A Wild Heart By Dale Carlson

Jona was pure trouble…

a wild heart

A Goodreads review tipped me off as to the reason for this book’s existence: as a “a high-interest, low-reading level title” it was presumably intended for remedial high school literacy programs.

Which is why a far-fetched story involving crushing poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, a suicide attempt, date rape and a quickie marriage seems to be written for first graders.

The Plot: The book opens with teenaged Danny Jordan looking for his longtime unrequited love, Jona Kirkland, who has gone missing after a fight with her mother. He tracks her to a remote mountain cave, where she has left her winter coat to go out into the wilderness of North Dakota in order to die of exposure. He finds and rescues her.

The Kirklands are tenant farmers for the wealthy Percy family. While Jona and her mother are constantly at odds, this particular incident was touched off after Jona purchased a dress with her own money that she had saved up, and her mother had ripped it up and burned to teach her about rising above her station in life. Dad is a drunk:

James Kirkland sat at the kitchen table. He poured more whiskey. Jona watched him. He was kind to her, sometimes. But she knew he couldn’t save her now.

“You want things. Things you ain’t never gonna have!” Her mother went on screaming.

After Jona recovers from her experience in the mountains (“Jona was angry. Angry at Danny for saving her. Angry at her body for being strong and easy to heal”) she lashes out at classmate Linda Percy by stealing a bejeweled ring from her. While the chief of police arrests her “on suspicion,” she has hidden the ring well enough that they have to release her.

Jona has always been a loner, but the ring incident gains her some notoriety, attracting the attention of boy-crazy Susan and wealthy Greg Hart.

Greg takes Jona on many dates in his sports car, dinners at fancy restaurants, and even buys her dresses and shoes. Despite the fact that Greg acts like a perfect gentleman, obviously, this not going to end well:

He had guessed right. Jona had fire in her. And if he handled her right… Greg laughed out loud.

When Greg starts putting pressure on her to “repay” him, Jona puts up a struggle and he subdues her with a karate chop to the neck. When she wakes up in bed the next morning, she can’t recall anything that happened, but Greg is telling everyone that she fell down and hit her head on a rock and he got the scratches on his face from rescuing her. Danny and Susan are the only ones not buying it:

Suddenly Danny knew the truth. Fingernail marks. And Jona sometimes rubbing her neck.

Danny would have broken Greg’s bones. But he didn’t want everyone to know Jona’s secret.

Eventually Jona’s father is fired by the Percys for being a drunk, and the Kirklands are forced to move “into town” and join the welfare rolls.

Greg reappears and takes Jona on a whirlwind date to the metropolis of St. Cloud, Minnesota (FANCY) and they go to three night clubs and end the night at a Justice of the Peace, where they are married.

Danny breaks down the door of the seedy motel that they are staying at and punches Greg in the stomach and breaks a chair and takes Jona back to her parents:

“I called Mr. Hart. He told me where his son usually takes girls. You didn’t think you were the first, did you?”

(It is unclear whether Greg merely frequents seedy motels with girls or if he insists upon marrying each one of them first)

Uhhhh….seriously I’ve already read, like, 80 pages, when is this saga going to end??? Nine more pages??? SERIOUSLY?

Jona goes to the Harts and Greg’s father tells her he’ll arrange an annulment. Then she goes and returns Linda’s ring. Then Danny’s mother tells him to stop moping and go see Jona, and so he does and tells her that they “belong together”, and offers to sell some land to pay for Jona’s college tuition, but she says she has to make it on her own, and then they part with a kiss that “was a promise. A promise of love.”

Adding to weirdness, this is one of the many books by Dale Carlson, of James Budd fame, and her bibliography also includes such titles as Girls Are Equal Too, The Human Apes and Stop The Pain: Teen Meditations.

While the book is 89 pages long, fully half of those are full-page, blurry black and white photos that dramatically depict key scenes in the story (Jona’s mother setting her dress on fire, Jona clawing up Greg’s face, Danny busting up a hotel room) or not-so-dramatic scenes, such as Greg’s (who looks like an Over The Edge-era Matt Dillon) bitchin’ Corvette or Danny and Susan discussing Jona’s date rape:

a wild heart 2

(I do love that 1970s drugstore lunch counter, though.)

Discussion question: is this going to inspire teens to conquer their illiteracy and discover the joys of reading?

Sign It Was Written In 1977 Department: Greg and Jona go to The Hustler, the hottest discothèque in St. Cloud Minnesota!

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This entry was posted in Vintage YA Fiction and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A Wild Heart By Dale Carlson

  1. msyingling says:

    Eleanor Robins is a current author who churns out books in a somewhat more subdued manner. I think the plan is that if a book is titillating enough, low readers will pick it up, but for them to understand the story at all, there can be no compound sentences. In the whole book. But sentence fragments are okay.

  2. Susan says:

    I wonder: who are the people who posed for the photos, and what did they go on to do in life?

    • mondomolly says:

      There is a lengthy list of acknowledgements in the front of the book, I assume they’re the models. I am going to scan and post some more of the illustrations, they are SO WEIRD!

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