To be a senior and to be going steady with Andy Decker was to have all of life’s finest at one and the same time…
Uhhhhhhhh…. come on, fictional teenagers! I know that you truly believe platitudes such as “love is a gift fraught with hazards,” but you are literally freaking out about two separate things that did not even happen!
The Plot: Shortly after the end of her Junior year of high school, Jean Chelton renews her acquaintance with classmate Andy Decker, whom Jean has had a crush on since for-ever. Andy has been off-limits since his sophomore year, when he began going steady with glamorous Georgia Kane, a year his senior and clearly a hussy because she is always referred to by her full name.
At an extremely wholesome YMCA dance, Andy informs her that he and Georgia Kane have split, which they banter about in an extremely tedious hillbilly dialect for no reason:
“Why, Jean Chelton, ma’am,” he drawled. His tone held a teasing twang. “I do believe you-all thought I was goin’ to take out aout, while all the time back home in the mountains I had a staidy girl.”
Jean giggled. “You, sir, are so right.”
“What’s more,” he said, “thinkin’ all that, even so you were agoin’ to go, weren’t you?”
“Yes, ma’am, I mean sir, I was.”
“That’s what gits me,” he said. “It don’t rightly seem you would have done that unless…”
Soon Jean and Andy are Going Steady, which their parents reluctantly accept, although Jean’s college-age brother, Bill, does not, awkwardly dropping Pat Boone-like pronouncements on the subject into casual conversation:
“Maybe you don’t know this, Jean, but the trend nowadays is away from going steady, particularly in high school. It’s not a big trend, as yet, but it’s growing. Most of the fellows and girls I know say that if they had to do it over again they would never tie themselves down to one person.”
However, Bill also seems to know a lot about that hussy Georgia Kane:
“Georgia Kane,” Bill said firmly, “was never young. She was born old. I happen to know about Georgia because I’m a guy and guys invariably know about girls like Georgia. She started dating eleventh graders when she was in eighth, and when I was a senior and she was in junior high, a lot of guys in my class took her out. The thing that amazes me is that she wound up with a boy who is younger. Maybe it was inevitable, starting as young as she did.”
Did I mention that literally nothing happens in this book? There is no dramatic tension about fighting urges because Jean and Andy don’t seem to have any urges in the first place. They are constantly feeling upset and guilty about things that aren’t even happening to them, such as a group “wiener-roast” at the lake the night before school starts, in which they do not drink beer and someone who is not Andy makes vulgar wisecracks and someone who is not Jean does a suggestive dance:
For the first time she had come up against crudeness. She had been aware of difference in people; she’d bracketed Rosalie and Garve, too, as being the Bailey’s Tavern type. But she hadn’t really known. Well, now she did.
It was Garve who had subjected all of them to something he had rather not seen.
Jean and her friends rake Garve and Rosalie over the coals the next morning, and all are in agreement that they and their boyfriends are of a higher class of teenager:
“Honestly, did you ever, in your whole life, see such a disgusting exhibition?”
“Oh, I know she wasn’t our kind, and all that, but I don’t think she really wanted to dance. Garve made her do it and I can’t stand him.”
“Oh, hush. Tom says she’s nothing but a cheap stripper.”
Jean and Andy continue dating throughout the fall. Nothing continues to happen, although after an evening of parking (in which nothing also happens), Andy is more abrupt in his good nights than usual:
Almost before she knew it Jean found that she’d been hustled to her own door. She watched, completely baffled, as Andy ran to the car. He didn’t look back, but jumped in and drove away.
Just run away from your boners!
Jean learns that one of her classmates has “fallen pregnant” and will not be returning to school, so that is sort of a thing that happens. It doesn’t really impact any of the main characters, beyond the fact that they all observe that she was a nice girl with strict parents, not trash like Rosalie or Georgia Kane. Although the boyfriend’s parents were divorced, so maybe he is a deviant.
Finally, the Big Nothing happens when Andy impulsively decides to finally let Jean meet his dear old mother- but when they arrive at his place the Widow Decker has gone, a note explaining that she has left to care for a friend with appendicitis.
Jean and Andy linger in the empty apartment reading Edgar Allan Poe aloud and not going All The Way.
The next day Jean and Andy feel so guilty about uh, nothing actually, that they sneak away to a restaurant on the other side of town to discuss what didn’t happen between them. Jean is troubled by the fact that nice kids like them could be tempted to… I don’t know? Read Edgar Allan Poe without a chaperone? Anyway, the situation quickly escalates and Jean throws Andy’s signet ring right in his big dumb face and accuses him of having gone All The Way with Georgia Kane.
Jean spends the rest of the semester moping, especially when one of her catty frenemies calls to tell her that Andy took Georgia Kane to the high school’s Harvest Ball.
Finally, on Thanksgiving morning, Jean goes for a walk by herself because she is bumming out her entire family and a whole bunch of icicles fall off a roof and almost kill her [IF ONLY! –Ed.] but she jumps out of the way in time, which causes her to have a revelation:
Why, that was it! That was what had been troubling her most during these past weeks! But just because she made a mistake once she didn’t have to keep on making it, over and over, did she? She had a choice! She could jump the other way.
So, she deigns to speak to Andy again, who tells her that he never went All The Way with Georgia Kane because he “never liked her enough.”
Andy and Jean joyously reunite, I guess so they can continue to not do anything. The End.
Sign It Was Written In 1961:
She’d been lying on a beach towel in the yard, and her legs, arms and back were shiny with baby oil. When the phone rang she jumped to her feet and upset the bottle of iodine she always mixed with the oil for promoting a proper shade of tan.