1968, Julian Messner
A Career Romance For Young Moderns
You're such a wispy bit of a thing.
Reviews of teen/young adult novels from past years, focusing fondly on the romance and career novels of the 1950s and 1960s.
Lonely and clearly a bit low on ego, Midge Heydon is delighted to be befriended by popular, smooth
Sandra's attention flatters Midge, who is also thrilled that friendship with Sandra means being part of the right crowd and invited to the right parties with the right boys. Even though she quickly identifies flaws with the system, she's quickly addicted to the social cachet. Her sensible family and a German exchange student who appreciates her old-fashioned values help her go cold turkey eventually. Though not until after some really prestiguous parties, including the one where she's pressured by a totally drunk date to go further than she wants (though by all indications, it's not that far), and flips out.
If you don't let me go," she told Pete through clenched teeth, "you'll be sorry." Then, as he continued to hold her, she drew back one foot and gave him a sharp kick on the shin with her pointed-toed slipper.
You go, Midge. Though her feisty bout of she-wolf is diminished by the inevitable telling her parents all about it at length for one of those horrible Brady Bunch confessions that leads to a parental conclusion that basically means "you're so right baby but you were a little wrong before and it's all a part of growing up and I'm proud of you for maturing so nicely."
Sandra's never truly captured as a character, never really explained. The author seems to feel she's a truly modern teenager, one whose neglectful parents have created a monster of indifference and cold wariness toward everyone. Where Midge is eager and hard-working and just so golly fifties, wanting to do well at her studies and excel and achieve and bllllllleeeehhhhh, Sandra, when she can be bothered to discuss college at all, dismisses it as a social affair she'd hate to miss. This, far more than Sandra's more direct nastiness toward Midge and others, makes Midge worry.
She was a strange girl. Sometimes, despite their close association, Midge felt she didn't know her at all. Whether this was due to the fact that Sandra kept the core of herself secret and shut away, or simply that many of the other girl's attitudes and reactions were so inexplicably different from her own, Midge wasn't quite sure.
A conversation Midge has with her sister is revealing. Tobey has just denied disliking Sandra, and Midge reacts to the lack of what she says, and says, in frustration and defense of her friend:
Ever so many people think as Sandra does, that you have to make money in order to be successful. People like us, who look at it differently - well, we're in the minority.
Not in fiction. Midge and all her fellow smug daughters of professors, potters, writers, ministers, teachers and shepherds are in the very moral majority in children's books. Few and far between are Sandras as heroines. Or even as characters, apart from stock villains.
About the author
Other Books by Rosamund du Jardin
The Real Thing
Wait For Marcy
Marcy Catches Up
A Man For Marcy
Wedding In The Family
One Of The Crowd
Annis Reeve has little patience for the way other people seem to falter at adressing their problems head-on, and no compunction about doing the job for them. Over the course of a season at her family's summer place on the beach, she learns the hard way that her nickname "Miss Fix-It" does not apply only to her skill with fixing up small appliances and broken objects, but to her habit of tinkering with others' lives - and that it's not a fond nickname.
Although Annis is realistic and clearly drawn, the other players are more general - the distant dad, eccentric little brother, amused love interest, exasperated best friend, etc. Her track record of alienating people despite having good intentions rings true, however, and carries the book. One troubling note is that Annis doesn't seem to have any role models for nice behavior except the cliched slyness/'feminine wiles' behavior of her mother and sister. It seems to imply that there are only two ways to be female - one a brusque girl with the sensitivity of a 10-year-old boy, and the other an eyelash batterer who knows how to get her way.
I simply didn't like the character, and can't find much to say about the book.
Anim Runs Away
The Barred Road
Career For Jennifer
Dina And Betsy
A Heart For Business
Rika: A Vacation In Java
The Rugged Dozen
The Rugged Dozen Abroad
Title To Happiness
With A High Heart
Year Of Promise
Blue Ribbons For Meg
The Expandable Browns
Behold This Dream
There it was again, the great dividing line, as intangible but as firm as the
Seventeen-year-old Kitty Boscz is bitter as she graduates from a high school she was always too busy to enjoy. She lives in a slum neighborhood in a small
Kitty's shorthand for all that is wrong with her life is the name of the street she lives on, the street she'd much prefer cute Dean never see.
Factory work. She had sworn she would never work in a factory.
My father didn't die when I was a baby, my mother didn't work long hours in a diner and we didn't live in a slum. But I know exactly why Kitty swore she'd never work in a factory. If you live close to people who work all their lives in factories and you want something else and you're overly sensitive, the idea of working in that world is terrifying, even if it's just for a summer; there's no guarantee you'll ever get out again. It takes so much effort to do something different, and it's so easy to just keep going in every day. Kitty, whose need is so desperate, does it. She gets well-paid work in the press room of a plastics factory.
Kitty's job is described in detail, which pleases me. Far too many writers ignore their characters' jobs as unimportant, but all work is important - it takes up so much of your time and how you do it, how you think of it, is tremendously revealing. Kitty's factory job is essentially to place plastic objects into a set of machines that bake them into various shapes, based on molds. She makes parts for compacts, knobs for televisions, and various objects she can't quite figure out, and is paid by the finished article. As with most blue-collar jobs, it sounds simple. As with most blue-collar jobs, it's not. The machines are red-hot and it's unsafe to wear gloves so burns and blisters are part of the job. Each product has some requirement; a screw to be inserted properly, for instance. And when you've just about mastered one product, the quota's filled and the factory switches molds to make a new product with a whole new set of requirements. The work is repetitive and boring, but if you get careless you could lose a hand or an arm. All this in a confined space with massive ovens during a brutal summer, with temperatures reaching into the hundreds. No wonder Kitty is nonplussed when her secret crush, Dean, reveals his very middle-class fear of being 'a second-rate man' like his father, who lost out on the big promotion to president of his bank. Poor Dean never quite recovers his luster in Kitty's eyes; she was attracted to his safe, good-looking affluence but she's a natural fighter and the struggle to become president instead of vice president is so alien to her that it doesn't register as a worthy fight. Cy's attempts to change Pearl Street and help Tomas become a doctor, and the dreams of Dean's pal PeeWee (and anyone who's ever watched an old movie knows who gets the girl once they see that name) to make it as an actor in New York are more in her line.
Dorothy Gilman Butters was born in
Ten Leagues To
She was thinking happily, In spite of the Garritys, I'm glad we moved to Brookhaven... and I'm going to like it at High. She liked it now. She fitted in. It was amazing how quickly she had adjusted and found a place for herself. They had been in town only a few months; she had gone to High just since the opening of school, six weeks ago. And yet already she had friends, she was part of a crowd, people were asking her to do things.
Susan Trowbridge's life is so rosy and perfect at the start of the book, I had to laugh. Most teen novels start with the teen sulking, brooding or otherwise dissatisfied. A cheerful start is a guarantee that the character will face a horrific problem very soon. Susan's, of course, will be racism. Her new town is larger and more diverse than her old home, and there are racial tensions that simply didn't exist in her life before.
The first hint is a cool warning, delivered in that offhand, sideways style perfected by a certain type of teenaged girl, that Susan was seen walking with a Negro girl. Susan gets the message very clearly and is troubled; why should she not walk with Beth, who is a fellow singer in the Glee Club (and here I swoon at the sheer fiftiesness) and a nice girl?
Susan, a pleasant girl herself, discovers a streak of adamantine in her nature when it becomes clear that her new friends have an established practice of self-segregation within the school. She's still nice and remains on the committee to organize the Frosh Dance, but she quietly insists on involving two Negro students in the planning committee. When the silently understood segregation re-asserts itself and George and Fern fail to show up at the committee's party, a steely-eyed Susan stands up at the dance and publicly thanks the whole committee and says she must thank the two members who couldn't make the party. From then on, the whole school has an opinion on Susan.
Susan struggles with the situation. She's never quite sure if she's doing the right thing; in a few instances there's gross racism that she reacts to instinctively, but much of the time it's so subtle and so easy to ignore that she wrestles with whether she's doing the right thing by refusing to go along with the crowd. What inspires her and drives her on is a speech given by a local author who made good.
The trouble with being like everyone else... is that it gets to be a habit. It's an insidious habit... it starts with innocuous things like dress, and it creeps over you until you're acting and thinking like everyone else, too. No matter whether it's right or wrong. Just because it's easiest.... Dare to be different!... If there's something you want to do, and it's right and best for you - whether others are doing it or not - go ahead and do it! If you believe in a thing, work for it - whether others believe or not. By your belief and your work you can change them. By changing one person, you may change the world.
A fairly standard modern viewpoint, complete with the lack of questioning as to whether your difference is a better way, and the morality of changing other people. The rest of the speech, though, is more interesting.
But by staying true to yourself and your beliefs you will grow and achieve the status of a true adult. An 'adult' being one who knows what's right, and what is honorable. Nowadays, when so much depends on individual thought and effort, you have to be surer than ever that what you do and say is done and said because it's your actual conviction... something you've reasoned out for yourself and are ready to stand up and fight for - if it comes to that.
This is a more challenging idea, then and now, and one Sue will come back to for reassurance. For some people dismiss her actions as those of a girl who wants attention, or just a perverse desire to be different. A style, in other words, instead of a conviction.
As David, the boy she likes initially and who drifts away after she begins arguing against the racist behaviors of her crowd, says:
I like people who mean what they say. I didn't believe you at first - thought you were just a trouble-maker, or maybe trying to call attention to yourself by not running with the herd. A maverick, sort of.
Imagine a time in which it was the substance of your behavior that mattered, not the style.
A Valentine For Vinny
1965, Funk & Wagnalls
Vinnie turned away again, to hide the hopelessness that she felt must show on her face. She felt like crying. Could anything be further from her dreams, she wondered, than working day after day in this pokey little shop?
As autumn arrives in
Her sometime friend Carol has an analysis, comparing her to someone else she knows:
He was 'sleepwalking though life.' And I think maybe that's what you've been doing, Vin. It isn't any fault of yours - it's just that you haven't found what you want to do, or what interests you, really.
Vinnie, roused, recalls that she enjoys organizing things and begins, cautiously, to apply that to the shop. Her efforts to make a good job there pay off; she feels great satisfaction when an impulsive arrangement of baby shower items pays off, and begins to take an interest in the store. A salesman who handles the card sales to Mrs. Gates encourages her, as does reliable Hal Loomis, her old high school pal.
Hal's father had always been something of a puzzle in
Hall clearly sees nothing particularly unsavory in the Loomis family tradition of hucksterism. She has Vinnie fall for Hal finally, after recognizing the impressiveness of Loomis senior.
She turned to look quickly at Hal, wondering if he had that same air of assurance and she had just never bothered to see it.
There are a few red herrings thrown about Loomis, but by the end of the book all is well - Vinnie's dad approves of him as "a sharp cookie" and Vinnie is thrilled the nice developer has donated the land for a golf course to the town.
Vinnie's a believable but unlikable character. Her romance with Hal is more about an unstated but heavily hinted at assurance that he will be a powerful and aggressive man than about romance. She drops her crazy dreams of football star Ted, who never noticed her much anyway, only because he actually stands her up for a hot girl. She's dazzled by a real estate developer's small-town machismo, repulsed by a woman who apparently is the sole unmarried woman over 30 in
They were simply four old friends in their late sixties who were thoroughly enjoying each other and their little get-together. Vinnie sighed happily. In a way, her own life was lightened and enriched at the sight of them, sitting there in the bright sunlight in an atmosphere of warmth and gaiety.
Which brings us to Hall's major flaw as a writer - she's too verbose. She badly needed an editor; the excess words are cumbersome and make the book much less readable than it should be.
Hall is most concerned with Vinnie's initial lack of gumption. This is a sympathetic storyline, a somewhat listless girl finding that she can enjoy herself if she stops relying on other people to create interest in her life. She finds pleasure in discovering what she's good at - promotion in the store, writing to people, etc. - and in creating a life for herself for the first time. She gains an appreciation for what can be gotten out of a seemingly dull, humdrum situation, and learns to enjoy living in the same small town where she grew up. This last is impressive, considering how frequently authors seem incapable of imagining how a young character can survive without going elsewhere. Of course, part of the way she learns to live in
Bright Red Ribbon
Cathy And Her Castle
Fanfare For Two
A Hatbox For Mimi
One Perfect Rose
A Picnic For Judy
Rita Rings A Bell
White Collar Girl
It's 1750 and the French-and-Indian War has been over for two years. On the wild
As she closed the door behind her the cold air struck Deborah like a blow across the face. Oh but this was cruel weather, freezing everything it touched. When she stopped to catch her breath the cold came near to searing her throat and she pulled her muffler close about her face. Daisy, saddled and harnessed to the pod, was shivering too. The only movement in that lifeless white landscape was the vapor that curled up from Daisy's breath, and her own and Ben's.
But there is life in that brutal cold. First a strange little man who jumps at shadows and flees suddenly, leaving behind a fortune in counterfeit bills, then a runaway servant, then a handsome young captain-turned-bookseller named Giles Trent, then a tall Indian travelling with the short but somehow intimidating Oliver Woodmansey.
Well-written, with evocative descriptions of post-French and Indian war
Leaning back, she chopped off two chunks of frozen porridge with the hatchet, and handed one to Ben. The other she put into her own mouth. Its coldness made her teeth ache, but it gave the illusion of food.
Searching For Shona
Margaret J. Anderson
1978, Alfred A. Knopf
Orphaned heiress Marjorie Malcolm-Scott is on her way to
1948, The Macmillan Company
Laura Carpenter's fall down a flight of stairs fractures a vertebra, and puts her in a cast all summer. Worst of all, her doctor tells her she should take a year out of college to give her back a chance to heal completely. The enthusiastic student athlete - a crack member of the tennis, basketball and hockey teams - is crestfallen. Her first weeks at home that autumn are filled with melancholy as she imagines the warm collegiate activities going on at Harlow without her - the football games, the dorm parties, the friendship and fun. At loose ends, she aimlessly takes up the sculpting tools a family friend had given her months earlier. Despite her initial clumsiness and previous lack of interest in art, Laura finds her interest engaged for the first time in a long time.
A sympathetic but brisk look at a girl's first encounter with serious misfortune, and how she handles it and how it enables her to recognize misfortune in others. Well-written, with enough description to evoke a feeling of place and strong characters. Engaging plot, with Laura's naturally industrious and competitive nature being roused by her new passion into getting into teaching pottery classes and selling her work.
A bit dated in places. A plot point concerning poverty and substandard housing is a period piece, as is the look and sound of the poor characters - an Italian girl, two micks and a black family written to sound unnervingly hokey. The book was written shortly after World War II, and it's fairly hard to miss; a major plot point deals with recent war veterans, and Laura's love interest is a young vet.
Laura's love interest, Drew, is one of the least overbearing male characters in all the similar books of this era I've read so far - he does some of the usual guidance/mentor things that can be irksome, but he's not a jerk. And his calm confidence seems more natural as a war veteran talking to a girl about 7 years younger. And he's got an awwwww background as an orphan!
Other books by the author
Year Of Promise
Career For Jennifer
With A High Heart
Title To Happiness