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.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Year of Living Tamely

Title: Senior Year
: Anne Emery
Publisher: Scholastic, 1964 (paperback reprint, originally published 1949)
Provenance: Formerly the property of Elena Sipp
Setting: a small town so generic it doesn't even have a name
Fun: plant sitting; babysitting; church youth group; "Captain Midnight" on the radio
Quote: In the garden she chose white and yellow chrysanthemums and achieved an arrangement in a low yellow bowl before Jean finished the table. Then she discovered that Jean had used pink placemats and refused to change them just to carry out Sally's color scheme. "All right then," said Sally, with conscious patience, "only it would be nice to have the first dinner at home as perfect as possible."

Senior Year was published in 1949, a fact that becomes obvious when someone asks Sally if she likes her music "smooth" or "hot" (i.e., Bing Crosby or Glenn Miller style.) I have to wonder if the kids who picked up this book in 1964 weren't confused by that, or if the absence of rock'n'roll didn't matter to them. Interestingly enough, this must be the fifth or sixth book in which some of the characters listen to folk music (in this case Sally's parents, who go in raptures over John Jacob Niles.) In other books it's been the teens who listen to it. I know that folk had a vogue in the early 60s, but I sometimes wonder if it isn't the adult writers putting their own tastes onto the characters. In any case, I've never run across a book from this era yet with any appreciation for rock'n'roll.
It's hard to say exactly what the main plot of Senior Year is. There's a Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong, a fast boy called Eddie who takes Sally to a sleazy bar. There's a somber subplot involving a sister who gets rheumatic fever (also probably anachronistic by 1964) and spends months in the hospital. Bills pile up, and at the end of Senior Year Sally is told by her parents that they can't afford college for her unless she goes to the local state university. Sally doesn't object to the educational qualities of this institute, rather:

"Everyone she knew was going away. There wouldn't be anyone left in town. It was the one tragedy she had thought wouldn't happen to her."

Sally cheers up, eventually, when she learns that Mr. Right will be going to college locally, too.
There is a vague stirring behind all this action which seems to suggest that Anne Emery wants Senior Year to be about growing up and thinking of things beyond your own narrow viewpoint -- e.g., giving up the dream of attending a certain college when you realize you little sister may be crippled for life. But it doesn't really feel like that. It feels more like settling for less and pretending you like it.
Which, as a concept, was also pretty anachronistic by 1964.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Washington is for Lovers

Title: Cherry Blossom Princess
Author: Marjorie Holmes
Publisher: Westminster Press, 1960
Jacket: not credited
Setting: Glamorous Washington D.C.
Provenance: formerly the property of the Sacramento County Library
Fun: Shopping, parades, politics, revenge
Quote: "Where in the world did you get all this stuff?" was all that Marty could think to exclaim.
"Oh, hither and yon," Kitty said, hanging her mink jacket in the hall closet..."The rug's a genuine Saruk. We got it in Bagdad for a song. That inlaid mother of pearl cabinet's a present from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. The tray's from Haile Selassie. The Delft clock -- isn't it cute, all the moving figures? -- is from the Dutch queen."
If you look up Marjorie Holmes on Ebay or any other used bookseller website, you will find quite a lot of inspirational books, both fiction and non-fiction. Her young adult stuff is harder to find, and this book in particular is considered quite rare -- I've seen copies in top condition listed for $30 or $40. (I jumped on $13 for a ex-library copy in fair condition as a bargain.) My guess is no one can resist either the title or the cover.
In real life, Holmes lived in Washington DC, and between books she wrote a newspaper column on family issues*. She came from Iowa, and she gives this same origin to Marty of Cherry Blossom Princess. Marty is sent to visit her aunt and uncle (a VIP in the State Department) in DC to get her mind off being dumped by her boyfriend, Don. In a matter of pages, her aunt and uncle fix it up that Marty will be Iowa's entry into the Cherry Blossom Princess festival, and in another trice Marty has 1) boy next door Mike, 2) charming but engaged official escort Skip, 3) poor old Don, whose high school band has come to Washington to participate in the festival, all trailing after her.
The great success of Cherry Blossom Princess is in its Cinderella evocation of a certain phase of adolescence: on the verge of being an adult and yet still only pretending to be one. Marty and her various escorts and boyfriends go to restaurants and dances and "parties in someone's apartment in Georgetown"; they roam Washington after dark, gazing at the monuments and uttering civics-class sentiments. Marty cries into her pillow at night and spends hours waving from a parade float the next morning. It's a whirlwind of glamor, heartbreak, springtime and emotional exhaustion. And yes, I was a tiny bit jealous, though I remember that feeling well. (A Marriott Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky can seem mighty glamorous when you're seventeen.)
Eventually the party ends and Marty walks off with Mike, glad to be over Don and free of Skip. You get the feeling, though, that Iowa will never seem the same.

*ETA:  I did not do my research properly on Holmes.  She was best known as the author of Two from Galilee (1972), the first of a trilogy about the courtship of Mary and Joseph and the adolescence of Jesus.  Two from Galilee is very reflective of an era in which the humanity of Jesus as an ordinary person was often stressed (see Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, for instance.)  Let's just say the book is sort of...earthy, although any book in which the Virgin Mary gets her period on the first page  deserves some credit, I think.
-- August 2014