Posts Tagged ‘1966 Novel’

Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt ~ 1966. Follett Publishing, circa 1970s. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-695-49009-5. 192 pages.

Here we have that familiar creature, the vintage bildungsroman. A fine example, to be sure, but a member of a vast common flock.

There are numerous other titles of this ilk still to be found on high school library shelves everywhere; this is not a condemnation, merely an observation.

Somewhere in the United States – midwest? New England? – seven-year-old Julie has just lost her mother to an unspecified illness which they both have shared. Youngest of a sibling group of three – older sister Laura is seventeen, brother Chris the middle child – Julie is sent off to the nearby country home of her mother’s unmarried sister, Aunt Cordelia, a stern and highly regarded teacher at a rural school.

The novel follows Julie along as she navigates her way through the usual childhood and adolescent experiences of someone growing up in the American small-town world of the mid-20th Century. (We never get a firm date as to when this all happens, though clues point to it taking place in the 1940s or 50s. Possibly earlier?)

Young Julie has been an indulged small child with all of the expected attitudes and mannerisms thereof; her aunt strives to mold her young charge into responsible and thoughtful personhood. She succeeds, though it takes ten years. We leave teenage Julie as a younger version of Aunt Cordelia, albeit with a happier love affair in hand than Cordelia experienced in her previous turn.

In the course of this well-presented, gently paced micro-saga (there is a major clue in the title, that “Slowly” is most apt), our heroine comes to terms with her inner flaws and weaknesses, and grows into a likeable young woman of some accomplishment.

Bumps in young Julie’s personal road have included that early traumatic loss of her beloved mother, her older sister’s departure into happy married life with diminished focus on a younger sister, a mildly ne’er-do-well alcoholic uncle living in close proximity to her aunt’s house, an episode of dealing with a mentally challenged and uncared for classmate, and a deeply regrettable boyfriend in high school, who eventually gets one of Julie’s peers pregnant.

Luckily true love is waiting for our heroine, in the person of childhood friend Danny, who sticks around and comes through when most needed. Happy married life beckons, once the two of them finish college, etcetera. One wonders if Julie’s writing ambitions (for of course this book is chockfull of what may well be autobiographical verisimilitude) will be eclipsed by her embrace of her upcoming traditionally housewifely role?

Who knows. Perhaps she’ll have it all…

Well-written in general, with a few far reaches as plot threads are neatly gathered together. An engaging read, but nothing to cross the road for, as it were. Enough complexity for an “adult” read; the “young adult” intended audience likely accounts for the occasional stutters in the plotline as things are tweaked to provide moral teachings.

The biggest drawback to me was that there was absolutely no real sense of time or place; the setting is blandly generic. It’s a moderately engaging character study from first to last, but it doesn’t go deep enough for true memorability.

My rating: 6.5/10

Up a Road Slowly did win the Newbery Medal in 1967, and Irene Hunt was a well-respected writer of teen-targetted novels, her most well-known being the Civil War coming of age story of a young man, Across Five Aprils, 1964, which was a Newbery Honor Book (runner-up) in 1965. Six other YA novels published between 1968 and 1985 are well-regarded but not as well-known as the two Newbery recipients.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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