Trudy Phillips, New Girl (#1) By Barbara S. Bates

“New, new, new! New Girl! I hate being new. Why did we have to move!”

Trudy Phillips New Girl

Background: Continuing our annual round-up of Whitman hardcovers of the 1950s, 60s and 70s we come to the Trudy Phillips series on high school life,  which lasted just two volumes in the early 1950s.

The Plot:  That intro is short, because there isn’t all that much to say about the premise of the series; while some of the characters show great potential, the story itself is downright generic.

14 year old Trudy and her family have relocated from the small town of Eastbrook, Anystate, USA to the suburb of Tylertown, Anotherstate, USA six weeks into the start of the school year. On the day she is to start at Tyler Junior High (like Donna Parker, 9th grade makes Trudy a junior high senior, not a high school freshman), Trudy broods about her father’s decision: Continue reading

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Meg: The Ghost of Hidden Springs (Meg Duncan #4)

Many years had passed since Kathleen Hannigan had died in a tragic accident, but her ghost was still said to haunt the old mansion…

Ghost of Hidden Springs

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.

Again this year, we’ll be looking at these series over the next few weeks, starting with tweenage suburban sleuth Meg Duncan.

The Plot: “Holly Beth Walker” is a Whitman “house name” for an unknown number of ghostwriters- while Gladys Baker Bond has been identified as the author of the first book in the series, the other writers are unknown and the books sometimes vary wildly in terms of content and tone.

To add to the confusion, the series was re-ordered when it was released in paperback by Golden in the late 1970s, with volumes 3 and 5 flipped in the continuity (I use the word loosely).

I bring all this up because when last we met Meg Duncan and her BFF Kerry Carmody they had just solved a genuinely spooky mystery while on vacation in Maine with Meg’s dashing bachelor uncle; this time around we return to suburban Hidden Springs, Virginia dealing with age-appropriate and mildly mysterious happenings. Continue reading

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The Boy Who Drank Too Much By Shep Greene


This week, from the archives!

Originally posted on Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989:

YA fiction of a certain vintage that attempts to tackle topical issues tends to do so in very black-and-white terms: if you have premarital sex, you will get pregnant and ruin your life; one puff on a joint (or as I like to say in my best Jack Webb voice “a marihuana cigarette”) inexorably leads to shooting heroin in a dark alley; or in this case, you are either a sanctimonious teetotaler or are laying in your own filth behind the bus station waiting for your next bottle of Ripple. There is no gray area, no social drinking, no youthful experimentation. Have fun being a wino, if you make the wrong choices, kid!

The Boy Who Drank Too Much

The Plot: The murky and depressing cover is appropriate, since the story is also pretty murky and depressing. I feel like the title is something of a misnomer, however: high school hockey player Buff Saunders’ drinking too…

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The Luckiest Girl By Beverly Cleary

Shelley Latham is sure about one thing: The upcoming year is going to be different. 

The Luckiest Girl

Back to school! Time to start the year with a good attitude cautionary tale wacky scheme inspirational message epic wish-fulfillment fantasy!

Background: Beverly Cleary (who turned 99 this past April!) is best known for her juvenile fiction about the Leave It To Beaver-type adventures of Henry Huggins, and Beezus (and especially) Ramona Quimby:  books that manage to realistically capture the high drama that is inherent in being an 8-to-12 year old child.

Less well known are the YA Romances from early in her career: Fifteen (1956), The Luckiest Girl (1958), Jean and Johnny (1959) and Sister of the Bride (1963). In the early 1980s Dell reissued these four titles as trade paperbacks under the “Young Love” imprint with terrible cover art and jacket descriptions that have nothing to do with what actually happens in the book. Continue reading

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Checking In With The Imaginary Summer Book Club: Heartburn By Nora Ephron

(Click here for information on the 2015 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, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn.)


I confess, I had never heard of Nora Ephron’s roman a clef about the disintegration of her brief marriage to Washington Post report Carl Bernstein until I was assigned the 1986 movie version for a class I took a few years ago; after that I noticed the book popping up on a lot of “top-10 favorites” lists.

The movie is kind of an odd duck: the Ephron/Nichols pedigree, the opening synthesizer riff of Carly Simon’s theme song, the poster pictured above all say “Rom-Com”, which it is not quite. Instead, it is stuck somewhere between the better-known titles Ephron would pen in the next decade (When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) and the suddenly-liberated-housewife-on-the-loose dramas of the 1970s (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, An Unmarried Woman). Continue reading

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Darcy (Sunfire Romance #32) By Mary Francis Shura

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is the wind of change…


Background: Scholastic’s Sunfire series is a cautionary tale about judging a YA Romance by its cover. Lurking behind the overheated cover art and melodramatic taglines are some of the best stories and most interesting heroines of the genre.

Sort of a historical counterpart to Scholastic’s Wildfire Romances, the series was authored by a handful of Scholastic regulars, such as Vivian Schurfranz and Jane Claypool Miner, and are formulaic, but reliably consistent in quality.

Each volume features a feisty (sometimes anachronistically so) 14-to-17 year old heroine facing an American historical crisis and the choice of two (or more) suitors. Spoilers: she’ll choose the one with the more progressive ideas about women’s rights.

While usually interesting and well-written, Sunfires are formulaic, dealing with either a spunky working-class heroine who Makes It On Her Own or a spoiled rich girl who Learns To Stand On Her Own Two Feet.  Sunfires are also noted for the alarming mortality rate for parents: if the heroine isn’t at least a half-orphan when the book opens, you can bet she will be by the end of chapter two.

The earliest books in the series focus on a general historical era, such as World War I (Laura) or the Oregon Trail (Amanda), but the later volumes use specific historic events as a backdrop, often dramatic disasters such as the Johnstown Flood (Jennie) or the San Francisco earthquake (Nora).

Which brings us to this week’s (hurricane-) seasonally appropriate title…

The Plot: Texas belle Darcy Dunlop is preparing for her 16th birthday party in September of 1900, and she is both frazzled and petulant about having to change her plans from a beach party to an indoor dance because her over-protective widower father is obsessed with monitoring the falling barometer and a chance of a storm. Continue reading

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The Day The Senior Class Got Married By Gloria D. Miklowitz

It’s never been done before!

The Day the Senior Class Got Married

Background: Dell’s Young Love banner was used on both reissues of classic teen romances and originals of questionable merit, but in general the titles tended towards “breezy” and “fun”.

So pity the poor teen who picked this one up for its sitcom-wacky cover and instead found themselves with a rather grim meditation on a failed teenage romance.

It makes more sense if the reader is acquainted with Miklowitz’s other work, the kind of YA titles that were so popular in the 1970s that dealt with such topical issues as rape, cults, teen pregnancy and drugs, and frequently without a happy (or moralistic) ending.

The Plot: High school seniors Lori and Garrick are in LOVE and have been dating for-ever, and with graduation looming (and the inevitable changes that will bring) they impulsively announce their engagement. Continue reading

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