Elizabeth learns what growing up is all about through love… and a summer she will never forget.
Background: Carol Beach York is one of those authors that seemed to specialize in YA and Juvenile mass-market paperbacks. In addition to a number of free-standing titles, she also wrote for the Caprice imprint and the Heart to Heart series. Like many of these authors, she got her start within the pages of Seventeen magazine.
Maybe that is where this story should have stayed: there is almost enough going on for a magazine short story, but not nearly enough for a novel, even a short one (127 pages).
The Plot: 14 year old Elizabeth Carrington lives with her widowed father and his unmarried sister in the town of Green Falls, Anystate USA. Mr. Carrington sells insurance and is on the road for long stretches of time, leaving Elizabeth to pass many boring summer days with only her Aunt to keep her company.
Elizabeth is going through a typical adolescent-girl awkward phase, where her Aunt Lou is constantly chastising for not being more ladylike, and her few friends have all seem to be “boy crazy”, while Elizabeth herself remains unimpressed by their crushes and unself-conscious about wolfing down mass quantities of milkshakes and cookies.
The only thing she can muster up any enthusiasm about is the idea of leaving Green Falls:
I was going to live in a big city, probably New York or San Francisco; and I was going to wear a lot of peach-colored silk dresses and gold jewelry.
There is a studio apartment attached to their house, which Aunt Lou rents to newlyweds, who usually stay until their careers advance or the first baby comes along. The latest couple to move in is the Hollises, who have come to Green Falls from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Elizabeth is immediately intrigued, because people just don’t come to Green Falls.
Elizabeth is intrigued further still when she meets the gangly, self-deprecating Ruby Hollis and her glamorous husband, Barney. Seriously, not a single chapter goes by without Ruby yammering on about how nobody can believe that a woman as plain as she is could have caught a hunk like Barney!
The arrival of the Hollises coincides with Elizabeth and her friends Amy and Kitty-ellen noticing two sharp-dressed strangers hanging around town. Kitty-ellen (ugh, capitalization!) immediately comes to the conclusion that they must be spies, or Hollywood talent scouts or FBI agents.
When Amy and Kitty-ellen leave for family vacation, leaving Elizabeth more bored than EV-ER, she starts spending time with Ruby Hollis, especially while her husband is out of town on business. Elizabeth becomes kind of obsessed with the Hollises, especially when she discovers that she can eavesdrop on their conversations, as their apartment is directly above her bedroom. She soon comes to believe that they are somehow connected to the strange men she has seen lurking around town.
And that is basically it. The book is full of description of the sunlight falling through the trees as Elizabeth boringly sits on the porch swing, and the way her boring friend’s boring mom boringly breads pork chops for dinner. Amy comes back from vacation and they go to the boring fourth of July parade because the boring boy that boring Amy has a boring crush on has to ride in the float promoting his family’s plumbing-supply company:
“The float was very dignified for a plumbing company,” I said. “It was covered with white and gold crepe paper, and Jimmy was standing by a great big water faucet.”
Elizabeth and Amy are planning on attending the dance in the town park after the parade, but then Amy calls at the last minute because Jimmy asked her because COMING OF AGE, so Elizabeth sits on the porch with Ruby Hollis, who is waiting for her husband to come back from the drug store.
Remember how I said the book was 127 pages? We are up to page 119 in the narrative.
Elizabeth asks Mrs. Hollis if they’re in trouble and if there is anything she, a 14 year old girl, can do to help. Mrs. Hollis says that her husband’s brother “well, who’s been in trouble a lot.”
Gangsters? Drug dealers? Loan sharks? Never clarified. At this point (page 121!) the two sharp-dressed strangers emerge out of the darkness and make vague threats regarding her brother-in-law before bidding her farewell, adding that they saw Barney’s car parked down the street (page 122) ; alarmed, Mrs. Hollis runs down the block to find that her husband has been stabbed to death (page 124).
And that’s it. In the remaining three pages Elizabeth tells us that Mrs. Hollis had left town to live with her sister and Aunt Lou is getting ready to rent the apartment again. The end.
Bonus feature! Let’s judge a book by its cover.
The copy I have is pictured above, done in the ever-popular “mopey/wistful girl thinks about the issue she will be confronting in tasteful earth-tones” style. Judy Blume is basically the queen of this kind of cover (see examples here, here and here).
Going by the cover, I guessed that Teen Suicide would be the issue confronted between these pages.
Another edition was sold in with this cover:
Something I like to call the Vanity Press, Never-Learned-to-Draw-Hands school of artistry. This example is particularly gruesome and Edvard Munch-esque. To me it says “post-nuclear apocalypse survival involving teenagers banding together to build a better future.”
And finally, it was also sold with this cover:
To which I say “liar, liar, pants on fire” to its spooky Lois Duncan font and lurking shadows.
Sign It Was Written in 1970 Department: “The Communists are all in Washington and the gangsters are in Chicago and the narcotics peddlers are in New York City. And you should be very grateful that you are in Green Falls.”
I Don’t Think I Quite Got The Moral Of The Story Department: “I began to sense that there were deeper currents to living than I had known yet, as though I had so far lived on the surface of things, looking at my own reflection.”