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!