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.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

In the Garden

Title: The Organdy Cupcakes
Author: Mary Stolz
Publisher: Harper & Row, 1951
Setting: Pre "Jersey-Shore" New Jersey
Provenance: formerly the property of the Butler Country Traveling Library
Fun: psychoanalysis; hats in the icebox; the daily drama of life and death.
Quote: "It was not an unfamiliar feeling, this one, for Gretchen had been more or less falling in love since she'd been fourteen. But not like this, she thought. Nothing like this at all."

The title and cover make more sense when you learn this book was later republished as Student Nurse.
The Organdy Cupcakes
takes us back to the days when nurses wore little paper caps, lived in residential dormatories with a matron, and dreamed of marrying doctors. Of the three girls -- Gretchen, Nelle and Rosemary -- only Gretchen achieves this, somewhat suddenly, at the very end of the book. Nelle marries a wealthy dilettante obsessed with Ancient Egypt (they don't make 'em like that anymore) while Rosemary dumps her doctor-boyfriend to join the Army nursing corps. (This is probably a wise move, since he has just psychoanalyzed her, which is a poor foundation for any marriage.)
Mary Stolz had a remarkable career, publishing her first YA novel in 1950 and her last in 1988, and negotiating the era of "serious topics" for young adult novels with some ease. She won Newbery Honors in 1966 for The Noonday Friends, which is the title that most rings a bell for someone of my generation. Style-wise, Stolz's novels are lush and dreamy, full of gardens and rain and glittering sunshine as the characters muse about their lives. As a child I found this kind of thing hard to follow, which is probably why I can't recall anything of The Noonday Friends now except the title. But as an adult I found The Organdy Cupcakes a beautiful book to read, particularly for its peaceful setting in small-town New Jersey before it became suburbanized. The details of hospital life are so well drawn that it's hard to believe that Stolz never trained as a nurse. (Stolz did suffer from severe arthritis in the 50s, so perhaps she drew her insights as a patient.) There aren't a lot of serpents in Stolz's gardens, but it's nice to see her characters moving into the adult world, knowing what they want for themselves.


  1. Fascinating, Laura.
    I've just ordered a copy of Alice and Thomas and Jane, a book given to me when I was eight I think. I've managed to find a copy in good condition to give to a little girl who is the same age now as I was when the book was given to me. I hope she experiences the same magic. Hugs..

  2. There is a magic in these books, or in any book you loved as a child.