty good grasp on it already since he’s able to talk to Megan fairly freely. The biggest problem in Megan’s life is the fact that there’s a subset of trappers who think that Megan’s father’s new rulings are going to harm their trade, and she gets harassed a couple of times walking down the street by Alex and Demetri, who are apparently the worst. But both of the guys she’s interested in are more interested in taking her on “dates” [WHY ARE CHAPERONES NOT A THING IN THIS WORLD] than you know, helping her with the grown-ass men who are giving her grief IN PUBLIC? Well, Megan is more concerned with this too, and she goes on walks and hikes and sledding and to dances and all kinds of stuff with her two “boyfriends.”
She also tries to befriend a girl named Tanaka, a Tlingit girl who is not interested in Megan’s company in any way. Mostly because Tanaka seems halfway sensible and Megan does not, I am on Tanaka’s side. Run! Run, Tanaka! Go be friends with normal people and ignore this dim bulb!
In case for a second you thought this book was well-written, here’s a snippet of dialogue from Adam: “Colorful, aren’t they, my sweet? Soon they’ll start their foot-stomping dances.” I CANNOT BELIEVE THAT. It’s not, like, grammatically incorrect, it’s just that this is how no humans have ever spoken, ever. Maybe aliens wearing skin suits trying to convince us they are humans. No, not even then, they would be more convincing.
Adam gives Megan a dog, Snowflake, but otherwise he seems to be kind of a jerk. He tells Megan all the time that she’s so beautiful and everything, but at the same time he just assumes she’s going to marry him. (Why? You are not as rich as you think you are, buddy.) Megan is torn between Adam and Ivan, who tells Megan all the time that he loves her and he doesn’t care if she loves him back, he’ll love her forever regardless. Also creepy, but in a different way. Is there an option for Megan that’s “neither of these guys?”
Tanaka’s father is killed when he floats too far out to sea on an iceberg fishing, and Megan goes over to Tanaka’s house because of course she does. Ah, there’s nothing like the tender embrace of friends in your time of need, or the awkward embrace of people you don’t even fucking like. That’s totally the same thing. Megan gives her a necklace, and then she’s all “Sweet! Maybe now we can be friends!” and I don’t even understand anything about this. Why is this plot arc a thing—because you had to shoehorn in some stuff about the native population? Tanaka is literally not important to the plot at all other than being Megan’s Friend, and she is apparently won over super easily by a silver trinket. What a terrible implication on the part of the author! Native friendship can be bought with cheap jewelry! GOOD GOING.
Ivan takes Megan on a sleigh ride (again: chaperones! Why!) and Snowflake comes along and falls through the ice under a bridge. They rescue him when Ivan holds Megan upside-down by the ankles over the bridge so she can grab Snowflake, and then he PULLS ALL OF THEM UP. What, is he Superman? Did I miss the part where he was endowed with super-strength? THIS BOOK IS THE WORST.
Since Adam’s father, Tom Logan, is the main storekeeper in the community, the Zolotovs went to him and bought some stuff on credit, saying they’d repay him when the next fish run came in. Well, Tom decides he wants this loan early, and asks for his money, to which they say they don’t have any and he says he’ll take their fish cannery instead. (This is the first sign that the Logan family are not, you might say, straight shooters.) The same night that happens, he is attacked in the street! Who could have done this! Surely it was Ivan and his father! There are no other possible suspects! None! No other suspects in a dangerous frontier town full of rough trappers and fishermen! NONE. IT WAS THEM FOR SURE.
(I’m only halfway through this monster. I’m going to skip over some nonsense here because you get the gist of it: Adam is ~*~dreamy~*~ but super pushy, Ivan is….kind of creepy with his undying love for a girl he just met and speaks in broken English, Megan’s parents let her do whatever whenever with whoever, okay.)
Also notable at one point is that Megan’s mom says her boss told her to go home and enjoy some time off, and she “relaxes” by baking bread and making apple butter. Real question: if her mom is so busy working all the time (this is still grating on me), then WHO is cooking their meals? And, might I add, doing the rest of the work required by an upper-middle-class household in 1867? Like, cleaning the house and doing their laundry and mending their clothes and doing the shopping and the other 10,000 things that needed doing? MORE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS. Anyway, her mom is also totally nonchalant about “Oh, those boys that you’re seeing” because her mom is basically a 1986 mom sent back in time.
Anyway, things are not going well with Ivan’s parents, and Adam’s dad is threatening to have them sent back to Russia and he’ll seize their things to pay their debts. (Side note: At one point one character says “Would you like some baba?” and Megan says “Isn’t that Russian for baby?” and I feel compelled to point out that it is not. But it is a baby-word for grandmother!)
While Megan is wandering around trying to figure out who she likes better, Ivan or Adam, she realizes that Snowflake has run away! So she heads off into the woods alone, without telling anyone, because she doesn’t have a brain in her head, apparently. She finds Snowflake tied up near a cabin—which happens to belong to Alex and Demetri! They capture her and put her in the room and say that they won’t let her go back home unless her father agrees to change the restrictions he’s placing on hunters like them. This is described as “kidnapping” on the back cover, but I feel like it’s less kidnapping if the person comes all the way to your cabin in the woods and THEN you entrap them. Maybe imprisonment? Anyway, this entire interlude lasts about 10 pages because Megan waits until they’re asleep, then breaks a window and pushes Snowflake out and wiggles out herself. Then she wanders around in the snow for a full day, trying to reach home, although why she doesn’t return the way she came is a mystery to everyone. Ivan finds her and rescues her and brings her back home. This is all incredibly anticlimactic for what should be the exciting climax of the book! What!
But, Megan has the Secret Relief for Ivan, because when she was being kept in that room, she heard Demetri and Alex discussing how they beat the hell out of Adam’s dad! That’s so convenient! All criminals should go around detailing the crimes they commit in front of Very Interested third parties! But when Megan goes to tell Adam, he doesn’t believe her, and when she storms over to his dad, he doesn’t believe her either until she has some hard evidence, like, “I heard them saying they’re going to fix the poker game tonight.” Then Mr. Logan is all “By God, you might be right!” because whatever.
They did it, of course, and Ivan’s family is rescued from having to go back to Moscow, and all this helps Megan realize that Adam is kind of an asshole and Ivan is great, especially after, you know, saving her life and everything. So she dumps Adam, who takes the whole thing really great and weirdly talks about how there’s another new girl in town that he’s going to start hitting on, and goes over to Ivan to tell him that she loves him. That’s the end. I am not joking.
Rating: F. God, this book is a crime against the pleasure of reading. I swear. If this was the last book on a desert island, I would use it to start a fire rather than read it. There is not one redeeming thing about this book! The characterization is crap, the “attention to historical detail” is either handwaved or “oh, whatever, no one will care” straight-up ignored, and even the romance arc is…crappy! There’s no actual reason why Megan should be interested in either of these guys, besides the fact that they are male and about her age and exist in the same sphere as she does! Adam is a jerk! Ivan is kind of creepy! Her parents are nowhere to be seen! Everything about this book is infuriating!!!! DON’T READ IT. Well, read it if you feel like being inflamed with righteous anger and then hurling an innocent collection of paper pages across the room. This book is so bad that if I caught my cat chewing on it, instead of rushing her away I’d just say “Yeah, sounds about right.”