Monday, August 24, 2015

Identify this book!

A reader emailed a book description, hoping I'd recognize their long-lost teen novel. 

Quick question, have you come across or do you remember a book from the 1950s set at a college campus within the fraternity/sorority system? The most significant moment from the book is the "golden couple" driving off down fraternity row and getting in a car accident that kills them both. There's a similar moment in Anne Rivers Siddons "Heartbreak Hotel" but it's not that book.

I couldn't help; it doesn't sound familiar to me.  Anyone else? 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The New Lucinda
Grace Gelvin Kisinger,
1958, Thomas Nelson & Sons

Lucinda Taylor is 16, blonde, blue-eyed and tall but as a studious, serious girl, she knows she’s not popular and she feels dull and ignored in her hometown of Exeter.  Reading a magazine article, she finds inspiration in a story about a girl who transforms the way she acts and how others think of her. Cindy wishes she could do this too, but in a town where everyone’s known her since birth, how can she?

So it’s lucky her dad is transferred to Woodmont, a town just far enough away to make Cindy’s makeover doable.  And she pulls it off.  She’s cool, she’s mildly indifferent, she’s unenthusiastic – she’s everything a popular girl should be.  Fighting her inclination to be friendly and engaged with a group of friendly girls, Cindy instead cozies up to Rose Walsh, a sleek and predatory girl, and falls wildly in infatuation with Malcolm “Mack” Gordon. But are these people, who Lucinda’s identified as the most popular kids at Woodmont, really all that desirable?

I’m a sucker for a teen novel about trying to remake yourself.  Lucinda’s likeable, the pace is good, and the resolution is satisfying.  One major flaw – Lucinda’s identification of Rose and Mack as popular kids is never seriously discussed.  Rose, in particular, seems less popular than infamous.  Is Lucinda’s perception accurate?

il. Barbara Fox (cover)

1958, Scholastic Book Services


Author’s other books
The Enchanted Summer (1956)
More Than Glamour (1958)
Bittersweet Autumn (1960)
Too Late Tomorrow (1962)

Kirkus review of The New Lucinda
A blog with a review of More Than Glamour
Kirkus review of The Enchanted Summer
Kirkus review of More Than Glamour
Kirkus review of Bittersweet Autumn

Kirkus review of Too Late Tomorrow 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Answer For April (1963)

Answer For April
Jan Nickerson, il (cover) Lucille Wallace
1963, Funk & Wagnalls Company, Inc.

Although the others had gone back into the house, April Anderson watched the car until it was out of sight. She knew that Margo would insist that Jeff remove the Just Married sign and the paper streamers before they left the country road and started along the thruway. Her older sister had a large share of the Anderson dignity; Jeff, being an advertising man, wouldn’t mind. If the other drivers honked at him, he would give them a big grin, but Margo would be embarrassed. April thought that she would be too, in a similar situation.

Sixteen-year-old April has just watched her older sister Margo leave the family home for the last time.  Their mother is dead, their father is an aggressively helpless man, and housekeeper Mrs. Berry isn’t enough to keep the home lights burning. April quickly learns that Margo’s been doing a lot in the past few years, and that it all falls on her now. Younger sisters Amy (14) and Pam (12) are basically hers now.  Their 19yo brother Thayer Jr. is in Germany, serving in the military, and doesn’t make an appearance.

Tall. Blonde. Suave. Hollister.  April’s been semi-flirting with boy-next-door Spencer, but is immediately intrigued to find a strange blonde boy on her front doorstep.  He’s Hollister Jones, come to get tutoring in French from her impatient father (which is never quite explained, given Thayer Armstrong’s obvious dislike of teaching and apparent financial comfort), and triggers a girl-war between April and her long-time best friend Norma. 

The war is conducted largely by Norma, who reveals such depths of malice which are all met with familiarity by April, so that you wonder why our heroine was ever friends with her.  Then again, April’s response to Norma’s jealousy is to shrug; she’s oddly cold-blooded.

April’s real agonies are reserved for her family.  Which is inevitable, given that her father suffers from Fragile Father Syndrome (attacks many fictional papas whose wives have been conveniently removed from this life by a tension-heightening author; generally, FFS daddies are socially conscious, artistic, journalistic or otherwise unimpeachably Better Than Thou. Daughters usually in thrall to them, sons often avoid them.) Thayer, even regarded through April’s fond eyes, is an asshole.  An artist who loathes the commercial work he does to pay the bills, he has a long history of vicious arguments with son-in-law Jeff, an ad man, and reacts to modern music (apparently jazz) as if someone had struck him very hard with a club.  Which becomes more tempting, the longer he goes on.  His crowning moment is when it’s suggested everyone take their own plate to the sink after dinner.

Father looked distressed.

The poor man. He spends his days in his backyard studio with his Dachshund, Snodgrass, slaving over a hot palette, and here these evil women want him to walk his own dirty dish to the kitchen sink.

Modern music enters the plot through family friend and independent career woman “Aunt” Irene, who invites April for a visit to Boston and introduces her to various young friends.  One, a brilliant but moody musician named Tom, becomes infatuated with April.  You start to see Norma’s point.

“Every boy who comes along. First Hollister, then Neil Burgess, and Tom Barlow, and, of course, always good old Spencer. Why should you have them all?”

Sadly, this is about the extent of the clothing porn. 

Saturday evening had come. Temporarily renouncing all her responsibilities, April became a carefree teen-ager preparing for a date. What a wonderful feeling! As she stepped into her black suede pumps, she felt absolutely grown up.

A readable but not particularly lively book. 

Random points
Amazing names – Thayer and Hollister and Spencer and Snodgrass and Margo. 
Virtually no physical description – clothes, house, etc. Nada.  You fill in all the blanks.

That Cover
The two younger Anderson girls throw a Halloween party, true, but the cover is baffling.  The party covers a chapter and isn’t that big a plot, and the book itself goes from the start of autumn through mid-winter. 

Other books
Date With  A Career (1958)
Destination: Success! (1959)
New Boy in Town (1960)
When The Heart is Ready (1961)
Circle of Love (1962)
Bright Promise (1965) historical
Double Rainbow (1966)
Peter Pembroke, Apprentice

A review of  Nickerson's book New Girl In Town at Forever Young Adult blog

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hold Fast The Dream (1955)

Hold Fast The Dream
Elizabeth Low,
Harcourt, Brace, 1955

It was noontime in Paris. The medley of sound from bell-tower and boulevard fell faintly on Blithe Moreland's ears, but her hands did not stop work. She continued to press little pellets of clay onto the yard-high figure of a striding man on the stand before her, entirely absorbed in the construction of the human shoulder.

Blithe Moreland is in Paris for the summer, working in the highly sought-after sculpting class of Monsieur Pierre, hoping to impress the master and convince her family back home that art, not college, is her future.  A weekend trip to Salzburg derails her plans, introduces her to the kind Lang family and gives her the artistic inspiration she's been seeking.

Quiet fell upon the crowd and, at the flourish of a trumpet, the famous Lippizan horses with their handsome riders filed through the gate in a slow line, eight white horses stepping proudly in unison like lovely, perfect creatures from another world. This was the world-famous Spanische Reitschule of Vienna, the Spanish Riding School; Blithe had often heard of it.

Moving to Salzburg to study the horses, Blithe is crushed to discover they've now gone on tour. She contents herself studying other horses, throwing herself into sketching and investigating the anatomy of the horse in preparation for someday creating a sculpture.

Apart from Blithe's artistic ambitions, two sub-plots involve a romance (of course) and the slow-developing relationship between the young American and the Austrians she comes to know.   It's a relationship marked by humiliating mistakes and mutual confusion, but with goodwill on both sides.

Both the romance and the international harmony plots take a back seat to Blithe as an artist, a choice that pleases me. The slow pace of her progress is also likeable, and the resolution is believable.  My only real quibble is with the "where'd that come from?" nature of the romance - it pops up at the end of the book as an accomplished feature of her life, but until about 5 pages before, she wasn't even aware she liked the guy.

Kirkus review 
(atypically inaccurate)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

First Love (1963) short stories

First Love
Gay Head, editor; John Fernie, il (cover)
1963, Scholastic Magazines, Inc.

14 warm and glowing stories selected by Gay Head.

Stardust by Virginia Laughlin (originally Boys Don’t Understand)
16-year-old Wendy Warren dreams about the older brother of the boy next door.  23-year-old Brian complimented her and she fell head over heels, much to the annoyance of his younger brother Tod.

A Girl Called Charlie by William Kehoe
Quiet, thoughtful Charlotte Hollister finds a meeting of the minds with Ridge Evans when he protests the “going steady” fad in their high school.

 Blue Valentine by Mary Gibbons (orig in Woman's Day, Feb. 1954, shown to left)
16-year-old Angelo Colucci, oldest and only son in a family of girls, chooses what he thinks is the ultimate feminine gift for his adored girlfriend, Ethel-Irene Simons, daughter of a local professor.  His instincts are perfect – except he doesn’t realize how her parents will react.

The Walnut Trees by Virginia Akin (originally in Woman's Day Magazine)
Jenny Lee’s crush on a handsome teacher is resolved in an unexpectedly gracious way when his engagement is announced.

Once Upon A Pullman by Florence Jane Soman
He raised on eyebrow. “Just fasten your seat belt and let me take care of the landing.”
19-year-old William Fowler tries to impress a girl he meets on a train by cribbing from a novel about a smooth seducer.

Epicac by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (originally in Collier's)
A machine helps a man woo his coworker, and falls in love with her itself.

Sixteen by Maureen Daly
The narrator tells of a night out of time, when she goes ice skating and meets a boy and waits for him to call and realizes he never will. A strange, dreamy story.

Eighteen by Charlie Brodie
The boy from Daly’s Sixteen tells his side of the skating night.

Prelude by Lucille Vaughan Payne (originally in Seventeen)
Nancy is popular, pretty and comfortably middle-class; her only “quirk” is an unusual affinity for classical music. Stephen in invisible, awkward and poor, but he also loves music and plays the piano.  They fall in love, but Nancy has to decide if she can accept the change their dating will bring to her life of popularity.

Tomboy by Gertrude Schweitzer
Frances is uninterested in the social/romantic life at school, and resists growing up.  Forced to attend a 16th birthday party for a cousin, she quickly plans with old friend Skeeter to slip out. To catch frogs in a nearby marsh. Then she meets a college boy…

Bittersweet by Arlene Hale (originally title "First Love")
Leslie and Claude were high school sweethearts. Then he went to college, and suddenly, stopped writing. When he comes home for winter break, they’re forced to confront the truth.

Who is Sylvia? By Laura Nelson Baker (originally in Seventeen, September 1959 issue, shown left)
Adam falls in love with quirky, aloof Sylvia, who recently moved to town and lives with her grandparents. When parental decisions suddenly end their relationship, Adam faces the ephemeral nature of love.
Theme Song by Dave Grubb
Edith, a dreamy girl working in her father’s small restaurant, finds romance in the love life of a young man, a soldier posted at the local base, who comes in and talks about the girl he left behind.

Tough Guy by Peter Brackett
Surly, angry Byron is always ready to fight but secretly is in love with Nina and even writes a poem about her. The verse falls into the wrong hands, and destroys his bad boy rep.  But it also gets Nina’s attention.

The authors
Several of the authors were difficult to find online. This has to be one of the most unlikely places to encounter Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  His short, EPICAC, was first published in 1950, in Collier's Weekly, and the central figure (a computer) was based on the real-life ENIAC.

Gay Head
Hi There, High School! (1960)
Etiquette For Young Moderns (1954)
Dear Gay Head (1962)
Boy Dates Girl (1961)
Party Perfect (1963)

Florence Jane Soman
Love Is A Lonely Thing (1953)
A Break In The Weather (1959)
Picture Of Success (1966)

Maureen Daly
Seventeenth Summer (1942)
Sixteen and Other Stories (1961)
Acts of Love 
First A Dream

Arlene Hale
a prolific writer of nurse romances. 

Laura Nelson Baker
Somebody, Somewhere
The Special Year



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Heart For Business (1958)

A Heart for Business
Adele De Leeuw
1958, The Macmillan Company

She sighed. He had always ordered her around, and for the most part she hadn't minded. But Greg's opinion of her capabilities didn't jibe with her own. That was because he had known her too long, she thought. Just the way he had read down that list of questions... well, it was true she couldn't operate power tools or keep books or do art work.  But that didn't mean she couldn't do anything.

Mary-Ellen Lathrop has a boy next door with a long memory for every single time she failed to show any hard economic sense.  Greg, pleasant but unrelenting, thinks she's being ridiculous to sign up for Junior Achievement, the high school program that guides students through the rigors of setting up and running a small business.

"Get wise to yourself.  You've got lots of things but a head for business - no."

Greg, frankly, is a dick.  Although he has a point.  Despite her genuine desire to show her talent for business, Mary-Ellen (known as Mel) has a tendency to look more at the promised social benefits of the enterprise.  Such as the girl/boy ratio.  Mel befriends the group's Mr. Darcy, a brooding and cynical anti-capitalist and music-loving pianist named Alex Gunther.

Alex seemed disinclined to go on. He stood, aloof and composed, while the silence built up. Mel noticed for the first time that his plaid jacket was worn thin at the elbows, and his trousers had the shine of much wear.

She's besotted, even more so when she discovers his only reason for joining J.A. is to find out how the capitalist machine works from inside.  Son of a skilled machinist who'd been crippled on the job, Alex lived through his family losing everything when his father's employer refused to pay the benefits they owed him.  Now he's uncontrollably bitter, lashing out even at the pretty girl who invites him to use her family's piano (because of course they have one, just as her parents of course love classical music):

He said, in a hard voice, "People like you - " he flung his long arm around the room, encompassing the deep chairs, the lamps, the Oriental rug, the silk draperies, the pictures - "what do you know about people like us? Or care? You're the kind who own the factories that do us out of our rights."

So Mel has an uphill battle with that one.  Meanwhile, her dependable if slightly abusive Greg is being reeled in by a predatory newcomer.  Diane, a redhead with a dramatic streak of her own, hits the J.A. group hard, and Greg forgets Mel exists.

The romances weren't particularly interesting, and the Junior Achivement aspect was dull (see below for why this may be my own little issue) but there is a Mr. Darcy, and he is furious at Big Business, so that's nice. Mel's dad may possibly help him see that all owners aren't bad guys, and he may completely come around and probably ends up being a manager somewhere, but we had a moment, Alex.

Full disclosure: at one point as a child, I did Junior Achievement.  Where Mel's was run by 2 adults, local businessmen, mine was run by 2 nitwit college kids and correspondingly poorly executed.

Acorn Books, 1963

Junior Achivement

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Trish (1951)

Margaret Maze Craig,
1951, Thomas Y. Crowell

“I wonder,” Pat said suddenly, and the tone of her voice was an odd combination of resentment and wistfulness, “how it would feel to be Connie Hyde.”

High school seniors Patricia Ingram and her best friend Mary Jo Tucker are not popular.  They’re not unpopular – Pat has a lovelorn male neighbor she doesn’t want, and neither girl is an outcast - but they want more.  At least, Pat does.  She’s spent her high school career existing on the fringe of the effortless cool clique run by sleek, poised girls like the famous Connie, and she wants that world.  Mary Jo, slightly wiser, suggests there might be aspects to that world Pat hasn’t considered, but Pat has a big reason to ignore this advice – she’s in love with a boy from that group.

Dick Keating – tall, rugged senior. Stubby, biscuit-brown hair and short, thick eyelashes of the same incredible color. Hazel eyes. Lips a trifle full perhaps, but lips that turned up engagingly at the corners when he smiled.  Very white teeth, just a little crooked.  A casual way of wearing clothes, an easy nonchalance of manner.  Dick Keating – the central figure in all her daydreams, and Connie Hyde’s exclusive property!

A chance meeting draws Dick’s attention to the slightly innocent Pat, and the novelty of a girl who isn’t smooth and jaded keeps his interest.  Astonished, Pat is thrilled to begin dating him.  From the start, though, she’s never sure where she stands with Dick, or how he’s going to fall between his interest in her unsophisticated charms and the allure of the familiar Connie.  Later, she begins to see that his interest in her has awakened something else in him, a possibility that he might not just love her but that he might be able to change into the person she thought he was – a boy with values like her own, rather than a boy from a social group that to Pat seems racy and vulgar. 

And then the book whips around, introduces a college boy with a bad reputation who falls instantly in love with Pat and destroys her relationship with Dick by creating (unwittingly) a situation where it seems they’ve had sex.

The last quarter of the book is jarring, and while the resolution between Pat and her flawed prince was believable, the way the book arrives at that resolution is baffling.  Introducing a major character that late, making their relationship that powerful, and writing out Pat’s friends so quickly were all odd choices. Otherwise, a nicely written teen romance.

About the Author
Margaret Maze Craig (1911-1964)
Craig was born and lived in Pennsylvania.  She was married and had 2 children, and worked as a home economics teacher. 

The dedication reads "For my mother, La Belle Sutton Maze."

Other Books by Author
Julie (1952)
Marsha (1955)
Three Who Met (1958)
Now That I'm Sixteen (1959)
It Could Happen To Anyone (1961)

Other Editions