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, 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

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