It had been common knowledge for several months that the Taylors were moving away from their home on Colfax Street to a big new mansion on Holly Tree Hill…
Another title suggested by a couple of readers during last fall’s run of Whitman-published hardcover novels!
The Plot: This one reminded me both of Beverly Cleary’s YA work (low on the external drama, high on the internal conflict of the heroine) and Julie Campbell’s Trixie Belden series (poor little rich girls rescued by vivacious country-folk; warnings of the dangers of putting on airs).
As the book opens, 15 year old Thelma (Teddy) Taylor and her family are preparing to move from the working-class environs of Colfax Street in the town of Holston, Alabama (some eagle-eyed readers at Goodreads note that Holston is a thinly-veiled version of Huntsville). Holston has experiences a post-War population boom, especially since NASA has located research facilities in the area for the ongoing “moon boom” in space exploration.
Mr. Taylor is a self-made man, having worked his way up from a carpenter to the owner of the town’s foremost construction company. In Colfax Street terms, the Taylors (along with Teddy are older brother Dave, younger sister Dixie and baby Ricky) are quiet affluent:
Their home had been remodeled and enlarged until it was now the biggest and most imposing house in the neighborhood; it was always freshly painted, with the lawn mowed and the hedges clipped. They alone employed a yardman full time. And every year at least one of their two cars was traded in on a new one.
So no one is surprised when, after Mr. Taylor opens model homes in the new Mountainside Estates housing tract, that Teddy and her family are moving into a posh new mansion in the tony Holly Tree Hill section of town.
Already Teddy is thinking about the better class of people she is going to befriend: private-school students like Nancy Moore and Tess Graves- even Mimi Martineaux, granddaughter of the town’s leading citizen-businesswoman!
The Taylors are the type of Greatest Generation parents wholly devoted to making sure their children have easier lives than they did- Teddy and her siblings are assured of a college education, and their parents eagerly buy them all the needed trimmings to fit in on The Hill: elaborately casual-casual clothes, professionally decorated bedrooms, and a swimming pool that Mr. Taylor hopes will become a “teen trap”, assuring the Taylor children’s popularity in the neighborhood.
While Dave and Teddy are eager to fit in with the better class of people (and baby Ricky is too little to care), 10 year old Dixie is the voice of dissent, especially when it comes to sending her beloved pet goat to live on their grandparents’ farm.
But fitting in doesn’t come easily: Teddy fails to catch the eye of Nancy, Tess or Mimi, and increasingly finds herself SO EMBARASSED by the rest of her family, whether it’s her father’s overly-enthusiastic sales pitches for his new properties, her mother’s dowdiness, or her grandparents’ broken-down truck and “country” ways. (Ugh, and don’t even get started on Dixie’s tomboying around!)
Even worse are her old friends from the wrong side of the tracks: Jimmy and Viv are so loud and annoying! Ruby and Carol’s houses are so small and tacky! Some of her friends parents don’t even own a car!
After a week, Mr. Taylor has noticed that Dave and Teddy have neither made new friends nor heard from old ones, and suggests springing the Teen Trap and inviting their friends to a pool party. Teddy sends out written invitations to 8 of her old friends, and impulsively decides to start spelling her nickname “Teddi”, in order to be more sophisticated.
This backfires when Jimmy Bryant, her sometimes-boyfriend accepts the invitation by phone, sarcastically referring to a “Miss Tedd-eye Taylor”.
But she hears nothing from her other old friends, and begins worrying that her party will be a flop. Reluctantly joining her father on an errand back to Colfax street, Teddi tries to hide from Viv, her long-time BFF, but eventually is discovered and Viv reveals why she and the other girls haven’t yet RSVP’d to Teddi’s pool party: they’ve been babysitting and working other odd jobs to save up money for fashionable new bathing suits and “smart” casual clothes for the party.
Throughout the 216 pages in hardcover, Teddi wildly vacillates between wanting to dump her old, poor friends for the “smooth” teens on The Hill and desperately clutch Viv, Ruby and Carol to her breast, certain their simple good times and countrified values are what are really important. Seriously, she can switch allegiances in the middle of a sentence, depending on a perceived snub from Mimi or Viv loudly snapping her gum.
BOYS make everything more complicated, because of course they do. A large part of Teddi’s Colfax street popularity seemed to be because of her semi-steady status with Jimmy, star singer in a local Folk trio. But Jimmy can be so maddening, especially after all of that Tedd-eye business. When he calls to cancel on Teddi’s pool party she doesn’t even listen for his explanation and hangs up the phone in a huff.
Complicating their young lovers’ quarrel is new attention being paid to Teddi by both Jack Walker (part of the old crowd, but someone up on the ins-and-outs of social climbing) and glamorous new dude in town, Rock Baxter, the fast-talking son of a Chicago business man, staying with his aunt in Holston until the rest of the family moves down on space-related business.
Complications continue throughout the summer, as Dixie befriends Mimi over a shared love of animals, Rock is revealed to not be all he says he is, Jimmy’s singing group find greater and greater success professionally, and Teddi realizes her long-time dream of serving as a hostess for The Pilgrimage, Holston’s annual tour of historic homes and gardens.
Crises loom in the form of Mr. Taylor failing to sell his Mountainside Estates homes, which brings the possibility of having to sell their new Holly Tree Hill mansion and move back to the Colfax street house (horrors!) And finally, when Grandma answers the door when Mrs. Martineaux comes calling which is SO EMBARASSING and Teddi tells her so! Grandma takes off in her old pickup truck back to the farm in the face of an approaching tornado, leaving Teddi dependent on Jimmy to help her go on a rescue mission:
He slowed the truck to a crawl. Teddi strained her eyes in an effort to catch a glimpse of any truck that might have slipped into one of the deep drainage ditches along the side of the road.
The truck bumped into a tire blown onto the road and banged over a rusty fender. Teddi, her nerves taut already, stifled a scream. Each of those objects could have been Grandma out on the road walking for help!
Grandma is fine, and surprisingly cool with her granddaughter having yelled at her for being a hillbilly. However, due to the storm, Mr. Taylor orders Teddi and Jimmy to spend the night on the farm (scandal!), which causes Jimmy to miss his bus to Nashville, where he was due the next morning for rehearsals with the rest of his group for a national TV appearance.
Skipping ahead a few weeks finds most of the conflicts resolved: Jimmy ended up taking a plane to Nashville for his TV debut, and now is the hottest act climbing the charts. Mr. Taylor sells the first house in Mountainside Heights to Rock’s father, with the promise of more sales to come. Dixie reveals that Mimi is so standoffish because she’s sensitive about her globe-trotting parents having ditched her with her grandmother; Mrs. Martineaux decides to cheer up her granddaughter by throwing the grandest square dance the town has ever seen, and Mimi’s parents arrive just in time for it, announcing that they will settle in Holston for good.
And Jimmy and Teddi finally make up, as he identifies her as the Certain Girl who helped him write the lyrics for his hit song.
Which leaves just one question: is Teddi getting royalties on that? Songwriting is where the money is, Teddi!