Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stand Fast And Reply (1943)

Lavinia R. Davis,
1943, The Junior Literary Guild and Doubleday, Doran and Company

The summer visiting Aunt Helen up at Rye had been a flop. Aunt Helen hadn't known any of the younger crowd, and though Bitsy had tried to make friends she had stayed an outsider. She had comforted herself with the thought that at Sea Cliff she was one of the gang, but now, after two days, she wasn't at all sure. Bitsy felt cold and apprehensive as it occured to her that maybe she was the one who had changed. She had been something of a leader in the old rough-and-tumble, kid days, but maybe from now on she would always be on the outside.

When 17-year old Elizabeth "Bitsy" Close overhears the smoothest, most desirable boys in their upscale shore resort dismiss her as a kid, she's horrified at the idea that she might be socially doomed when she returns to her private Manhattan school in the fall. She's actually relieved when her parents break the news that a) bad investments have drained their finances and b) this, plus her father's orders overseas, means that her, her mother and her little brother Stanton will not return to their New York City apartment, but go live with relatives on a farm in Ohio. It may be strange and remote, but at least she won't endure the snubs and humiliation of being a social failure.

After a series of inevitable misunderstanding and awkward moments as the New York girl raised among catty socialites mingles with plain-spoken and taciturn farmers, Bitsy proves herself a hard worker. And her novelty makes her an instant hit at her new school. In short, the move does work out nicely for her social status. In the contrary way of things, however, that means less than it did in New York. With chores and farm work to do, the students scatter each afternoon, and Bitsy's no exception. Her closest friend is her cousin Tim, whose dedication to farming is in contrast to his older brother's; Bruce dreams of machinery and longs to be an airman, a desire inflamed by the nearby air base. Tim's a pure farmer; impressed by Bitsy's city style, he's more impressed by her willingness to help out on the farm.

"Wait until you meet my cousin Bitsy," he said proudly. "She's some looker and she works like a man."

Then her old life rears its head in the form of Byrd Gaylord (and here I pause in appreciation of such a name), the smoothest and most desirable of those older boys who'd dismissed her months earlier as a kid. Now, though, Byrd is in the Air Force and, lonely for his old world, latches onto her as a familiar face. Flattered and newly confident by her success in Ohio, Bitsy returns his interest. But is Byrd really what she wants from life?

A well-written story with an engaging heroine and atmospheric surroundings. Bitsy's a tad too adaptable; she tends to quickly grasp what she's doing wrong and correct it without trouble, and her social success is a bit overdone, if satisfying. Unusual book, in that she doesn't struggle much with the typical teen stuff, but cuts to the chase with the big issues - who to marry, what life to live, the survival of the farm, etc. Maybe because this is a war book, Bitsy's focused much more on adult issues than on teen ones.

A few things rankle or stand out. Bruce's casual dismissal of the Polish immigrant farm hand Steve as a dumb Pole, and the confusion whether he's mildly retarded or just a foreigner with limited English and emotional problems from WWI. The creepy trick Steve plays with a dead dog. The use of the word 'terrific' as a synonym for 'terrible.' The cool evaluation of a neighbor boy upon meeting Bitsy for the first time, as he sums her up as a nice piece. Tim's bluntness, which is meant to be natural but which seems to afflict him mostly around Bitsy; he's plenty smooth and courteous around a major from the nearby air base, for example. And finally, one character uses the phrase 'squaw winter,' apparently a regional term for the first freeze of winter, and which I've never heard before; Indian summer, yes, squaw winter, no.
About the author
(1901-1961) Lavinia Riker Davis also wrote as "Wendell Farmer."
Other books

Young Adult
Come Be My Love
Hearts In Trim
A Sea Between

Buttonwood Island
Plow Penny Mystery
Pony Jungle
Hobby Horse Hill
Melody, Mutton Bone and Sam
Sandy's Spurs
Janey's Fortune
The Secret of Donkey Island
Donkey Detective
We All Go Away
Americans Every One
Adventures In Steel (NF)
Island City: Adventures in old New York
It Happened On A Holiday (SS)
Round Robin
Spniney and Spike and the B-29

Roger and the Fox
Danny's Luck
The Wild Birthday Cake
Summer Is Fun

Evidence Unseen
Threat Of Dragons
Barren Heritage

Short Stories (children)
"Champion Fire ’n Feather" in the anthology Great Stories About Dogs

Jane Cowl dahlias


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Frances By Starlight (1958)

Frances By Starlight
Winifred E. Wise, il. Evelyn Copelman (cover)
1958, Macrae Smith Company

Spring was late this year, but Franny Cochrane was early. Burrowing in the back of her big closet, she felt frustrated. All the clothes she didn't want came out of nowhere to fall down on her head; they were all the tiresome winter dresses and tops and skirts that she had been wearing for a thousand days and years and months - or so it seemed. But somewhere amidst the ghostly clatter of empty hangers there ought to be a dress of daffodil-yellow cotton that seemed to her to be the essence of spring! She finally found it - but laid away in a box and sadly in need of pressing.

18-year-old fashion design student Frances Cochrane is discontented. Boyfriend Hank treats her more like a pal than a special, fragile flower, her two brothers aggravate her, and she's thoroughly conquered her Chicago environs. Now she dreams of getting out of the Midwest for the summer. The chance arrives with her wealthy aunt Fran, who readily agrees to take the teen back to her California home for a whirl of social activity. But Fran has her eye on a different goal - Hollywood, and a chance to use her design training in the costume world. She soon discovers the barriers between her and that dream. Brooding wannabe actor Michael Ybarra gives her an inside track to a job as a messenger girl on the studio lot of Triumph Productions. And eventually Frances gets - and with Mike's help, takes - her chance.

"What's wrong with being a butcher?" Franny asked with asperity.
"Everything - if your ancestors were Spanish landlords like mine happen to have been."

Along the way, she's fallen in love with Mike. The class-conscious, sulky, handsome young actor is forever on the make, a quality that puzzles Frances, who balks at the amount of lying and toadying he does to further his career prospects. Frankly, it's never really explained why she's in love, except that she's temporarily in a land where lemons grow on trees and working in a place where you see movie stars, and she's slightly addled by it all. And then, as another wannabe-Mike-girlfriend describes him:

"There's something about him. Makes you think that if he had just the right girl, he'd be different. If he'd only let you be the girl, you know."

That's a highly dangerous quality in a boy.

A generally fun, well-written book, with a gratifying emphasis on the girl's ambition over romance, and her rueful realization that great ambitions come with a social price.

* The stars Frances spots are Danny Kaye, Mel Ferrer and Jeanne Crain
*When Mike picks her up for a day at the beach, she innocently asks why he's lashed a toboggan to the roof of his car - it's a surfboard.
* the bit about horse operas, and the studio lots filled with NYC streets

About the Author
Winifred Esther Wise was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and worked as a reporter, a writer on Comptom's Encylopedia and as an ad exec at Marshall Field & Company. She married Stuart Palmer (1905-1968), a writer of mysteries who did the Miss Hildegarde Withers series. They lived on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, and had three children. In the Wisconsin Academy Review excerpts from her unpublished autobiography, Wise writes of her experiences in WWII Chicago and living in a remote house on the dunes in Indiana with her first daughter, Jennifer.

Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (I)
Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (II)
Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (III)
Wikipedia on Compton's Encyclopedia

Books -fiction
Frances A La Mode
Frances By Starlight
"Minnow" Vail
Tammy: Adventure in Squaw Valley
The Wishing Year

Books - nonfiction
Thomas Alva Edison: The Youth and His Times
Young Edison
Jane Addams of Hull-House
Swift Walker: A True Story of the American Fur Trade
Thomas Alva Edison. (Real People series)
Rebel in Petticoats. The Life of Elizabeth Cody Stanton
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Woman With a Cause
Fanny Kemble: Actress, Author, Abolitionist
Fray Junipero Serra and the California Conquest
Benjamin Franklin

The Revolt of the Darumas

Not sure
Away With the Circus
Lincoln's Secret Weapon
Chipula: A Saga of Old Hungary. Privately printed for Theresa Renner, 1969.
Forget-Me-Nots and Pigweed: The Life and Times of Winifred F. Wise. Unpublished, 1993.