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.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Title: The Hundred Steps
Author: Holly Wilson
Jacket Artist: Albert Orbaan
Publisher: Julian Messner, 1958
Setting: "Clifton" (Marquette), Michigan
Provenance: Unknown
Fun: Pyromania; sea chanteys; berry-picking interrupted by a bear
Quote: "Flannelmouth!" said Susan, and she went off into a burst of giggles that infected the group around her. They laughed heartily and slapped each other on the back, repeating, "Flannelmouth! You're all a bunch of flannelmouths!"

One of the nice things about many of these 1960s teen novels is that instead of being set in the bland suburbia we associate with that era, they are actually grounded in specific places -- like the California desert town of One Small Voice -- and so draw a nicely detailed picture of particular American regions. The Hundred Steps is dominated from page one by its setting in Clifton (evidently based on Marquette), Michigan. The steps of the title lead from the Lower Town, home of the fisherfolk, to the Upper Town, home of the iron ore millionaires. Marcy McKay lives in the Lower Town, naturally, and her father works on an ore carrier, shipping cargo across Lake Superior. The lake is as important as any other character in the book, and the climax of the novel is a shipwreck and rescue in Clifton Harbor. This event brings together the Upper and Lower Towns and smooths out the class divisions that form the major theme of The Hundred Steps. Marcy has begun hanging out with Upper Town girls, although she's not sure they really accept her. The Upper Town is epitomized by wealthy pyromaniac Walt Hamilton*, who tops off a date with Marcy by setting fire to the town's ski slide. The police investigation of this provides the drama of the first part of the book, though the eventual court case is anti-climactic. Then, after a couple of filler chapters, a big storm blows through, Marcy's father's ship runs aground and Walt proves a decent person after all. (Walt is not actually the hero of the novel, safe and less interesting Bill Carlson is.) And if you don't want to go on vacation to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan after reading this novel, something is wrong with you.

*Walt seems to be the name of choice for male characters. Other books with Walts: One Small Voice, The Paris Hat. Perhaps it was the Disney influence?


  1. Actually, there are so few novels set in Michigan, especially the U.P. this took me by surprise. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  2. I used to vacation there myself as a child so I really enjoyed reading the book. It was kind of a nice suprise to find.