She left the east as Jessica and entered the west as Elizabeth

To whomever suggested I read the Sunfire novels, I’d like to thank you and take you out for a quadruple-scoop hot fudge banana slip fudge ripple waffle cone sundae at The ‘Burger. It combines my love of crappy YA lit with historical fiction. And my FAVORITE time at that- the late 1800s pioneers. You all know my obsession with LHOTP, obvi. And you know what? I can’t even snark that much- this is good shit!

Amanda is a piled rich girl in Boston who has a shady father. Dad owes a lot to a bookie and so he decides, hey, let’s just join the Oregon trail. Amanda is all put off because she’s rather sit around in white gloves and accept gentlemen visitors. And omg, this ugly, poor girl Helen tries to be her friend! And there’s that cute Ben Compton! How will he ever notice her if she is getting dirt all over her silk dress? Also, he looks about 45 on the cover. Slowly, she turns into Elizabeth Wakefield and the whole lot of people they are traveling with talk about her and tell her how awesome she is and beg her to ride with their families.

Somewhere around Ohio Amanda suddenly becomes a saint and learns how to do all the chores and manages her own team of oxen and fix wagons and make cornbread out of sand or whatnot. Luckily, lots of the book was about the actual stragglers of the pioneers and was fairly historically detailed. man, it was shitty. They went for days only eating a biscuit everyday, no showers for weeks, people dying of consumption and – gasp- Indian raids! Although, true to a YA novel, Amanda does stop to notice that the Indian that raids her tent is quite the piece of ass.

Of course, the hero Ben Compton suddenly notices the “fierce fire” in Amanda or some metaphor like that and loves her only after she starts taking care of herself. And he leaves his pushover fiance for her, but the fiance forgives her. And every day, the most hardest thing comes before them, like crossing a river or a drought or a mountain or the word mountain ever or then an even worse mountain or worse shortage of food. Or Amanda smudges her silk dress. You know, tragedies like that.

Amanda’s Dad dies after breaking his neck on a hunt, which wasn’t too much of a tragedy because he was kind of a pain in the ass, was always grumpy, and ordered Amanda around a lot. Helen is probably going to die, but that that’s ok, she arrives in Oregon with Ben Compton and they are going to start a new life together, just living off the land (how Battlestar Galactica of them).

This makes me think of a miniseries on cable a while back, Into the West, and I swear I am one of three people that watched it. It was about several generations of pioneer families and Native Americans through the development of the west. I have to say it was very well done. You had all the drahma but I guess it was more historically accurate than most. I think. Especially those grossing the country. One gal had her legt run over by a wagon so they had to cut it off with a butter knife (and she died during it). Another weird thing is that Keri Russell was kidnapped by some Indians and forced to marry one, but six months later, she’s all having six of his babies and speaking their language but is all happy. Ok. Then there’s the goldrush and there’s some drama. Oh, and of course the Native American woman who marries a white man (a pre-Gossip Girl Matthew Settle) and how their kids deny their heritage. Also, there is a bevvy of hotties in this. Especially my faves Matthew Modine, Skeet Ulrich, and Balthazar Getty (schwing!). Of course I would reduce it to that, right? I’m just like Amanda.

"Dear Sally: Today I will be kidnapped by Indians. Do you think people are meant to be kidnapped for a reason? I'm so confused. Love, Felicity."

Hottie Exhibit A

Hottie Exhibit B and C

Hottie Exhibit D

"Omg. M is married to a white woman. What are people saying? xoxoxox GG"

In other words, rent this mofo

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42 thoughts on “She left the east as Jessica and entered the west as Elizabeth

  1. Katy says:

    Oh, you gotta read my two favorite Sunfire novels, Caroline (about a girl who pretends to be a boy so she can travel west on the Oregon Trail to find her brothers who’re headed to California during the gold rush) and Susannah (about a Southern belle engaged to a Confederate soldier, whose life totally falls to crap during the Civil War and who ends up falling in love with a Yankee soldier).

    They’re both pretty damn awesome, some of my favorite “I have the flu and I feel like crap, so I’m taking a bath” comfort reading to this day.

  2. Bart_Templeton says:

    Whooopeee! Much obliged to take you up on your offer, IHW..but can we make it a hot fudge sundae at Casey’s (SVT)…for middle school’s sake?

    Actually, when I recommended you do this series, AMANDA was not in my mind as one of the bad ones. It, along with quite a few others in the 30-odd -long series, is actually not half bad. (I’m currently reading VICTORIA, and so far that one is “meh,” but we’ll see).

    I love the “silk dress” meme. I don’t know which way I’d get richer faster–if I had a dime for every time “silk dress” was used here, or “sun streaked blonde hair and blue-green eyes.” Also love how Papi abruptly dies a violent death in a YA novel.

    Let me give you a run-down of some of the more notable ones. If I don’t mention one, it’s because I don’t remember it or never read it (I still have a bookshelf full of them, some of which I never got a chance to read).

    So, here are three I’d recommend to squeeze some IHW-brand snark out of:

    ELIZABETH–I recommend this one to you to read straight off because there’s all sorts of Salem Witch Trials mess up in this one…complete, of course, with a stereotypical “Abigail-Williams”-type hussy who cries witch and gets her neighbors hanged.

    CASSIE (1700s NY–White girl kidnapped by Mohawks)–this was the first one I read. It has a swimming scene reminiscient of the famous Jessica/Patman-esque lake scene, but not as tawdry. Lots of ridiculous Native Am. stereortypes to make fun of in this one.

    DANIELLE– (1800s New Orleans)—**snark alert***– I wanted to slap this heroine SILLY. Really ridiculous and infantile “I love him…no, but I love that one MORE…no, I love the first guy!”

    Here are the ones that were just “meh” for me–not top-notch writing and characters, but not snark-worthy, either:

    RACHEL–Jewish immigrant to Ellis Island; can barely remember this one. It was one of the shortest ones, too.

    GABRIELLE (1800s, basically the plot of the musical Show Boat, only minus the mixed-race heroine).

    HEATHER (1600s NY)–pretty tepid stuff, here, and this book is also quite thin.

    And here are some of the best ones:

    AMANDA (see above)

    JESSICA (1800s Kansas prairie)—oh, hells no, the way this girl is forced into European-dominant heteronormative monomogamy and domestic labor just makes me mad all over again. That’s not necessarily a spoiler, BTW, since all the books end up with the girl picking one of her two suitors…

    JOANNA (textile mills of 19th c. New England)–this is one of the best ones; doesn’t really feel all that YA-y, which, well, knowing us, might put you off it. But it’s a sober, educational, interesting read.

    ROXANNE–1940s Hollywood starlet. I have no beef with this one, either.It was quite good, and it was fun reading about all the Hollywood stuff like the gossip columns, affairs, and studio contracts. Kind of like a genteel, 40s TMZ.

  3. Bart_Templeton says:

    By the way, I continue to recommend to you Anne Hunter Lowell & ghosties’ SORORITY GIRLS series for

    pure.

    snark.

    gold.

  4. Laura @ Hungry and Frozen says:

    Oh my gosh. Had completely forgotten about these. We had two in our school library (which was about 6ft square in size) and I loved them so much. There was one (Vanessa?) about some woman in WWII, and another one about a girl in early colonial America. I think one of the characters was called Remember which confused the heck out of me (remember what? I thought). Um, anyway, thanks for the blast from the past and loved this post, v funny 🙂

  5. Nichole says:

    I LOVED the sunfire novels. My three faves:

    Marilee – set during the revolutionary times
    Nicole – set during the sinking of the Titanic!!! It came out way before the movie, but there are similar elements. – Rich girl is expected to marry Rich man, but falls in love with a passenger in steerage. Unlike Cal Hockley, Rich man in this book helps Nicole secretly meet with her love.
    ??? – i can’t remember the name for the third one, but it was set during the first world war when influenza was sweeping the nation. I read it over and over and over again. Which makes the fact that I can’t remember her name all that more tragic.

  6. jennicakes says:

    I love “Amanda’s” facial expression on the cover. Like, “OMG, I can’t believe my parents brought me on this LAME road trip!”

    Thanks for the head’s up on that miniseries! I am totally going to check it out.

  7. jordanbaker says:

    I loooooooooooooooooooved these books. I think my all time favorite was “Emily,” which was about an uber rich girl who wanted to be a nurse, and ditched her douchey rich blonde fiancee for a poor dark and handsome doctor.

  8. hannah says:

    I was going to recommend Emily too–I was feeling nostalgic and got a copy on paperbackswap just a few weeks ago. Can’t wait to re-read it!

  9. evier says:

    I watched “Into the West”! I think we just found the 3 people that watched it. I really liked it, but it was also kind of a rip off of “Centenniel,” a similar miniseries based in Colorado that they made in the 70s or 80s (based on a James Michener book). You’d probably enjoy “Centenniel” too, if you’ve got a spare 20 hours to kill. It’s Richard Chamberlain in it, whom I thought was pretty hot back in the day.

  10. Merrie says:

    I read Merrie, obviously. She was a stowaway on The Mayflower to avoid marrying someone she didn’t live. It was awesome!

    I remember Roxanne. Loved it, too.

  11. mo pie says:

    I loved “CAROLINE,” and now I need to read the Titanic one, and the one about the Civil War. Thanks for reminding me of the existence of these books!

  12. Magpie says:

    The Sunfire books kind of sound like a slightly more grown-up version of the American Girl books. Teenage angst? History? I’m so there.

    Into the West looks awesome. Though I just get my Balthazar Getty fix by watching Brothers & Sisters every week 🙂

  13. bookharlot says:

    Oh, I had about all of those…I think my mom picked up a bunch at a yard sale and I was HOOKED. They are still all in a box in my parent’s attic, I’m sure. Must find!

  14. tygre says:

    I have almost all of these still. MINE.

    My favorite one as a kid was Kathleen, which is Irish-immigrant-makes-good and becomes a jewelry designer (uh….wtf?). Laura’s the one set around WWI and the flue epidemic. I still like Roxanne a lot, and Jacquelyn (heroine is pain to start with but grows a pair by the end).

  15. Eli says:

    I totally would have fought you for Getty til his public cheating with Sienna Miller. Squicked me right out. Dude, it’s OK to cheat on your wife with ME, but with her? On camera? Gross AND stupid.

  16. Karmyn says:

    Laura, the WWI set story, is one of my favorites. Joe the Italian medical student was hot. I almost cried when his mother died.

    Cassie was another one of my favorites, along with Marilee. Her sister in law was a bitch. I think I still have both of those somewhere. I remember checking out Marilee several times in high school. I remember she had three men to chose from, one of whom turned out to be a total douche and the second one turned out to just be a friend so she ended up with the really hot former servant, Timothy. I loved that book.
    Wish I had a copy of Laura, but was never able to find it.

    I tended to cheat and check who the girl ended up with first thing. I’ve always prefered just one potential hero.

  17. bookslide says:

    Okay, so for some reason I thought my name (or one like it) was in the Sunfire Romances, but when I look up master lists, it’s not there.

    So was there another line of books with lots of different names in them? Because I was sure that somewhere out there was an Alanna or an Alannah. (And not the Tamora Pierce–I mean an actual line of books.)

  18. Toni says:

    Some of my favorite YA books ever. I would have to give my favorites as being Elizabeth (Puritan heroine, witchcraft trials) Nicole (i swear James Cameron read this before making Titanic) and Caroline (gold rush girl dressed as a boy). The best part of these books were that they also showed strong females in history, something lacking in my history books. I blame them for my love of historical fiction to this day.

    I still have most of my collection, and reread them every so often. They tend to stand the test of time, and I wish they would republish them to give the girls of today some other heroine less simpering than Bella Swan

    • Wynne Lewis says:

      It’s amusing to me to think of James Cameron reading a Sunfire novel.;) At least in Nicole, the rich guy was nice.

  19. Sam says:

    Is this the same Candice F. Ransom that also wrote the Kobie series (i.e., Thirteen, Fourteen and Holding)?? Cause….wow.

  20. hatcitynikki says:

    Oh! These books! I was just thinking about them the other day! I remember there was one called ‘Nicole’ (like yours truly) and it was set on the Titanic. Crazy!!

  21. Kendra says:

    I LOVED LOVED LOVED these books when I was young. Ditto recommendations for Laura (WWI/suffragist), Kathleen (Irish immigrant), and Joanna (Lowell textile mills). Yay! More!

    (Oh, and yes, Danielle [New Orleans/pirate] may be one of the worst-written books in the world, with the most idiotic heroine ever. Excellent snark material).

  22. maybeimamazed02 says:

    Even though I’m kind of over Gossip Girl, I still think Matthew Settle is quite the hottie patottie. Love Keri Russell too (great Felicity reference!). I may have to rent this.

  23. Amber Tan says:

    Good call on the series, Bart_Templeton! And many thanks for re-capping, ihatewheat.

    BTW, this book cover is missing a pornstache. It must be the cowboy hat and fringed leather vest combo triggering something in my brain but at first glance, I could’ve have sworn that Ben Compton had a pornstache.

  24. Bart_Templeton says:

    BWAHAHAHA, AmberT!

    Yes, where INDEED is the requisite “pornstache?.”

    Your memory has been clouded by too many 80s YA covers featuring 37-year old “high school boys.” (ALL NIGHT LONG, ahem). I’m looking at my copy of AMANDA right now, and no pornstache in sight…just skin browned and baked and nicotined to a fine leather.

    Because every girl’s dream is to cuddle close to a human saddle.

  25. Bridget Locke says:

    Is it me or is that Valerie Bertinelli on the cover? If it’s not, it should be. Maybe it’s her long-lost twin?

    I never read these. How is that even possible? I read everything else!

  26. Michelle says:

    So excited to see people remember this series! No lie, I have every single book and I will never ever give them away. Favorites were Caroline (gold rush), Elizabeth (Salem), Joanna (mills), Nicole (where I got my love of Titanic stuff!) and Danielle (pirates in New Orleans). Quite possibly the worst one is Megan, set in Alaska. Nothing against Alaska, but the dialogue is hilariously bad, especially at the end. Hope you can find the rest of the books.

  27. Amber Tan says:

    “…skin browned and baked and nicotined to a fine leather. Because every girl’s dream is to cuddle close to a human saddle.”

    NATLBSB, Bart_Templeton! Yes, it must be all those ’80s YA cover illustrations fogging my brain. Hmmm…I wonder how many YA titles we can name that feature a 37-year-old high school boy with pornstache.

    “is that Valerie Bertinelli on the cover?”

    I concur, Bridget Locke. Amanda *does* bear a strong resemblance to Valerie B.

  28. opangster says:

    omg, I remember these books! I have 3 of them downstairs packed in boxes. I remember one of my favorites was Kathleen. I loved her status as a hardworking, discriminated against immigrant who showed up the snobbish family by getting it on with their son!!!

  29. Cynthia says:

    Nichole, the novel set in World War I is called Laura. It’s actually pretty good if you can stand the way they tried to stuff history lessons into everything, and the girl is an early feminist. (Though she has to be made less threatening by being given a love interest or two.)

  30. Kae-Leah says:

    I managed to find one Sunfire at my local thrift store, Heather, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, and the writing actually seems above average for ’80s YA mass market paperbacks. It’s too bad this series didn’t last longer, or wasn’t so hard to find(I hate buying used books online, usually the shipping costs more than the actual book!). SVH and BSC books are EVERYWHERE(why do most guilty-pleasure old-school YA series’ have catchy acronyms?), but finding Sunfires in person requires some patience and persistence. Has anyone else had any luck finding them at thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales, and the like?

    • Wynne Lewis says:

      Unfortunately, I haven’t found any in person myself. I hope to hit the jackpot at the twice-yearly Seattle Public Library sale. If I don’t find any there, I’ll have to resort to buying them from Alibris. I’ll keep you all posted.

  31. Kia a says:

    Oh, my. My favorites were: “Julie” – about an Irish family that helped build the railroad; Uh…the one about the girl that was the daughter of a showboat captain who longed for life on the land; and…um…the one where the girl was a southern belle who’s fiance was in the Civil War. I feel like that was was a double book or something. Not to be taken lightly.

  32. Erika says:

    Wow glad I’m not the only one who thinks Titanic was totally swiped from the series. I remember saying loudly in the middle of the packed theatre back in 1997, “HEY! This is just like that damn sunfire book!” I have to give a shout out to Sabrina ya’ll. The Revolutionary War spy. She was a great character. Hot tempered, independent, worked in an apocathary…had a boring tory boyfriend until she met a revoultionary soldier who got her into passing secret messages rolled in her apocathary jars and finally into completing a mission where she meets the famous swamp fox himself, Francis Marion. The cover looks fantastic as well. I haven’t seen it in over 20 years but I remember a beautiful rich purple dress trimmed in velvet, blazing violet eyes & glossy black hair.

  33. christina says:

    OMG, your letter to Sally from Felicity knocked me over!! You so funny, girlfriend! 🙂 That totally brightened my day.

  34. Schatzi says:

    Oh god, I was always drifting over to the skimpy YA/Teen section at my library in elementary school to check these books out. The only one I remember by name is MERRIE–some Puritan/Mayflower colony-type crap. These were so great; early historical romances for pre-teen girls!

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