Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie of Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Number of pages: 340
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked
A summer to remember…
Angie always thought high school romances were just silly infatuations that come and go. She certainly never thought she would fall in love over one short summer. But when she meets Jack, their connection is beyond any childish crush. Suddenly, Angie and Jack are filling their summer with stolen moments and romantic nights. But as fall grows closer, they must figure out if their love is forever, or just a summer they’ll never forget.
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Considered to be the first YA novel ever published, Maureen Daly (1921 – 2006) started writing this when she was 17 and finished it when she was in college, and finally published in 1942. Seventeenth Summer is about Angie Morrow’s last summer before she goes off to college spent in her hometown in Wisconsin. Angie catches basketball star Jack Uluth’s eyes and he asks her out on a date and they fall in love. As summer ends, their inevitable separation looms and they have to decide whether their love is forever or just for that seventeenth summer.
I knew from Chris’ short post about this book that it was written in the 1940’s, so that kind of prepared me for what this novel would be like. It took me a while to reconcile the setting of the book with the cover which looks a little too modern for how it was written. I had to stop reading the book for a while and start it again so I would have the proper state of mind while reading it (and believe me, Jane Austen’s Emma put me right there) and appreciate the novel for what it’s worth.
Unlike the modern YA contemporary novels, Seventeenth Summer is quiet. There are hardly any interesting parts, really and to be honest, Angie is kind of dull. She’s not like any of the feisty or snarky female heroines that I know. She’s shy, almost awkward and plain looking, as she often described herself. Angie spends most of her time doing housework and helping her mom manage the household, and up until Jack’s arrival in her life, she tends to shy away from people from her school. The rest of the novel tells us about Angie’s dates with Jack and her thoughts about him, how he relates to her family, what she feels and all the questions involved in having a crush to dating someone and figuring out if it’s love or not. There are no mean girls to torment Angie, little parental resistance for their going out and it’s all really just an account of Angie’s summer. Angie and Jack’s relationship is also very chaste compared to what comes out nowadays (not that I mind) — just a few kisses here and there. I was honestly surprised to read the word “necking”. How long has it been since I last heard that word?
If you’re not into contemporary, you’ll probably be bored to death with this novel because like I said, there are no exciting parts. Truth be told, the B-plot with Angie’s sister, Lorraine, was more exciting than the actual main plot. It wasn’t the kind of romance that we read in books nowadays — I don’t think Jack even ever gave Angie flowers (so he has no need for ProFlowers coupon codes, not like they already existed then). However, I find that the beauty of Seventeenth Summer lies not in that, but in how the author captured Angie’s emotions with her relationship with Jack. I thought Daly described it perfectly: the first tingles of a simple crush, the recollection in the morning after a nice date, the longing for a phone call, the first kiss, the pain of realizing the first mistake you committed unknowingly and the delicious feeling of seeing everything in rose-colored glasses because of love. Not that I know how it feels exactly, but if I were to fall in love, that would be how I’d want it to feel. I was honestly surprised to find myself noting so many quotes in the book that convey those feelings, such as:
In the brightness of the morning last night didn’t seem quite real…I knew in a little while I would be getting up…there would be no more of the exquisite uncertainty of last night, no queer, tingling awe at the newness of the feeling, and no strange, filling satisfaction of being just alive. All that was last night because it was night and because it was the first boy I had really been out with. Not because it was a special boy…but because it was the first one. After a while, maybe after years…I would think of last night and remember it and that breathless loveliness… (p. 26-27)
…there is something so final, so husband- and wifelike about going to church with a boy. Religion is too personal a thing to share promiscuously and the thought of being there with Jack filled me with a kind of awe… (p. 120)
And as each day changed into evening…I didn’t even feel like a girl anymore. And all my thoughts turned into little prayers, which I meant so much that it made me ache all over. “Just once,” I kept saying. “Let him call just once.” (p. 134)
Sometimes, when we sat in the movies, Jack would hold my hand. It wasn’t silly. We did it because it was good to sit so close together in the darkness and, somehow, by holding hands you can carry on a conversation without talking. (p. 183)
I’m not sure if I ended up liking this novel because I read it during February and I was really feeling the Valentine’s air, or if I’m really just a sap at heart. This is one of those books that you’d rather read as an in-between book and you just want to feel like laying back and enjoying a good, clean summer romance. Seventeenth Summer isn’t the most exciting or mind-blowing read, but it has that air of sweetness and simplicity that almost makes it timeless.