Trudy Phillips Headline Year (#2) By Barbara Bates

“I swear I don’t know what this generation of teen-agers is coming to. No respect for order and safety at all!”

If it is October, it must be Whitman girls series! We conclude this fall with a look at the second (and final) volume in the Trudy Phillips series.

Background: Possibly the only obscure Whitman heroine I dislike more than Polly French, we last left Trudy Phillips, New Girl In Town, as she finally made friends at Tyler Junior High, Tylertown, Anystate, USA by being recruited by the school’s faculty to spy and inform upon her classmates to solve the Mystery of the Missing Wallet, which seemed like it might have been a metaphor for fighting Communism, but maybe I just see red-scare metaphors everywhere…

The Plot: …but no, now I am more convinced than ever that this series was ghostwritten by J. Edgar Hoover as anti-Communist propaganda directed at 12-year olds.

New Girl ended with Trudy’s family bringing reformed bad girl Gloria Holden to live with them in a wholesome family environment, since clearly her troublemaking was caused by having rich divorced parents who spent more time buying her cashmere twin sets than saying the pledge of allegiance.

As the book opens, Gloria has moved her many trunks of expensive clothes (and her ukulele) into the Phillips house, and Trudy is bubbling over with enthusiasm about her family’s old-timey all-American Christmas:

“Wait till you help us trim the tree- and our family carol-sing is really something!”  Trudy’s words tumbled over each other.

Then, with a feeling of deep content, she remembered how, two months ago, she had longed for a friendly word from her popular classmate. Now they were actually living together! She marveled how such depth of understanding could grow out of such near tragedy as the two of them had been through together before Christmas.

That tragedy was Gloria framing her less-popular classmates for various petty crimes because she was so jealous of their simple, wholesome friendships.

No hard feelings, though! And even though her fur-trimmed blue velveteen skating outfit is a touch showy, Gloria joins the other teens at an impromptu skating party, reacquainting the reader with Trudy’s BFF Spooky Ruddle (her real name, apparently calling her “Gwen” after her triumph in The Importance of Being Earnest never caught on),  Mike the DP Boy, Responsible Steve, Hunky school paper editor Doug (always “adjusting his horn-rims”) and also Billy, Ginger and Betsy who were even less memorable characters.

Of all the series of this era I’ve read, Trudy Phillips is by far the most concerned with Fitting In. Tyler Junior High is a social minefield, and every student had best watch themselves that they don’t reveal any eccentricities, and newcomers are regarded with suspicion until they can prove themselves willing to join with the pod-person like nature of the student body.

So, pity poor Alice Johnson, who arrives in the middle of the winter semester:

There was nothing distinguishing about her. She was neither tall nor short, fat nor thin. She wore regulation boots and a green wool coat, neither new nor old. What color her hair was, Gloria couldn’t guess, for it was entirely covered by a green silk kerchief; not worn peasant-style as was the custom at Tyler, but wound around her head and knotted at the top like a turban.

Trudy and Gloria try to give Alice an easy out:

Introductions were made and small talk was exchanged while they waited for the girl to remove her turban and fix her hair. Finally there was a pause.

“The girls’ room is right there,” suggested Gloria.

“Thanks!” she said slowly. “I guess I can remember where it is, but I think I’m all set to go to homeroom now.”

And then they realized that she meant the turban to stay on. Trudy’s heart sank and she exchanged an alarmed look with Gloria. What a way to make a first impression!

As she stood back to let Alice enter, Gloria glanced critically at the pale green sweater and green corduroy skirt. Anyway, they were good and so were the loafers and white socks.

“Very odd,” answered Gloria. “She must not have a very good background to act as rude as she does.”

And so, this book’s mystery shall be What is the deal with Alice’s head????

The arrival of Alice coincides with Trudy getting chosen to write the gossip column for the school paper, and eagerly enlists her friends (and even her younger brother) to spy on people and bring her items for the column. But the pièce de résistance for the first issue is a limerick that Trudy composes about how Alice won’t take off her turban. Nice, Trudy.

Also, like many schools in books of this era, there are too many damn Baby Boomers so the school and the school buses are overcrowded, which is leading to a general air of discontent among the student body and the occasional bus-based riot.

Trudy and Alice get thrown into the middle of this when Trudy’s dog gets run over by a distracted school bus driver. Alice saves the day by performing first aid while Trudy calls the vet, but the next day an anonymous letter to the editor (subject: bus safety) appears at the school paper’s office, and STOP THE PRESSES, it is so good Hunky Doug decides to run it as a special insert!

But the students do not head Anonymous’s advice, and more fights break out on overcrowded buses, leading to Principal Werner assigning Bus Monitor Duty to an unhappy cast of rotating teachers.

Meanwhile, Trudy and Alice have formed an uneasy alliance, as they work together to train the dog. Gloria is still like “Ugh, Alice is so weird” and Alice is evasive when it comes to any questions about her family or home life.

Gloria changes her tune when she catches sight of Alice’s older brother, Jim, who is even hunkier than Doug. Alice is not encouraging:

“Gloria is dying to meet Jim,” Trudy changed the subject quickly. “To say nothing of me,” she added impishly.

Alice sighed. “I’ll see what I can do, if I can ever get him away from the boys again. I won’t promise anything. He’s just not interested in girls, as I told you.”

DON’T GET YOUR HOPES UP, LADIES.

Student discontent is still on the rise, and at one point a group of students hang an effigy of the Principal in the lunchroom, leading to another riot.

Principal Werner is not amused and comes down hard on the protestors, instituting a rule that everyone who lives within six blocks of the school has to return home at lunchtime, while the remaining students will eat in 15 minutes shifts- in silence!

The students then go on strike, and Trudy, Spooky and Gloria are among the few who dare cross the picket-line. DP Mike is also not impressed:

“How do they get away with this? Here you have the beautiful school, the teachers that have the freedom to teach what they think is right, the good hot food for a few pennies at lunch- all for the asking- and they walk out. In the old country…”

After a fraught PTA meeting, a committee of parents is elected to visit the school and observe the over-crowded conditions firsthand, but another anonymous editorial leads to a crackdown on student journalism. When the paper’s staff protests that it’s censorship, Principal Werner is like “you bet your sweet bippy it is.”

Are any mysteries even solved? Alice reveals to Trudy’s mother that her hair fell out after a bout of scarlet fever. So there’s that.

The anonymous writer comes through with another idea, that all of the students should work together to form a network of informants, ratting each other out for any infractions:

“Everybody is a monitor and anybody who breaks one of the ten commandments is supposed to be reported to the Sentinel and his name is to be printed on the first page.”

“Nobody wants that kind of publicity,” put in Gloria. “Not even the clowns.”

“So we haven’t had to print one name yet!” bragged Trudy. “The one or two who were reported were so apologetic that we let them off with promises to behave.”

While Trudy is still determined to find the identity of the anonymous writer…

Trudy took three names, cornered her suspects between classes, and gave them the third degree. With Jack Olsen, she thought she really had something. He actually squirmed.

…of course turns out to have been Alice all along, and she is daughter of a night-beat reporter for the local paper (which is why she can never entertain her classmates at her house after school). Alice, on the arm of Hunky Doug, finally shows up at the St. Patrick’s Day Dance showing her hair and is crowned Irish Queen of the Dance.

And here we leave Trudy and her chums, never to learn if they take their crusade for conformity on to Tyler High, or if Gloria continues her fruitless pursuit of Alice’s brother. (He doesn’t like girls, Gloria! He has been quite clear on that point!)

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8 Responses to Trudy Phillips Headline Year (#2) By Barbara Bates

  1. Uly says:

    Everybody sounds amazingly unpleasant. I’d rather not fit in with any of them, thanks.

  2. Funbud says:

    I was hoping it would turn out that Alice was concealing a serious case of head lice, but alas, no. Also, why do house guests never show up anymore carrying a ukulele? Just saying.

    • mondomolly says:

      Somehow the illustrator chose to inlcude a picture of Gloria carrying her ukulele into the house (although it is never mentioned again) but not one of the big reveal of Alice showing up with hair at the dance!

  3. jennifer says:

    Didn’t Kim Aldrich play the ukelele, too? Must be a Whitman Girls thing…

  4. Alicia says:

    OMG, the green turban! I have been looking for this book for DECADES. It belonged to my aunt and I thought it was written much earlier, like in the 1930s. At one point, Alice’s turban comes off at school and Trudy sees that she is bald and immediately jams her own turban onto Alice’s head. (Does this book end with a student walking a tightrope? If so, I can die in peace, my search is done)

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