Retro Friday: Seventeenth Summer

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 DalySeventeenth 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.

* * *

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.

Rating: [rating=3]

Other reviews:
Teen Ink
Tahleen’s Mixed-Up Files
The Hub

Retro Friday: The Giver by Lois Lowry

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.

I wasn’t planning to post a Retro Friday post today, but as I was writing this review, I realized that this book qualifies for it. So to hit two birds with one stone, my fifth YA-D2 challenge book is also a Retro Friday book. :)

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Laurel-Leaf Books, 179 pages

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

A few days ago, I was lamenting over Twitter about how I seem to be deprived of good literature back when I was in school. The only times I was required to read a novel for school was during senior year in high school and then in college. I didn’t get my love of reading from school, that is for sure. Because of this, I wasn’t able to read the books that my friends had read for school, and now I am making up for it.

But in a way, it’s also good, because I get to read these books now for leisure instead of for grades. So I guess it’s not really a loss?

I picked up The Giver early this week because I was pondering on getting Matched by Ally Condie via Kindle. I was hesitant to get the latter because there were many lukewarm/cold reviews on it from the reviewers I trust, and most of them compare it to the former. I decided that if I was getting Matched, I have to read The Giver first. I also thought that I cannot call myself a real dystopia reader if I haven’t read this one, and it’s always nice to go back to basics, right?

The story starts with Jonas as he thinks about the upcoming December ceremony in his community. He’s about to turn Twelve, in in Jonas’ world, turning Twelve means he is going to be given his Assignment in the community. He was kind of apprehensive about it because he had no idea what his Assignment would be. To his surprise, during the ceremony, Jonas was selected rather than assigned: he was selected to be the next Receiver of Memories. It was an honor to be selected, but it was also painful in ways the Elders cannot describe to Jonas. Little did Jonas know that the pain involved in his training is really more pain than he ever imagined, but at the same time, he was given the chance to experience true happiness that he had missed out in favor of an equal community.

There is a simplicity in The Giver that other dystopia novels nowadays do not have. Most of the dystopia (ex. The Hunger Games, The Knife of Never Letting Go) I read this year are about worlds that are not peaceful, where oppression is apparent and death and destruction are normal. The Giver is different because it presents itself first as a utopia — a seemingly ideal world where there is no poverty, violence or inequality. The people in the community work as a well-oiled machine and truth be told, the control freak in me liked it. I liked how everything has its place, how everything was so orderly. It was so uncomplicated, and I wonder how it feels to live an uncomplicated life.

Wait, I think I know how it would be: boring. Sure, we could use less complicated living, but not always. I remember some times when there were so many things happening in my life that I’d wish for a boring one, but once nothing happens in my life, I would wish for something to happen just so I won’t be bored. If I were to live in the world that Jonas lived in with my memories still intact, I would probably go crazy.

But that was the thing: no one had memories of the past except for The Giver. I loved the way Lowry described the Jonas’ life before he became the Receiver. It may seem, well, boring, but the writing style fits the world perfectly. I liked how as Jonas learned more and more of the truth, that we get to feel the sadness and horror he felt when he realized that the utopia he is living in is not what it seems.

The ending is much-debated for its openness, but I liked it. I am fond of open endings because it gives me room to think, and it opens up a lot of possibilities that could be a springboard to a sequel. However, as some of my friends in Goodreads said, The Giver has the type of ending that could stand on its own without feeling the need to read its other companion novels.

It’s a good book. The Giver is one of those books that you have to read even just once in your lifetime. It has this haunting sadness that made me really think of what utopia really is, and if it’s really worth losing so much just to gain an uncomplicated life.

Rating: [rating=4]

2010 Challenge Status:
* Book # 5 of YA-D2 Reading Challenge

My copy: paperback, from National Bookstore

Cover image & Blurb: Goodreads

Other Reviews:
At Home With Books
Rhapsody in Books

Retro Friday: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

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.

Still in the spirit of Banned Books Week, I thought I’d share about one of the books in the list that I read as I grew up for Retro Friday. I honestly had no idea why this had to be banned, because it’s quite a lovely book — I’m sure those who have read this would also agree. :)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeAre You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
Publisher: Laurel Leaf/Bantam Doubleday Dell
Number of pages: 149
My copy: paperback, bought from Booksale

No one ever told Margaret Simon that eleven-going-on- twelve would be such a hard age. When her family moves to New Jersey, she has to adjust to life in the suburbs, a different school, and a whole new group of friends. Margaret knows she needs someone to talk to about growing up-and it’s not long before she’s found a solution.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock God. That’s when our dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him… just once or twice. Thank you God.

* * *

I think my mom bought this book because God is in the title. If I were only getting this now, I’d buy it for the same reasons, which goes to show how I am such my mother’s daughter. :)

I read this just as I was about to turn thirteen, I think. From the very start of the book, I liked Margaret. It’s so easy to relate to her. She’s a very normal kid with a normal family who has typical questions about growing up. She’s feeling changes in her body, and she’s learning about these changes from her new friends in school, and she finds that its awkward to talk to her parents about it. She starts liking guys and she wonders if the guys somehow likes her back, too. I see a lot of my teenage self in her, but the only thing that Margaret and I don’t have in common is the religion aspect. While I grew up in a devout Catholic, Margaret grew up without knowing any religion because of her parents’ different beliefs (her mom being Christian and her dad Jewish).

It’s been a while since I last read this book, so I can’t remember all the parts of it. However, I know I have fond memories of this book, so much that I re-read this books a couple of times. She’s one of those characters whose normalcy makes her charming, and it’s not often we find someone like that in YA books nowadays — at least not one who is not involved in a paranormal love triangle of some sort. Her voice was real and funny, and she wasn’t especially mean or beautiful or popular, and that makes it easier to relate to her.

I liked how Judy Blume was very brave to address these questions that every pre-teen girl has and answer it in a realistic manner. She didn’t sugarcoat anything, no matter how embarrassing other things are because they really happen — like stuffing cotton in training bras, looking for ways how to get rid of acne fast or pretending to have a period already just so they’re ahead of their peers. Thankfully, I didn’t have the same kinds of pressure when I was Margaret’s age. It wasn’t such a big deal for my friends and I on who gets their period first or what. I think the only “competition” that was somewhat evident back then was who gets a boyfriend first (which I have obviously lost until now :P).

I also liked how Judy Blume made Margaret’s faith a huge part of the story. I liked that the way Margaret talked to God here was like a friend, like she could talk to Him anytime, and yet still respects Him for being, well, God. Margaret’s confusion over her religion felt real, and it was nice to read about someone who was actively searching for her faith and something to believe in. I think people often forget the most important thing that religion helps us build: a personal relationship with God. I liked how Margaret had the chance to see and experience the different traditions of different religions, how Judy Blume led her character through all those experiences yet still not give us a final decision. Instead, she gives Margaret a reason to believe and continue to talk to God in the way she knows how. Which I think God appreciates since it comes from the heart. :)

I’m not sure if this book is recommendable to boys (but Judy Blume has a boy version of this book entitled Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), but I absolutely recommend this to girls and parents of pre-teen girls — it’s one of those books that a girl must read at least once in their lives.

Rating: [rating=4]

Retro Friday: Invisible Lissa by Natalie Honeycutt

My shelf post was long…but no, I’m not yet done writing. :P I thought I’d take the time to participate in Angie‘s Retro Fridays, just for kicks.

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.

I’ve been meaning to re-read this book for a while, but because I had too many other books to read, I haven’t gotten around to it. I read this one last year and I’ve honestly lost count when I read this book and found comfort in its old and slightly yellowed pages. It’s already out of print, but I’m pretty sure this can be found in bargain bookstores. What book? It’s Invisible Lissa by Natalie Honeycutt.

Invisible Lissa by Natalie HoneycuttIt was around Valentine’s Day that Lissa started feeling invisible…

That’s when she sent out 31 Valentines and only got 8 back. Lissa didn’t have much trouble figuring out who was behind it all – Debra Dobbins. Although Lissa couldn’t stand her, she had to admit Debra had the whole class in her power.

Things started getting worse when Debra started a cheerleader’s squad and Lissa didn’t get in. But the last straw was the FUNCHY Club, Debra’s exclusive lunch group that Lissa’s best friend Katie had the nerve to join. That’s when Lissa decided she was tired of being invisible…and that it was time to show Debra that her days of being queen of the fifth grade were definitely numbered.

I remember spotting this book in one of those small Book Sale branches how many years ago — probably during freshman year in high school? I read a lot of middle grade fiction then, but I know I was reading more of Animorphs back then. I can’t really remember why I got this, except maybe because it was cheap. And I’m glad I got it. :)

I think the main reason why I liked this book so much was because I could relate to Lissa. Like her, I used to give everyone in my class gifts during our yearly Christmas party. Well, okay, not everyone, but all girls in my class since they’re easier to give gifts to. Like Lissa, too, I never got as many gifts as the ones I give out. It never bothered me, really, because I wasn’t spending for my gifts, anyway. It extended outside of the gifts too — I remember writing a retreat letter to everyone in my class. That was tiring. It’s a good thing everyone else felt the need to return a retreat letter if you wrote them one.

Invisible Lissa is a very smart middle grade (or is this kid?) fiction that deals with serious issues that kids experience in school and at home. There’s the normal school work, family issues and most importantly, bullying. I think the great cast of characters really helped that too. Lissa is a flawed but easy to relate to protagonist, and she’s hardly angsty so I know she wasn’t exaggerating any of her emotions. Debra Dobbins is the classic female bully, one who gets people to do the dirty job for her. The other characters were also a delight, from Joel (Lissa’s guy best friend) to Jason (Lissa’s younger brother) to Bernice the class drip and finally to my favorite character, Zack, who seemed like he liked Lissa, but it was never really revealed.

I don’t know how fifth grade is in the US, but I feel that this painted a pretty accurate picture. I liked how Lissa’s problems were resolved, because it didn’t involve any shouting match (does that ever happen in real life?) nor was it very clean cut that everything went in Lissa’s favor. Sure, it did work out for her, but there’s much to say at what could happen next.

I have yet to read this again to see if my opinions of its greatness has changed (seeing as I think I already outgrew middle grade fiction), but as of now, this still remains to be one of my favorite books. :)

Rating: [rating=4]

My copy: paperback bargain copy (P35) from Book Sale

Cover: personal photo
Blurb: back of book