Friday, January 30, 2009

Beth Donnis, Speech Therapist

Kathlyn Gay, il. (cover only) Jon Nielsen
1968, Julian Messner
A Career Romance For Young Moderns

Beth Donnis struggles through her first year teaching children with speech handicaps in California. Her students - angry little Beth, shy Chuck and resistant Sayre - and fellow teachers create challenges she's not sure she can surmount, particularly when her guardian, Aunt Martha, faces financial devastation at the hands of Chuck's vindictive father.

You're such a wispy bit of a thing.
Beth's cute, she's vivacious, she's all that and a carton of cupcakes. When she's preoccupied, she tugs on her bangs. When she's bullied by the bad-tempered Hal Jamieson, she flushes and fights and wonders why she's so excited to see him. Despite the excellent vocabulary and smooth writing style, the heroine's perfection and the hero's unremarked flaws make it frustrating to read.

Two things do make it a little more bearable. First, Beth's perfection cracks when dealing with her students, who can be more than she can deal with at times. Second, a truly unnerving scene where Beth comes across an odd group of people on a lonely beach:

She forced her feet to move forward and caught sight of several strangely garbed figures. Two of them held hammers with sharp picks at the opposite edges. They looked macabre in the shadows as they stooped over something on the sand and murmured among themselves.

Also, it's been a long time since I read a book where a real estate agent and developer was the hero. This 1968 was a long time ago.

The speech therapy info sounds good, and this was undoubtedly the primary cause of the book - a career, a romance and a reassurance that cute girls can find meaningful work too!

Other books
Girl Pilot

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One Of The Crowd
Rosamund du Jardin, il. (cover) Jacqueline Tomes
1961, J.B. Lippincott

And she's so nice, Judy - not a bit snobbish or high-hat, as some of the kids think. You can't imagine how easy she is to talk with, how interested in what you're saying. And do you know what she told me? She said she'd noticed me a lot this year and thought I'd become ever so much sharper and more on-the-ball.

Lonely and clearly a bit low on ego, Midge Heydon is delighted to be befriended by popular, smooth Sandra Towers. Over the course of sophmore year, she discovers the complicated truth behind being popular and about different people in her life.

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

Rosamund du Jardin

Other Books by Rosamund du Jardin
Practically Seventeen
Class Ring
Boy Trouble
The Real Thing
Wait For Marcy
Marcy Catches Up
A Man For Marcy
Senior Prom
Double Date
Double Feature
Showboat Summer
Double Wedding
Wedding In The Family
One Of The Crowd


Fan website
The Malt Shop - du Jardin page
Image Cascade Books (publishers)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Miss Fix-It
Adele de Leeuw
1966, The Macmillan Company

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.

Other Books
Anim Runs Away
Clay Fingers
The Barred Road
Career For Jennifer
Curtain Call
Dear Stepmother
Dina And Betsy
Doctor Ellen
Doll Cottage
Future For Sale
Gay Design
Hawthorne House
A Heart For Business
Island Adventure
Linda Marsh
A Place For Herself
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
Nobody's Doll
Hideaway House

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Heartbreak Street
Dorothy Gilman Butters
1958, Macrae Smith

There it was again, the great dividing line, as intangible but as firm as the Mason-Dixon line. It wasn't only money, it was the security that money brought with it, the knowledge that always there would be enough food and clothing and heat and movie money.

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 New England city, and the hopelessness of her mother's drudgery and her own prospects weigh heavily upon her. Her older brother Tomas is sliding, fueled by the same angry frustration, into crime while her younger brother Danny is being wooed by a gang. Trying to find a job that pays well enough to provide not just for herself and her savings (she hopes to save enough to enter a secretarial course), but to help support her family of four, she has to bypass pleasant but low-paying jobs at stores for a grueling one in the press room of a local factory. The only perk is that the boy she's always had a crush on is working there too; he's a sububan kid who's only there for the summer, but Kitty's thrilled.

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. Pearl Street is crime, is danger, is decay and loss and struggle and heartbreak, and she wants out. She has spirited conversations on this topic with a newcomer to the neighborhood, Cy Whitney, who is working with the new Community Center to convince the local toughs to abandon their pose of 'anyone who goes to the Center is a wuss and must be beaten up' and use the program. Cy's in his mid-twenties, from a New York City slum, and has recently gone through the same experience Kitty's struggling with - the anger and frustration and bitterness - and counsels her that it will help her more if she changes her attitude, that it's good to want to get ahead in life, but hating where she's from will just devour her. He also wants to save her intelligent, restless, rebellious brother Tomas and needs her help.

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 New Brunswick, NJ, home to the main campus of the state university, Rutgers, and currently an impoverished small city itself. She was more widely known as Dorothy Gilman, under which name she wrote the Mrs. Pollifax mystery series. Although New Brunswick is traditionally oriented north, toward New York City, she seems to have been drawn south, to Philadelphia, for she attended first the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on north Broad Street (1940-1945), then the University of Pennsylvania (1963-1964).

Other Books
Ten Leagues To Boston Town 1962

Monday, January 19, 2009

In honor of today's annual commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. and tomorrow's inuaguration of America's first black president, a racially themed novel from 1954.

The Barred Road
Adele De Leeuw
1954, The Macmillan Company

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.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Valentine For Vinny
Marjory Hall
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 Rock Harbor, local teen Virginia Trent faces the end of her summer fling with the money crowd and the end of her hopes of attending secretarial school. Her dad, an appliance salesman, just can't afford to send her. Drearily, she looks ahead to a long New England winter working full-time at Betty's Card and Gift Shop, a drab business run by Mrs. Gates. Maybe worst of all, secret crush Ted Johnson has won a scholarship and so there's no chance of 'accidentally' running into him anymore.

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. And even as Betty's Card and Gift Shop blooms, the sleepy winter Rock Harbor is re-vitalized by Hal's dad, whose plan to build a country club has created a new enthusiasm in the locals. And Hal's dad is something else. He is, as Vinnie's dad sums up, a promoter. Vinnie reflects that:

Hal's father had always been something of a puzzle in Rock Harbor. He had moved to the little town a few years before, had bought a ramshackle old building and made it into the Harborside Restaurant. As soon as the restaurant seemed to be paying for itself comfortably, Mr. Loomis sold it and bought the Pepper house, on the corner of Vinnie's street. He took the old Victorian mansion and turned it into four apartments. Then, instead of renting the apartments and maintaining his income-producing property, he had sold that, too.

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 Rock Harbor, and reacts with tidy disgust to large families and poor people. Some of this changes, and some of it doesn't. Late in the book, she meets Miss Carrie (resident spinster) for the first time after spending the preceding 230 pages shuddering against the idea of becoming that weird old woman, and discovers that she's really human, after all.

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 Rock Harbor's winters is through the major intercession of a grand building project with the country club. But at least Hall tries. It's a slightly unusual look at becoming an adult - the realization that you have to make your own interests and storyline.

Other Books
Bright Red Ribbon
Cathy And Her Castle
Fanfare For Two
A Hatbox For Mimi
Morning Glory
One Perfect Rose
Paper Moon
A Picnic For Judy
Rita Rings A Bell
Star Island
White Collar Girl

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ten Leagues To Boston Town
Dorothy Gilman Butters
1962, Macrae Smith Company

It's 1750 and the French-and-Indian War has been over for two years. On the wild Massachusetts coast, 16-year-old Deborah Parker and her 13-year-old brother Ben have been left on their family's homestead while their mother tends their sick father in Boston. When word arrives that their father may be dying, the siblings decide to risk the hard overland journey by horse-drawn sled.

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. Trent instantly suspects him and Yonanda'haa of being in league with the counterfeiters, but the group quickly runs into another pair, the Parson Hand and trader Tom McLean. And soon Deborah doesn't know who to trust, and whether she'll ever reach Boston. What she begins to sense, however, is that she's intrigued by the prideful, mysterious Oliver.

Well-written, with evocative descriptions of post-French and Indian war America and clear, strong characters involved in an interesting and believable plot. Deborah is just right, a strong personality who doesn't behave in a jarringly modern manner. The details are wonderfully convincing.

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.

Other books by author
Enchanted Caravan
Carnival Gypsy
Ragamuffin Alley
The Calico Year
Four-Party Line
Papa Dolphin's Table
Girl in Buckskin
Heartbreak Street
Witch's Silver
Masquerade (also published as Heart's Design)
The Bells of Freedom
The Maze in the Heart of the Castle (as Dorothy Gilman)

More information:
Dorothy Gilman Butters is best known for her Mrs. Pollifax mysteries, written under the name Dorothy Gilman. Born a Jersey girl in New Brunswick, she later developed strong Philadelphia ties, attending both the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of Philadelphia.

Fan website focusing on the Mrs. Pollifax series.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Searching For Shona
Margaret J. Anderson
1978, Alfred A. Knopf

Orphaned heiress Marjorie Malcolm-Scott is on her way to Canada to live with relatives when she spots sometime playmate and orphanage resident Shona McInnes awaiting evacuation to the countryside. Dreading the long ocean voyage, she suggests they swap identities. The bold Shona, who has a limited sense of consequences, jumps at the chance to swap clothing. So the real Shona goes off to Canda while the pretender goes to a quiet Scottish village to stay with the Campbell sisters. Marjorie is quite happy with the results, but one thing nags at her - the village where she was sent turned out to be the same place Shona's long-lost mother came from, and Marjorie feels terrible that her friend lost out on the chance to discover her family background.

This is a cozy family book, beneath the appearance of a mystery/adventure story. It has many of the classic ingredients of a thrilling mystery/adventure story - an identity swap, a poor little rich girl, orphans, wartime privitation and an abandoned house with a tower and a tragic background - but the real well it draws from is that of a neglected child who finds happiness with unlikely parents in a chaotic time.

When they reached home, they hung up their wet coats. Miss Agnes had socks and slippers warming by the fire for them because she was sure their feet would be cold and wet after walking all the way from the picture house in that awful rain.

An unusual book in several ways. It's set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the heroine is atypical, a unadventurous sort who never changes much - she's more confident at the end, but no more bold. I like that - enough with the introverted heroines who must magically transform into extroverted ones. Marjorie is old for her years, a practical and worried child for whom the magical house and the haunting mystery of its former owners are mildly diverting but not nearly as important as the reality of her life. Her adopted sister, Anna Ray, is more of a typical heroine, dreamy and childish and prone to running off on adventures. Anna drives the plot by forcing Marjorie to do things like break into the deserted house.

Other books by author (fiction)
Olla-piska: Tales of David Douglas
Children of Summer: Henri Fabre's Insects
The Ghost inside the Monitor
The Druid’s Gift
The Mists of Time
The Brain on Quartz Mountain
Light in the Mountain
Journey of the Shadow Bairns
In the Circle of Time
In the Keep of Time
To Nowhere and Back

More information
Anderson has a website at

Clay Fingers
Adele DeLeeuw
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
A Place For Herself
Year Of Promise
Career For Jennifer
Gay Design
Linda Marsh
Doctor Ellen
With A High Heart
Future For Sale
Title To Happiness

Welcome to the land of outdated, old-fashioned, often-weeded juvenile fiction. Being single and feckless, I've often found myself turning to the young adult (YA) and children sections of the library for entertainment when I couldn't face another novel about divorce. But in the wake of Harry Potter and Twilight and with the creepy-to-this-GenXer wave of child-obsessed parents, modern youth fiction has become unsettling. Books entirely in verse. Faeries burbling about the Sithe. Young protagonists who are all grotesquely abused foster kids, unnervingly hip New Yorkers or bubble-wrapped McMansion-dwellers who tell their parents everything.

So I've sought out the previous generations of kid and teen books, from the 1930's to the 1980's. I've tried to avoid the cursed forerunners of today's bloodless fiction - the 1960's worst 'problem' novels and twee fantasy, the crassest 'realistic' fiction of the 1970's, etc. Some I'd read as a kid, some I've never read before.