Archive for the ‘Cavanna, Betty’ Category

Poplar catkins, Hill Farm, some other spring.

Poplar catkins, here at Hill Farm, a spring or two ago. Rather tardy this year, as we are still covered mostly in snow, and yearning for a warm wind to take it all away and get those pussy willows and leaf buds started…

Here we have a random grouping of completely unrelated reads: the brightly satirical (Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling), the contemporary fantasy (Neil Gaiman’s Stardust), the vintage teen girl tale (Betty Cavanna’s Almost Like Sisters), and the enduring anthropomorphic classic (Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows).

highland fling nancy mitford 001Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford ~ 1931. This edition: Hamlyn, 1975. Paperback. ISBN: 0-600-20626-2. 185 pages.

My rating: 5.5/10

From The Spectator, April 11, 1931, a book reviewer’s summation at Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling:

A dreary extravaganza of the post-Waugh school. (The conception is infantile, execution (at its best) undistinguished.) The Bright Young People cut familiar capers in the Gothick North. Vulgar, but not funny.

Oh, ouch! Talk about your brutal dismissal. Miss Mitford’s first published work was apparently not an instant hit with everyone in her home country, though she appears to have surmounted such dire reviews and gone on to find enduring popularity among the discriminating readers of the next eight decades. There does appear to be something of a cult Nancy Mitford following, if one may use such a term, though I’m standing very much on the edge of such, listening to the gushing praise with serene detachment.

Some of her novels are very good indeed, but this first one is not quite up to the standard of her best. She tries hard, though, and there are flashes of something very interesting going on in amongst the hectic activity and the constant digs at Society types which the young Nancy Mitford has trotted out rather heavy-handedly as a basis to her humorous repartee.

Young married couple Sally and Walter are living well beyond their means, so when they are offered an opportunity to play host and hostess at a relative’s country place in Scotland for the shooting season, they quite contentedly relocate from Town. Joining them are two of their contemporaries, the giddy Jane Dacre and the avante-garde artist Albert Memorial Gates.

The four young folk are quite clever at dodging the bloody amusement of the “grown-ups” of the party, that of going out and killing the local fish and fowl, but the two generations meet over dinner every night, which is good for some sparks-flying conversation of the culture clash type, as the Old Guard holds forth on How Things Should Be, while the younger ones parry the heavy handed pronouncements with their own rapier wit, which quite often fails to even catch the notice of the intended target.

Much merriment ensues, culminating with a conflagration which destroys Dalloch Castle, and sends everybody back to town. An inevitable romantic cat-and-mouse games ends happily for the players, and all’s well that ends well.

While readable enough, this is hardly a masterpiece. A very light entertainment, and I suspect of most interest to the already-won-over Nancy Mitford fan.

stardust charles vess nail gaimanStardust by Neil Gaiman ~ 1998. This edition: Vertigo, 1998. Illustrations by Charles Vess. Softcover. ISBN: 978-1-56389-470-1. 212 pages.

My rating: 10/10

This is why I still bother with Gaiman, because he created this sort of thing in his earlier days, and we still get glimpses of it now and then, though the stories are getting increasingly edgier and darker, as well as a little bit lazy here and there.

There is only a small gap in the wall that separates the Real World (where mortals hold sway and a young Queen Victoria sits on the throne) and the Other World where Magic holds sway, and where anything can (and does) happen. Pass through the gap with caution, Mortal…

Young Tristan Thorn, in love with the lovely, manipulative town beauty, Victoria (no relation to the ruling one), sees a falling star and boasts to his lady-love that he will travel into the Other World to the place it has landed and will bring it back to her, in exchange for her giving him his Heart’s Desire.

The star is duly discovered, and turns out to be a creature in the form of a lovely young woman, terribly injured in the fall. Tristan cold-heartedly chains her to himself and the two start the long journey back to the Mortal World – where upon crossing the wall the star will turn into a chunk of stone, something she knows but Tristan doesn’t – with the star proving desperately reluctant to cooperate and Tristan becoming increasingly apologetic but focussed on his goal of winning the fickle Victoria with his successful quest.

Complications ensue, in the form of a triumvirate of witches who are also dead keen on seeking out the star, to cut the heart from her living breast in order to regain their vanished youth. We also have a darkly funny parallel plot about a dead king and his seven fratricidal sons, who are busily bumping each other off – survivor gets the throne.

There are magical transformations, battles to the death (and a fair bit of gore), and helpful creatures here and there, and Tristan and his star eventually do get back to the wall, where he parks the star and passes through to go and find Victoria. However, he’s been away quite a long while, as time is counted in the mortal world, and things have moved on without him…

What a grandly imagined story this is, in the best fairy tale tradition. And the movie made of it back in 2007, starring Claire Danes as the luminescent Yvaine-the-fallen-star, Charlie Cox as an endearingly sincere Tristan, Robert de Niro as the campy captain of a sky-ship (another side plot, don’t worry, it makes sense when you’re reading this thing, sort of) and Michelle Pfieffer as a gloriously wicked witch (equipped with horribly sharp obsidian knives for hacking out Yvaine’s heart) was a rather decent adaptation.

I’ve read both the straight novel edition (no pictures) and the Charles Vess collaboration, and both are marvelous. To get the full effect of the story, go for the print-only one. Vess’s illustrations are brilliant, but horribly distracting, in the very best sort of way.

almost like sisters betty cavannaAlmost Like Sisters by Betty Cavanna ~1963. This edition: Morrow, 1968. Hardcover. 254 pages.

My rating: 5/10

I confess to a secret fondness for Betty Cavanna’s sincere teen girl tales. The obvious care and attention to setting up the backgrounds and the “educational” details she insistently inserts in to each and every one always win me over, even though there are many cringe-worthy elements throughout, such as the continued harping on anyone who is even the tiniest bit plump, and the sometimes dreadfully pedestrian writing style. Still, something keeps pulling me back to reading these over and over again, and I am obviously not alone, as Cavanna’s books went through many editions and reprintings, are in very strong demand (and are rather high priced) in the vintage book marketplace, and are always almost in tatters when one does find them. Kind of like Betty is the D.E. Stevenson of the mid-20th century teenage set, in fact…

Almost Like Sisters, while definitely readable if you go in for this sort of thing, is not one of the shining stars in this author’s substantial oeuvre, so I won’t go on at length, but will merely share the flyleaf blurb, because it pretty well tells you all you need to know about where this story goes.

Wearing the candy-striped mother-daughter dresses, Victoria and Mrs. Logan looked once again almost like sisters. But Victoria stood on the side lines of the party, while her mother danced with every boy there.

Victoria had spent seventeen years in the shadow of her fascinating young widowed mother. Sensitive, always ill at ease, she needed to escape that shining presence, to stand on her own two feet. And so Victoria engineered a change of schools. She came to Boston, where at last she felt herself becoming an individual. Here, too, she met Pietro, who was older, romantically Italian, and who stimulated her mentally. Then, unexpectedly, her mother came to live in Boston, and Victoria’s fears returned to haunt her. Would it happen all over again? Would Pietro also be caught in her mother’s spell?

Against a background of Boston and its busy intellectual life, Betty Cavanna has drawn a sharp picture of a difficult mother-daughter relationship. Subtle characterizations highlight this vibrant, intensely interesting story of a young girl’s struggle to attain judgement and maturity…

Not my personal copy, which is a rebound old school library edition with a boring green cover.

Not my personal copy, which is a rebound old school library edition with a boring green cover.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame ~ 1908. This edition: Scribner’s, 1954. Illustrated and with Preface by Ernest H. Shepard. Hardcover. 259 pages.

My rating: 10/10

What can be said about this book that hasn’t already been said, written, or recorded in some way? A true “classic”, in every sense of the word, beloved by children and adults the world over for the century-plus since its first publication.

Grahame’s anthropomorphic characters are most cleverly depicted. They are small humans in animal form, wearing clothes, walking upright when appropriate (though some find this easier to manage than others), and only sometimes following their animal nature. They interact with the humans in their world on a perfectly equal basis (or so they think) while the “real” humans seem to view them with a mildly patronizing attitude. The whole thing is rather complex, when one stops to think about it, and it says much for Grahame’s artistry that we accept his world immediately and without question.

The story itself is a series of linked adventures, starting with the subterranean Mole busily spring cleaning his rather dingy underground home, and throwing down his scrub brush in despair when the scent of Spring wafts through the air and catches the attention of his sensitive little nose. Wandering aimlessly out along the riverbank, Mole meets the cheerful Water Rat, who is appalled that his new acquaintance is unfamiliar with the joys of the river, and decides post-haste to initiate the ground dweller into the thrill of the liquid world, for

‘Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing – about – in – boats; messing –‘

‘Look ahead, Rat!’ cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late. The boat struck the bank at full tilt. The dreamer, the joyous oarsman, lay on his back at the bottom of the boat, his heels in the air…

The earnest Mole and the carefree Rat go on to have numerous adventures, mostly concerning their bumptious neighbour Toad, who is a wealthy creature much prone to following ever-changing whims full speed ahead until something new catches his short attention. A camping trip in a horse drawn caravan (with decent Mole walking along beside the Horse to keep him company and to try to make up for the fact that the Horse is doing all of the hot, dusty work while Toad lolls in the driver’s seat) goes awry as the group is run off the road by a Motorcar. Toad is seduced immediately, buys his own extra-deluxe motorcar, and with a war cry of “Poop! Poop!” (meant to mimic the klaxon horn of his newest Beloved) gets himself into much more serious scrapes and eventually into Court, where he receives a stern sentence for Driving to the Public Danger, and much more seriously, Cheeking a Policeman. Twenty years in the deepest dungeon of the best-guarded prison in all of England is the fate of Toad. How ever while he get out of this one?!

Good stuff. Read it for your personal pleasure; read it aloud to your children, and continue the long tradition.

That’s all I have to say. If you are looking for scholarly examination, it is freely available in great abundance here, there and everywhere. But not from me. It’s a grand book, undoubtedly an “important” book, and most crucial of all, a fun-to-read book. Go read it. It’s utterly perfect for Spring.

And oh, well, here is a link to a quite lovely blog post regarding it, the sort of thing which I would have liked to have written, but which has already been done to such perfection that I lazily thought, “Why do it again?”

Check this out: Behold the Stars: The Wind in the Willows

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a breath of fresh air betty cavanna 001A Breath of Fresh Air by Betty Cavanna ~ 1966. This edition: William Morrow, 1975. Hardcover. 223 pages.

My rating: 4/10.

I had to look back and see how I rated the previous three Betty Cavanna vintage teen novels I reviewed, and I see I gave a 6 to the strongest one, Jenny Kimura, and a 5 to both The Country Cousin and Lasso Your Heart. A Breath of Fresh Air is definitely down a level from these already minor novels, both in plot and execution.

Despite the low rating, this book is already back on the keeper shelf, as it is a decent enough story for a quiet hour or two’s modest diversion.

Seventeen-year-old Brooke Lawrence and her thirteen-year-old brother Peter are reeling from their parents’ announcement that they are getting a divorce. In the staid middle-class circle the family inhabits in quiet Concord, Massachusetts, divorce is still a matter of whispers and concerned glances. Both Brooke and Peter feel horribly stigmatized by their situation, even though everyone (except the two young Lawrences) agrees that they could see the split coming.

Competent Harriet will be better off not saddled with her dreamy and ineffectual husband, Austin, and he in turn will be happier living with (and being supported by) his older sister, who truly appreciates his penchant for tinkering with hopelessly complicated inventions which never quite make it through the patent office to production. For some years now Harriet has taken on the role of family breadwinner with her antique store business, and Austin’s cleaning out of their joint bank account just as she’s written a (bounced) cheque for a stock order is the final straw in a long series of like episodes.

Brooke, “smart and very pretty”, is a scholarship student in her final year of high school at an exclusive girls’ school, and her pride is bruised and her confidence shaken by the failure of her parents’ marriage. She is questioning everything that she once took for granted, including her own budding romantic relationship with the quiet and loyal David Hale.

Brooke’s research project on author Louisa May Alcott, the local historical celebrity, brings the parallels in Brooke’s and Louisa’s lives into focus, and is the sub-theme of A Breath of Fresh Air. Impractical father, driven mother, and a strong desire for self-expression through writing are common grounds, and as Brooke muses over Louisa May Alcott’s teenage decision to eschew romance and marriage, she wonders if she should do the same. David, naturally enough, does not agree, nor does a charismatic Harvard student who pops up out of nowhere to actively pursue the delectable Brooke, and to add a bit of romantic tension to this rather dull story.

The details regarding the antique buying and selling business are the most interesting aspects of this novel, and the related humour relieves the earnest tone; I had to chuckle over Harriet’s classification of some of her casual browsers as “bathroom customers”. The main characters are (aside from Harriet, whom I quite related to) decidedly flat; I never got a sense of any of them being real people; they fulfilled every stereotype of their imposed roles. The plot is predictable and completely unsurprising; Brooke’s final decision regarding her own romantic life is absolutely no epiphany to anyone, including the patient and slightly patronizing David.

As the author did produce something like seventy novels in her prolific career, it seems reasonable that their quality would fluctuate. A Breath of Fresh Air has a potentially interesting theme, but it never really gets off the ground to fulfill that promise.

This “teen novel” is a lightning fast read and good for a momentary diversion, but, sadly, not much more. A period piece of mild interest and mild enjoyment, not bad enough for a toss into the discard box, but not good enough to wholeheartedly recommend either. Cavanna was a competent enough writer for her chosen genre, and I appreciate what she was trying to do with her themed storylines, but this particular story is not one of her best.

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Lasso Your Heart by Betty Cavanna ~ 1952. This edition: The Westminster Press, 1952. 184 pages.lasso your heart betty cavanna

My rating: 5/10.

This one just squeaks onto the keeper shelf and therefore gets a “pass”, and I’ve made generous allowances for the genre and time of writing. The Kirkus review says it, too. Merely “adequate.”


Kirkus Review, October 1952

A wholesome young love and how-to-be-natural-with-people-instead-of-just-horses-and-dogs novel, by a popular teen-age fiction author – about a young Texas girl and her adjustment problems with rich Philadelphia relatives. Sixteen year old Prue Foster and her family have moved to rural Pennsylvania where her father is managing a cattle fattening ranch. In Bryn Mawr live the Rowntrees, Mrs. Foster’s socialite family, and Prue is invited to her cousin Cissy’s debut. Her misgivings intelligently reasoned away, Prue enjoys herself with a young journalism aspirant Colin, until news is received of Cissy’s brother-in-law’s death in Europe. Mr. and Mrs. Rowntree fly to their elder daughter’s aid and Cissy goes out to the ranch with Prue where she falls in love with Mac, a Texas A. & M. student summering with the Fosters as a ranch hand. Prue averts a would be tragic elopement by enlightening Mac as to the evils of running away from temporary disapproval. So Cissy wins Mac the honorable way and Prue looks forward to a nice winter with Colin who will study at Penn. Adequate.

This is one of prolific “teen fiction” writer Betty Cavanna’s earlier books, and it is an exceedingly stereotypical “young romance” novel, though it is not at all a bad book – no groans of despair were emitted by this reader during the reading, which says something.

An interesting scenario in some ways, with the main character, Prudence – Prue – coming from a ranching family who has recently relocated from Texas to Pennsylvania. I appreciated that Prue’s father was not a ranch owner himself, but merely an employee of a large Texas holding. There is a complete acceptance by the author that agriculture was a more than respectable occupation for both Mr. Foster and the young “cowboy” love interest, Mac – much is made of the fact that they are well-educated professionals much respected in their fields – Mr. Foster is writing scientific articles for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Yearbook, and Mac is in his final years of study at Ag school (Texas A. & M. University), which is treated with as much respect as Harvard might be. I really liked those touches, and awarded an extra star for them. (Being an old aggie of sorts myself, from one of the venerable Albertan “cow schools.”)

Otherwise this is mostly just a typical 1950s’ teen romance, with the sweet, naïve, wholesome country girl falling in love with the cute city guy with the convertible, and wondering if he could ever be interested in her, and being oh-so-flushed-and-confused when it becomes apparent that yes, young love is in full delicious bloom. But though Prue and Colin are involved in a gentle teenage courtship (does he really read poetry to her under the trees by the brook? – I’m so jealous!) the situation between Prue’s cousin Cissy and the older Mac hints at something much more emotionally mature and physically passionate.

There is also a situation involving Cissy’s older sister Lea, living in Amsterdam with her pilot husband, Stewart. Stewart’s death in a flying accident on the evening of Cissy’s debutante ball injects a sombre overtone into what is otherwise a light and airy story, and the grief this brings to the families involved is handled well by the author, though she takes care to keep most of that aspect well off stage; Cissy is staying with Prue so Lea can go through the first months of her widowhood in private seclusion back at her childhood home without the fuss of Cissy’s busy social life trespassing on her mourning period. I thought this was an atypical scenario to include in a teen book of this period, and it definitely added another dimension to the story, beyond stereotypical “fluff.”

Betty Cavanna knows her horses, too, and includes a sweet interlude with Prue’s mare giving birth to an adorable foal; there is also the de rigueur “caught in wire” scenario with the young heroine single-handedly rescuing the entangled horse and being praised for her good sense and bravery etcetera etcetera etcetera.

The readers of the period liked this stuff just fine; the old library copy of Lasso Your Heart I’ve acquired (no idea where – it’s been around for years and I cannot remember where I got it, though I’m guessing it was cheap or even free, due to its decrepit condition) is literally falling to pieces, and has been repaired by conscientious librarian a few times – tape overlapping on tape!

I’m getting rather interested in this author in a low-key way, and will be on the lookout for more by her. She has surprised me a bit, in a good way, in each of her three books I’ve read over the past few weeks. I spent some time browsing her titles on ABE, and was quite surprised to see that some are in short supply and are indeed very high-priced; she’s been deemed as “collectible”, apparently, so my interest is not exclusive.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Betty Cavanna in the future.

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the country cousin betty cavannaThe Country Cousin by Betty Cavanna ~1967. This edition: William Morrow & Co., 1971. Hardcover. Library of Congress #: 67-21735. 222 pages.

My rating: 5/10.

An equal balance between interestingly vintage (Paris in the sixties!) and appallingly dated (chauvinistic boyfriends!) The author did her research for this slight little teen tome, and it shows, mostly in a good way. An interesting – if feather-weight – 40-year-old read.

Bonus – great cover! Tells you everything you need to know right there up front, doesn’t it?


My reading is all over the map right now. It was a toss-up this morning whether to take a stab at reviewing Stephen Fry’s sex-and-bad-language-soaked novel The Hippopotamus, or this mild little vintage teen-girl romance. But since my last review was of a very contemporary (well, 1999 – not really that contemporary, though it seems but a moment ago in some ways), sex-filled book – Fits Like a Rubber Dress by Roxane Ward – I decided to keep things all mixed up; from one I wouldn’t dare to give my dear old mum to one she’s enjoyed with gentle enthusiasm. (As did I.)

Melinda Hubbard – Mindy – has grown up on a large farm in Pennsylvania, and now, recently graduated from high school and facing all the “next step” big decisions, is at a loss with how best to proceed. Her beloved older brother Jack, her opposite in almost every way – strong, intense, smart and focussed, where Mindy is soft, mild, merely average in academics and waffling – is studying medicine and has just married his college sweetheart, Annette.

Bridesmaid Mindy takes part in the wedding in a fog, brushing off inquiries as to her future plans with vague evasions; she’s done the proper thing and has applied to several colleges, but is ashamed to disclose that her applications have all been denied because she hasn’t met the academic standards. Her mother is pushing her towards taking a secretarial course, but Mindy is less than enthusiastic about that, not being able to picture herself sitting at a typewriter all day.

A saviour appears in the person of Mindy’s older cousin Alix. Recently widowed – we find out that her young husband was killed in Vietnam – Alix has taken the insurance money and opened a clothing store in Bryn Mawr, catering to the well-heeled college girls and their mothers. On an impulse, Alix invites her droopy cousin Mindy to come and live with her for the summer, to work in the shop – called “The Country Cousin” (after a real-life dress shop, as we find out in the author’s note at the end) – and gain some experience in the retail trade while considering her next move.

Mindy is agreeable – though one couldn’t call her “enthusiastic” – it’s really not in her nature, such a strong emotion, you know! – and soon is immersed in the retail clothing trade. If there’s one thing Mindy does enjoy, it’s pretty clothes, and we learn that she is something of an accomplished seamstress herself, designing and creating her own dresses and so on; a talent which will end up leading her to her true vocation.

Mindy meets several young men, and dabbles with romance for the first time in her life. Handsome Peter, a friend of Mindy’s brother Jack, is from a wealthy family, and has a succession of girls trailing after him, as he lackadaisically dallies with them while waiting for just the right one to come along. “I’m going to marry a rich girl,” he flat-out states to Mindy one day, letting her know that while she’s okay fun for a casual date or two, she shouldn’t get her hopes up. Realistic Mindy never really thought that Peter was for her, but she did daydream a bit, so rough and ready, definitely not wealthy and far from urbane Dana, another friend of Jack’s, on his way to study Oriental Languages at the Sorbonne in the fall term, looks very much like a second best in the boyfriend department.

Dana persists in his efforts to improve Jack’s sister’s intellectual capabilities, lending Mindy books on art, and carting her off to concerts and picnics in the country. He – and Peter, and Alix as well – all seem quite concerned with Mindy’s personal appearance. She is self-admittedly on the plump side, so with all of these people in her new life dropping comments to the effect that she’d be better-looking if she slimmed down, Mindy resolves to do just that, and tries to forget her butter-and-cream farm girl tastes, and to subsist on black coffee and a slice of toast for breakfast, and salad for lunch, and so on.

The pounds miraculously melt away, and everyone oohs and ahs about the improvement in her looks, and Mindy is quite smug with herself.  And this is where I had my biggest issues with this novel. The boys in her life, and her mentoring older cousin, mention to her that she’s too fat, and that she should slim down, so she unquestionably goes along with it, and does. She drops five pounds and everyone is all over her – “Good girl! Such an improvement!” Well, five pounds isn’t all that much, is it? I can’t imagine what their conception of “too plump” must have been if that made such a tremendous difference, and the fact that they were all so rude as to say such things to her rather floors me. It was obviously socially acceptable at the time to do so; Mindy takes it without a murmur. Anyway, this bit bothered me.

So, along goes Mindy, cooperating in her rather wishy-washy way with what everyone thinks she should be doing. Alix carts her along on buying trips to New York, and Mindy is introduced to the dress trade, and realizes for the first time that perhaps she might have a vocation after all, that of fashion design. She and Alix come up with a scheme to go to Paris on a selling trip, taking along clothing sample and taking orders from the community of Americans living there, who are desperate for well-made, reasonably priced clothes; Paris apparently offers only haute couture and shoddy department store dresses, nothing in the mid-range. This venture succeeds beyond their expectations, and of course they meet up with Dana, and romance predictably blossoms in the soft Parisian air.

A pleasant depiction of the time and place and people; the Paris of the “Americans abroad” is captured very well, as is the middle- and upper-class college town atmosphere of Bryn Mawr. As a “working girl”, Mindy is frequently reminded of her place in that society – at the lower end of the food chain – but she realizes that there is a dignity and self-satisfaction about doing whatever it is that you find yourself engaged in competently and cheerfully. A teeny bit preachy, with a Great Big Moral gently tromping about, elephant-in-the-room-style, but not offensively so. Betty Cavanna is so very genuinely earnest, and her heroines are so reasonably realistic, even to their modest goals and not-very-dreadful dilemmas, that it is hard to find much to object to. Middle-class girls are “people” too!

All in all, a typical bildungsroman of the era, which holds up well to a 21st Century nostalgic re-read, if you’re into dabbling with such stuff. I’m sure the junior high school girls of the time enjoyed it greatly; the old ex-library copy I have is very well read indeed.

Now, I wonder what I should read next …

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jenny kimura betty cavannaJenny Kimura by Betty Cavanna ~1964. This edition: William Morrow & Co., 1965. Hardcover. 217 pages.

My rating: 6/10.

All things considered, a slight little period piece, but a very good example of its genre: “teen girl” fiction of the 1950s and 60s, with a thought-provoking and rather brave theme for the time, that of racial prejudice.


Jenny Kimura Smith, 16 years old, has lived her whole life in Japan. Her mother is Japanese, and her father is an ex-U.S. serviceman now working in banking. The Smiths live in Tokyo, and the portrait we are given is of a quietly happy family, enjoying, as Jenny’s father likes to say, the best parts of being both Japanese and American.

Jenny goes to an all-girls high school, and her interests are the same as those of her friends: study hard enough to get decent marks, spend time on your wardrobe, polish up your tennis game, and, increasingly, speculate about boys and romance and your fast-approaching adult life.

But Jenny’s life is about to change quite drastically from that of her schoolmates. Her American grandmother has invited her to spend the summer in Kansa City, and has sent money for airfare.

The invitation is something of a surprise, as Jenny’s father is vaguely estranged from his widowed mother since his Japanese marriage, and also, as we soon learn, because of his mother’s resentment towards the Japanese for the death of her second son during combat in the Pacific theatre in the Second World War. Jenny is excited to have this unexpected opportunity to travel, and is looking forward to experiencing life in exotic America.

On arrival in the States, Jenny is rather bewildered at the lack of open affection shown her by her grandmother, a wealthy, upper class, Kansas City society matron. She wonders why her grandmother has invited her to visit, as Mrs. Smith seems slightly cold and more than a little critical of Jenny’s very Japanese appearance, and some of her mannerisms. However, Grandmother does all of the proper things, and Jenny is introduced to a group of suitable teenagers, and is welcomed warmly into their social circle. It is soon apparent that she has caught the eye of one boy in particular, Alan, who begins squiring her about.

Could Jenny and Alan be falling in love? Not if Alan’s mother has anything to say about it! Once she realizes the increasing intensity of the situation, she whisks Alan away on a sudden holiday trip to remove him from the vicinity of “foreign” Jenny.

The plot takes another twist as Jenny and her grandmother travel to Cape Cod for a seaside holiday, and Jenny meets another young man, a Nisei (American-born Japanese), George Yamada, who was born in a California internment camp in 1944, but who considers himself completely American, despite his Japanese ethnicity and his family’s negative experience during the war.

Jenny immediately likes and is attracted to George, and soon realizes that the two of them are much more readily acceptable as a couple to their acquaintances because of their shared ethnicity, despite the differences in their actual backgrounds, than she and Alan were. She ponders this, and sees its “wrongness” – with her own parents as examples, Jenny realizes that love and “suitability” are more than skin deep – but she also realizes that appearances do matter to all concerned, much as they shouldn’t.

It also becomes very apparent that it is the older generation, the parents and grandparents, who are really resistant to anything like a “mixed race” relationship, while the younger generation is much more accepting, and openly discuss the issues raised by Jenny’s “foreign” appearance in a mostly non-judgemental way, though Jenny notices that she has a certain “novelty” appeal, especially when she appears in a kimono at a social function.

One of the key plot points is that Mrs. Smith deeply resents her son’s Japanese wife and has a hard time accepting and loving her own granddaughter, despite the attempt at reconciliation which inspired the invitation to America. She feels shame that her son has “demeaned” himself so far as to both marry a woman of a different race, and to live quite happily in a foreign country, far from “home”. Though Jenny tries to do everything right during her visit, her grandmother deep down is ashamed of her granddaughter and her “foreign” appearance and behaviours, only coming around when Jenny is snubbed by Alan’s family, when her pride is hurt, and her rage at their prejudice causes her to face her own feelings at last, and makes her realize how unfair her attitude has been in the years since her son’s marriage.

Similarly, from the Japanese viewpoint, Jenny’s mother has been shut out of her own family because of her insistence on marrying a foreigner, and Jenny’s maternal grandparents are cold and bitter towards both their daughter and granddaughter because of the “mixed” marriage which has caused the family to lose face. There is no reconciliation here, though, and it is implied that Jenny’s future relations will be much more positive with her father’s family than her mother’s.

The story ends with Jenny poised on the brink of her next step in life. She is about to return to Japan, but she has the promise from her grandmother that there will be a further family reconciliation, and she has had romantic experiences with two young men, George and Alan, which both look like they might possibly turn into something more serious depending upon Jenny’s future decisions. The idea of Jenny attending college in America has been raised, and she rather likes it, but nothing is yet decided, and that is where the story ends.

Despite the rather sober themes for a book of this genre, it is well padded with the usual happenings in a “teen girl” story: parties, shopping, lovely clothes, beach picnics and waiting by the phone for that special someone to call.

Jenny is realistic, likeable, delicately sensitive young heroine, and the author has done a better than average job in her portrayal of Jenny’s life both in Japan and the U.S.A. There are, of course, the expected clichés and stock situations, and many era-correct comments, which are a bit jaw-dropping when viewed from five decades further along.

This is no masterpiece, but it is a quite likeable book, and one I have happily re-read from time to time since my first acquaintance with it back in the 1970s, when I first checked it out of my high school library. The copy I own is that very copy I once signed out, found years later at a library discard sale, and the popularity of its heyday is borne out by the velvet softness of its well-thumbed pages and the many dog-eared corners throughout.


Betty Cavanna was a prolific writer of “teenage” stories from the 1940s through the 1970s, publishing something like seventy titles, ranging from romance novels such as Jenny Kimura, to juvenile mysteries, horse-and-dog stories, and non-fiction “life in other lands” books. While many of her works are viewed as merely “average”, she was known for her meticulous research and wide variance of plots. Unlike many other novelists working in the same genre, Cavanna avoided series books; most of her stories are “stand-alone”.

I doubt that we will ever see this author re-published, but those of us nostalgic for revisiting the reading of our teen years will be happy to occasionally find her titles in secondhand bookstore and book sale rambles. Their value lies mainly in recording the attitudes and vignettes of a time now past, but those are reason enough for their preservation and occasional exploration, in my opinion.

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