The Taking of Mariasburg By Julian F. Thompson

She made a dream come true… now she has to defend it.

The Taking of Mariasburg

This week’s title comes courtesy of my friend Carrie (author, bird enthusiast, endlessly patient soul in the face of my many philosophies regarding Cold War teenage werewolves… truly a class act all the way) and was suggested to me in the wake of the last spring’s YA apocalyptic adventure story-slash-Objectivist political screed The Girl Who Owned a City.

The Plot: Seventeen year old Maria (that’s Muh-rye-ah, not Muh-ree-ah) is introduced in the office of Bryon Godfrey, Esq., the executor of her unseen late father’s estate, informing her that she has inherited an unimaginably vast fortune while simultaneously trying to look down her blouse. Like all things, Maria takes this in stride, although she has big plans for all of that dough: she sees the money as literally a way to buy some time, a way to develop her true self before being corrupted by the influences of the adult world.

After talking things over with her kinda-boyfriend, Seppy, and her BFF Mimimi (not a typo), Maria formulates a plan to buy an entire town, a place for her fellow misfit teens to live communally and think things over before heading into the Real World:

 “You know,” Maria said. “all the ones with scorecards. Everyone I have to please, or else. Gimme a break.”

Seppy held up a finger. “All the people who consider themselves to be in a position to do political, economic or sexual favors? Members of the clergy, the medical profession, and police?”

“Welcome to Mariasburg. Population 18- and under.”

Maria eventually settles upon the mountainous ghost town of Jacks-‘r-better, which comes complete with a history of good karma, starting with its founding by lumberjacks in the 19th century (“This was a race of men: independent, hardy, not the kind that liked to live by other people’s rules and judgments”) and then purchased wholesale during World War I by the Sisters of Sanity, a radical pacifist-feminist collective- when the last Sister went to her heavenly reward (defaulting on the property taxes) the town became the property of Hupee County (a fictional county in a fictional state with a vaguely southwestern flavor), which has been unsuccessfully trying to pawn it off on a buyer for years.

Residency in Mariasburg is by invitation only, which is only extended to teenagers who Maria and her friends agree will abide by the somewhat fuzzy ideals they have in mind. They first present the plan to The Guise, the high school’s experimental jazz ensemble, who immediately dig: “You’re talking, like, a social contract, man.”

On moving day, 25 17-year old high school graduates make their way up the mountain and Mariasburg is a ghost town no more.

Maria is a complex heroine in the 1970s style: intelligent and independent, but also prone to making mistakes, as well as being torn between the fact that she’s bankrolling this experiment and the fact that she has no desire whatsoever to be a strong leader who tells people what to do. Mimimi is her closest friend and confidant; Seppy is for the most part an afterthought, someone to not-quite-platonically eat pizza with in your underwear.

Thompson is probably best known for his first novel, The Grounding of Group 6, (in which five troublesome teenagers are sent away by their parents to be grounded… permanently), and he brings a loose, pun-filled prose style matching the plot. Here Maria explains her plan to her mother:

“Cute. Now your daughter is peculiar and perverted. This is the thanks I get for twelve years of Honor Roll, membership and even offices in clubs and teams, a social life untainted by disease or scandal- plus being monarch of the house of mozzarella. Give that record, for you to predict that I’ll do ‘absolutely nothing normal’ in the future is not- oh, no- not just unfair, illogical and… pukey. It is also clearly slanderous. And so my dear, you are disqualified. The court has ruled a mistrial, and you are liable for damages. Not only are you out of time, but you are out of guesses, spins, predictions, and opinions. Pay the bailiff as you leave the room. I thank you.”

Odd (and oddly written) on its own, Mariasburg is even stranger in light of its 1988 publication date: in the age of Sweet Valley High, a semi-satire involving communal living, philosophizing on “common knowledge” and copious bralessness really stands out.

And that’s before we even get to the really dark stuff, like the hunky Hupee County Sheriff that the teens form an uneasy alliance with; or the Defenders of Fate, a doomsday cult that has been stockpiling an arsenal in the mountains above the town.

Sheriff Omar shows up on moving day, dripping faux-concern and in search of the teenage orgies that surely must be going down in a town populated by the barely-legal. He is disappointed, especially when Maria and Mimimi won’t even give his custom-tailored pants the time of day. He’s a letch, showing up every few days to join in the volleyball games and prove how with-it he is, but Maria decides that he’s a non-problem, not “solved” but “inactive”.

The Defenders of Fate are also off her radar, until Sheriff Beefcake shows up and announces that Maria has been granted an unasked-for audience with Sledge, the Mason-lite leader. While Seppy is concerned that Maria is going to end up chained up in a basement, Maria refuses to heed his advice- she wants these loose ends tied up once and for all.

She quickly realizes that this is a miscalculation on her part, when the sight, ineffectual Sledge starts addressing the sheriff as “Brother Omar” and calmly relating the logic behind the constant floggings he doles out to his four wives and 14 children and the coming of a fiery apocalypse.  While she’s not going to be held prisoner at the cult compound, she has walked right into the sheriff’s power-play:

He had put the fear in her, by using this man Sledge, this lunatic. If she chose to contradict him now- on any point- the town would be endangered. And, no doubt, her… self, as well.

This does not bode well. Neither does Sheriff Omar’s detour down a back road, which he thinks will be his chance to get Maria to “repay” him (gross), which she does by stealing his riot gun and shooting out the windshield.

Back in town, the teenagers decide that they need to formulate a Plan B, in case Sledge does bring his avenging army down the mountain. Surprisingly (but maybe realistically), they decide they will not stay and fight. Plan B is pretty much “run away”.

Sensible!

But the initial invasion comes not from the doomsday cult, but from The Government: tipped off by an uptight parent, Mariasburg is besieged by agents of the Departments of Licensing, Sanitation, Child Welfare, Education and Fire & Safety. While the adults’ response is mixed (the female agents are especially supportive of Maria’s mission), it seems like the end is near, the dream crushed not by fanatics, but by bureaucracy.

And that is when the fireworks start, as Sledge and his seven sons start firing heavy artillery on the town. When both teenagers and government agents implement Operation Run Away, Maria has a change of heart, and hides in the steeple of the town’s church, where she is joined by Seppy to watch as her town is bombed into oblivion. While they reluctantly put off consummating their feelings for one another (because somebody forgot to bring a condom to a fiery siege!), Maria sees a last-ditch chance when Sledge takes sanctuary in the church, as Maria throws her voice down into the chapel:

Where is my prophet, Sledge?” Maria, bent back over asked in what just had to be the very much most queenly voice that ever passed her lips.

At last, he found his voice.

“Yes, Lord,” he said. His eyes blinked rapidly. “Here I am, right here. Your servant, Sledge.”

“Well, this is what you now must do…,” Maria said.

Literally The End.

Sign It Was Written In 1988 Department: As a newly Rich Person, Maria dines upon the most baffling of Nouvelle Cuisine:

There were four green beans criss-crossed like tic-tac-toe, with the spaces in between filled either by black ripe olive slices (making o’s0 or x’s of pure white pasta, neither one victorious. A tiny Boston lettuce leaf supported a single chicken nugget, sculpted in the shape of a frog.

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The Late Great Me By Sandra Scoppettone

My name is Geri Peters. I’m your average girl next door: an alcoholic at seventeen.

The Late Great Me

This week’s title comes courtesy of Michele, the Lost Classics reader who supplied the answer to “What was that Sandra Scoppettone book where the heroine hides her liquor in a Jean Naté bottle?” Continue reading

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The Deep Six: A Kim Aldrich Mystery (#3) By Jinny McDonnell

Kim Aldrich once again proves that trouble and danger just naturally seek her out…

The Deep Six

Time to wrap up this year’s month-long look at vintage girls series published by Whitman in the 50s, 60s, and 70s; and (as usual) we will conclude with the strange Kim Aldrich Mystery series.

Written by Whitman house writer Virginia Bleecher McDonnell (her other credits for the publisher include titles for the Trixie Belden and Nurses Three series) as “Jinny McDonnell”, the brief (4 volume) series is packed with action, danger and romance, as 20-something Kim investigates various crimes in an unofficial capacity for the World At Large insurance company (WALCO), where she works as a secretary.

And those crimes are of much stronger stuff than her fellow Whitman heroines are involved with: thus far, Kim has found herself in midst of plots involving murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking. Continue reading

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Teen Witch #1: Lucky 13 By Megan Barnes

Thirteenth birthdays can be weird…

Teen Witch- Lucky 13

The Plot: Honestly? This is one of those books that you don’t even need to read because the title tells the entire story.

Sarah Connell is the youngest daughter in a family of health nuts. She has a wacky best friend named Micki. She has a crush on the new guy in school. She has a hippie aunt who runs a combination tea room and rare book store. She struggles in her 7th grade American History class because the Civil War is so totally boring. She wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up, but her “fabulous” ensembles are of sub-Claudia Kishi quality.

And on her thirteenth birthday, she wakes up with the magical power to locate her sister Nicole’s missing Tangerine Ice lip gloss, although she points out: Continue reading

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Donna Parker On Her Own (#3) By Marcia Martin

This is living!

Donna Parker On Her Own

This week, our Whitman Fall Classic checks in with Donna Parker, the heroine of Marcia Martin’s extremely pleasant series about Junior High life in the 1950s.

The Plot: It is now early spring in the New York suburb of Summerfield, and Donna and her BFF Ricky (“called Fredericka only by her mother”), have recovered from their adventures at Camp Cherrydale and their celebrity status as award-wining student journalists and thwarters of Communist spies.

The book opens with the beleaguered Mrs. Parker and her daughter arguing over whether Donna should be allowed to go with the gang on a camping trip the following weekend. Mrs. Parker is steadfast in her refusal: Continue reading

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Meg: The Mystery of Black-Magic Cave (Meg Duncan #3) By Holly Beth Walker

What was the sinister secret of the black-magic cave? Meg and Kerry were soon to find out…

Black Magic Cave

Background: From the 1950s through the 1970s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hard covers, separately targeting boys and girls. Some of these were based on TV shows, some were based on celebrities having imaginary adventures and solving crimes (Annette Funicello! Patty Duke!), and some were original series about plucky eponymous girl-heroines solving mysteries, having adventures and learning valuable lessons: your Trixie Beldens, Ginny Gordons and Donna Parkers.

While Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series is probably the only one of these that can be considered a certified classic, the others are, at least by reputation, satisfyingly solid efforts.

We’re getting a late start on our annual autumnal extravaganza, so let’s start by checking in with our old chum Meg Duncan. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Please Don’t Eat the Daisies By Jean Kerr

Click here for information on the 2014 edition of Molly’s Imaginary Summer Book Club Featuring Classics of Women’s Literature. As all of the four selected titles have filmed adaptations, we will be looking at the movie versions as we go along. This month, the August selection, Jean Kerr’s Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.)

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

Jean Kerr’s phenomenal best-seller of the late 1950’s might be the earliest archeological example of “Mommy Snark”- here in the future, parents are constantly baring the souls online (always with a knowing wink) about letting their kids eat Pop Tarts for dinner or concerns about how Avery or Madison is probably going to grow up to be bum or a serial killer.

I can only imagine that such confessionals had more shock value in 1957, when Kerr confessed that her “special chicken creole soup” was made by mixing together a can of Campbell’s chicken soup with a can of Campbell’s creole soup or that when none of the children will fess up to throwing the calendar in the toilet she “relies on blind instinct” in selecting the probable culprit for a spanking, shrugging off the fact that “this undoubtedly leads to an occasional injustice, but you’d be surprised how it cuts down on the plumbing bills.” Continue reading

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