The Transatlantic Junior Novel Divide

Michael Cart opens From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature with the following:

If it was in Victorian England that “a separate state called ‘childhood’ was envisioned,” as Canadian critic Sheila Egoff has argued, others would agree it was neither there nor then but in America, instead, where another separate state, “young adulthood,” was to be envisioned. (3)

By and large, America was also the site of that precursor to canonical young adult literature: the junior novel genre.

For a long time, I questioned this American dominance. Was the US really *that* dominant when it came to the genre, or was it just that no one had searched out or made the connection to other, non-American junior novels?

The answer is, I think, a bit of both… but mostly the former.

I recently came across a 1954 letter from junior novel writer Anne Emery to Mont L. Haible, the administrative assistant to the general manager of the Westminster Press. In it, Emery ponders publishing her novels in the UK. She quotes a fan letter, in which the fan acknowledges that “here, from the ages of 13 to 17 there is nothing for us to read… Well, I hope you will write more books even if it is only for the benefit of those lucky American teenagers, while we have to be content to suffer the classics.”

Emery then quotes an English librarian that she had met a couple of years earlier, who noted that “there are almost no teen-age books published in England.”

The junior novel genre would, indeed, appear to be almost entirely North American, and particularly American. Looking at my bookshelves, however, I realized an important distinction I was forgetting to acknowledge: the English-language junior novel genre is almost entirely American.

I’ve already seen numerous hints that junior novels were popular worldwide. Mary Stolz’s and Anne Emery’s international publications suggest it. Betty Cavanna’s fan mail from girls in Japan suggests it. Still, these hints are all based on American-published junior novels in translation. Were there original junior novels published elsewhere, in other languages? And how would I find them?

Imports, my bookshelf advised me, and I reached for my translated 1972 Scholastic copy of Aimée Sommerfelt’s Miriam.

original cover of Miriam
1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover

This first image is from the original 1960 Gyldendal Norsk Forag cover (I think), from Norway. The illustration design is typical of late 1950s/early 1960s painterly illustration found in American junior novels and Whitman-style series books.

The following three images are from the 1972 Scholastic reprint, from the US.

1972 Scholastic reprint front cover

While the original cover emphasizes the teen setting that forms the base of the junior novel genre, the 1972 Scholastic cover–appearing, importantly, within the early period of the New Realism–contextualizes the story with the conspicuous red of the Nazi flag.

1972 Scholastic back cover
1972 Scholastic copyright page

In the end, searching for imported (and translated) junior novels isn’t a full or ideal solution to the question of whether or not the genre existed in its own right in other countries, but it’s a start.

Published Sources:

Cart, Michael. From Romance to Realism: 50 Years of Growth and Change in Young Adult Literature, HarperCollins, 1992.


The Sally Draper Reading List

A friend sent me today’s awesomeness (in the form of a link to the New York Public Library’s “Sally Draper Reading List.”).

I wasn’t able to post on the site (apparently I am spam, which makes me feel sad and forces me to question my existence), but here’s what I tried to add:

I love this!

In terms of romance novels, I echo a lot of Joanne’s titles (especially Cavanna’s Going on Sixteen and Daly’s Seventeenth Summer). 1955 Sally might also have read Mary Stolz’s To Tell Your Love and The Sea Gulls Woke Me, Anne Emery’s Senior Year, Rosamond Du Jardin’s Wait for Marcy, and Amelia Walden’s Three Loves Has Sandy.

Good times…!

"Well, darling, you and your gold lame"

I’m back to thinking about one of my favourite topics in relation to teen girl romance novels: clothing.

I’ve noticed that many of these novels employ daughters as the family dress-up dolls. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s A Boy to Remember, Karin moves to live with her grandparents and, in supposed celebration, her grandfather buys her a whole new wardrobe, purchasing

with a lavish hand that first amazed, then startled her. Everything she tried on, that was becoming and fit well, he wanted to buy for her. In less time than most people would take to select one good dress, he had bought her a navy broadcloth suit and a heathery tweed, a half dozen school dresses in the finest woolens Karin had ever touched, four skirts with cashmere sweaters to match, shoes, handbags, gloves, stockings. (27)

(Seriously: skirts with cashmere sweaters to match? I live in the wrong decade… and possess the wrong socioeconomic status!)

While Karen’s grandmother tells her that “it’s a long time since we’ve had someone young to fuss over” (27), it’s a salesclerk who reveals another intention behind the wardrobe:

Then, as the head of the department stood by, smiling at Karin and holding her grandfather’s check in her hands, she said a disturbing thing to Karin.
“You look charming in it, Miss Berglund. You’re fortunate to be the granddaughter of Mr. Berglund.” (28)

Karin realizes that her new clothing is not simply for her; she is also part of a show intended to demonstrate her grandfather’s status in the community.

Just as Karin’s wardrobe is as much for her grandfather as it is for her, so too Dody Jenks’ election as Snow Queen in Mary Stolz’s Pray Love, Remember is, for her mother, as much her own election as it is Dody’s. While Dody’s various family members congratulate her, Mrs. Jenks gloats “‘And think what Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates will say….Oh my, wouldn’t I just like to see their faces— ’” (114). Dody’s election is a conquest not only for Dody, but for Mrs. Jenks herself, who feels as if

she’d been, too often, overlooked by Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates when they’d passed on the street or met in the school at meetings and things. Not snubbed, she realized dully, but unrecognized. This was heart’s ease, this triumph of Dody’s…. Bosom lifting, Mrs. Jenks said to them, “Oh yes, we’re definitely moving a step up in this town’s society, let me tell you—” (114-115).

Dody’s Snow Queen dress becomes a family affair. The family cannot afford a new dress, but Dody’s older sister-in-law, Joyce, purchases material and makes one for her, while “in an access of proud confusion… Mr. Jenks contributed money for a cheap but dazzling pair of rhinestone earrings” (118). The family’s collective pride in Dody is thus demonstrated not in what she has done, but, on the night of the Winter Ball, in how she looks:

when she went down and stood in the living room door, her assembled family looked up in stunned silence. Then Larry, scratching his head, said hoarsely, “Cripes!” Marjorie said over and over, “She’s beautiful. She’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” Mr. Jenks blew his nose, and Mrs. Jenks put her hands to her face and sobbed. (118)

Like Karin, Dody is not only a member of the family, but also the emblem of that family’s social status within their community.

(Random aside: I LOVE Marjorie’s response. It’s so perfectly Marjorie. I always picture her crying after that statement, like Daisy staring at Gatsby’s shirts.)

As emblems, however, these girls are not without their own consumer agency. Although female protagonists like Dody and Karin fulfill the role of family status symbol, they are still in charge of the actual clothing that is purchased/made for them. Joyce may provide the idea and labour for Dody’s dress, but it is still Dody who designs it. Similarly, although Mindy’s shop-owner cousin Alix in Betty Cavanna’s The Country Cousin (1967) must slowly teach Mindy how to emulate the more sophisticated styles of Philadelphia girls, by the end of the novel it is Mindy whose hand-made dress design is purchased by a large New York clothing manufacturer, and whose future at Parsons School of Design consecrates her status as taste-maker.

There’s much more work to be done here, of course, particularly in regard to this taste-maker agency/ status symbol lack of agency dichotomy happening. For now, however, I’ll admit that the main reason I used to love these books –okay, the main reason I still love these books –is because you can’t get any better than their descriptions of clothes. I’ll finish this little post with my all-time favourite description, from Mary Stolz’s The Sea Gulls Woke Me:

(scene: the high school dance. Jean, having fled her hideous date, is now hiding out in a bathroom stall. The popular girls have entered the washroom).

“Did you see that Jean whatsis here with whoosis Coyne?”
Did I. I must get the recipe for that dress.”
Jean shuddered. This was a classic predicament, but she couldn’t recall the classic reaction.
“Well, darling, you and your gold lame. What I say is, after gold lame, what is there?”
“There’s always the platinum-studded cardigan.”

Gold lame? Platinum-studded cardigan? Hiding out in the bathroom? LOVE IT!

Finding my seat in the malt shop…

For the last couple of years I’ve been working on a project that analyzes American teen girl romance novels of the post-war and Cold War period (think novels by Mary Stolz, Betty Cavanna, Anne Emery, Rosamond du Jardin, Janet Lambert, and Amelia Elizabeth Walden, among others). I am in love with these books. Like: totally, butt-crazy in love. And so it’s been interesting to finally sit down and analyze them (using a New Historicist methodology, predominantly), and to attempt to understand exactly how these novels fit into their larger cultural milieu.

Of the few scholars who really examine these texts, most agree with Anne Scott MacLeod (who is, by the way, seriously awesome) that these are texts that are detached from their historical surroundings, and that demonstrate “with particular clarity the ambiguity of children’s literature as cultural documentation” (American Childhood 50). She notes that these novels are focused on domesticity and happy endings, not the controversial issues (the Cold War, the nuclear bomb, the Civil Rights movement, McCarthyism, among so many others) that we usually associate with their period of publication. The result of this focus is that

“even in a politically quiescent atmosphere, and even for a literature traditionally more concerned with individual experience than with social issues, postwar writing for teens was remarkable for its silences and was exceptionally unrevealing about the anxieties of its time” (50).

Okay, yes. Right. I agree that female junior novels (my name for these books) seem to be unrevealing, but I would also argue that their silences demonstrate a vital awareness of the culture in which they were produced. Silence, as absence, is not necessarily synonymous with “lacking in content.”

So how do I make the silence heard? Or, to switch to an easier metaphor, how do I make the invisible, visible?

I think one of the answers may be hidden in the trivialities.

Clothing, boys, the “right” seat in the malt shop –these elements come together to form levels of dominance within the adolescent social hierarchy. For the next however long, I will analyze these trivialities here, in this blog, to determine how they create a “female dominant society.” I will also attempt to examine how that society is paralleled by the women who produced and distributed these texts, whose middlebrow status and “feminine control” created a safe haven for leftist authors, editors, librarians, and educators during the Cold War.

And I will ask you, dear-readers-who-do-not-yet-exist (and quite possibly never will), to weigh in with any of your own insights/research/random I love Mary Stolzs.

Then, if all goes well, we will have contributed just that little bit to making the world more aware of these women authors, editors, librarians, critics, booksellers, and teachers who “insist on mattering.”