Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Seventeenth Summer

My parents have sold my childhood home and no, I can't talk about it just yet.  I still tear up every time I think about it; it seems silly being so emotionally invested in a piece of property, but...there's something about that house.  Every person I've told has shared in my mourning as if it was a personal loss to them, too.  I don't know how else to say it except if you were ever at our house, even just once, you know.  And if you weren't, I can only offer that no other building on Earth was ever so infused with the essence of growing up a Heineke.

Over the next thirty days, they're going to be moving everything out and either into storage or their other house (my parents collect acreage the way I used to collect Buffy action figures and it is, in fact, the full-time job of keeping up with it all that has led them to sell the house in Bartlett) and in the process of going through everything, I foresee many posts on this blog about things that are turned up during the move.

On Sunday, I went through some books that my parents were donating to Goodwill.  I snagged a couple of my dad's old textbooks and even a couple of my grandpa's, and I also picked up a copy of Seventeenth Summer from my mom's stack.  "What is this?" I scoffed.  "A romance novel?"

It was, indeed, a romance novel, though Mom said that it had been required reading when she was in college (she was an English major) because it was one of, if not the, first mass-market teen romances ever written, and thus the mother of the Young Adult genre.  Though the soft-focus couple of the front cover had distinctively '70s hairstyles, the original author's copyright read 1942.  Intrigued to see what passed for "teen romance" circa World War II, I told her I'd take it off her hands.

I consumed the entire book in under 24 hours, not because it was a particularly riveting story, but because - to my pleasant surprise - it was a staggeringly realistic portrayal of self-absorbed teenage emotion.  The protagonist, Angie, is asked on a date by Jack, one of the in-crowd, and Angie's reflections on her insecurities - not knowing what to say around Jack's friends and feeling she isn't as interesting or pretty as the other girls in his circle - rang true as universal doubts even now.  Maybe even more so now, in this era when appearance is everything.  It may be foreign today to think of a time when leaving the house meant never, ever knowing if a boy called while you were out (answering machines and caller ID were still decades away), but the way Angie pines for Jack to call while artfully pretending she doesn't care...that hasn't changed a bit.

Though the relationship between Angie and Jack veers toward the saccharine (not to mention chaste), the book (surprisingly) features quite a bit of underage drinking and promiscuity.  Beer flows freely, and at one point, a fifteen-year-old girl complains about her hangover.  But when it comes to sex, Angie merely reports what others say to her; she is blissfully naive of the hints being thrown her way.  We know, though, and it's interesting that Angie is presented as oblivious, and yet the clues are clearly there for the book's target audience, who would presumably be around Angie's age.

Another thing that struck me, even if Angie missed it, was how vividly the differences in boys are described.  At one point, Angie goes out with a boy other than Jack, one with a "reputation," and while he keeps his hands to himself, the description of the way he acts, the way he talks, the way his attention makes Angie feel...I doubt there's a female who's made it to adulthood who wasn't pursued at one point by that exact same boy.  And connected to this, even if it's not explored on any deep level, the story captures the mystery of attraction.  Why are we instantly drawn to some people and not others?  Why is it that you can have a perfectly good time with one guy but never feel for him the way you do about another?

Action-packed it is not, and there are times when the seventy-year passage of time is impossible to overlook.  The main conflict between the lovebirds comes over an absurd etiquette faux pas which, until I read the passage, I was wholly ignorant of.  But where the book shines is in its descriptions of what's going on in Angie's head as she thinks about Jack.  He fills her thoughts in the most delicious way possible.  

In an age when Twilight is the standard for fictional teen romance, it was refreshing to read an angst-free story about a boy who really, really likes a girl, and a girl who decides she likes him back.  And for someone who never had a Jack to share her seventeenth summer with, it was nice to sink into a world where guys like him really do exist.


  1. Beautiful book report : ) Although I'm sure you would have been a great English major, I'm glad you were a Biology major in college. The English crowd at Rhodes wasn't quite my cup of tea. It is wonderful, though, to read your essays now : )

    In other news, if your parents have any other items to donate, Youth Villages often takes household items to help young adults set up their first apartments. They can call 251-5000 if they have anything like that to donate ; )

  2. Thanks for the tip! And thanks for reading my book review for a book you've probably never read. :D I was looking up the history of the book online after I finished it and I ran across a written review on NPR's website (or at least I think it was NPR) by a 28-year-old. I got halfway through it and thought, 'I KNOW I can do better than that.' And thus I wrote this. Sometimes I find inspiration in weird places... :)

  3. I agree, that was a great book review/report! You made me want to read the book :-) I love it when you stumble on books you never excpected to read or even find and they turn out to be a great find (not always great 'literature', but sometimes books give you things for variuos reasons).

    Sorry that you feel bad about the house, though. Understandable, of course. Hugs!

  4. Thanks, Malin. :) I've been really busy the past couple of days (and will continue to be for the next couple) moving stuff out of my room there and bringing it here. In a way, it's kind of nice to have all my stuff in the same place for the first time in my adult life...but there is definitely a weirdness to seeing it outside the context of my bedroom at home (which I still think of as "home" even though I haven't lived there in 11 years!). :-/

    As for the book, I agree so much about the joy of stumbling across something you weren't expecting!! Those are the best reads...it's making me want to go back through my parents' books more carefully and see what else is there. :)

  5. I'm late, I'm sorry... trying to catch up what I missed in my egocentric ways xD

    I'm sorry for your loss (the house) I completely understand what you mean - I feel the same about the two house where I spent my first 7 years of living (I was a kid back then - but I loved these two houses, there quietness and all - I can't even explain)

    And a great book review - makes me wanna read the book AND makes me think of my first and all time love xD