Karla's Reviews > Merrie

Merrie by Vivian Schurfranz
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Unlike most of the Sunfires, or even some of Schurfranz's titles in particular, there is nothing to recommend "Merrie." Often it's a matter of grasping at straws to find positives in her books, but there's always been something. "Merrie", however, is a loser on many fronts. Schurfranz takes many tropes and cliches from the popular bodice rippers of the time (mid-80s), but because of the YA constrictions here, the story ends up becoming an endless cycle of decisions & misunderstandings fueled by hormones that never has whatever depth a little more explicitness & adult tone could provide. So, instead, we get a silly girl who acts rashly, if not stupidly, & words like "spirited," "plucky," & "spunky" are used to supply alpha & omega of her personality.

For the supporting characters, one's level of physical attractiveness stands in for characterization. Merrie's two beaus, Luke & Zack, are both handsome & that trait is what consumes Merrie's thoughts the most. The appearance of handsome Luke makes thoughts of handsome Zack vanish, and vice versa whenever one walks through a chapter. This is what the "romance" consists of, one-third of the book. (It's also a Schurfranz staple.)

Strangely, I thought Merrie's nemesis, Oliver Loomis, was the more interesting character despite the horrible way he was written. He's a victim of Schurfranz's "ugly is bad" treatment, his thin & severe face in a constant sneer as he torments poor Merrie. Loomis is a stereotypical Pilgrim, a fire & brimstone type who constantly berates Merrie for her faults. This part of the story would have hugely benefited from a more adult treatment since Loomis' obsession seems to be what he says are her "vile temptress ways." Pent-up much? Had this book become the bodice-ripper that it obviously wanted to be, we'd have some prime Woodiwiss or Rogers with the underlying sexual agony Loomis is going through & machinations that go further than simply wanting to kick Merrie out of the Colony. It might not have become a GOOD book, but it would have been more interesting and, well, honest. Instead, Loomis is a cardboard villain who serves only to torment Merrie and make her feel persecuted & sorry for herself, spurring her to make more inane decisions which gobble up another third of the book.

As if to compensate for the thin romance & ridiculously shallow villain, Schurfranz leans heavily on what is sometimes her strong suit: history. However, instead of the rather muted historical overtones in "Julie" and "Danielle", Merrie gets dumped into the middle of the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving and, far from being a history lesson, it is instead a horrible example of Mary Sue "speshulness." She becomes BFFs with Squanto, who teaches her to catch eels. She's made an honorary member & ambassador by Massasoit himself. She becomes blood sisters with a Native girl with the cringeworthy name of Little Fawn (who has a mother & brother named the equally cringeworthy Singing Wren & Fierce Falcon, respectively) & is adopted into the tribe unquestioningly. She becomes the object of praise & attention at that first Thanksgiving. In short, Plymouth Colony owes its success to little Merrie Courtland & the Natives semi-revere her when no one else loved her. *sniff*

The Native angle is as offensive here as it was in "Cassie" and it's all too clear from her other Sunfire books that Schurfranz is (or was) quite captivated by the noble savage stereotype. No Native appears here without a description of lithe body, bronzed limbs, or piercing eyes. Even Little Fawn is described in such loving terms, sometimes to the point where I wondered if Merrie would run off with her instead & leave the boys behind! Cassie Edwards would be proud. Or maybe Schurfranz is Edwards' YA nom da plume in order to infiltrate the market. Inquiring minds! I've read many "Noble Savage" bodice rippers myself and don't know how serious the authors take them. Schurfranz does seem to be completely earnest about it, which is sad. Even giving her slack for the time period, the way the Natives are treated seems more in tune with 1950s TV westerns than what one would expect in 1987. Pidgin English abounds and everyone is described like they've come from Central Casting for John Ford's Last of the Mohicans.

I have no beef with plucky heroines landing in the middle of historical doings, but "Merrie" took it to an extreme and, with the other negatives of shallow characters and offensive stereotypes constricted by the PG requirement, it made for an extremely dull, frustrating read.

But it was short. That was a plus.
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