Seventeenth Summer

February 4, 2008 at 11:38 pm 1 comment

I’m not quite through Maureen Daly’s 1942 masterpiece yet, but now seems as good a time as ever to write about it, since today I’ve gotten to some really hilarious sections.

The thing that strikes me about this book isn’t how dated it is, because honestly it doesn’t even seem all that dated to me. Sure, the whole going out for Cokes thing pins it into a certain era, and the socio-sexual mores of the day are a bit outdated, but it almost feels like the thing was consciously written to be timeless. There aren’t any references so far to the historical moment at all–nothing about wars, nothing about who’s president, no in-depth descriptions of cars or movies or music. The writing style itself dates Angie a little, and I keep hearing Kathryn Hepburn’s voice when I’m reading her narration, but I’m honestly quite surprised at how much Seventeenth Summer doesn’t read like a 1940s novel. I could easily be convinced this came out of the seventies (except maybe for the Cokes thing, and that might just be because I had a professor once with two lectures devoted to the history of Coca-Cola).

Anyway, the thing I find so striking (aside from some really fascinating class issues when Jack comes over for dinner) is how clearly this book prescribes gender roles. As I was reading in the laundromat today I actually found the whole thing a little jarring. If I had picked this up as a teen (or, honestly, as a ten or eleven year old, since that’s when I would’ve been most likely to pick up something that looked like a teen romance) how would I have reacted? I got so much of my information on sex and dating and what it was like to be a teenager from books. (And from Archie comics, but that’s sort of another story.) I can distinctly remember being six or seven and thinking that when you turned sixteen you got a convertible and a boyfriend with a letterman’s jacket. Or maybe the boyfriend came with the convertible. Either way, there was a convertible involved.

Anyway, there’s a really astounding amount of guilt and anxiety woven into this narrative. Angie’s constantly aware of not being a good sister, of being selfish, of being a worse girl than Jack is a boy. And almost all of that guilt and anxiety comes from the way she perceives herself as changing due to dating Jack, or perhaps not changing enough. But there’s a really narrow definition of what it means to be a girl–you can be one of the girls at Pete’s, or unpopular like Lorraine, or a girl who goes with fast boys. And the definition of boys is perhaps even narrower: fast, or Jack.

I guess I’m just curious to see if these kinds of rigid definitions have survived in more contemporary young adult books, or if the models by today’s authors are a little more fluid.

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Some thumbs Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Linda Braun  |  February 5, 2008 at 8:35 am

    I think that you actually hit one of the reasons why Seventeenth Summer continues to be in print 60+ years later. There is a timelessness to the story. When you read some of the other novels on the list this semester I think you’ll find that time and place and language setup a length of life limit on the texts. (A pre-determined obsolescence of sorts.)

    Teens reading this today would definitely notice the gender roles and stereotypes and many would probably find the text too plodding to get through. Actually, at this point in time 17th Summer in a library would make more sense for a children’s/tweens collection rather than a teen collection.

    It will be interesting to find out what you think about the comparison of 17th Summer with Naomi and Ely and some other novels you’ll read this semester. Have teen novels made progress in reflecting the real lives of teens in 2008?

    Reply

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