“New, new, new! New Girl! I hate being new. Why did we have to move!”
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:
“He doesn’t even know it’s my first day in a big school,” thought Trudy. “He changes his job and he changes his town as easily as he changes his suit.”
Trudy’s reverie is interrupted by her younger brother, Johnny, who is clearly some kind of Satan-imp:
“Yah! You got butterflies in your stomach!” And he went on eating toasted jelly sandwiches, one after the other. “Fatty! You’re scared to eat your breakfast ‘cause you might get fat!”
Things start to look up when Trudy arrives at the massive junior high school and reports for registration, and the kindly Principal assigns the cheerful, outgoing Spooky Ruddle to show Trudy the ropes. Spooky (not a nickname: she was born on Halloween to parents who have a sense of humor) quickly takes to Trudy and lets her in on the Who’s Who at Tyler: class brain Stephen; dreamboat Doug, the editor of the school paper; and most importantly, Gloria Holden, the wealthy, glamorous only daughter of divorced parents who spends six months a year in California. During her first-period math class, Trudy also gets to know Mike, a shy student from a “DP Family”, an archaic term that I had to look up (it stands for “Displaced Persons”, and was used specifically regarding eastern European refugees who relocated to the United States after World War II).
And thus is presented Trudy’s first dilemma: Gloria has invited the class to a Halloween party at the family mansion, which will be in direct competition with Spooky’s birthday party!
“Gloria gives super parties- long dresses, eats like you never saw before, and even, sometimes, real live musicians. But, gee, Halloween is my day, and I can’t feature dunking for apples and toasting marshmallows and making a general Halloween riot at Gloria’s.”
When it comes to light that Trudy, having just moved to town, hasn’t been sent an invitation to Gloria’s party, she encourages her friend’s petulance and staging of a counter-party. While initially only Trudy, Stephen and Mike show up at Spooky’s (plus a disruption by Gloria’s bratty cousin who has been sent as a “spy”), a few guests from Gloria’s shindig start to trickle in for apple-dunking and trick-or-treating.
Eventually talk turns to the upcoming class election, and the assembled losers and rejects decide to nominate a candidate to run against Gloria, dubbing themselves The Common People Party.
While Trudy is relieved to have been accepted by a group, she still longs to be accepted into Gloria’s rarified circle of friends. And that is the main problem: in the first book of the Trudy Phillips series, the least-likable character is Trudy Phillips. She is responsible for wrecking Stephen’s bicycle, which he needs for his after-school delivery boy job, and doesn’t pay for the repairs because she’s saving up for a pedigreed dog; she holds out for an invitation to the homecoming dance from Dreamboat Doug, knowing that Spooky has a crush on him; despite all of her angst over being the New Girl and longing for a group of friends at her new school, she takes every opportunity to undercut her new friends in her quest for newer, better friends. Trudy is a social climber.
Unfortunately for her, throughout the semester she undermines her own attempts to become Gloria’s bosom friend, first besting her in a class debate, then thrusting Spooky into the role of Lady Gwendolyn in the class production of The Importance of Being Earnest when Gloria suffers a very “42nd Street” sprained ankle.
It is basically a requirement that these series have a nominal “mystery” plot, but Bates introduces it later than most: as the fall semester progresses, a number of students have money go missing from their lockers and handbags (as well as the theatrical box office), but is isn’t until after Thanksgiving that the teachers and administration take notice and start looking for the thief.
Gossip starts swirling, of course, and almost every member of The Common People come under suspicion: Trudy because of her expensive new dog, Stephen for his shiny new bike, Mike because he’s like all foreign and poor and stuff. The school goes so far as to hire a private lady-detective to pose as a substitute teacher, but she’s so bad at pretending to teach French that the students quickly figure out what her deal is. There is clearly only one way to solve the mystery: the most reliable and trustworthy students must be recruited to observe and inform upon their peers, like so many Communist patsies. This involves Trudy hiding in a locker for an entire lunch hour.
After much spy-intrigue, Trudy catches Gloria red-handed, stealing a planted wallet… and re-planting it in Trudy’s own locker!
“Until you came I was happy. I had the school under my thumb, everything my own way. At home there was no one who cared, but here I was queen. Everyone looked up to me. They all admired my acting, copied my clothes, and gave me top honors in the classroom and in everything else we did. Then you came, with your sleek brown hair and flashing eyes. You took away my friends. You made me look stupid in debating. You ruined Dramatic night and said nasty things behind my back…”
Trudy, of course, sees this as an opportunity to at last win over the popular girl:
“Gloria! Gloria! You’ve got to listen to me! You’re really in danger!” She shook her gently by the shoulders. “Listen to me, Gloria! Mr. Werner is planning to call the police tomorrow. You’ve got to let me help you.”
Trudy is able to convince the principal that because Gloria is rich and pretty the police should not be involved:
“Mr. Werner, surely we all realize that Gloria is not entirely to blame for this whole situation. Had her home life been different, or rather had she had a home life…”
Gloria is allowed to choose her own punishment, and she valiantly resigns from the role of the Virgin Mary in the school’s Christmas pageant because she is SYMBOLICALLY IMPURE.
And finally Mr. & Mrs. Phillips come to Gloria’s rescue and carry her away from the lonely mansion and depraved divorced parents to live in a REAL HOME, because clearly she has learned her lesson and it’s a great idea to have the compulsive thief who tried to frame your daughter for her crimes come live in your house. What could possibly go wrong?
Sign It Was Written In 1953 Department: There is still lots of casual talk about The War among the student body, such as the Common People coming up with their campaign platform:
“We’ll promise to work for a school store. You know, there used to be one before The War. Sold stationary supplies, pennants and school plates, stickers, candy, pretzels, and gum.”