Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Family Name (1971)

The Family Name 
Jan Washburn
illustrator Lee Styles (cover)
A Whitman Novel for Girls 
1971, Whitman Publishing Company

And there was nothing left for me, she thought gloomily.

Kathryn Drews is 17 and living in Coral Grove, Florida.  Her odd nickname "Ryndy" arose because her mother is also Kathryn and has already snagged the normal shortening "Kathy" for herself, an early sign of Ryndy's major hang-up - she is the youngest of 4 sisters and feels like she got the very short end of the stick.  The other 3 have already snagged such family/social positions as "the pretty one (Vicky - green-eyed strawberry-blonde), "the smart one" (Virignia/Ginny - currently working on her doctorate in atomic research), and "the popular one" (Val, a little, peppy cheerleader captain who sings, plays guitar and wins votes).  Ryndy, laboring along as a grade-C student with lines where Vicky had curves, has pinned her hopes on chasing one of Val's accomplishments - cheerleading.

It's now or never, she thought grimly.  I've got to make the cheerleading squad.

Somewhat miraculously, Ryndy does make the squad.  And longed-for pretty boy Brad notices her.  And she gets to sit at the very special popular kids' lunch table.  And you know this is going nowhere good.

Ryndy and co. live in Florida.  Shortly after the spring-time tryouts that determine Ryndy's role on the cheerleading team the next school year, she and BFF are water-skiing when an accident sends Ryndy flying.  She breaks both legs, badly, and ends up sitting out the summer and then into the fall.  Desolate, she falls into a sulk that only her best friend's dogged determination and a sullen boy's nagging can drive away.

Oh, Dirk. 

She was just an arm's length from him now.  She recognized the broad shoulders and the crop of white-blond hair. She had never met Dirk Hudson, but she knew the other football players called him "The Dutchman."

Dirk is mysteriously nasty to Ryndy, who promptly forgives him when they meet again.  And then he's mysteriously nasty to her again.  In what would seem to bode ill for Ryndy, she again promptly forgives him because he has an awesome reason.  Ish.  Awesomeish.  Okay, not awesome, just  a reason.  Because the best way to save a girl from a cad is to be a surly jerk to her yourself.  Long literary tradition of that NOT WORKING, Dirk.

Also, I just re-watched Bridget Jones which once again showed that boys need to SHARE their knowledge of bad boy's evildoing with girls or the girls just have no idea WTH he's so surly about and go running to the bad boy for comfort.  And the fight scene.

So, Ryndy, Dirk, hospitalized tots (oh, backstory, Ryndy's otherwise-never-mentioned church has a youth group which visits hospitalized children and Ryndy becomes entangled with a sad tot who's been stuck in the pediatric ward for months.  Named Pieter.  Is it sad that I didn't see the Pieter/Dirk-the-Dutchman connection coming?  It's sad, isn't it? 

It all works out.  Ryndy decides that she's really more of a swimmer than a cheerleader, sis Val confesses to envying her swimming prowess, and Dirk stops being mysteriously nasty now that his Great Dark Secrets are revealed.  For now. 

Well written, with a heroine who's realistic and believable. 

About the Author
Janice "Jan" Louise Prince was born in Brockton, MA in 1926. She earned an English degree from Bates College in Maine in 1947, married John Roger Washburn and became a German and English teacher in Florida.   Later, she worked her way up from an entry-level job to VP of Human Resources at Southeast Bank.  She died in April 2017 at the age of 90.

This was Washburn's first book, written while she was a high school teacher in Fort Lauderdale, where her husband was a swim coach and all three of their children swam competitively.   She wrote two more teen novels, The Secret of The Spanish Treasure (1979) and Finder's Keepers/Sweet Dreams #213 (1994).  She also wrote adult fiction More Than Great Riches (2009).

An interesting fact mentioned in her obituary was that she translated reparations documents for Holocaust victims early in her career.

Author obituary
Author obituary

Friday, July 7, 2017

I Met A Boy I Used To Know (1967)

I Met A Boy I Used To Know
Lenora Mattingly Weber
1967, Thomas Y. Crowell Company

Katie Rose Belford met the boy with the restless black eyes, the cockey toss of head, and the appealing flash of smile, on the first day of the mid-year semester.

This is Gilmartin “Gil” Ames, new boy in Katie Rose’s Colorado town.  Katie Rose, laboring under a dual name and a weakness for victimized boys, falls hard.  The fact that Gil speaks longingly of a beloved horse he had to leave behind in his old home in California makes it official – Katie Rose is infatuated.

Couldn’t the students and teachers realize his showing off was just a cover for his inner insecurity and unhappiness?

Gil is as shallow as a mud puddle, but Katie Rose is in love.  She’s far too enraptured to credit any of the negative features everyone else in town mentions to her about him – the whining, the laziness, the exaggeration.

Of course our heroine must realize Gil for what he is – but the book has a two-piece method for that.  Katie Rose discovers Gil in an ugly, cruel crime – dognapping pets and holding them for ransom – and is the unwitting vehicle of his downfall.  For which she is castigated as a rat and suffers mightily because she doesn’t fall out of love at all.  Despite despising him, she feels locked into her weakness for his stories, his many, many stories of neglectful mothers and cruel fathers.  Katie Rose, despising herself for her inability to shrug him off, seizes the chance to accompany a neighbor on a long car trip to California, to visit her uncle, only to discover that Gil, using an assumed name, is also ride-sharing with the neighbor to get out of town. 

A prolonged, torturously hot and slow trip ensues, which rips off the very last of Gil’s mantle of sad appeal.    

Tedious Good Boys Make Girl Craziness Understandable
Katie Rose, like so many misled heroines, has a pelican in the form of a dreary, dull, relentlessly goody-goody Husband Material boy.  In her case, dreamy Miguel.  Oh, dreamy, boring Miguel, who is temporarily out of the picture by virtue of visiting his dad in Hawaii.  Katie Rose, having finally fled Romantically-Misunderstood-turned-Whiny-Jerk Gilmartin, doesn’t do anything as crazy as take a moment’s breath, but immediately turns to Miguel, who’s due back in a month.  Oh, reliable Miguel!

For she knew suddenly that a girl wasn’t supposed to feel maternal and protective – even apologetic – for the boy she dates. 

While true, this like so many old teen novels seems to feel the only alternative is for a girl to feel apologetic to the boy she dates.  Because you know old Miguel is getting an armful of “Oh,  I’m a silly thing! Let me confess!” the minute he plods back into town.

Clothing porn
KR (I can only write that out so many times) opens the book pining over another girl’s ‘it’ look:

The flecked tweed skirt and soft pull-over of solid color to match. Right now that “Heather and Knit” outfit was the most at Adams High.

She notes but disregards the very first warning sign of Gil’s unstable, unreliable nature – his insanely cowboyesque and overly sharp clothing choices.

His attire differed noticeably from that worn by other boys at Adams. Instead of a T shirt, he wore a tailored Western one of maroon wool broadcloth with white piping edging the yoke and wide cuffs.  It fitted tight over his shoulders and ribs, and his creamy white pants were snugged even closer over slim hips. The heels on his black half-boots added an inch to his height; and he was already taller than average.

Inverted universe
The Belford clan boasts the usual single-parent household of teen novels, but with the twist that the father is dead and their mother is alive.  Even better, she’s a singer/pianist at a nightclub/Italian restaurant.

Zany 1960s nostalgia
Negroes pop up, always in a positive and completely forgettable way.  Thanks, Negro Home Ec teacher!  Hey, Negro fellow pupil who Katie Rose is super cool about!  Bye, now!

Irish-American relatives who faith and beggorah incessantly.  I take umbrage at this fluffery – half my family had accents like leprechauns after 40 years in the US, and they managed not to lilt like a drunk on Saint Patrick’s Day. 

The lovingly and perhaps overly impressed manner in which the Foods of Italy are described in a scene at an Italian restaurant.  Called Guido’s. 

About the author
Born in Missouri, but spent most of her life in Colorado.   She rode horses, played sports and wrote from a young age.  Her Beany Malone series was her most popular.  She married Albert Herman Weber in 1916, at age 21, and had 6 children. 

Books in the Belford series
Don’t Call Me Katie Rose (1664)
The Winds of March (1965)
A New and Different Summer (1966)
I Met  A Boy I Used to Know (1967)
Angel In Heavy Shoes (1968)
How Long Is Always? (1970)
Hello, My love, Goodbye (1971)
Sometimes A Stranger (1972)


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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Place of Her Own (1962)

A Place of Her Own
Ann Mari Falk (translated from the Swedish by Annabelle MacMillan)
Copyright 1962
English translation 1964 by Harcourt Brace & World Inc.

"Since when did you begin to classify peopl eas 'nice' and 'not so nice'?" Lottie inquired.
"Yesterday," Stina said. "Back home everyone is pleasant."

15-year-old Stina Sandblom is leaving her island home after the death of her parents, and going to the big city, Stockholm, to live with her recently married sister Lottie and her husband Olaf. 

The young couple is welcoming, but their apartment is tiny, Lottie is pregnant, and Stina finds adjusting to her new school difficult.  A quiet person, she is bothered by teasing about her rural accent, and distracted by how hard it is to study in the cramped living quarters. But one girl seems nice, and Stina decides to take a chance  and invite Astrid home for a visit. 

And of course, a romance.  Stina falls for Markus, a studious and nerdy boy she treats with more affection than passion until he helps her solve a major problem - Lottie's newborn and the fraying nerves of his young parents is making study impossible.

Oh, how the baby cried! Olie paced the floor, holding his son in his arms. Finally he would begin to gurgle contentedly and put his fist in his mouth, but the minute he was put back in his basket, the noisy concert began afresh... But now Olie and Lottie had begun to quarrel over the most trivial matters - things they would have laughed at a few months before.

Nice problem novel from Europe.


About the Author
She seems to have written a number of books in various genres – some are clearly children’s picture books, some seem to be murder mysteries (going by the covers), but only one is pretty obviously also a young adult novel, Who Is Erika (1959)


Other editions

1972, Scholastic Book Services

Monday, April 4, 2016

Book Search!

A reader writes:

Hello.  I am on a quest to remember a book I read a long time ago.  I THINK the book involved twins.  One part I remember clearly, the girl or girls were giving tours in an old house.  They accidentally found a loose panel in a stair railing.  In it was a letter written by a man that was in love with the then owner of the house.  She was told about the letter and realized her love from long ago hadn't deserted her, he was waiting for her.  It was a touching story in a great book AND I can't remember the title!  Can anyone help me?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Vicki’s Mysterious Friend (1947)

Vicki’s Mysterious Friend
Emma Atkins Jacobs, il. Jean MacLaughlin
1947, The John C. Winston Company

Her upstairs room was none too warm in winter; so Vicki wriggled herself into a faded brown wool jersey and jerked the side zipper snugly into place.

A very promising beginning, with clothing porn.  In a small city in Washington, nineteen-year-old Vicki Burnett has been stand-in mother for her four younger siblings since their mother’s sudden death five years earlier.  She (of course) has someone to do the heavy lifting in Aunt Bertha, but it’s to Vicki that all the million small chores come – keep Bob (14) from drifting into trouble with his pals, wrangling the small children Donald (7) and chatty Susan and, most of all, dealing with pretty, popular little bulldozer…er, sister, Margery.  As the book opens, Margery blows into Vicki’s bedroom to demand big sis do some sewing for her (she’s got a hot date). Vicki weakly protests she has to work on her sketches (she’s a budding interior designer in college) but capitulates quickly.

At that moment the door burst open and Margery swept in. She wore a dark gray Chesterfield coat with a scarlet beret and mittens. Gold-blond curls framed her gay young face. Her eyes were very blue and her saucy mouth was vividly accented with cherry-red lipstick. She carried a green frock, which she tossed on the bed.

Somehow, it’s obvious the underlying theme of this book is going to be sister rivalry.  And indeed, a handsome young man soon arrives at the door.  He has nearly killed Donald, who was sledding on a dangerous street.  The kid’s fine, so we’re told – he then vanishes from the book.  He existed only to bring together Brian Royce with the mostly legal female members of the family.  They will fight over him like cats over a fish head.

And then we switch gears and discover that their father is sick.  He owns a bakery and his hard work and stress over supporting a large family have given him a “bad digestive condition” and his doctor says he needs a six months break in a warmer climate – say, southern California – to recover fully.  He stresses over who will run the business, and Vicki volunteers.

For a while, we watch Vicki struggle mildly to learn the baking business and make inexpensive d├ęcor changes to the shop and sign. She realizes how hard her father’s worked to support them all, and begins to wonder if she really wants to finish that design course instead of staying with the family business.

And then we switch out again.  While the above action was going on, Margery and Vicki had been jousting for the McGuff.. er, Brian Royce.  He seems a swell guy, charms the family, dates both sisters genteelly.  But Bob, drifting into a tough part of town, finds Royce in a seedy bar. The man manipulates Bob, who’s found himself in a bit of a argument with the bar owner, into keeping his mouth shut about seeing Bob in this disreputable place. 

The first half is snappy and interesting enough, if not fully realized. The mystery that begins with Royce’s strange, unsavory behavior simply ruins the book.

Other books by Emma Atkins Jacobs
The Secret Spring (1944)
Far West Summer (1949)
Trailer Trio (1942)
Smooth Sailing (1954)
A Chance To Belong (1953)
For Each A Dream (1958)

Kirkus review

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book search!

A reader writes:
I am looking for a book printed sometime in the 1940 or 1950s. Set in pioneer America about a young woman, poor relation, unpaid servant type being forced to marry much older wealthy abusive widower. Rescued by long lost brother taken as a child during Indian raids. Girl is taken to woods by brother taught to  live in woods as mountain man type. Brother halls build sturdy cabin and such. Then one day disappears back to life he misses leaving sister to fend for self. After much time she rescues man from marauding Indians. Escape to Fort rescued at last minute by brother who has reverted to Indian. (Long but thought more detail better.)

I have to say, this one sounds wonderful and I'd like to read it myself.  Some of it is similar to a very, very good book from 1946 called Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I don't think it's the same book, though.   Anyone?