What's a Sunfire you ask? You must have not have come of age in the 80's...or with 80's YA literature the way I did. A Sunfire is a young adult romance novel about a girl--whose name is always the title--who must choose between two men during an event in American history. Between 1984 and 1989, 32 of these novels were published. I have just finished the first one, so what the hell? Why not blog about it?
It's 1846, Boston, Massachusetts. Sixteen year old Amanda Bentley has a seemingly perfect life. Despite her mother dying when she was twelve and her father, Thaddeus, being a gambling addict, Amanda has found happiness with rich and dignified (but not assholish) Joseph White, the son of her mother's best friend. The two plan to marry...or more accurately, Amanda plans on it. Joseph simply asks her to "wait for him until he's done with school."
But Amanda doesn't get the chance. With some loan-shark types on his ass, Thaddeus forces his daughter to pack no more than two dresses and the two set out on horseback. While staying in an inn, Thaddeus decides, "Hey, why not join that Oregon Trail?" so they travel to Independence, MO, build a wagon, and then set out west.
It's been a while since I've read any book about the Oregon Trail, but man, did it suck! The same food day after day, sometimes no food, sometimes no water, blistering heat, freezing temperatures, disease, death...fuck, no wonder Amanda's such a bitch. Well, she sort of was before they even left Missouri, but wouldn't you be if your father forced you to leave your life behind at a moment's notice?
Yes, life is fucking grim on the Oregon Trail, but Helen Jorgenson, one of the only teen girls in the wagon train, remains upbeat. Helen attempts to befriend Amanda, but she is intent to stay surly and inward the whole way. Besides, any day now, Joseph will come riding up on his noble steed to carry her back to Boston. Also on the trip is meek and goodhearted "Melanie Hamilton-esque" Serena Hawkins who is possibly engaged to Ben Compton, the wagon master's son.
Amanda's thoughts of Joseph disappear when Ben starts sniffing around. Ben is one hot piece of ass, snarky and teasing, but ready to save Amanda whenever she finds herself in trouble. And he doesn't hate the Mormons and disagrees with slavery. In short, he's perfect for an 80's heroine...if only it weren't for Serena! As it turns out, they're not really engaged. Whew! Glad that was cleared up.
One of the backbones of a Sunfire novel is the love triangle. Supposedly, our heroine must struggle through the whole book before she discovers which of her beaux is best for her. There is no such struggle for Amanda. Joseph is absent after Chapter 2. Only his memory gives her trouble, but then Amanda rationalizes that he's probably forgotten all about her. Besides out west is no place for a proper Boston dandy.
Then I started to think Joseph might come after her after all. Wouldn't that be something? Amanda and Ben would be all happy after arriving in Oregon, about to get married and here comes Joseph! "My darling Amanda! I left as soon as I got your letter. I never told you how much I longed to live in Oregon, and here we are! Let us start a new life!" Alas, nothing like that happens. In fact, Joseph just sort of slips out of Amanda's mind.
By the time she reaches Oregon, Amanda is no longer a flighty little bitch, but a strong, determined young woman. On other sites I've seen criticism regarding Amanda's bitchiness. But if she weren't so hard-edged, she probably would have died somewhere in Nebraska. In the words of the great Stephen King: "Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto."
Quick Notes (for my amusement and later discussion)
# in Series: 1
Author: Candice F. Ransom (Book 1 of 6)
Heroine: Amanda Bentley -- dark brown, naturally curly, waist-length hair; golden-green eyes.
Family: Thaddeus (father); Eleanor (mother, deceased)
Suitor #1: Joseph White -- milquetoast son of a banker. Light red hair, tall and thin.
Suitor #2: Benjamin Wesley "Ben" Compton -- charming son of the wagon master. Blonde hair that "glints like gold; blue eyes.
Friends: Helen Jorgenson, Serena Hawkins.