NEW YORK — So it's Valentine's Day — time to celebrate your wonderful relationship. Unless, of course, it isn't so wonderful right now, or it doesn't even exist. Wouldn't it be better, women out there, to celebrate a love that's so much less complicated: the teen idol crush?
Think about it. Was there ever a love so pure, so ardent, so idyllic and yet so painfully real as the love of a teenage girl for Paul McCartney, Davy Jones or Bobby Sherman in the '60s, or Justin Bieber or Robert Pattinson today?
Take British novelist Allison Pearson, whose devotion at age 13 for David Cassidy, aka Keith Partridge (of the feathered mullet and "The Partridge Family") was so intense, she wore the color brown for 18 months because she'd read it was his favorite.
"Almost my entire wardrobe was brown — brown bell-bottoms, brown platform shoes," says Pearson. "I actually look malarial in brown. But somehow, I thought it would give me some competitive advantage over the other fans."
Like most lovestruck teens, Pearson, now 50, eventually recovered from the shock that she would never be Mrs. Cassidy. She reached adulthood, got married, had kids, became a prominent newspaper columnist in Britain and then a best-selling novelist with the 2002 "I Don't Know How She Does It," now being made into a movie with Sarah Jessica Parker as her working-mom heroine, Kate Reddy.
But she never forgot her David — and she reckons many of us haven't forgotten our teen idol crushes, either. Her new book, "I Think I Love You," which hit stores this week, is not only a paean to Cassidy but an exploration of the fragile emotions and fraught relationships of the teenage years.
"People may think it's silly, but the teen idol crush is really, really powerful," said Pearson, sipping a cappuccino Thursday afternoon in Manhattan. "It's a dress rehearsal for love. You're in love with the IDEA of being in love."
If the author seemed to be glowing a bit, the reason may have been her experience earlier that morning. Appearing on NBC's "Today," she'd been surprised on set by none other than Cassidy himself, now 60 and still performing. Luckily, she'd dressed right — she was wearing a ribbon-trimmed David Cassidy photo on her lapel, close to her heart.
Afterward, the two talked, and Cassidy even agreed to appear in the jukebox musical she's writing based on the book — as long as it makes it to Broadway, Pearson says. (She's collaborating with her husband, New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane, on the script.)
Who knows if it will actually happen, but imagine growing up to write a musical about your teen idol that your teen idol actually appears in? Talk about your full-circle moment.
But how did Pearson arrive at the subject in the first place? A book about a teen crush would seem quite a departure from her previous book, which, though very funny, was based on the serious issue of working mothers and their often futile struggle to achieve a balance between career and kids.
That book sold more than 500,000 copies in the U.S., according to Random House, and was translated into 32 languages. Women saw echoes of their own hectic lives in Kate Reddy, named of course after singer Helen Reddy, who famously sang "I am woman, hear me roar."
There's no burning social issue this time around, but Pearson thinks women will also identify with her newest heroine, Petra, whom we meet first as a lovestruck teen and then later as an adult, facing personal heartbreak, and with a 13-year-old girl of her own who's in love with Leonardo DiCaprio (Pearson's own daughter, 15-year-old Evie, has a crush on Pattinson, of the "Twilight" series.)
"I think we carry our younger selves with us our whole lives," Pearson says. "Something we find — an old photo, a concert ticket — can take us back with surprising force to the person we once were. And my, how we envy the passion of that younger person."
The book mines the comic potential of that passion, but also the danger of it, giving a detailed account, pieced together from news reports at the time, of a 1974 Cassidy concert in London where crowd control issues led to the death of a concertgoer.
She also provides an occasionally searing look at how hard it is to be a teenager, especially female, with the pressure to be liked and to belong snuffing out one's better instincts.
"To improve your image, you made yourself more stupid and less kind," she writes, after young Petra has betrayed a friend. "The shutting down of some vital part of yourself, just so you could be included on a shopping trip into town, not have to sit on your own at lunch or have someone to walk home with."
The idea for the book came to Pearson years ago in Norway, during the publicity tour for her first book. At dinner with some women, the subject of teen crushes came up, and Pearson related hers, on Cassidy. A woman who'd been quiet the entire meal said, in a strikingly serious tone: "But he was mine."
Pearson felt she was onto something. She went onto eBay and started acquiring Cassidy memorabilia. A tiny office at the top of her home in Cambridge, England, became Cassidy central. It looked, her husband commented, "like a serial killer's lair."
The book took a long time, long enough that she was sued by publishers for non-delivery. The suit has been settled now, Pearson says, and movie rights are already being actively discussed.
Though Cassidy's representatives had given the book a green light, Pearson never knew how he felt about it — until Thursday, on the "Today" set. She told him she hoped he didn't hate her for writing the book. On the contrary, he gushed.Comment on this story
It wasn't the first time the author had met her subject. In 2004, she was assigned by the Daily Telegraph's Saturday magazine to interview Cassidy, then 54, in Florida, unrelated to the book idea. She appends the transcript to the end of her novel.
At the end, the reporter confesses to the teen idol that she had sacrificed her fashion sense as a girl to swathe herself in his favorite color, brown.
He laughs at her teenage cluelessness.
"Allison, it was all made up!" he says. "Do I look like someone whose favorite color is BROWN?"