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Thursday, October 23, 2008

R&R Reading

It's beautiful late October here in Leelanau, browns and bronzes adding their rich, deep notes to the color symphony, which unfortunately is muted for me due to--a cold! Took Sarah out for a romp yesterday afternoon and had to stretch out in the sun for a while before returning home. Early to bed it was then, too, with a young adult coming-of-age novel from 1974. No heavy stuff, please! Just keep the Kleenex box handy!

Born in 1909 in Camden, NJ, Betty Cavanna turned to writing full-time in 1043. Her prolific output (70 books) included mysteries, historical fiction and nonfiction, but her special focus was on books for American teenage girls. Joyride, published in 1974, tells the story of Susan Cucci's high school years, but the story is set in the 1920s of Cavanna's own adolescence, in New Jersey as it was when she was growing up.

"In an era when jazz and joyriding were in vogue, when flappers were stylish and speakeasies flourished in the cities, Willowbrook was positively quaint. An occasional pony and cart still appeared on the streets, and after a winter snowstorm sleigh bells jingled, making a happy sound."

Susan's adolescence, however, is not set in some Golden Age, and Susan herself has serious challenges to face in life. We learn gradually (rather than on the first page) that Susan "always limps," and eventually we learn that her limp is the result of a bout of infantile paralysis she suffered at the age of four. If only her polio had come a year later, in the national epidemic of 1916, Susan can't help thinking, "then she might have been treated properly--even cured!" As it is, though able to walk and run, ride a bike or a horse, even play some sports, Susan's handicap sets her aside socially as boys and girls get to the age to recognize each other in new ways. As Susan is entering high school (a year early, having skipped eighth grade), her father loses his job, and her mother sets up a home business, sewing clothes for other women in Willowbrook. Susan dislikes Sunday School, as her Sunday School teacher, like her father, is a Fundamentalist. Her parents quarrel over money and religion.

There are other, larger flies in the wider social ointment. Along with Prohibition and its counterpart, bootleg booze (leaving one minor character dead and another blind), teenage pregnancy comes into the story, as does racism, and none of these issues is glossed over. Even in the 1920s, growing up wasn't easy, and this novel of Cavanna's pulls no punches. By the last page, Susan has found a direction for herself in life, but "happily ever after" hardly describes it.

I had hoped to be able to upload at least a couple of pictures today, but no such luck. When systems are all finally GO again, I may indulge in a Roman pig-out of images, making up for lost time. For now, after spaghetti dinner prepared by a concerned spouse, it's early to bed again for me with that Kleenex box, another spoonful of honey and The Dog Who Knew Too Much, by Carol Lea Benjamin. Oh, and our own little "cuddlier than a koala" puppy, too, of course!

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