We're Friends, Aren't We?
Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
This is a double-barreled romance of both forbidden and unrequited love. College-bound Elizabeth Douglass, sixteen and the only child of parents old enough to be her grandparents, wants to continue her romantic association with the handsome vocational school student Tony Cassidy, called Cass, at virtually any cost. For Elizabeth’s parents, especially her father, Cass’s public behavior, such as his drunken nocturnal destruction of a soccer field with his motorcycle, “proves” that Cass is not the right person for their “little girl.” To continue the parentally prohibited romance, Elizabeth resorts to subterfuge which often involves neighbor and friend-since-childhood Woody Harrison. Short and almost blind without his thick glasses, Woody assists Elizabeth even though he disapproves of her being dishonest with her parents. Woody, who would like to upgrade his emotional link with Elizabeth, recognizes that she regards him only as “good ol’ friend-who’d-never-be-a-boyfriend Woody.”
Gunnery’s use of dates for chapter titles underlines the book’s chronological structure. Commencing on June 27 with a collision between a tandem truck and a motorcycle driven by Woody, the timeline then reverts to May 8 as senior class members plan graduation, including that most important question: a date. Elizabeth’s problem, to convince her parents to let Cass take her, is paralleled by Woody’s need to find somebody, anybody. The events of the next six weeks bring the central characters to the graduation activities and provide the explanation for how it came to be that a day which was to symbolize a new beginning ends in Woody’s donning Elizabeth’s helmet and taking a fatal ride on Cass’s motorcycle. The final date, June 29, marks Woody’s funeral.
Some readers will identify with Elizabeth’s rebellion against what she considers her overprotective parents; even more readers will echo Elizabeth’s tearful realization, “I loved Woody,” for in Woody, junior high teacher Gunnery has created a most appealing character.