Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Going Steady (1950)

Going Steady
Anne Emery

Sally Burnaby's a 17-year-old whose long summer after high school graduation is a mixture of the delights of having a steady boyfriend and the frustrations of being almost but not quite an adult. Despite the dated nature of the material - did that world ever exist, even in 1950? - and the way the author's evasion of certain topics makes her heroine look a bit dim at times, it's a more honest examination of being female, young and (inescapably) naive than most of the current crop of cutting-edge problem novels.

At the book's start, Sally appears to be just a cute teenager. She's completely absorbed with her boyfriend, Scotty, and restless with being more than a child and less than an adult in a busy family. She's set to attend college in the fall, but she grows increasingly aggravated by her own sense of inadequacy as the summer progresses. Scotty, for all his good qualities, possesses that typically male trait of overweening confidence, and Sally grows anxious to gain his approval. She's indifferent to tennis and diving, but struggles to get better at both because he excels at them and simply expects her to want to improve. She can drive a modern reader insane with this, and with the way she hesitates to even share a difference of opinion. But has this really changed? Don't many girls still fall into line with male opinion, become caught up in trying to 'live up' to male expectations even in subjects and fields that don't interest them? A more frustrating anarchronism is the way Sally's parents agonize over how the relationship will impact Scotty. I do not like this behavior, having had a similar conversation once with a brother who implored me not to 'hurt' a boyfriend. Boy-boy loyalty apparently trumps blood ties.

Apart from her romance, Sally's other major concern in this summer is her position in her family, and how that's changing. Aware suddenly that all her friends have summer jobs, she realizes belatedly that maybe she's expected to work too. When she does get a job, she hates it, does it poorly, and realizes belatedly that she was wrong to approach it with such slipshod indifference. And she spends her first paycheck on a frivolous item instead of contributing to the family finances or buying a needed coat. These are somewhat old-fashioned ideas; I wonder how many middle-class kids really feel pressured to help support themselves at 17 today - but one thing is timeless. Sally feels that all her bad decisions are irrevocable, that she just keeps digging herself in deeper without remedy. She's haunted by a steadily worsening sense of having repeatedly failed to understand or figure out the right thing, whether it be with Scotty or her job or her family. What she thought would be a beautiful summer with her steady boyfriend turns into a long, hard season of growing up, and by the end of it, both she and Scotty are panicking, so frustrated by their family woes and personal confusion that they agree to take a leap into a different life. But is marriage at 17 really what Sally wants?

The terms of 'going steady' are utterly outdated and adorable and largely alien to anyone born after 1940. Sally's observations of her coworker Carol, a 26-year-old who's desperate to find a husband and escape drudge work, are painfully realistic, even in the 21st century. Go to any library and choose 3 books with pastel covers, and they'll all be chick lit with Carol as the heroine. The only difference will be the modern format's fantasist insistence that most Carols are actually successful career women with expensive shoe collections. Sally's friend Millie, on the other hand, probably doesn't exist anymore. Sudden pregnancy usually derails modern youth engagements, it doesn't result in shotgun

Author Bio

Anne Eleanor McGuigan was the eldest of five children with a father who was a professor. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1928, spent a year travelling with her family, and then began teaching. She married John Emery in 1933, and had five children. The Illinois town of Evanston appears to be the model for Sherwood; she lived in Evanston most of her life.

Other Books
About the Burnabys
Senior Year - about Sally
Going Steady - about Sally
High Note, Low Note
Campus Melody

Dinny Gordon Series:
Dinny Gordon, Freshman
Dinny Gordon, Sophomore
Dinny Gordon, Junior
Dinny Gordon, Senior

Jane Ellison 4-H
County Fair
Hickory Hill
Sweet Sixteen

Pat Marlowe
First Love True Love
First Orchid for Pat
First Love Farewell

Sue Morgan
The Popular Crowd
The Losing Game

Other Books
Scarlet Royal
Vagabond Summer
That Archer Girl
Married on Wednesday
A Dream to Touch
Bright Horizons
Mountain Laurel
Jennie Lee, Patriot
American Friend: Herbert Hoover
Mystery of the Opal Ring
Danger in a Smiling Mask
Carey's Fortune
The Sky Is Falling
Free Not to Love

Spy books
A Spy in Old Philadelphia
A Spy in Old Detroit
A Spy in Old New Orleans
A Spy in Old West Point

Image Cascade Publishing