It's all about...popular girls...rec rooms...summers at the lake...dates with wealthy, thrill-crazy antiques...small town political corruption...and finding your true path in life. The Paris Hat considers the sometimes frothy, sometimes serious world of novels for teenage girls from the 1950s and 60s.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Alone in the Suburbs

Title: The Charmed Circle
Author: Dorothea J. Snow
Publisher: Whitman, 1961
Cover and endpapers: Mimi Korach
Setting: "Suburban Elm Park" (near Chicago)
Provenance: "This book belongs to Eva Hoffman" in marker on the inside front cover.
Fun: little brother named Binky; kipferdln; pizza and Cokes in the rec room
Quote: "And remember," Mamma said, "a vanilla bean must be in the canister of powdered sugar!"
Lauralee nodded. She knew how such little things could add to the unique flavor of different foods.

Whitman, publisher of the Big Little Books, was evidently known for a fairly cheap product often sold in dime stores. There's no dust jacket -- just a picture glued to the hardback cover. This was part of Whitman's Teen Novel series and Dorothea J. Snow was a prolific writer and, particularly an illustrator, of picture books. According to her author bio, The Charmed Circle was her first teen novel, and was based on actual events in the life of her son, Don.

I fell for this book because of the endpaper, which is shown at the head of this post. There was a just the faintest edge of melancholy to the girl being all alone on that empty suburban street, although after reading the book, I can say that this was probably not the artist's intention. The Charmed Circle is about high school -- being popular and making friends. Eventually, Lauralee Larkin learns that if you go out of your way to be nice to people -- even unpopular foreigners who make you cringe -- you will make your own "charmed circle" and being popular won't matter.

I'm still not quite clear what planet this book is supposed to take place on. Perhaps it's one of those alternate history novels one hears so much about.

The one touch of originality in The Charmed Circle is Elena Sloshek. Described as a refugee from "invading forces,"* (even Lauralee has heard about that fuss in Czechoslovakia), her mother bakes things from scratch, while Lauralee's mother makes refrigerator pies out of instant pudding and crushed vanilla wafers. Although Elena suffers from slow-talking-foreigner syndrome, is rigorously honest, and is just grateful for the crumbs an American girl throws at her, she gives the book a little flair. At the end of the book she rides a float in the "Hands-Across-the-Sea" parade, dressed as a Moravian goose girl. This is a nice place to leave The Charmed Circle -- Elena proud of her cultural heritage, Binky cleared of all bicycle theft charges, and Lauralee sure that high school is just going to be wonderful. A charmed circle indeed.

*One of the odd things about the Cold War was that books, tv shows, and so on always used euphemisms for the Russians -- "the enemy," "the other side," "the bad guys." Sure, we had all our missiles pointing at their major cities but we didn't want to hurt the Russians' feelings by naming them out loud on "Mission Impossible." That would have been rude.


  1. I love all these illustrations. This is really fascinating. I'll be interested to see what you have found!

  2. Thanks, Tricia. The illustrations are a big part of it for me as well.

  3. Laura, I think this new blog is so cool, I have left you a little happy award on my blog.