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, February 11, 2011

Life in a Northern Town

Title: Green Eyes
: Jean Nielsen
Jacket: Mimi Korach
Publisher: Funk and Wagnalls, 1955
Provenance: Formerly the property of North Augusta (S.C.) Junior High School
Setting: Cascadeville, a lumber town in Washington
Fun: editing the school paper; self pity; rivalry; breaking your leg skiing
Quote: Jan turned on the water taps full force and shook in the soap flakes. She wouldn't always be doing dishes for other people. When fall came and she was editor she would be so busy she wouldn't have time to be home much and when that year was over she would go away. And she would make something of herself, too, because she had brains and willpower. If you didn't have brains all the curly hair and television sets in the world wouldn't give them to you.

Occasionally I'll run across a book that just stumps me. Usually it's because the book is a little dull and generic, but in the case of Green Eyes, it's just the opposite. Green Eyes is almost a perfect book. This is not the same as saying it's a great book or even that it holds up well against some of today's YA titles. But for the type of book I look at here -- girls' books about growing up from a more innocent era -- Green Eyes has got it all right. The heroine is realistic, the setting adds to the story, the writing is unobtrusive, and the story is based on character conflicts rather than a plot contrivance.

As might be guessed, Green Eyes is about jealousy. Jan, who is the new editor of the school paper, feels neglected at home, where her mother favors her spoiled younger brother. Spoiled younger brother had rheumatic fever a few years ago and is slowly being turned into what used to be called a "mama's boy." In a lesser book, the jealousy would be all in Jan's mind, and she would discover that her mother really loves her after all. Instead, as is made clear in a horrible Christmas Eve family argument, her mother feels trapped in a small town and would gladly clear out and leave Jan and her father behind.

Jan is also jealous of the new boy in school, Danny. Danny is from Seattle, and was editor of his high school paper there and the assumption is made that he ought to be editor in Cascadeville as well. Even after Jan fights off this threat and Danny seems to be less a rival than a potential boyfriend, Jan can't quite conquer her competitive feelings.

But even if Jan's reasons for jealousy are quite real, the conflict in Green Eyes is between Jan and herself. Nielsen quietly leads Jan through several experiences -- a school trip to Seattle, an assignment interviewing elderly residents of the community, a difficult winter -- that make her a stronger person and give her the ability to overcome her self-absorption. The one false note is that, at the end of Green Eyes, Jan is unrealistically given a plethora of good things: a college scholarship, a meaningful relationship with Danny, and a part-time job on a Seattle newspaper. But it's hard for the reader to think she doesn't deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. I read Green Eyes when I was 12, and it made an impression on me because I wanted to be a writer. I had forgotten about the book, and now you've woken a memory in me. I've been looking online for a biography of Jean Nielsen and can find almost nothing. What do you know about her?
    Asheville NC