Right around the time I discovered adult romances, I was still reading YA romances, like the Sweet Valley High books, and the Bantam "Sweet Dreams" books. They fit in a little more with my own expectations of romance, though some seemed a little childish to me. I guess that's why most avid readers read at a level much higher than their age range. I was at the point where I was caught somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
From that time, there is one book that stands out for me during those years, and it was from Bantam, and it was actually #1 in the "Sweet Dreams" series. It is this book, "P.S. I Love You" by Barbara Conklin.
What is so special about it? Well, there will have to be spoilers here to give you the full reasoning behind my everlasting love of this book. (But before I go there, I want to mention that I always wanted to be the girl on the cover. She is so pretty, with soulful brown eyes and long brown hair, which I never had growing up. There, I had my little superficial moment). So, the story is about Mariah, an aspiring novelist, who is all set for summer until she finds out her parents are getting divorced, and she goes with her mother and sister to Palm Springs to house-sit. While there she meets Paul and falls in love for the first time. Over the course of the summer, Mariah feels all the highs and lows of young love - the joy of being with someone who makes your heart race, the insecurities of believing you're not pretty or interesting enough to hold a cute boy's attention. But Paul is not like that, and as time goes by, it becomes bittersweet - Mariah finds out that Paul is very ill. He has cancer. She is angry, and afraid, and desperate to get away from the worst case scenario. I remember reading this and hating that the author ruined their love story. I thought it was cruel to make Paul sick. I cried every time I read it. I cried for Paul and the life he would never live, and for the pain Mariah experiences when she loses Paul, and I cried for the strength she draws from her memories of her summer spent with her first love. Their story was both magical and tragic, capturing so well those intense teenage feelings, yet by adding the very real and tramatic element of death, it projected that intensity to a higher level. It was both a celebration and a memorial to the relationship, one that was made all the more poignant by the characters' ages.
The author decides not to let Mariah grieve indefinitely, however. There is also a 2nd book called "Falling In Love Again" (see, same girl) that follows Mariah as she grieves for Paul, and eventually begins to care for someone else. I enjoyed the story, but at the same time I couldn't help but wish that Mariah hadn't found someone quite so soon. Paul was special; he was her first love - yet I think it was important to show young girls that life does go on, even when something truly tragic happens, and that you can have feelings for someone else, and not feel guilty about it. I don't remember the other boy's name, but I guess it's not that important. What was important was that Mariah did move on, and that it was with someone mature and understanding of her feelings for her first love and who found her to be very special because of it. I believe things happen for a reason, and that Mariah had to experience these events exactly as they happened. It made for a richer, stronger story that still stays with me to this day. Thank you Barbara Conklin, wherever you are.....