Saturday, December 17, 2011

It All Started With ... Jack Weyland?

(Image from Deseret Book)

Way back in the Dark Ages, before writing teen lit was the thing for Mormon writers to do, there was Jack Weyland. With snappy dialogue, likable characters and uplifting plotlines, he captured the hearts of LDS readers with his young-at-heart novels. Among the author's many devoted fans were my parents. I'll never forget the family road trip when my mom kept my dad awake by reading Charly out loud to him while he drove. The story, particularly the part about the newlywed couple living in an apartment with a shower in the kitchen, made them laugh so hard they could barely breathe. We kids gaped at them from the backseat, wondering if, perhaps, our parents were completely off their rockers. It was only later, when I started reading Weyland for myself, that I began to appreciate the author's wit and charm.

It's been a long time since I picked up a Weyland novel, but It All Started With Autumn Jones caught my eye. There's just something so wholesome and appealing about that cover, don't you think? So, when the fine folks at Deseret Book sent me a copy of the book to review, I dove into it right away. And ... found it a little disappointing. Actually, a lot disappointing. Maybe I judged the book too harshly, expecting it to be laugh-'til-I-suffocate funny, or maybe Brother Weyland is losing his touch a little or, well, I'm not sure. All I know is It All Started With Autumn Jones felt way too hollow to me - the plot was unrealistic, the characters flat, and the whole thing was just over-the-top preachy. Even for an LDS novel.

The story goes something like this: 21-year-old Nick Baxter is a senior at Gresham University, a prestigious (and fictitious) college near Chicago. If he can make it through his last semester as an undergrad with decent grades, getting into Harvard Law should be a snap. Nick's prepared to coast through Contemporary Issues, a course taught by the notoriously difficult Dr. Penstock. Since everyone knows the only way to get an A out of the insufferable professor is to agree with everything he says - no matter what - that's exactly what Nick plans to do.

Enter Autumn Jones. The pretty, 23-year-old return missionary obviously missed the memo about agreeing with Penstock. She seems intent on disagreeing with everything he says. As an RM himself, Nick knows he should be siding with Autumn, standing with her as she defends her beliefs in front of the class. But he needs an A. He doesn't need Autumn - or does he?

When the two decide to band together to teach their professor a thing or two, Nick and Autumn begin a working relationship that feels like something more. At least to Nick. Autumn's already writing to Elder Perfect and Nick gets the distinct feeling that he's not measuring up by comparison. Can he convince Autumn to give him a chance? Can he convince Penstock to give him a passing grade? Can he convince himself that, come graduation time, he can let go of the most frustrating and stimulating girl he's ever met?

It All Started With Autumn Jones definitely has the potential to be a fun, heartwarming LDS rom-com. And it is funny in places. Unfortunately, though, the story's just not developed well enough to completely pull it off. I wanted the characters to actually have personalities, I wanted them to banter in clever ways, I wanted to be surprised by plot twists, and I really, really wanted the story to be faith-promoting in a non-cheesy, non-preachy way. Didn't happen. So, am I giving up on Jack Weyland? Of course not. Now, I'm even more determined to read him. I may have to go back to his earlier novels to recapture that golden, sitting-in-the-backseat-watching-my-parents-laugh-'til-they-cry feeling, but I will find it. Oh yes, I will.

(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for very mild sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of It All Started With Autumn Jones from the generous folks at Deseret Book. Thank you!

3 comments:

  1. Db just sent this to you? It's been out for like a year. I agree with your assessment of this book. I'm a huge Jack Weyland fan, but I appreciate his earlier books more, or maybe I just needed them more back when.

    Love Charly, Nicole, Sara, Whenever I hear your name, Stephanie, Ashley and Jen, Emily, Michelle and Debra. Maybe you'll find that magic in one of those.

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  2. Susan - When I say the "generous folks" at Deseret Book, I really mean it. They generally send me any title in which I express interest, be it old or new.

    I need to re-read the older Weyland books. I'm pretty sure I read most of them when I was a teenager, but I don't remember much about ANY of them.

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  3. He was my favorite author. I think I read every book he wrote. I was one of those girls who totally needed his books..

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