Kristin Sharp always dreamed of being swept off her feet but never imagined it would be by a man who pushed a broom.

There is a scene in Gordon Castelnero’s light romance, Toyful Love, when Dr. Sharp, an elementary school principal in the upper Midwest, attends a formal affair and asks her surprising love interest, school janitor Henry Hubbard, whether he has something appropriate to wear. As it turns out, he shows up in a T-shirt with images of a jacket and tie, a typical Henry prank that doesn’t sit well at all with the socially conscious Sharp.

The incident is a microcosm of a larger theme examined throughout the book: the difficulty in overcoming societal expectations when irrational love takes over. 

If readers are willing to suspend their knowledge of reality for a moment, they can have fun with this cute, swiftly-paced story. Sharp shows up at Perrinsville Elementary on the first day of school as the new principal, without much warning or chance to meet the staff. Almost immediately, she is pursued as a potential love interest for the slick, attractive gym instructor Freddie Pace as well as the klutzy, unpolished Hubbard. Okay, we’ll play along.

AN INNER CHILD COMES OUT LOUD AND PROUD

Kristin apparently has no reservations about being both the top school administrator and being romantically courted by two employees, to say nothing of the apparent gap in their social and intellectual status. As it turns out, she sees through the shallow and egotistical Freddie and falls for the sincere and lovable Henry, quirks and all.

Kristin “had never encountered a person like Henry Hubbard before – so simple, yet intriguing and endearing. He appealed to the hidden kid in her by doing thoughtful things for her, in the spirit of a child.”

Castelnero positions Henry as clownish, unkept, immature and nerdy. But the children love him – not only does he keep them entertained with his sophomoric humor, but he has a heart of gold and has a shop full of old toys that he merrily repairs for children. “Deep down,” Henry says, “all grownups secretly want to relive their childhoods. We all wanna be kids again.” Henry never quite grew up.

Sharp has plenty of demons in her own closet, primarily as they affect her personality, her vision of self and her ability to enter meaningful relationships. Henry, in a strange and beautiful way, helps her see the light. But can Kristin pull an Eliza Doolittle with Henry and make him more acceptable and gentlemanly for her taste and stature? In the end, is it even necessary?

PLAYFUL ALL THE WAY

And there’s intrigue: Freddie along with Alma Tater, a longtime teacher with a checkered past who felt the principal job was rightfully hers, together hatch a scheme to discredit Sharp. Freddie plans to come to her rescue and win her back, while Tater has visions of sliding into her principal’s seat.

Ultimately, will Henry’s beat-up car, sloppy apartment, worn-out clothes, incorrect use of the English language, and general propensity to screw up even if good intentioned stand in the way of Sharp’s struggle to overlook what appears on the surface as a bad fit but has something deeper drawing her in?

There are interesting messages and dynamics throughout this book, but no need to make too much of them. Toyful Love is an easygoing proper romance in the truest sense, PG-rated all the way. While it offers a light-hearted clash of class and status, it provides a pleasurable escape from far more pressing day-to-day societal matters that we all could use now and then.

Buy this book!

About Gordon Castelnero:

Gordon Castelnero is passionate about storytelling. His collection of work includes writing/producing/directing television documentaries for the Detroit market and authoring fiction and nonfiction books. He lives with his family in southeast Michigan.