Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Surfboard Summer (1965)

 Surfboard Summer
Jean L. Sears
1965, Western Publishing Company
edition shown: 1969 Golden Press, A Golden Griffon Romance, il. Luciana Roselli

Suddenly Cindy's throat thickened, for in Mr. Marshall's eyes she caught the same flash of pity she had seen so often in Diane's.  They knew what was wron.  They understood her dread of going home to face her parents - and to look at that empty chair.

It's been five months since 16-year-old Cindy's older brother died in a car crash, and her mother is just going through the motions.  Struggling with her own grief and trying to take care of her mother, Cindy has been looking forward to their annual summer at her grandmother's San Francisco home and is devastated when it's cancelled.  Lonely now that her best friend has gone away for the summer, she wanders down to the beach of her California town and discovers surfing.  And the local surf god, Bix, who swoops in to rescue her when - well, when he nearly runs her over.  She doesn't mind, considering their ah, romantic ride back to the beach.

Crouching low while balancing with his feet tensed on the board's slippery surface, he did an about-face.  Cindy took a deep breath, then hooked her legs around his muscular waist.  A minute later, he lifted her knees up so that she was astride his broad shoulders.

Bix is a poster boy for the California coast -

His blond hair gleamed in the sun, and there were little white squint lines around the tanned skin on his temples, as if he had looked at a lot of oceans and smiled at a lot of pretty girls.

- and Cindy makes an impression by snapping a photo of him that gets picked up by a local newspaper, boosting his already high image and ego.  Then she learns to surf well and, with her fearlessness, wins him completely.  Or as completely as you can win over a guy like Bix.

Other plot points involve Heather, a rich girl whose bout of polio has left her with a crippled leg, and the tension between Bix's quintessentially middle-class surfing club and the beach bums.

Bix's usually affable face hardened before he answered.  "Beach bums!"  He shook his head disgustedly.  "They do anything for show, and they give the rest of us a bad name with their peroxided hair and wild parties."

Cindy's a likeable heroine, kind enough that her first instinct is to protect her heartbroken mother but sensible enough to rebel when her mother's initial foray out of grieving selfishness is to question her daughter's new hobby.  The California surfing scene feels like something out of the world of Gidget, and it's oddly impossible to imagine those nice, healthy, clean-cut early 1960's kids as surfers looking darkly at wild beach bums.  Didn't the beach bums win that war?

About the Author
Born in Kansas, Sears had a mother (Ruth McCarthy Sears) who wrote gothic mysteries and young adult romances.  Sears was a freelance writer who also wrote nurse romances and for Catholic publications.

Other Editions
The original book, which is so less attractive I've swapped it out for the paperback above:

Other books
Ski Resort Nurse
Television Nurse
Las Vegas Nurse


Vintage Nurse Romance Novels - blog with reviews of Sears's nurse novels

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mystery Of The Long House
Lucile McDonald and Zola H. Ross
1956, Thomas Nelson & Sons
Edition shown: Pyramid Willow Books, 1964

Archaeology!  Barbara’s dark eyes clouded and she tossed her short brown curls crossly.  Of all the dull affairs!  Who cared about embalming life, either past or present.  She wanted to live it – now!

18-year-old Barbara Stratton is used to dealing with new environments; her father’s job in international banking has had the family moving around constantly all her life.  But her latest setting, an island off the coast of Washington State, is a disappointment.  She’d planned a summer of sailing parties, riding trips with the Tack Room Club and dances at the Boat Club.  Instead, she’s dispatched to a remote archaeology dig run by her new brother-in-law, Paul.  The soul of feminine arts, she bakes some brownies as a welcome treat and trips down to the site to introduce herself – and falls into a trench.  Most of the men forgive her quickly, but harried Paul and two of his students remain distant.  They have more pressing concerns than a bored teenager; their dig is of an Indian long house, and part of it appears to be on private land whose owner refuses to let them dig.  With only a partial dig possible, their funding is in jeopardy.  Barbara, meanwhile, is making friends with the locals and poking around in the mystery of the unfriendly neighbor, Mrs. Covey.

As the summer passes, Barbara finds herself becoming more interested in archaeology, and in one particular young archaeologist.  But she disagrees with the group’s aloofness from the locals.  When one man says, bitterly:

“None of these people understand.  They’re stupid and stubborn.”

Barbara counters with: 

…. “He doesn’t understand,” she said slowly.  “And none of you try to make him understand.  Maybe if you did, you’d have better luck.”

Somewhat unusually, the heroine spends much of her time alone.  The love interest angle isn’t developed until late, and Barbara basically rubs Paul the wrong way so that the rest of the team feels awkward befriending her.   Her loneliness and boredom keep her worrying away at the mystery, and finally give her the answer.

Slow, atmospheric and somehow boring.  I liked the other McDonald/Ross collaboration I’ve read, Winter’s Answer, which was similarly slow and atmospheric, but had a liveliness to it that this book lacks.

 Lucile Saunders McDonald (1898-1992)

Born in Oregon, Lucile Saunders became a journalist and worked at various newspapers in the Pacific Northwest.  She married Harold D. McDonald in 1922 and had two children.  She collaborated with Ross on several young adult novels in the 1950s and 1960s.

Zola H. Ross, aka Helen Girdey Ross
Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Washington 1948-1955
Teacher in Kirkland, Washington.  Pseudonyms included Z.H. Ross, Helen Arre, and Bert Lle
Books by both
The Mystery Of Castesby Island
Stormy Year
Friday’s Child
Pigtail Pioneer
Wing Harbor
The Courting Of Ana Maria
Assignment In Ankara
Winter’s Answer
The Stolen Letters
The Sunken Forest
For Glory And The King



Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Unchosen (1963)

The Unchosen
Nan Gilbert
1963, Harper & Row
Edition shown: 1965 Scholastic, il. Bob Cassell (cover)

We three were the have-nots, leagued against the haves.  The left-out pretending not to envy the soughtafters.  Three high-school seniors who had never had a single date, not one - can you imagine it?

Ellen Frazer, awkward and pudgy, looks dispassionately at herself and her two friends  - Debbie Fuller (chubby and desperately boy-crazy) and Kay Nicholson (self-consciously tall and painfully skinny) - and concludes privately that they are The Unchosen.  She also concludes that their families are no help.  Her hearty German-American mother solves every problem with food and needs reassurance that her daughter is happy; Debbie's lack of popularity is made worse by having a younger sister who is extremely popular; and Kay's ongoing war with her feminine, fussy mother has embittered her against human relationships - an animal lover, she finds happiness in fussing over her beloved Fox Terrier, Midge.

But Ellen has an advantage.  She has been a collector of pen pals for years, living vicariously through their initial letters about alien lives in faraway places, but finding only disappointment with the subsequent flat updates on daily life.  With Norris Adair, she finds romance.  Norris sends long, interesting letters that thrill her, and they flirt through the mail.  The long-distance romance also gives her more respect among her friends - at least she has a sort of boyfriend.  Maybe. 

Over the course of their final year in high school, all three girls find their own ways out of anonymity.  Ellen's a typical protagonist; she's ambitious and self-aware, and too proud for her own ambitions.  She's quick to see the practical work that goes into making Ann Allison the most popular girl in the class, but can't quite figure out how to pull it off - and is not entirely aware that she lacks the commitment to fame, has a crippling amount of pride. It takes Kay's ruthlessly practical streak to mobilize the group - she calculates the number of unattached boys, and the percentage they'll have to approach to be assured of a reasonable rate of success.  And Debbie, once introduced to the male side of the school, goes on a tear.

"Oh, good grief, it's as simple as two plus two," Kay said impatiently.  "It you want to end up with five boys and you're only netting ten percent, you'd have to start out with fifty - see?"
"Gee," murmured Debbie, the blissful thought of five boys erasing her doubts as to how Kay proposed to snare them.

I have an affection for the teen novels that focus on the more average teen problems.  One of the worst things about being a teenager is how you're starting to realize that prosaic, clich├ęd situations can be extraordinarily painful, which means you suffer without getting any respect.  Here you are, at the height of your energy and passion, and your emotions are all inflamed by wanting a date to a stinking prom, or arguing with your mother.  Where's the drama, where's the grand scale?

This book pulls it off.  The writing is solid, and the characters are strong.  From brooding Ellen to defensively indifferent Kay to frantic Debbie, all three girls are convincing as nice outsiders who have to find their own ways to social happiness.  The pace is steady, but the pen pal plot is jerky, vanishing for much of the book and then resurfacing to tie everything up.  There is little feeling of place - the book is set in Oregon, but it's a stock, generic American suburb.  But best part may be the admission that you have to work to drag yourself out of the popularity gutter.  This is is refreshing; it's a lot more common to find books where the heroine's either rescued by a Ken doll or (more typically) realizes the popular kids are dull and her life's work lies with the cool outcasts.      

1963, Harper & Row at Amazon
1973, Harpercollins Childrens Books

About the Author
Mildred P. Geiger Gilbertson
From Eugene, Oregon
Graduated from the University of Texas, Austin in 1933

Loganberry Books  *notice the comments from Gilbert's daughter and granddaughter on that site

See Yourself In Print (for children) (1968)

365 Bedtime Stories (1955)
A Dog For Joey (1967)
Young Adult
The Strange New World Across The Street
Champions Don’t Cry (1960)
Academy Summer (1961)
Then Came November
A Knight Came Running (1965)

Hanna Barbera's Yogi Bear Takes A Vacation
Hanna Barbera's Fred Flintstone: Bewildered Babysitter
Nan Hanna Barbera's Fred Flintstone's Bewildered Baby-Sitter with Pebbles
The Three Fuzzy Bears
Sir Gruff (dog) (1947)
Young Macdonald On The Farm (1949) il. Theresa Kalb

Story Parade - "The Burglar Trap"
Fields And Fences
On My Honor (editor Marjorie Meyn Vetter, 1951)
Told Under Spacious Skies
Told Under The Stars And Stripes
From Many Lands