Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mini reviews

Step To The Music
Phyllis A. Whitney, il. Jack Keats (cover)
1953, Thomas Y. Crowell Company

It was the chin of a girl who possessed more determination and spirit than was always good for her.  The face as a whole was more striking than pretty, yet suddenly, foolishly, Abbie Garrett longed to be pretty.

 Abbie Garrett is 17 when her southern cousin Lorena arrives at her Long Island home.  At the same time, her former neighbors, Douglas and Stuart McIntyre, arrive back from years in southern schools.  The lives of all four quickly become overwhelmed by the outbreak of the Civil War, which pits the southern-sympathizing Douglas and Lorena against their neighbors.  Pretty, headstrong Lorena frustrates the plainer (in all senses) Abbie, but what would be a minor irritation in peace becomes a much bigger issue in war as the men begin leaving and Abbie's fragile southern mother withdraws into herself. 

The romances are predictable and the male hero, Stuart, is just another irksome know-it-all, but there's a real charm in this old book.  A strong sense of place and the well-drawn characters make it an interesting read despite the general dullness of the main characters.

Armitage Hall
Eleanor Noyes Johnson
1965, The Macmillan Company

When I thought of all the perfectly fabulous girls I'd met that day, it did seem mean that the only goop should be my roommate.

16-year-old Navy brat Judith Clearmont heads off to Armitage Hall, the Maryland boarding school where her mother and grandmother spent happy girlhoods, in a state of excited expectation which can't live up to reality.  But it does!  Armitage Hall is fabulous!  Her new friends Bo and Moonie and Cynthia are fabulous!  The really wonderful team rivalry of the Green and the White is fabulous!  Life in fox-hunting Maryland is fabulous!  If only that goopy Laura hadn't arrived. 

Dad always says that I jump to conclusions about people, and I guess he's right.  I took one look at Laura and decided she was a goop.  I'll admit I was half asleep, but  honestly, I never saw a girl before who was so all one color.  She had on a camel's-hair coat, which would have been all right except that her shoulders sagged as if it were too heavy for her.  Her hair was just the same shade as her coat, and I couldn't see her eyes because she wore glasses with tan rims.

Judith eventually relents, but not before you've developed a lasting dislike for her, one which taints the rest of the meandering book.  Judith's none-too-interesting life at an all-girl boarding school in deepest Maryland is skimmed, the action skipping ahead every few months.  A little sympathy for her develops when she reveals her fear of horseback riding - her mother was a good rider - but it's squandered by the flat, vague nature of her riding lessons and the horse show she attends.

An odd, English-boarding-school narrative set in America, which points up the worst of that genre without really using much of the very appealing side, the one which J.K. Rowling used to such good effect in the early Potter books.  I suppose part of it is the age; the Potter books also started becoming nasty as the kids got older.

Other books by Johnson
Buffington Castle
Mountaintop Summer
King Alfred The Great
The Wishing Year
Mrs. Perley's People

Some Merry-Go-Round Music
Mary Stolz
1959, Harper and Bros.

Pumfret And Son, Knit Goods, was a small firm in a huge, dark building near Wall Street.  All day, now that it was summer, embattled traffic sent its roar through open windows, and in Miranda Parrish's corner of the outer office a dusty fan on top of the filing cabinets turned its big head from side to side and wheezed and stirred the heavy air like batter in a bowl.

19-year-old business school grad Miranda's stuck in a boring office with five male bosses she sums up, silently, as three cowards and two bullies.  She loves her working-class family, but her parents' unending arguments and her brother's union speeches are slowly driving her nuts.  At work, the owner's awkward, snobby son has a crush that's half flattering and half creepy.  One friend is getting married out of sheer desperation -

I absolutely hate being poor... Making do is the worst expression in the world, and it's what we're having to do all the time.

- and another is determined to get out of her bland office and into a shiny office tower.  Miranda's frustrated conclusion is that:

It isn't the job that counts, but where you do it.  I'll be there are lots of girls like us who aren't ambitious but have to work, and of course it's where we do it that matters to us... Connie and I, we're just marking time.

Miranda's shocked back to life, finally, and begins taking steps to push herself back onto a real course.

Obituary for Eleanor Noyes Johnson