REVIEW: Principal of Love by Patricia McLinn
“Meet Josh Kincannon, high school principal, single father of three, and thus, he thinks ruefully, celibate into the foreseeable future. After working with Vanessa Irish on a project for tiny Drago, Illinois, Josh believes he knows her. Then he catches sight of her wild, vibrant robe, and it makes him curious –then a lot more than curious. And that celibacy claim is about to crumble.”
Dear Ms. McLinn,
We at DA love ebooks for many reasons but, for me at least, one of the most important is because so many older and – for years – hard or very hard to find print books are now available again. I’ve bought several of your titles from “A Writer’s Work” and now a few from “Smashwords.” Low cost, multiple formats, instant gratification and good books. What’s not to love?
“Principal of Love” is a retro, vintage (though I laugh to use this adjective for a 1990s book) reissue. It has a slower, more in-depth feel that I associate with the 90s books. Plus it would be hard to imagine the heroine’s background working for a book set today. But beyond that, it doesn’t feel too dated as the issues covered – the Kincannon family’s loss of their mother and how Josh and the children deal with that, plus Fay’s issues with her abusive, alcoholic mother are – unfortunately – timeless. But the exact cause of Vanessa’s issues with lack of social interaction as a child and how this affects her now might be more problematic. OTOH, maybe not as the lack of social skills is said to be an issue for contemporary children who spend all day in front of computer screens.
Vanessa is more than a woman who was raised without the usual social mores that most of us take for granted. She is different and not like others. She’s naturally quiet and withdrawn – introverted to an extreme degree. To have been raised as she was – in a let it all hang out and be free with no social restrictions or structure – would be horrible for Vanessa. Then to get tossed in the hormone filled, emotional deep end of high school while an adolescent would be a shock to the system. To her numbers, math and its strict rules and structure would seem heavenly – something that makes sense, has rules, can be predicted and controlled. She does realize that her social skills are lacking, that she wasn’t raised with and had to be taught the schmoozing social lubrication that allows most of society to keep from getting on each other’s last nerve. Here’s a woman who has to monitor her interactions, who isn’t sure what she “ought” to be doing, who has to mentally double check what she thinks people are doing and what she thinks it means and how she should respond. She doesn’t have the “off”/social screening button that eases social friction – and at first I thought she might have Auspergers.
It’s quite the clash of personalities between Josh and Vanessa. He’s gregarious and outgoing. She’s withdrawn and protecting herself behind a shell. She has to lower her shields and he has to realize why she’s that way and accept that she’s always going to have some social issues. But she does make peace with her past, with the way she was raised, with her feelings on the death of her parents, and with the people who took her in – the fact that Vanessa bought the vibrant, peacock colored robe that first attracted Josh’s attention because it reminded her of the one Mrs. Schmidt wore says something about her hidden feelings for the couple. Josh’s role as a principal helps him react properly – meaning without wigging out – to Vanessa’s past. Instead of immediately pitying her and smothering her with – for her unwanted – sympathy, he admires her strength in forging a new life for herself at that age.
Vanessa’s initial impression of Josh’s children is telling. She mentally thinks of the smallest child as “it.” Maybe it’s because as a toddler, Livvy’s gender isn’t readily apparent but I think it says more about how Vanessa initially views children. She also deals better with them by treating them more as adults – especially Topher and Fay – than most adults would. It’s how Vanessa works and it works better for these children in particular and most children in general. She doesn’t talk down to or patronize them. Vanessa is also a geek – off to college at 16 – so she can identify with intellectual Topher. This leads to some lovely interaction between the two of them, something that Josh, for all his father’s love, doesn’t totally get because he’s at ease in social situations.
Young(er) children in books can be wonderful or a sticking point for me. Here they’re great even though they don’t always act that way. Josh’s three children react differently to their abandonment by their mother. Xena’s “take control of the family” and Topher’s withdrawal into himself makes sense. I’m not so not sure about Livvy’s speech issues.
Josh isn’t perfect either. He’s always thought that his first marriage is good, that his wife had settled down and was as happy as he was but when she takes off, he has to examine his faulty views on that and realize that he saw what he wanted to see rather than what was there all along. He can also be a tad defensive about his children and, in Topher’s case, can push for what he wants his children do rather than what they might actually want to do themselves. It takes Vanessa’s insight into Topher’s personality to get Josh to stop that. He’s not perfect but he is trying and is a supportive father and it’s her insight into Topher that leads him to understand it’s also an insight into her and how she processes the world and new things. She has to be given time too.
The book stumbles slightly right at the end just as relationship is moving forward. Vanessa and Josh’s misunderstandings due arise from the events in their past but I still hated it when it happened, especially since up til then they seemed to be learning from the past and overcoming these issues. Obviously they overcome the problems but the sudden resurgence of the conflict felt more manufactured and jarring.
Vanessa’s past has to be viewed as a product of the late 60s and early 70s but once past that, these characters came alive for me. Many of their issues – the children dealing with divorce, Josh working out dating as a single father, teenage Fay’s alcoholic mother, Vanessa trying to fit into the (eventual) role of a stepmother – are still as relevant now as then. One thing I really like about your books is the humor and I loved watching “Josh Kincannon – high school principal, single father of three, and thus essentially celibate both back into misty memory and forward into the foreseeable future…” morph to “Still single father of three, still high school principal, but no longer celibate back into the misty past, and he hoped to God not into the foreseeable future.” B