More than a malt shop

“Malt shop” books usually aren’t my cup of tea.  (Yes, I mixed my beverage metaphors on purpose.)  Maybe it’s because I only like fluffy romances of any kind in small doses.  Or maybe it’s just because I wonder about all the things they’re leaving out.  One of the curses of being a historian is you can never look at certain kinds of historical fiction without a very cynical eye.  And then enjoying it just flies right out the window.

5722103I picked up Double Date by Rosamund du Jardin and started reeading with a wee bit of apprehension.  Points in its favor?  Some very enthusiastic reviews from friends.  Points against it?  Well, see above paragraph.  I assumed a lot about this book before ever opening it.  And I was wrong.

I’ll admit it–at first, I was incredibly annoyed by Pam.  Seriously, can any real girl actually handle juggling that many boys?  And how does anyone have the time to go on a date every night of the week?  And Penny–so desperately wanting to be like her sister!  Agreeing to dress alike the first few weeks at school?  Seriously?

And then something happened, and I was completely charmed and now I’m going to have to read all of du Jardin’s books.  I’m not even sure where the turning point came, but the turn began towards the end of the first chapter, when we learn that their mother, Celia, is an interior decorator and has opened her own shop.  A working single mother?  This could be interesting.  Shades of the Moffat family, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  I love how du Jardin takes us right into Celia making the leap to open her own shop–and taking her little family with her.  And though this move definitely sets up the opening of the book, I love that this isn’t just a way to set up the action–the growth of Celia’s business is a central part of the story.

Later in the novel, Celia starts seeing Paul Gerard.  The girls, being boy-crazy teenagers, automatically assume that he’ll be proposing at any moment.  And yet, when Gerard moves on, Celia isn’t upset.  When Paul was introduced, I just kinda assumed that the book would end with a marraige.  And it didn’t–another affirmation of Celia’s strength.  Check out this passage.

Pam asked wonderingly, “And you don’t care even a little speck about him going away?”

Penny’s eyes, too, were fixed inquiringly on Mother’s face.  The smile that had been tugging at Mother’s mouth won out completely.  “Well, I can’t honestly say that,” she admitted.  “At my age, an occasional corsage, and invitationto go dancing, is quite flattering.  And Paul plays a good game of bridge.  But my heart isn’t broken, I assure you.  And I’m quite satisfied with my life just as it is.”

So that was that.

Such practicality!  So refreshing in contrast to Pam.

Watching Penny come into her own is pure delight.  She is boneheaded at times, but hey, she’s 17.  And the clothing descriptions!  I am a sucker for vintage fashion, so picturing some of those dresses was great fun.  The Prom Date Bureau might require some explaining to modern teens–you can’t go to a dance alone or in a big group?  But I do love how everything works out with prom.

Yep, I think I’ve fallen for Penny and Pam.  I haven’t read a ton of books set during this time period, and perhaps it’s time to really explore the 1950s through fiction.  What other 50s classics should I check out?  I promise not to assume the worst!

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12 thoughts on “More than a malt shop

  1. Let me gloat a little! And then say that I think Anne Emery’s books are even better than Rosamond Du Jardin’s. The Pam and Penny books are my favorite Du Jardins, though. (Several Maud-Listers have said they prefer the Du Jardins because, to paraphrase and infer wildly, they’re fluffier. So keep that in mind.)

    This is why I eschew the phrase “malt shop books”. So dismissive.

    I sometimes call my collection of vintage teen fiction “my primary sources” (with tongue in cheek, of course). They’re useful evidence when anyone claims just about anything about “kids these days” or “kids back then”. Sure, they leave things out, just like any fiction, and they’re idealized, but I know they aren’t just made up out of whole cloth and that the authors were writing about problems they saw in real life.

    As for the prom dates bureau… at my high school, in the late 90s, you had to have a date of the opposite sex to go to prom. So it made perfect sense to me. I wonder if that policy has changed.

  2. I have actually never read any of the Du Jardin twin books but Practically Seventeen had some laugh out loud funny moments. By the time we get around the Midge the charm has worn off some because she isn’t as funny as Tobey but all in all an enjoyable series. I’ll have to check out the twins.

  3. Another fun “malt shop” romance (as Wendy said, much much more than that!)which I enjoyed and just listed over at Paper Back Swap.com [http://www.paperbackswap.com/home.php] is THE PARIS HAT by Mary Cunningham. It is my favorite genre of these old teen books, involving ballet – but also involves the Black Market, a straight (! maybe) male dancer, a mysterious hat and a baby…. many many details! Very cool. You should definitely read this!

  4. Just came across this blog entry. Has anyone suggested Lenora Mattingly Weber’s Beany Malone books? Her Katie Rose books are good, too, but they’re more sixties and Beany is more fifties.

  5. Sorry, also meant to say that Weber’s books are a bit deeper than the malt shop books, but good for evoking their era.

  6. Julie,
    I’ve read two Beany books (the first one and Happy Birthday, Dear Beany), but I must confess that I don’t really like them. I have friends who adore them, but I just can’t get into them.

  7. I LOVED Double Date when I first read it as a 12 year old back in 1969 and would love to re discover some of these books again. I cannot find the authors of several other favorite books of mine and maybe someone could shed some light for me. I read a book called, I believe “Waverly” about a girl from Wyoming going off to a women’s college on the east coast And another good read was called, “Trish” if I remember correctly. Can anyone help me out on who wrote these books? Would be great to go back and read these again, thanks for bringing back some sweet memories.

  8. “Trish” was written by Margaret Maze Craig (she also wrote “Now That I am Sixteen” and “Marsha”). Her books have a bit more depth to them, dealing with a difficult relationship with a character’s mother and with a sibling.

    I don’t care much for the DuJardin books, far too fluffy for my taste. Beverly Cleary wrote four teen novels that I enjoyed, and that I passed along to my daughters when they were teenagers.

    My favorite author of this genre is Betty Cavanna. Her books dealt with issues besides boy/girl relationships, e.g. a girl’s struggle to overcome her insecurities, a difficult relationship with a brother, a girl’s efforts to convince her parents to allow her to attend art school. The books usually contained a romance as well, but that wasn’t always the main focus.

    • Thank you so much for the author’s name Susie, it has driven me crazy for years! I read most of these books when I was maybe 12 or 13 back in the late 1960’s and while I liked abit of a romance, at that age I was certainly not aching to hear tons and tons of details. I enjoyed the storylines very much and could while away hours up in my bedroom reading these stories. I always thought that it would have been so great to have been a teenager in the 1950’s, and that it seemed a much more innocent time. Much different than how it was for me growing up in Portland Oregon in the late 1960’s. And yes, I too enjoyed Betty Cavanna’s books as well. It’s nice to find other women who remember these books as fondly as I do. Now, if only I could find someone who remembers that book “Waverly”……:)

      • Linda Martin, I just found this web log so I’m two years late in answering your inquiry. I did a Google search on “Waverly teen novel” and learned Waverly was written by Amelia Elizabeth Walden.

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