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, January 19, 2012

Fast Times at Central High

Title: Cross My Heart
Author: Naomi John Sellers
Publisher: Doubleday, 1953
Jacket: not credited
Setting: Midland,a small city in an unnamed Southern state
Fun: cherry Cokes; gossip; nightclub singers who sing "songs with double meanings"; the pursuit of Mammon
Quote: "'Kathy!" he said, and he pressed his cheek against mine, and I could feel the beat of his heart intermingled with mine. "Why don't you stop being such a little fool?  What are you trying to do -- change the world?""

Kathy Barnum is a senior, new to a high school which is dominated by sorority-like clubs.  These clubs are not quite the same as the ever-shifting cliques popular in contemporary YA; they are formal organizations, with officers, pledges and initiations.  The text points out a couple of times that sororities and fraternities are "against state law," but the clubs dominate the school, choosing candidates for school elections, running the newspaper, picking the Football Queen and even arranging the lead in the school play, all apparently without the knowledge of the administration.  Kathy feels like an outsider until she is asked to pledge the GCs, or Golden Circle, although her main interest is in handsome Chuck Taylor, editor of the school newspaper and a member of the Owls, the male version of the GCs. 

Life with the GCs takes us through a mildly decadent world of roadhouses, idle, invisible parents and slightly risque nightclubs.  Consciously or unconsciously, Cross My Heart is strongly imitative of Maureen Daly's classic Seventeenth Summer:  the same breathless inner narration, ("I stood there a moment, the paper in my hand, listening to the little sighing sound the wind made through the bare branches of the trees, and I thought how sad everything seemed, almost as if the whole world were sick and dying") with particular attention to descriptions of scenery ("I remember thinking how beautiful the night was with the moon coming up, big and orange-colored through the bare branches of the trees that were so interwoven they looked like black lace,") clothes, and houses. It even has the subplot of an older sibling whose unhappy love affair shadows that of the heroine.  I'd read about half-way though, thinking that the reason Cross My Heart is less satisfying than Seventeenth Summer is because Kathy is less sure of herself, when the book takes a turn, and Kathy begins to stand up to the GCs.

It's interesting that the issues on which Kathy asserts herself are very small ones:   a nasty article submitted to the school gossip column, an attempt by the GCs to boot out a legitimately-elected class president.  Yet they carry the air of life and death.  Sellers brings off wonderfully the intricacies involved in what might be seen as minor teenage dramatics.  Kathy loses the GCs, of course, and comes to understand that Chuck is little more than a overgrown boy.

The title of Cross My Heart comes from a deal between Kathy and her father.  She wants to be a journalist, a career he considers "too rough for a woman."  He wants her to go a women's college instead of the state university.  The deal is that if she stays on the Honor Roll, she can go to the college of her choice.  Kathy, in fact, fails to keep her end of the deal:  she is accused of cheating by the GC members and (somewhat mysteriously to the reader) doesn't act to clear her name, and is dropped from the Honor Roll.  But all is forgiven once her father finds out the truth, and Kathy ends the novel certain of herself, whatever she chooses.

1 comment:

  1. There were certainly a lot of women writers who wrote books about girls wanting to be writers, but I don't know what the number of female journalists was like in the 1950s. Hmmm. Now I REALLY want to go read some Beany Malone!