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.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The First Time

Title: The Tender Time
Author: Denise Cass Brookman
Jacket: Stanley Dersh
Publisher: Macrae Smith, 1958
Setting: An unnamed state where it gets down to -14 in the winter.
Fun: Coke dates; wearing his ring; ennui; a slimy best friend
Quote: "I hope..." her mother began, and began again, "I hope...that's not starting all over again."
"That," Stephanie said, putting on fresh lipstick, "can start only once."
"Don't be flippant, Stephie!" Then, anxiously, "It's over, isn't it?"
Stephie smiled at her mother in the mirror. "Finished. Not over." She turned around and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "There's a difference."

The main business of most teen novels is less romance than personal growth -- learning to ice skate, or that being popular isn't as important as being yourself, or that rich snobs ought to go back to New York City where they belong. Boys are dwelt on and sometimes chased after, but they aren't taken very seriously and are rarely allowed to clutter up the plot.

Not so The Tender Time, which looks squarely and unashamedly at romance in all its phases, from miracle of the first date to the glory of going steady to -- alas! -- the all-too-common sequel of terminal boredom:

"She tried to remind herself that though the old exhilaration was gone, so was the old depression and no-middle feeling. And simply because the exhilaration was gone didn't mean that love was, too. It really was much saner this way, she reassured herself. And yet..."

Brookman maintains a light tone but she misses very little. Scott, Stephie's boyfriend, is an egomaniac who refuses to believe a girl would actually break up with him. Stephie is so gullible she doesn't see her best friend is out to steal Scott. None of this is a tragedy, for Brookman, in spite of the title, isn't trying to write about true love. She's writing about that first high school relationship.

And in the oddly philosophical ending to the book, Stephie reminds her mother that though her relationship with Scott is over, it will never really end, because she can never fall in love with anyone else that way again:

"And that's how it didn't end...Always to be remembered, nothing ever to be remembered quite like that. No matter how many times the same things are done...Never the same as the first time, the young time, the tender time."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ice Castles

Title: Skates for Marty
Author: Barbara Clayton
Jacket: Mimi Korach
Setting: Suburban Boston
Publisher: Funk and Wagnalls, 1959
Fun: Dates with Harvard men (was it really all right for high school juniors to date college guys?); Sadie Hawkins day; figure skating compulsories
Quote: "I know you've been through a great deal since her father died, but it's time you realized your daughter is growing up. Marty's too much of an introvert, and we've got to do something about it. Since she started school there hasn't been a sign of a friend and every afternoon she trots off to the library all by herself."
The incredulity of her mother's "No!" brought an even higher color to Marty's cheeks.

Starvation? Check.
"Then there was lunch - fruit salad instead of a banana split. 'Do you want to wear Chubettes or Junior Miss?' her mother had inquired. But now Marty felt hungry."
Strict foreign coach? Check.
"'You Americans are spoiled,' Josef laughed, 'In Europe we had to skate outdoors and I can remember one time at the Olympics when we did figures in an inch of snow.'"
Bitch rival? Check.
"'Another thing,' Marty put in, "If I don't look well, you won't either.'
Taff looked past her. 'And if I don't win the scholarship, you won't either.'"
Skating accident causing coma complicated by overbearing parental figure? Check.
"Far away Marty heard the fuzzy voices, then went back to weird dreams of skating down an unending rink. Skating...skating...always skating...Gram...skating...pushing...skating..."

I've just realized that all the horse novels I read a child had the same plot as Skates for Marty. Which is not to say that Skates for Marty isn't a lot of fun, though characters and scenes sweep by dizzily, never to be heard from again, and Marty is rather overloaded with good things at the conclusion. In fact, probably the most enjoyable thing about Skates for Marty is that she isn't really a great skater. She works hard, true, and eventually wins some kind of title, but she also falls down a lot, or gets so nervous she can't perform. Marty is, actually, a sensible girl who likes math. Early in the novel a character named Fred is introduced, who goes to MIT and encourages Marty to apply there. ("We need more girls," he says.) Fred turns out to be one of those characters who is whirled by -- we never see him again -- but Marty remains a ordinary girl who likes to ice skate. No matter what Gram and Mother imagine, I don't think she's been saved from a lifetime of trotting down to the library.