Girls are very special in many ways, but one of the very nicest is their taste in reading. Girls like variety. They want more than just adventure tales or stories of people in deadly danger- climbing the face of a mountain or tracking a vicious bear or fighting it out with the bad guys- you know the kind of thing. Girls want a story collection that lets them react in a lot of different ways to a lot of different characters in a lot of different situations.
Background: From the 50s through the 70s Whitman published a huge number of these squat, dust jacketless hardcovers, separately targeting boys and girls. However, this is the first Whitman short story anthology I’ve ever seen. The publication date of 1972, with-it title and trippy contour drawing illustrations seem to promise…. Ok, I’m not sure what it promises. Something weird and hopefully worth the three Earth-dollars I paid for it. The collected stories (most of which were originally published in Seventeen and American Girl: The Magazine of the Girl Scouts of the USA) range from the head-scratching to the hilarious as the attempt to address issues like divorce, death, racism and… well, dog sitting and finding a boyfriend. Not every story can be with-it!
Good-Bye Miss Kitty: The first and worst story in the volume opens with teenaged Karen abandoning her (pregnant!) pet cat on the property of Popular boy Pete Forrester. When Pete catches her she tells him that her parents are getting divorced because her father wants to move to Alaska and she is being sent to live with her Grandmother in New York City while her mother gets her quickie Mexican divorce. Pete is sympathetic, but also full of bad advice
“If I were you, I’d go to my room, lock the door, and go on a hunger strike; and I wouldn’t eat or come out until they get back together again.”
Karen JUST KNOWS that her parents are still madly in love with each other, but are just being too stubborn to admit it. When Karen’s cat arrives back at the house with her new born kittens in tow on the night her father has shown up to remove his belongings from the house, Karen throws a tantrum while Pete looks on admiringly
“Atta girl,” Pete muttered. “Now go lock yourself in that room and go on that hunger strike!”
GOD, Pete just shut UP already!
Her parents instantly realize the error of her ways and vow not to divorce. Karen’s gets to keep both her cat and Pete. Nobody has to move to Alaska.
Moral of the story: You can act like pretty much the worst person ever and still be rewarded.
Dog-Sitter: Tena has started her own dog-sitting business after the Veterinarian father of her (ex-)boyfriend told her that she can’t possibly be a vet when she grows up BECAUSE SHE IS A GIRL. Unfortunately her first client is a huge, misbehaving Great Dane owned by an illiterate Scotsman who has to go to some sort of black tie event with his wife
“I’ll be lucky if this suit is in one piece when I come home. Last year we had seven fights at the annual shindig!”
Tena assures him that she will take good care of the aptly-named Rowdy and has a natural rapport with animals:
“Rap what?” Mike MacGruder demanded.
“I’ll spell it out for you on the way to the ball,” said his wife.
Hijinks with a roast chicken follow, Tena eventually gains control of the dog and for some reason decides to forgive her jackass boyfriend and his father.
Moral of the story: Dogs. They are hard.
Fly Free: For reasons that remain obscure, Claire is sent to live with some family friends after she loses her hand in a car accident (!!!!). Awkwardness ensues when she develops a crush on the oldest son, Jon, and has her high school physics prowess held up as an example to shame said son. Claire refuses to go to the school dance, despite the fact that nobody except her cares about the hand-thing. Jon stays home and they make popcorn, which I guess involves physics. The end.
Moral of the story: Don’t turn away, Moulty.
A Person After All: Anne is shocked to read the obituary for her spinsterish high school English teacher in the Sunday paper. Unfortunately, the author picked the most inadvertently hilarious way for her to die: she dropped dead at a square dance. Anne ponders the mystery of life and death, vaguely wishes she had gotten to know her teacher better. The end.
Moral of the story: Check with your doctor before indulging in square dancing.
Two Nice Girls: The longest story in this volume, it tells with a truly excruciating earnestness the story of Sally B., who befriends Vesta, the first Black student at her southern university after they attend a meeting of the Episcopalian student organization. Sally B. invites Vesta back to her dorm for tea and inadvertently acts like a huge racist. Sally B. tries to make amends and Vesta dares her to come with her to a protest at a segregated lunch counter the next day. The end.
Moral of the story: Sally B., nobody thinks your father’s use of racial epithets adorable! GOD!
They Don’t Make Glass Slippers Any More: The unnamed narrator’s older sister Darlene is in love with a carny named Vincent. She takes the opportunity to stalk him while he works the Merry-Go-Round when her mother sends the two girls and their younger brother to the butcher to buy chickens, which apparently they just give to you, feathers and all, not even wrapped up. You just carry dead chickens around the town! Darlene has a plan to “accidentally” leave her purse at the Merry-Go-Round with her ID card in it so Vincent will return it and then she’ll have to invite him in for a piece of cake and they’ll practically be going steady, right? She also wears a “full, bright colored skirt” because “she figured Vincent’s Romany blood would react more to the bright skirt.” WHAT????
Things Do Not Go As Planned. The younger brother throws the dead chickens at Vincent’s head, which causes Darlene to die of embarrassment and make everyone run away. They accidentally leave the chickens on the bus on the way home so Darlene’s in big trouble. But wait! There is a knock on the door and “a tall blond boy” is standing there with the chicken corpses. Darlene invites HIM in for cake. The end.
Moral: Just be patient and an Aryan dream boy will present himself. Also: people didn’t really care about sanitary poultry practices in the 1960s.
The Year of the Baby: This one is too depressing to even contemplate. Lorna thinks her mom is acting weird, as she has given up all of her hobbies and pastimes. It turns out she is pregnant. Lorna is saddened to see her mother take all of her painting supplies and unfinished projects to the attic forever. The end.
Moral: Just pack all of your dreams away forever, girls.
The Summer of Charlie Crip: Karry befriends a boy who has been furloughed from the local Reform School and he helps her work through the grief of her older brother’s death in Viet Nam, using the most obvious metaphor ever: nursing an injured baby bird back to health and then setting it free. The end.
Moral: GAWD, MOM! HE TOTALLY DID NOT MEAN TO STEAL THAT CAR!
Debbie Faces Herself: Another Mom is acting weird. This time Debbie overhears a conversation between her parents and learns that her mother has terminal cancer and only a few months left to live and her parents are keeping it a secret from Debbie and her brother. Debbie vows to not let on that she knows to either her parents or brother. The end.
Moral: “Uh… yeah, your mom was getting kind of old, so I took her out to this great big farm where she will have lots of other moms to play with and where she can run free!”
No Boy, I’m a Girl: Ok, this is what I wanted to get to, by far the best story in this collection: it manages to be both cute and hilarious. I did not have high hopes for it, as it opens with teenaged Debbie (another one) describing her crush on her nerdy next-door neighbor and how she became an “agitator for civilian rights”. At this point I’m pretty much rolling my eyes, figuring that she’ll eventually win Allen’s heart by learning to keep her mouth shut, wear a girdle and make the perfect chocolate wafer icebox cake. I am delighted to say that I was totally wrong.
Debbie is up in arms over the suspension of three high school boys who wore blue jeans to class, and a memo sent out by the principal stating that “no boy shall be allowed to wear blue jeans during school hours or on school grounds”. Debbie knows a loophole when she sees it and shows up in blue jeans herself the next day. She does this by changing her clothes at Allen’s house while he eats his customary breakfast of six bowls of cold cereal.
The principal of course goes apoplectic when Debbie points out that he specified that “no boy” could wear jeans and sends out a new memo specifying that “no boy or girl” could wear blue jeans to school. Debbie enlists the help of the original three delinquents and they all dye their jeans colors other than blue. The memos get progressively more specific and Debbie keeps outwitting them until all the mothers in the neighborhood show up to sock it to the Harper Valley PTA. The moms are a pretty wacky bunch: because of a misunderstanding, Debbie’s mother thinks that the principal is a “drug pusher” possibly selling airplane glue or “something worse” to the students. Another mother “from the south” gives an impassioned speech about how
“If there had been no boys in blue or gray, if all had been dressed only in the skin God gave them, there would have been no war. ALL clothes were unnatural.”
The principal concedes defeat, and send out a final memo telling students to wear whatever the hell they want. He tries to make a point at the assembly on the last day of school by calling Debbie out as a troublemaker and pointing out that she had only gotten a C- in algebra, and making an example of the conservatively-dressed Allen, who has the highest GPA in the class. Allen doesn’t play along, both outraged because he knows that Debbie had worked very hard for that C- and because
“No one has the right to force someone to stand up in the middle of assembly and be stared at just because he’s not wearing a furry vest!”
Allen goes to stay with his grandmother for the summer and Debbie and her friends have a contest to see who can grow their hair the longest, until Debbie decides that it’s stupid and gets a pixie cut. Allen comes home at the end of summer having grown a ponytail and FINALLY asks Debbie out. The principal practically has a heart attack when they show up hand-in-hand on the first day of school.
Moral: Boys like outspoken girls with short hair. Also, driving your high school principal to a nervous breakdown is a noble and heroic endeavor.