Fantasyland is charming from beginning to end. Even the Dedication sets the tone for a sweet and romantic reading experience: “with special thanks to past, present, and future teen idols for the invaluable role they play in the lives of young girls…This Book is Lovingly Dedicated to the Memory of Dino Martin, Jr. – the boy who filled the childhood fantasies that brightened my life and inspired me to write this story.” This reference to Dino Martin, Jr. (the son of famed crooner Dean Martin) will play a role in shaping the story of Fantasyland. It may take someone, such as this reviewer, who recalls all the history behind Dino Martin, Jr. and the teen rock trio he was part of, to fully appreciate all the sly comparisons between reality and the Fantasyland characters. But for those who do recall, it will add an extra dimension of fun. For those who do not remember, no need to despair. The current story speaks well for itself.
Like her previous book, Deja Vu, author D.J. Starling has written a love story with supernatural overtones. This book, however, downplays the supernatural and merely hints at the possibility of the spirit world and how it might guide us and protect us. Fantasyland is filled with “chance” meetings that are really the Universe at work to bring people together. It’s subtle, though, and works whether you have a belief in anything otherworldly or not.
The book briefly opens in 1992 with a tragic accident. Details are sketchy but involve a flurry of activity as an unnamed young woman in Beverly Hills is pushed from behind. Shortly thereafter, her husband lies bleeding on the pavement and paramedics are called.
The bulk of the story, however, begins in 1972 and works forward. A 17-year-old girl named Sandi Golden is waiting at the Miami airport for a flight to California and a new life. She’s about to study law at UCLA, a dream since she was very young. She and her slightly older brother lost their mother when they were young children, and their father has just recently passed. He made Sandi promise to fulfill her dream of going to UCLA. She had ulterior motives when she first had the idea. Her childhood idol was Ricky Stevens. He was a young member of a trio and had a gift for playing the guitar and singing. His father was legendary crooner Tony Stevens. Innocent Sandi, at 11, decided she could move to California, find Ricky and live happily ever after.
Her father had a dream of her – not necessarily with Ricky Stevens – but standing near Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland, smiling broadly and saying, “this is where I belong. I never thought I’d be so happy.”
Still grief-stricken but determined to attempt to find the happiness her father saw for her, she indeed begins classes at UCLA. One day, she takes time off to wander Westwood Village, a tiny but trendy area filled with shops and restaurants within walking distance of campus. She stops at Burger Hut for lunch and a handsome, young, bearded/mustachioed man asks if he can join her at her table. It’s obviously love at first sight for both of them. He tells her his name is Paul…yet there is something slightly familiar about him that Sandi can’t quite figure out.
Sandi’s family has played a verbal game they called “Lyrical Lingo” where they would use song lyrics in conversation as cleverly and often as possible. Amazingly, Paul falls right into the pattern and even outdoes Sandi. A side note – author Starling is to be commended for weaving the lyrics into her characters’ dialogue. It’s fun…at times slightly too “cute”…but mostly very clever indeed.
When it’s finally revealed that Paul is actually Ricky (now called Rick) Paul Stevens, her teen idol, she can barely believe it. He’s shaved off the beard and mustache, and it’s clear that this is the fantasy crush she’d had, come to life. That part about Cinderella’s Castle? Let’s just say dreams really do come true.
As their romance progresses, readers are introduced to another character – Steve Mirelli. He is a construction worker, living in Toronto to avoid the draft. When President Carter finally pardons draft evaders, he returns to the United States. At first, this storyline is confusing. Why is he being brought into the love story that’s moving along so nicely without him? All will be revealed later.
If elements of the book are a bit fanciful – a bit unbelievable – just remember the title. Suspend practical thinking – prepare for enchantment, and enjoy the book. The characters are all interwoven, the story is sad, touching, romantic and altogether delightful.
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