This book, like all Sunfire books, is more or less bizarre, but one of the most bizarre things is that on the back cover, the Indian guy is wearing blue jeans. And on the front cover, he’s the whitest-looking Indian guy I’ve ever seen, he looks like Scott Baio, complete with a 1980s shag cut and a ponytail. Not sure if that’s better or worse than Jessica’s poufy ponytail.
Jessica, Mary Francis Shura, 1984.
Like all the books, Jessica has two men fighting over her love, but since one of them is an Indian guy you know automatically he’s not going to win. This book was published in 1984, you just know he isn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately, she hooks up with an asshole, but that seems to be the way of all these books, so hey, whatever.
Jessica lives in Kansas just after the Civil War, with her father, stepmother, and two younger brothers. She’s being courted sort of half-heartedly by a guy named Roy Blanding, who is really bland. (Never say these books lack subtlety.) She’s complaining about how her parents don’t treat her like an adult while she heads over to the new neighbours, Will Reynolds and his pregnant wife, to bring them a basket as they’ve just moved in. They’re from Chicago, and are extremely rude to Jessica, and Will tells her to fuck off because they don’t need her running around telling them what to do, and get the fuck out because he knows everything, blah blah blah. He has known her for ONE MINUTE. And claims that they don’t need charity. How rude.
Later that week Jessica is wandering through town reflecting on how Indians don’t kill more than they can eat, as you do when looking in shop windows, and I would like to introduce her to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and yes they did because they were just people, not saints. But this is the 80s, and the Magical Indian trope is in full effect, and this is foreshadowing because: never let it be said that these books are not SUPER SUPER SUBTLE. CAN YOU HEAR HOW SUBTLE THEY ARE?????
A couple of weeks later, Will’s wife goes into labour, and it remains unexplained why anyone would decide that they couldn’t postpone their journey to Kansas when their wife is like eight and a half months pregnant. Can you imagine? I would die. That’s fairly insensitive of me because his wife DOES die, and both Jessica and Melanie are like, stunned and horrified that this frail, exhausted woman didn’t survive childbirth. Like…if Melanie has been to a few births before, she would know that, so I’m not sure why she’s so shocked, but anyway they take the baby and give it to Jessica to look after because why not. (Also, grossly, they go on and on and on about what a hot summer it is and what a disgustingly hot day the funeral is on and yet what a beautiful corpse Will’s wife is. I…don’t think that dead bodies in the heat of a Kansas August make beautiful corpses before air-conditioning, just saying.)
So Will agrees, very grudgingly, to let Jessica take care of the baby until his sister can come from Chicago. But before that he has to clear out the dugout he’s living in and make it presentable, because clearly even if it’s good enough for your almost-ready-to-pop wife and soon-to-be infant, it’s not good enough for your sister. What a weird set of priorities. He takes her home every day on his horse and they exchange like six really formal words, because they hate each other. I’m sure you can see where this is going.
But we have a detour! One day while Jessica is looking after the baby, there’s a torrential rainstorm and it starts to flood the dugout. Like a complete idiot, Jessica stands there in the middle of the floor, holding the baby and singing to it, and doesn’t try to leave the dugout until it’s too late and the water, which is around her KNEES, won’t let her open the door. But a mysterious stranger breaks down the door to rescue her! His name is Wheeling Hawk, and he is a Cheyenne guy who just happened to be riding past in a horrible rainstorm. As you do. He works occasionally for a guy Jessica’s father knows, and they sit in his tent while the rain finishes chatting about this and that. He takes her home, and Jessica spends the next few days goggling about how perfect and handsome and strong and again, perfect he is, and how it’s too bad nothing can ever happen between them because he’s not white.
In the meantime, Boring Roy is still trying to get after Jessica, and then Floss, Will’s sister, shows up and turns out to be super awesome and fun and Jessica’s new BFF. So then Floss takes over looking after the baby and Will continues to be an ass to Jessica, who goes back to teaching school, because of course. But as she goes to and fro from place to place, Wheeling Hawk comes back around to escort her home on his pony, and they cuddle up in furs and chat and “connect,” although this is all dispensed with in like two pages so I guess we’re just supposed to make up the part where they have a deep emotional connection. Floss goes back to Chicago, and Will gets a different old woman to come and look after the baby, and all the while Boring Roy keeps telling people that Jessica is going to marry him.
I think Wheeling Hawk is the only halfway decent man in this novel, and that’s probably because he has zero personality other than being Strong and Silent. Every man who says stuff apparently sucks. He asks Jessica to marry him and go live with his people, which is….asking a lot from a woman who has literally never met another Indian. So maybe he does suck. Jessica’s father finds out and completely loses his shit and forbids her to ever see him again, and forbids her to even leave the house. Jessica throws herself around and complains, and then her old friend Agatha invites her to visit the house where she’s a servant. Because…that’s a thing, apparently? Jessica’s stepmother sends her because she’s sick of having a mopey teenager around the house, I’m guessing.
At the Rich People’s House (I can’t be bothered to find the actual name because my interest in this goes only so far, and frankly I hate everyone in this book anyway) there’s a visitor from England, a “young Mr. Geoffrey,” who Agatha is desperate to have fall in love with her. But because this is a Sunfire book, the handsome Mr. Geoffrey is very taken with Jessica, instead. So then Agatha is mad because Jessica “stole” him, and Jessica is like “I didn’t do anything! I just told him all about what it was like to farm in Kansas and how much he would truly, truly suck at it!” which is true, he would. Then Geoffrey proposes to her after a week-long visit, as members of the English gentry are wont to do in second-rate novels (that’s a lie—this isn’t even a second-rate novel, it’s like a sixth-rate novel. If that) and nowhere else.
So let’s recap the situation when Jessica goes home: her Indian boyfriend isn’t allowed to see her any more, she’s been pursued (and then consequently rejected) a hot English guy, she’s being inappropriately pursued by a boring guy she hates, and the irritating Will apparently hates her but refuses to leave her alone. FOUR suitors! Is this a record for a Sunfire novel? This gave me a very inaccurate view of what it would be like to be sixteen, by the way.
At Christmas, Wheeling Hawk leaves a box with fifty pounds of fresh buffalo meat in it for Jessica’s family, even after Jessica’s father drives him off, and Jessica is still moping around and sad because she loves him. But then Will gives Jessica a pair of beautiful shoes—well, “Floss” gives them to her, but it’s all a ruse by Will to make Jessica think he doesn’t actually like her at all. He’s a douchebag. But he continues to come by for Sunday dinner with Jessica’s parents and his elderly housekeeper, because there’s no one else around in the area.
In the spring when the weather breaks, Wheeling Hawk comes back again (he is nothing if not persistent, so maybe he doesn’t suck) and tells Jessica that she’s just making them all miserable by ignoring their love and she should just give up and come with him. He points out that time is becoming short because of the government’s policies, and if they drive the Indians off he’ll have to go with his people. But just as Jessica comes home, it turns out that one of her little brothers goes down with diphtheria, and Melanie tells her to take Jimson (who Melanie has been looking after) and go to Will’s for the duration of the illness. How convenient. Well, it isn’t as bad as it seems, because Will and Jessica’s father are both away on a cattle drive, so Jessica is just hanging out at Will’s place with the baby when Rising Hawk family come and invade his dugout for a visit.
Jessica panics, and then Wheeling Hawk is like “ugh, my family is SO EMBARRASSING” and then they talk about how they could never be together because there’s just too much difference between them. To give you some idea of the ~*~mystical way~*~ in which Wheeling Hawk talks, here’s an example: “How can a maiden with eyes the color of the sky be as wise as a shaman? I dreamed, and now I waken….There is no death, there is only change. The bones of the buffalo crumble to feed new corn. The water burned away by the sun is given again in snow. Our love will not die but change, Jessica. It will change both of us and every life we touch.” I’m vomiting right now, but I have to say this just slayed me as a 15-year-old. Slayed me.
So he leaves, and then Jessica’s dad turns up at Will’s place and starts freaking out because Jessica is still technically not allowed to go anywhere by herself, until she explains that everyone at home is super sick. He goes home to investigate, and Jessica cooks Will a huge meal because she’s a lot nicer than she should be, and miraculously Will is changed into a nice guy. Wow, must have been quite the cattle drive to give him a new personality.
Then, once spring is truly there but before Jessica can go home, Roy Blanding turns up at Will’s place with a carriage with three older people claiming they’re Will’s dead wife’s parents and their lawyer. Roy demands that Jessica hand over the baby, and she’s like “wtf, these are total strangers, I’m not just randomly handing over a kid, are you insane?” which is true, but the grandparents REALLY did not want to hear. Jessica’s dad turns up in the nick of time with his rifle, and Will is like “oh no! Her parents, whom we left Chicago on extremely bad terms with, are still mad! Even madder now that their daughter is dead! Who could have seen this coming?”
It’s all very dramatic, and then one evening Will just randomly kisses Jessica, and we get this interlude. “How could she be letting this man who had used her so badly and treated her with such scorn hold her lips in such a kiss and love every moment.” (No question mark.) Also: she’s an idiot. “Forgive me for taking that liberty, Miss Findlay….you are a trial to me….never in my life have I ever been tempted to murder anyone as many times as you’ve tempted me.” JESUS CHRIST, YOU SHOULD NOT BE TOGETHER, THIS IS A TERRIBLE SETUP FOR A RELATIONSHIP. Jessica basically says it’s probably because she feels so empty and devoid of love after Wheeling Hawk left. What a good way to start a new relationship.
Anyway, the Chicago lawyer then starts a suit against Jessica for being “a woman of moral turpitude, unfit to care for a child,” which sounds unlikely even in the realm of fiction, and the court case is held in a saloon because why not? Apparently she’s being put on trial for leading on a lot of men, and Agatha claims that Jessica “led on” Hot Geoffrey; then Roy claims he was “jilted” by her; then the lawyer claims that Jessica stayed in Will’s house for two months without a chaperone; then the lawyer says that she was “in a relationship” with an Indian guy, which is at least true. But because this is an 80s novel, she refutes every charge and the judge is like “how spunky!” (Except for the charge about being in a relationship with Wheeling Hawk, because she’s completely throws him under the bus and says they were just friends and he did chores for her. Jessica sucks too.) She’s obviously cleared of all “charges,” because there are only like 15 pages left, and it was a bullshit charge anyway.
Will takes Jessica home, and tells her that he’s fallen in love with her even though he didn’t like her much, which seems like a bit of a strange leap, but hey, it’s Sunfire world now. They kiss, and Will tells her that he’s loved all the time they spent together and learned so much from her, and Jessica is like “I love you too! And it wouldn’t have worked out with Wheeling Hawk anyway, and he left, so I’m single…” and Will says he can’t possibly propose to her and continue to bring more heartache into her life after all the scandale there’s been already. And then Jessica is like “No, I love you too, this will definitely work out!” and that’s it.
Rating: D-. What a trash fire. Everyone here sucks! I mean, obviously the villains suck, but even the heroes suck too! Will is THE WORST romantic lead! He actively dislikes Jessica for most of the book! And not in a classic-romance-novel type way, in a jerky type way because Jessica is babysitting his kid half the time! And Wheeling Hawk is a decent guy, but talks strictly in bad-Indian-cliché talk and then keeps insisting that Jessica should abandon everything she knows and get married to him. As it happens, that probably would have been a bad move, because Jessica sucks to him, too! She mopes and mopes about how much they’re in love and how perfect he is, and then when he has to leave she’s like “eh, that was nice, now who’s single for me, it was probably for the best anyway.”
No, you know what? Jessica and Will deserve each other. They both suck. Also, the plot of this book goes around so many bizarrely convoluted loops that it barely constitutes a plot. This is atrocious.
7 thoughts on “Jessica”
Sigh. I remember loving this one. Such low standards I had.
Nah, I LOVED these books too. All teenagers go through a period of adoring mediocre books, I think. Sometimes they’re bad historical romance, sometimes they’re bad sci-fi dramas, sometimes they’re something else entirely!
I adored this book as a teen. I so wanted Jessica to pick Wheeling Hawk. I read every Sunfire book numerous times.
I know right? Wheeling Hawk was CLEARLY the superior choice here!
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In fact, on Wednesday I am using the Top 5 Wednesday writing prompt, “Nostalgic Book Boyfriends”, and WH is making my list!
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please read and review “Amanda, the Cut-up” (not a horror story) by the late, not-so-great Vivian Schurfranz! It’s got a Jessica you’ll love to hate too!