Two years in the life of Josie Frost, Everygirl.
Not a girl, but not yet a woman… not a short story collection, yet not quite a novel. 10 vignettes cover two year in the life of WASPy Westchester teen Josie Frost, as she deals with romantic entanglements, changing relationships with her family, and an assortment of crises both big and small.
The Plot: The format is very similar to Sally Benson’s Junior Miss, although coming some 30 years later Josie’s dramas are a little more high-stakes, and she manages some truly impressive personal growth as a character. Which is great, because she starts out as straight-up unbearable.
The first chapter is set at the Frost family summer cottage in Maine, at the end of the season, with Josie bereft that she has to leave, because the beach is the one place she feels truly at home. Finally wrangling an agreement from her mother to allow her to stay an extra day to help her Aunt Anne and 15-year-old cousin Priscilla to close up the house for the winter, she promptly starts into a reverie about what a drip Priscilla is:
Priscilla was the kind of girl who wore white sandals with a rubber daisy sticking up between her toes, instead of sneakers. And white shorts (short, that is), not jeans or Bermudas. Priscilla was what Aunt Anne called “pleasingly plump” (laugh here)
Everywhere she went she carried a little transistor radio, cha cha cha. (All summer it was the thing to say cha cha cha after everything.) One time Dad took her sailing with us and she brought the radio and listened to what she called music. (He loves me. He adores me. Twang, twang. Chills, thrills, and vibrations.)
Priscilla was dying to get back to the boys, boys, boys.
Shockingly self-centered, Josie speaks mainly in sarcastic asides (Thrills!) (Oh joy!) and gets into a row with her aunt and cousin when she learns that they have arranged to spend the last night before they leave having a Bridge party with a neighbor. Josie throws a tantrum and storms out, down to the beach where she finds a smooth white stone that she selects as her “talisman” and vows to “suffer fools gladly” and go make nice with her family.
An ongoing thread through the stories is Aunt Anne’s having gotten the girls into an elite white glove dancing school (still a thing), which will host formal “get-togethers” at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Aunt Anne is also over-the-moon about having arranged for Henry Bassett, a distant cousin and TOTAL DREAMBOAT to escort Priscilla to the first one (Josie is stuck with getting fixed up with a grubby neighborhood youth).
At the dance, Josie feels alone amongst the future debutantes, and escapes first to the ladies’ room, and then out onto the porch of the Club, where she meets a handsome older boy who is hiding from his fix-up:
“My obligation really can dance,” he said, “but she sure wasn’t around when they were passing out brains.”
Josie and mystery discuss POETRY and PHYSICS and SAILING OFF THE COAST OF CONNECTICUT, until his “obligation” puts in an appearance… of course it is Priscilla.
Somehow Josie manages to get her pocketbook into the pocket of Henry’s dinner jacket, ensuring that they shall meet again.
Throughout the winter Josie builds up her “relationship” with Henry in her mind, counting down the days to the next “get-together.” In the meantime, she acts like a spoiled brat to her parents, first when she is allowed to “do-over” her room, and her father surprises her with a hideous lamp in the shape of a cat holding a parasol that ruins the aesthetic. This incident is still on her mind some months later when she is trying to convince her mother that what she really needs for her birthday is a tank set-up for tropical fish. Eventually they come to an agreement that she will save up for the supplies, and the fish will be purchased for Christmas.
But her well-meaning father and little brother have jumped the gun, bringing home a bowl of goldfish that afternoon.
There was no hope at all. I couldn’t earn fish or work through Grammy. I couldn’t even ask for fish for Christmas, Because now I had fish.
Josie tries thinking of others’ feelings first for once, but her father sees right through her, and somehow Paul ends up with the goldfish (he also conveniently breaks the hideous lamp) and Josie gets the tropical fish after all. Cha cha cha.
After being absent from the Christmas get-together, Henry returns for the Easter dance. But reality doesn’t live up to the fantasy Josie has built up in her mind all these months:
The back of Henry’s head was only a few feet away from mine.
“Henry!” I cried, impulsively holding out my hands.
He turned and I saw beside him a blonde girl. Old, at least seventeen. Wearing a strapless, flesh-colored, sequined sheath.
He looked at me as though he was trying to figure out if I was the person who said his name.
Josie is surprised to find sympathy and comfort from Aunt Anne, and reaches a new level of understanding that her Aunt’s sentimental personality is just what she needs in the crisis, noting that her own mother would have taken a practical approach.
Other chapters vary wildly in tone and content. Shortly after the fateful Easter dance, Josie starts spending time with Peter, a boy from her Latin class, and the spend so much time together that both sets of parents worry about them GOING STEADY (ick, they would never!) and the amount of time they spend in the basement practicing sending and receiving with Peter’s HAM radio set.
They also train Peter’s Shetland Sheepdog, and Josie accompanies he and his father to a dog show in Greenwich, Connecticut, where Peter quarrels with his father about having to leave early to attend a Founders Day picnic, and storms off, putting a rusty nail right through his foot in the process. Josie makes the dubious assertion that “I stay at big dog shows all the time” and serves as the dog’s handler while Peter gets taken to the ER for a tetanus shot.
This followed by an episode where Josie’s father, who travels on non-specific business five days a week, get flown home on a company plane in the middle of a thunderstorm, leaving the whole family worried that he was killed in a plane crash when he never arrives home. It turns out that he decided to take the train instead, and kept getting a busy signal every time he called home because his wife and sister kept calling each other to worry about him having died in a plane crash. So, crisis averted.
They return to Maine for another summer and there is a wacky adventure where “Grammy” steals a sailboat. Priscilla gets sent to Paris as part of a “companion-tutoring deal” and returns in August, slender, subdued and spouting off in French. Josie notes: “Priscilla was developing some interesting possibilities.”
Grammy dies shortly before Christmas, casting a damper on the holiday; Josie breaks up with Peter, reluctantly agreeing with her mother that things are getting too serious. Aunt Anne wants to throw a New Years Eve party for Josie and Priscilla, and the cousins finally put their differences aside and start “pulling as a team”. Priscilla has also made a name for herself by designing and sewing fashionable sack-dresses with pop art appliques on them; as a peace offering she makes Josie one with a hot dog embroidered on the rear end.
Priscilla also finally reveals that she has been suffering for months because she has fallen in love with Jacques, the older brother of her companion-tutor deal. Josie suggests that “You could study at the Sorbonne next year instead of junior college” and I’m not sure if it’s that easy.
And finally, Henry Bassett turns up again, unfortunately when Josie has been basted into her inside-out hotdog dress. She plays it cool, and seems to finally have the older boy’s interest. She even foregoes spending the entire summer in Maine, electing to stay in Westchester with her father, to see how things with Henry will pan out.
The books end with her throwing her talisman stone into the sea, demanding “Who needs stones?”
Sign It Was Written In 1967 Department:
“Where’d you get the turtle?”
“School,” said Paul. “His name is Hawaiian Eye.”
Ladies And Gentlemen, We (Almost) Have A Title! Department:
It had contained for me a place, and also a period of time, summers until this one.
Dying To Know Department: Can someone enlighten me on this one? As part of Josie and Priscilla’s peace pact she notes
We went downstairs very quietly and got a potato and pierced my ears.
How do you use a potato to pierce one’s ears???? Can any 60s teens enlighten me?
For the final question… I believe the potato was to hold behind one’s earlobe, to stop the needle… that is when one foolishly decides to do a home-piercing. This sounds like one whacky book.
As I vaguely recall, you had to ice the lobe first to numb it, then you put the potato behind to stick the needle into, The biggest problem (besides infection!) was to get the needle through straight. Home piercing = bad idea.
So, confession: I pierced my own ears as a teenager and these things never occurred to me. In retrospect: I’m lucky my earlobes didn’t turn black and fall off!
Ha ha ha, the potato! The only other book I know of that talked about using a potato for ear piercing was Annie on My Mind (which is a wonderful book, not wonderfully awful, which is what this one sounds like!) And yes, it was held behind the ear to keep the needle from going too far. I got a second set of ear piercings in college while at the mall with a friend and her boyfriend. Thinking he was helping me with my nerves as I sat in the chair awaiting the needle, my friend’s boyfriend described getting HIS ear pierced with a needle and a bar of soap. I gather the soap served the same purpose as the potato 🙂
Now I need to find this book!
Annie on My Mind is one I’ve been keeping an eye out for!
MYSTERY SOLVED! 🙂
My aunt Merlene (RIP) pieced my ears at age 8 with a cork and an ice cube for numbing purposes. I don’t remember it being particularly painful but of course I carried on as though I was being tortured.
Loving all of the ear-piercing stories!
OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS BOOK!!! I can probably recite full passages from it. The writing is a touch florid which appealed to florid Barbra Streisand-loving 7th grade me.
Yeah, Josie is kind of a jerk at the beginning, but I think it’s partially because everyone is trying to make her into Priscilla II and acting like who she is isn’t good enough. Holding a similar place in my extended family, I sympathized. It also did a good job of putting across how boring and banal it can be dating someone you merely Ike on a long term basis.
I actually love that Josie is a jerk at the beginning and both she and Priscilla get real character arcs! Although I am somewhat dubious about her going to the Sorbonne to pursue Jacques….
You can see Josie again in the follow-up novel “A Spark of Joy” by the same author!
Oh neat, I’ll keep an eye out fo rit!
So glad you guys like the book. My late Mom would be thrilled to see new readers enjoying it.
— John W. Schoen
Thanks for commenting! LOve hearing from authors and their family members, as you can see your mom’s book meant a lot to a lot readers and is fondly remembered!
Dear Mister Schoen:
This is one of my 10 favorite books (I’m reading it now!) These stories appeared originally in ’17’ magazine; does ‘A Place And A Time’ include all the Josie stories or were some left out?
Lee E. Eckhardt