This week we’re continuing to look at the Girl’s Series published by Whitman in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
…Donna Parker, you have restored my shaken faith in the Whitman girls’ series machine!
Background: It is my highly unscientific finding that the Donna Parker series is the second-best remembered of the Whitman girls’ series, after Trixie Belden. And the two share a number of similarities: both are set in the suburbs of New York City, feature BFF girl-sleuths, and wholesome kinda-boyfriends.
Donna Parker seems to be mostly remembered as a camp counselor, which she works as in two out of her seven volumes, Mystery at Arawak and this one.
The Plot: Sensible 14 year old Donna and her impulsive, overly-dramatic best friend Ricky (“called Fredericka only by her mother”) take jobs as unpaid Junior Counselors at Camp Cherrydale rather than spend another borr-rring summer hanging around their hometown. Donna is thrilled when she is noticed on the last day of school by Popular Boy Richard White, who tells her that he will be working as a counselor at the nearby Camp Three Pines. Ricky is less than impressed:
“If it isn’t Richard White, president of the graduating class of our beloved Junior High. What happened to all of the loyal classmates who usually surround him, waiting hopefully for a smile from his lips?”
It is not exactly clear what the deal is with Camp Cherrydale. It is run out of a large house by the distinguished pediatrician Dr. Duval and his wife, and seems to specialize in children with “special needs”. Pretty much all of the charges are underweight and are on a diets that involve drinking “at least a quart of milk a day” (blarg!); there is also a little boy who has emerged from a coma unable or unwilling to speak; and everyone is subjected to a strict regimen of examinations and vitamin shots.
Donna and Ricky are dismayed to find out that one of their charges is a girl from their hometown, 7 year old Nancy Bond, who is pretty much straight out of The Bad Seed. Nancy is introduced having ensnared and injured Ricky in a booby-trap made out of fishing line.
And Nancy isn’t the only problem Donna and Ricky have to deal with: Dr. & Mrs. Duvall mysteriously order the girls to stay away from the woods on the property, especially after Donna sees a mysterious light one night and she and Ricky “accidentally” wind up finding a mysterious abandoned house with a mysterious hobo claiming squatters’ rights. Ricky immediately jumps to the conclusion that the explanation must involve a hidden treasure, band of jewel thieves or the Duvall’s secret son who is on the run from the law.
And then there is Donna’s senior counselor, Bunny, who shirks all of her work off onto the unpaid Donna and spends her time moping in her bunk.
Children who are holy terrors and lazy fellow counselors? So far this book gets a 10/10 for realism from me. All that’s missing is Donna and Ricky sneaking out to the mysterious abandoned house to smoke Newports and bitch about the above. But I digress.
Popular Richard does finally call and asks if Donna could arrange for he and his charges to pay a visit to Cherrydale. Mrs. Duvall agrees, but only on the condition that they only stay for an hour, because everyone needs to get their sleep. Which Ricky thinks is totally unfair.
They get all dolled up in lipstick and everything, but the boys stand them up! Mrs. Duvall sends them to bed, and Ricky swears revenge. Then in the middle of the night they awaken to the station wagon from Camp Three Pines pulling up and an incensed Dr. Duvall chasing Popular Richard and the boys off the lawn. Mysterious!
And really, that is the only fault that I can find with the volume: it sets up a half-dozen “mysteries” that turn out to be not very mysterious after all. Camp Three Pines isn’t on Daylight Savings Time. Bunny is moping because her parents want her to break off her engagement and finish college. The mysterious hobo turns out to be a French Count who knew the Duvalls as children and spent World War II in a POW camp for working for the French Resistance, and then after the war he found that the Nazis had bombed both his Chateau and his family into the ground, so the Duvalls are helping him emigrate. Duh!
But who cares about the lack of real mysteries, Donna and Ricky have been invited to a square dance at the boys camp! And Donna gets coma-boy to speak! And Nancy Bond gets her comeuppance!
When Nancy collapses the night of the campfire, everyone thinks she has appendicitis. Instead, it turns out that it is indigestion from eating eight hot dogs and a pound of marshmallows. Nonetheless, Nancy’s dreadful mother rushes up to camp and installs herself in the guest room, much to the entire camp’s annoyance. Which briefly results in another easily-explained mystery, when the mysterious sounds Donna hears in the night turn out to be Mrs. Bond snooping around. Thankfully, Mrs. Bond decides to take her terrible child home, which makes Mrs. Duvall philosophical:
“Donna, dear,” she consoled her, “don’t worry about the Bonds. There are some people who make nuisances of themselves wherever they go. Either they can’t be changed, or they don’t want to change. We’re really very lucky that they decided to leave.”
Yup, sometimes people are just rotten!
On the last day of camp, there is a talent show for all of the parents, and the Duvalls have promised a cash prize to the counselor with the winning team. Donna is motivated by the cash, since she wants to buy her mother an electric sewing machine to replace the old-fashioned treadle model that she had to use to sew Donna’s entire camp wardrobe. Donna choreographs a ballet for her group of charges and can practically taste that new sewing machine, until she sees the older boys’ performance, which is a circus act which includes the camp’s pet rabbits dressed up as lions. Which I have to admit, would totally get my vote.
But! The Duvalls declare everyone a winner, and announce that every staff member will get an extra $15 in their pay envelope. Even the unpaid staff members. Which, obvs, is not enough for an electric sewing machine, even in 1957. But then The Count gives Donna a new electric sewing machine for her mother, because she taught him how to love his fellow man again or something. And Bunny’s parents have decided to give her their blessing to get married after all, so now she can stop moping. So the moral of the story is that summer camp is awesome and everyone should go there.
Sign It Was Written In 1957 Department: When Donna and Ricky hike out to a snack bar on the side of the highway on their afternoon off, they are self-conscious about being seen in public in shorts:
“Now that we’re practically back in civilization, the shorts seem kind of queer, don’t they?”
“Nobody’ll ever notice,” Ricky replied. “Everyone wears shorts these days, even grown women.”
Midnight Snack Department: “Roast beef sandwiches and cookies and milk soon made both girls forget all of their troubles.” I have seriously been thinking about roast beef sandwiches all week after reading this.
Good Riddance Department: “My mother is going to take me to a fancy hotel at the seashore, where I don’t have to make my own bed every day. And I can have ice cream even for breakfast, if I want it. Not like this stinky old camp. Yaah!”