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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Code Name Rette

Title: A Girl Can Dream
Author: Betty Cavanna
Publisher: Scholastic reprint, 1961 (original publication date, 1948)
Setting: Avondale, a small town in Pennsylvania
Fun: Stalls, Spins, reading Seventeenth Summer
Quote: "Reluctant as Rette was to admit it, she recognized that Elise was looking at flying through more mature eyes than she was.  Rette had to accord her a certain admiration.  Elise was learning to handle a plane as smoothly as she handled boys, and without undue fuss."

"Everyone at school wondered who was going to win the free flying lessons," is as nice a tagline as I've read for a book in a long time.  A Girl Can Dream is set in 1948.  Loretta (Rette) Larkin idolizes her older brother, Tony, who flew for the 82nd Airborne.  Meanwhile, some farmland has been converted to a new airport, and the owner of the airport shows up at the high school and announces an essay contest, with the prize to be 10 free flying lessons.  There's some question as to whether girls should enter at all, but in the end Lorette (Rette) Larkin and popular girl Elise Wynn, do, and Rette wins.

This sets the stage for a rivalry between the girls, though it never grows very heated.  Elise's wealthy father pays for her to have lessons, and the girls share an instructor, also a woman (Mrs. Larkin notes that the instructor flew for the WASPs.)  In a climatic scene, Elise's plane disappears from view, and Rette and the other rescuers find her worried about a bull in the field where she has nonchalantly landed her Cessna.  Some of Elise's sophistication rubs off on Rette, too, although the narrative never strays far from flying.

One of the more interesting aspects of A Girl Can Dream is that it contains a tribute to Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer.  The book is recommended to Rette by a salesgirl in a bookstore and she's gets totally caught up in it:  "The amazing part of it was that Angie Morrow and Jack Duluth didn't seem like book characters at all.  They were just like any girl and boy that Rette might be going to school with, except that she knew more about them, about the way they thought and felt, than she did any of her friends."

A Girl Can Dream is one of Cavanna's earlier books and not one of her more sparkling, but it stands as something of a rebuke to anyone who thinks that girls' books of this era were not very adventurous.