Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: "Seventeenth Summer" by Maureen Daly

Seventeenth SummerTitle: Seventeenth Summer
Author: Maureen Daly
Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1942
Where I got it: I took this out of my local library.

It is the summer Angie is 17 years old, the summer before she goes to college in Chicago. The summer she falls in love with Jack. Angie tells her story, starting off when she first meets Jack, the local baker's son, and the progression of their relationship over the next three months.

This might have been one of the most boring books I've ever read. That's not to say it has no merit; I'm sure it was quite popular in the 1940s, when it was published, as it's a romance that many girls would have related to, or at least understood. For today's readership, it falls very flat. The plot is pretty much "Angie likes Jack, and she is surprised he likes her too. They go out on dates and fall in love." The end. I'm not a violent person or a sadist, but I kept hoping something completely unexpected and dramatic would happen, like someone would die in a horrible accident or Angie's sister would get pregnant or something crazy.

That said, this does give a good idea of what life was like in small-town America back then. How people went about their daily business, what they did for fun, who was considered to be a "fast" boy or girl, etc. It's a completely different world than the one we are used to.

Daly's prose is smooth and descriptive, lilting and lazy all at once. She often uses lovely simile, if not completely original ("flows like honey," "floats like a dust mote"). However, the sentences seemed too long to me and aren't broken up by too much punctuation, which gives them a run-on feel to which I wasn't very partial.

Angie is not an unlikable character, but she isn't particularly likable either. She is pretty much just there feeling her feelings with no real outward displays of intelligence, interest, or anything resembling a dynamic personality. She's just there, quiet and polite without causing too much of a stir. That might have been appealing in the past, but I was quickly tired of it.

In fact, most of the regular characters were pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting, with the exception of Angie's older sister Lorraine. She was closer to irritating than interesting, though she did show some depth as well as adding to our understanding of the plight of women during that time—only attractive and housewife-y women were assigned any real value, by men or other women. Lorraine tended to try too hard to get attention from boys, one in particular, and the amount of attention she got directly affected her outlook on life.

This book is a classic among young adult coming-of-age stories, and I suppose it's because of its ability to allow readers to identify with Angie and her feelings of first love. But I'm surprised it was just reprinted in April with a new cover—I just don't think young adults today will be stimulated by a book in which almost nothing happens.

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