Daly, Maureen 1921-
Maureen Daly 1921-
(Also published as Maureen Daly McGivern) American novelist, short story writer, author of children's books, editor, essayist, and journalist.
"Seventeenth Summer deals with falling in love for the first time. The first love experience is of prime importance in any life," Maureen Daly stated in an interview with Lisa Ann Richardson for Journal of Reading. Her characterizations are largely based on her experiences as a young adult and on her daughter's teenage years. Although Daly stresses that her novels are written for adults, her empathetic handling of the emotions and confusions of first love has enchanted adults and teens alike, and her novels frequent many young adult reading lists. Her first novel, Seventeenth Summer (1942), is considered to be a breakthrough novel in young adult fiction because it honestly and frankly discusses peer pressures, sensuality, and homosexuality—topics that were taboo in 1940s culture. In a self-interview that appeared in ALAN Review, Daly notes that in 1945, Ladies Home Journal sponsored a Gallup poll to determine "the three favorite books of young Americans." The books chosen were The Bible, Gone with the Wind, and Seventeenth Summer.
Daly was born on March 15, 1921, in Castlecaufield, County Tyrone, Ulster, Ireland. She was only two years old when her family relocated to the small town of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and became naturalized citizens. The town library was an important part of her childhood. She and her three sisters would visit in the winter to stay warm, and in the summer the stone walls kept them cool. All four girls became voracious readers; during the Great Depression, reading was one of their few means of entertainment. Daly began to write shile in high school. Sister May Rosita, Daly's high school English teacher, helped her discover the joys of writing and urged her to join the staff of the school newspaper. Sister Rosita also entered a short story that Daly had written, "Fifteen," in Scholastic magazine's short story contest. The story place third. The next year Daly entered a short story titled "Sixteen" and won first place.
When Daly was seventeen, she started writing her first novel. She wrote the first four chapters in a few months but had difficulty finishing it. Upon graduation from high school, she enrolled in Rosary College. While a senior, she was able to concentrate and finish the novel; Seventeenth Summer was published in 1942. It was released as an adult novel and received many positive reviews, including a glowing write-up by Sinclair Lewis in the New York Times. At an autographing session, Daly met William P. McGivern, an aspiring writer. They hit got along and corresponded by mail when McGivern served in World War II. They were married after he returned from the war. Daly began working as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and for the Chicago City News Bureau. In 1944 she became Associate Editor for Ladies Home Journal. "City Girl," an article about a young inner-city teenager that Daly wrote for the magazine, was awarded the Freedoms Foundation Award for "humanity in reporting." The Saturday Evening Post soon offered her a position as editorial consultant; she accepted and relocated to Pennsylvania with her husband. She and William spent time traveling in Europe and accepting freelance writing assignments. Daly began to write children's story-books and travelogues for young adults.
In 1982, Daly's husband died of throat cancer. Little over one year later, her daughter Megan also succumbed to cancer. Daly first attempted to write Megan's story but found the task too painful. Daly instead decided to write again about young love, this time using her daughter Megan as inspiration. Forty-four years after Seventeenth Summer, Daly published Acts of Love (1986). Infusing her main character with Megan's personality was cathartic for Daly, and she eagerly began to write again. Besides Acts of Love 's sequel, First a Dream (1990), she has developed many ideas for future novels. She currently is the restaurant critic for the Palm Springs newspaper Desert Sun.
Daly's short story "Sixteen" won first prize from Scholastic magazine in 1938. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages and has appeared in over three hundred literary anthologies. The story focuses on a young girl and boy who meet at a skating rink. The story was republished in a collection titled Sixteen and Other Stories (1961).
Seventeenth Summer was Daly's first foray into long fiction. The two protagonists, Jack and Angie, embark on a young love affair, filled with the anxiety, sexual tensions, and high emotions inherent to first love. Daly attributes her realistic rendering of teenage love to the close proximity between the age of the characters and her age when she wrote the novel. Jack and Angie's affair escalates, but at summer's end, Angie turns down Jack's marriage proposal and decides to go to college. Contemporary literary and feminist scholars are pleasantly surprised by Daly's decision to keep Angie independent, given the cultural biases of the World War II era implying that girls were supposed to get married. Daly claims that her feminist outlook was natural in her family; there were four strong, outspoken daughters and no sons, and she never felt inferior to men.
Following the deaths of first her husband and her only daughter, Daly returned to the young adult literary world in 1986 with Acts of Love. Using Megan's teenage experiences as a blueprint, Daly tells the story of young, pampered Retta Caldwell and her love for Dallas Dobson, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. When her family home is leveled to make way for a freeway—an event that actually happened to Daly and her family in Pennsylvania—Retta must move to California. Dallas decides follow Retta to California to avoid being separated from the girl he loves.
In First a Dream, the sequel to Acts of Love, Dallas takes a summer job as a horse trainer at a local ranch in order to be near Retta. The job takes up much of his free time, causing tension between the couple. Adding to their difficulties is Retta's college plans, and Dallas's impending return to Pennsylvania after the summer is over. Retta inherits land in Pennsylvania, and she returns to her home state, cherishing the chance to be closer to Dallas. Discussing Angie and Jack's blossoming relationship, a reviewer in English Journal comments, "We see two young people, once completely tied to family, begin to find their own way as they explore the possibilities of a lasting relationship."
The publication in 1942 of Seventeenth Summer changed the way many people thought about literature for young adults. The topics of teenage sexuality, drinking, smoking, and homosexuality in Seventeenth Summer were not previously considered suitable for young adults, but the story's realism and positive role models won approval from teens, adults, and reviewers. In his essay in English Journal, Dwight L. Burton declares that Seventeenth Summer "perhaps captures better than any other novel the spirit of adolescence." Acts of Love and its sequel First a Dream are also highly praised for their sensitivity to teen-related issues, although some critics argue that First a Dream 's "storybook" ending strays from Daly's realist formula. Daly is especially praised for creating strong feminine protagonists, among them Seventeenth Summer 's Angie, who chooses to go to college instead of marrying her boyfriend—an unconventional decision twenty years before the feminist movement. Commentators stress that Angie's independent thinking and frank disclosure of her feelings are integral to the novel's continued influence after more than a half-century in print.
Daly's first short story, "Fifteen," won third prize in Scholastic magazine's short story contest in 1936. Her second short story, "Sixteen," won first place the Scholastic award the following year and received the O. Henry Memorial Award in 1938. Seventeenth Summer earned the Dodd, Mead intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Novel Award in 1942. In 1969 it was honored with the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. Acts of Love was listed on Redbook 's list of Ten Great Books for Teens in 1987.
Patrick Visits the Farm (picture book) 1959
Patrick Takes a Trip (picture book) 1960
Patrick Visits the Library (picture book) 1961
Patrick Visits the Zoo (picture book) 1963
The Ginger Horse (picture book) 1964
Spain: Wonderland of Contrasts (nonfiction) 1965
The Small War of Sergeant Donkey (short story) 1966
Rosie, the Dancing Elephant (picture book) 1967
Young Adult Fiction
Seventeenth Summer (novel) 1942; illustrated edition, 1948
Sixteen and Other Stories (short stories) 1961
Acts of Love (novel) 1986
First a Dream (novel) 1990
Young Adult Nonfiction
Smarter and Smoother: A Handbook on How to Be That Way 1944
What's Your P.Q. (Personality Quotient)? 1952; revised edition, 1966
Other Major Works
Profile of Youth [editor] (nonfiction) 1951
A Matter of Honor [with William P. McGivern] (novel) 1984
Maureen Daly and Kimberly Olson Fakih (interview date 27 June 1986)
SOURCE: Daly, Maureen, and Kimberly Olson Fakih. "The Long Wait for Maureen Daly." Publishers Weekly 229, no. 26 (27 June 1986): 36-9.
[In the following interview, Daly recalls her childhood, painfully recounts the deaths of her husband Bill and her daughter Megan, and reveals Megan's spirit reborn in Retta, the protagonist in Acts of Love.]
She's never stopped writing, but a number of people have wondered where Maureen Daly has been for so many years. Readers of Daly's first book, Seventeenth Summer, which came out in 1942, have waited for her to write another novel, even as they left their teenage years behind. Seventeenth Summer was published to rave reviews, and over the years has sold over 1.5 million copies of the Dodd, Mead hard-cover, and millions of the Pocket and Scholastic paperback editions. Yet there was no followup to Daly's successful debut.
Now, after 44 years, Daly has returned to the field of young adult books that her own novel helped launch. She returns, not because her fans or editors finally wore her down, but simply because now she has another story to tell. That story is Acts of Love, which Scholastic will publish in August.
The longing, yearning emotions that pervaded Seventeenth Summer have kept readers, over the years, filling Daly's mailbox with letters. She still answers each one. People seem to want to tell her about themselves—tell her about what they've been doing since they read her book, no matter how long ago that was. They think she knows them already, because she captured the ache of first love so personally for each of them.
Daly spoke with PW from her Palm Desert, Calif., home. Not surprisingly, she'd been writing, something "I have to do, every day," she says. And she was waiting for the arrival of her four-and six-year-old grandsons, who would be staying for the weekend.
The well-being of these boys is of unusual importance to an already doting grandmother. When Daly found out in 1984 that her daughter Megan had cancer, her first words were, "Megan, I give you my word that I'll devote the rest of my life to taking care of your boys."
If that response typifies Daly's attitude toward life—practical and resilient in the face of overwhelming grief—then perhaps it is appropriate that her foray back into YA was also a practical response to tragedy. "After Megan died, I started to write a book called Megan: A Different Love Story. I had to write about what she had gone through with her illness, and the way she met death. But I was in tears all the time, and I couldn't get anything done. So I put that work away, realizing that I could still write about Megan, if I could just remember a happier time." That time, based on a real period in Daly's life, was when Megan first fell in love. From those memories, Daly wrote Acts of Love, a book that is both autobiographical and fictional.
The term "young adult" didn't exist, either as a catchphrase or as a category, back when Daly published Seventeenth Summer. "Actually, that book wasn't written as a YA novel—it was written for adults," she notes. "It was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review as an adult title. The book was in print for 20 years before someone noticed that teenagers were reading it and designated it YA. But even while writing Acts of Love, I didn't think in those terms. I wrote what I wanted to say."
A Beginning at 15
Daly was only 15 when "Fifteen," her short story about a girl who sees a boy on a bicycle, won third prize in Scholastic magazine's short story contest. The next year she wrote a story about a boy and a girl who meet one night at a skating rink. Sister Mary Rosita, Daly's English teacher at St. Mary's Springs Academy, mailed that story, "Sixteen," just as she had mailed "Fifteen" a year earlier. "Sixteen" won first prize in Scholastic 's contest, and has been published in at least 300 anthologies and in 12 languages. "Even now, when I get checks from the reprint of 'Sixteen,' it's like seeing an old friend from 1938," Daly remarks.
The summer she was 17, Daly was restless with the idea of spending another summer folding advertising brochures for the Fond du Lac Tent and Awning Co. in Wisconsin, where she lived with her parents and three sisters. She told her family that she wanted to stay home and write a book. "No one ever questioned what I was doing. I told them, and they supported me," she says. The next day, her mother rose early and hosed down the cellar, which would be Daly's first office. Her sister Sheila lined up geraniums against the only window.
By the end of that summer, Daly had completed the first four chapters and an outline. She finished the novel as a college senior, and entered it in Dodd, Mead's Intercollegiate Novel Contest. Daly's story, about a small town boy and girl who fall in love, won first prize.
Over the years, Daly has developed her own theories about the book's instant success and perennial popularity. "I think that one of the reasons the book has never gone out of print is that it makes a pretty persuasive argument for love. The second reason is that teachers use it in classes. When I found out they had assigned it in Megan's school, I asked her if the students knew I had written it. She said, 'Mother, that would be soooo embarrassing!'"
Daly recalls that in the first years following publication, "All the mail was from boys, perhaps because of the attractive girl on the cover. Later, the girls started writing, too. Now I get letters from people who read the book when they were 18, telling me what has happened to them over the years."
Many people who read Seventeenth Summer as teenagers have forgotten the plot details, but the feelings it evoked linger. This is as true for Daly as it is for readers. "Recently I read passages of it aloud to some high school students. I didn't recognize one word, although the images are indelible to me. I recall the sensations and the emotions, but not the actual words."
A Family of Achievers
Daly's father, Joseph, brought his Scottish wife and the three oldest Daly girls to America from Ireland in the late 1920s. "My father instilled in all of us the sense that we were lucky to be in America. He loved this country and thought there were great opportunities here. There was no talk in our house of ambition or careers, but nevertheless, we all tried something," Daly reflects. All of her sisters—Maggie, Kay and Sheila—were successful in their careers. In fact, Daly's mother gained posthumous notoriety when her obituary showed up in Time magazine's "Milestones" column, as "the mother of the Daly girls."
Why did these new Americans do so well? "My sisters and I were raised as equals. There wasn't a boy in the family to deflect attention from us; maybe that's why we thrived. We had three important things: good teachers, good health and good spirits. Our mother was a marvelous clothes designer, and she created outfits that made us look terrific. It was important to make a good impression, especially for the first job," Daly says.
Despite the acclaim for her fiction, Daly pursued a career in journalism, and landed her first job—as a beat reporter at the Chicago City News Bureau—before she'd graduated from Rosary College; she also wrote a weekly column for the Chicago Tribune 's Sunday magazine. "I went into journalism because I felt more secure with a staff job. When my father died, I had a lot of people to support (Daly took care of her mother and put her younger sisters through school). I didn't have time for other writing."
For Daly, being a reporter was both invigorating and frightening. "I had to work really hard to keep all the details straight, when I called from the scene of news stories. I was so afraid they would fire a question at me and I wouldn't have the answer. Often I'd be standing in phone booths with sweat pouring down my back."
Daly met William McGivern in the summer of 1942, at an autographing party at Marshall Field's in Chicago. She signed his copy of Seventeenth Summer, and he told her of his ambition to become a writer as well. Separated by the events of World War II, they kept in touch through correspondence, and married four years later.
For a while, Daly and McGivern lived in Philadelphia; she worked as an associate editor for Ladies' Home Journal. Out of this experience came a series of articles on teenagers. Later Daly edited the compilation of these articles into a book for Lippincott, called Profile of Youth. She gave up her job when she and her husband decided to move to Europe, to work as freelance writers. Their daughter, Megan, was two.
The decision to be freelancers, and their subsequent travels together, remains a highlight of the Daly-McGivern partnership. "The most pleasure I have ever had in life was being with Bill McGivern," Daly says. "We lived our lives the way we wanted to, and traveled all over the world." The family—by now Patrick, Daly's son, had been born—spent time in Paris, Rome, Dublin, London and Spain. Daly interviewed subjects as diverse as Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Julie Andrews and Andy Warhol. "We returned to the States every couple of years to stay in touch with people we knew in publishing. I wrote things abroad and sent articles back."
The family returned to America when Megan and Patrick were teenagers, living first in Pennsylvania and then settling in California. Through all the moving around, Daly and McGivern remained freelancers, helping each other to come up with article ideas and to make deadlines. "Bill and I had a writing household, with two typewriters going—he never read a word I wrote until it was finished, but I read his work out loud to him at the end of each day. Fiction is easier than journalism, but your concentration is more fragile. One persistent person at the door or one phone call can blow an entire day."
McGivern died of cancer in November 1983. He and Daly had hoped to finish what would be his last book, A Matter of Honor, but she had to complete the book alone. Seven months after his death, Daly was preparing to send the final typescript to the publisher when Megan's phone call came. Megan had cancer too, unrelated to the type that killed her father. She died in December 1984.
"I am more in love with them now than I was when they were alive," Daly states. "Both of them were so careful to make their dying easier on those they left behind. They kept a certain dignity to them: Bill, shaving, always trying to look nice, and Megan, with her manicured nails, pretty until the end. Megan was Miss Perfect. The only mistake she ever made was to get cancer. And of all the things that Bill and I tried to teach our children, one thing—courage—Megan taught herself. She died with grace. Somehow, Megan knew about love, and knew how much it could mean. When I reassured her that I would take care of her sons, Megan told me, 'Then I'm not worried about anything else.'"
A Book About Her Daughter
After Megan's death, Daly began a book called Megan: A Different Love Story, but she found the writing too difficult. "It was just too sad, until it occurred to me that Megan knew a lot about joy," Daly remarks. She signed a contract with Scholastic for another book, with only a vague idea of what she wanted to say. The project, which became Acts of Love, was a cathartic experience.
Daly began her story with a memory of the years her family lived on a 40-acre estate in Pennsylvania. "We were chased, and I mean chased, out of there by a highway project that divided our land in two," Daly declares.
In Acts of Love, Retta Caldwell, 16, falls in love with Dallas Dobson, as the state appropriates her family's land so that a highway can run through it. According to Daly, "I worked with the structure of memory, but other than the events, which are mostly true, I wanted to capture the emotions accurately—helplessness in the face of external forces. There are times in life when Fate is in control of people, and not the other way around.
"I wanted to show that there are people and things that we love and respond to, and yet fear. As I wrote Acts of Love I realized that even though Megan died so young, in her lifetime she had secret pleasures. I didn't know everything about her. I like to think that the girl in the book didn't tell her mother everything, either."
Daly admits that the character of Retta is Megan. The younger boy, named Two, is Patrick. "And the father in the story, he's all Bill. But the woman isn't me." In Acts of Love, Retta comes across papers in the attic that make up the text of Daly's short story "Sixteen." She finds out that her mother wrote down those thoughts and feelings as a teenager, and then put the papers away. "Ann Reit [Daly's editor at Scholastic] wrote me a letter years ago and suggested that I write an extension of 'Sixteen,' telling what happened to that girl and boy. She didn't believe me when I told her that it was all her idea, but I still have her letter."
Acts of Love is a more complex novel than Seventeenth Summer, in terms of the characters and their relationships to one another. "I had more to say about the adults in this book than I did in Seventeenth Summer. I wanted to show how everyone was affected by the taking of the land."
Daly's completion of the manuscript led to an unexpected result. "Now that the book is finished, I'm lonely for Dallas Dobson. It would be nice to have that kind of big guy around now, except he'd go for a younger woman."
With Acts of Love being published this summer, Daly feels ready to move on to other things. "I still have more to say about the characters in Acts of Love, " she says, somewhat wistfully. "I don't think that the romance is resolved yet."
Daly has other projects on the back burner as well. "Just before Bill was ill I started working on an adult novel. I had to put it aside, but now I'll start on that again." Someday, Daly will go back to Megan: A Different Love Story. In the meantime, she has her family: her sisters, grandsons, and their father, Megan's husband. Patrick, who teaches sixth grade in Los Angeles, is translating into Spanish some children's books that Daly wrote while he was growing up.
When she's not writing, Daly loves parties and going out. "I answer all my mail. I'm still in touch with Sister Rosita. And I take a lot of desert walks—I bird watch. We were chased out of the woods in Pennsylvania, and I hated that. I believe nature and man are one, and they can exist together."
Will Acts of Love have the same enduring appeal of Seventeenth Summer? It isn't an easy prediction. They are two different books, inspired by different sources, though they are linked by Maureen Daly's ever-present need to tell a story. In her words, "The book is my tribute, my way of holding onto the memory of Megan and Bill's voices, their pleasures, their smiles of surprise. It is my way of keeping us together a little longer."
Maureen Daly (interview date spring 1988)
SOURCE: Daly, Maureen. "Maureen Daly: One on One." ALAN Review 15, no. 13 (spring 1988): 1-4, 6, 17.
[In the following self-interview, Daly discusses her successful novel, Seventeenth Summer, outlines her career since the book's publication, and elaborates on her recent return to fiction writing.]
[Daly]: Miss Daly, what you are attempting to do—an interview with yourself—seems to me an odd approach to writing an article for The ALAN Review. In fact, it seems to me a blatant ego trip. Are you not aware of that?
[Daly]: Yes, I am. I gave that ego problem some thought but decided to try the self-questioning technique anyway. And before beginning, I got an okay from Editor Arthea "Charlie" Reed. She thought it could work.
Have you done this kind of thing before?
Interviews? Yes, of course—many. I did begin as a fiction writer. The novel, Seventeenth Summer, was written when I was a college student and I've done many short stories, before and since. But for years, I've been a journalist. As a newspaper and magazine reporter, and when I was an editor on the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal, I interviewed scores of people, ranging from Andy Warhol to famed French architect Charles LeCorbusier and President/General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And I once got a chance to ask a question of the late President Marshal Broz of Yugoslavia, or Tito, as he was known. It was a group interview in Belgrade for English-speaking newspaper correspondents and my question was offbeat. I asked, "Is this liquor we have been served a native slivovitz?
Are you serious? Weren't you embarrassed by such an inane question?
Not really. All the major political and economic questions had already been asked by the old-time journalists. I couldn't think of anything fresh to say—so I tried slivovitz. President Tito asked his interpreter to assure me it was a local brew. He got quite chatty. Most slivovitz is made from plums, I was told, but Tito preferred the brand made from potatoes. Not a headline scoop but a nice human touch to my story.
How did you happen to be in Europe in the first place?
I had been sent abroad by Ladies' Home Journal to do two major articles on young people in post-World War II Germany and Italy. Those stories, plus the necessary photography, took six months. I had resigned as Associate Editor of the magazine but wanted to stay on the payroll. So Editors-in-Chief Bruce and Beatrice Gould gave me a monthly column titled "What Are People Really Like?" That meant I had to make my way around Europe interviewing at least half a dozen people every four weeks. It also meant getting to know world figures more deeply than their mere "news value."
What you decided to do at that time really wouldn't make sense to most people. SinceSeventeenth Summer got fine reviews and immediately hit the bestseller lists, why didn't you write another novel then?
A couple of reasons. Both compelling. First, I was born in Ireland, raised in a small Wisconsin town in a protective home environment of Catholic parents with four daughters, and I was determined to see the world, get outside myself. Journalism can do that. Second, since I was 14 (I got a Saturday evening job in the men's department of our local J. C. Penney Company at the going rate of 231/2¢ an hour, a take-home pay envelope of one dollar and eighteen cents), I have always had one or more persons to support (usually more) and needed money, the assurance of a constant paycheck. It so happens that Seventeenth Summer has been in both hard and soft cover for 46 years, and royalty checks have come twice a year all that time, but in the beginning there was no way to know that would be true.
On that first trip to Europe (and there were many), I travelled with my late husband, William P. McGivern, a talented novelist who had not yet been published, and our darling two-year-old daughter, Megan. I was on an expense account; they were not. And back in the U.S. were my mother and Bill's, both widows, waiting for monthly checks. Ultimately, Bill McGivern became a successful movie and TV scripter and a best-selling author (26 in all; Soldiers of '44, a Book of the Month Club selection and an international best-seller), a generous and responsible contributor to our lives, but he had—as my mother loved to say unkindly—"a rather long apprenticeship."
I had to work on the double the first ten years of our marriage just to stay even with life, but I loved the travel and the pressure of journalism. And I loved Bill and Megan. But I was a worrier.
Yet your account of your interview with President Tito is quite unremarkable. Why do you think you might do a better job of interviewing yourself now?
Because I was in my twenties in those early days in Europe. I had a double college degree, worked as a police reporter for the famous City News Bureau in Chicago, written many short stories and dozens of book reviews, by-lined a four-a-week column for the Chicago Tribune (and syndicate papers), served as a reporter and editor for two major national magazines. A short story of mine, "Sixteen," had won first prize in an annual Scholastic magazine short story contest and was selected that year for the O. Henry Collection of Best Short Stories and …
Interesting, perhaps, but that personal eulogy doesn't answer my question. Why can you do a better job of interviewing now?
I do not like that word—"eulogy." It is not apt here. What I have done is list some facts. You asked why I thought I could do a good job of interviewing myself, and I am trying to tell you.
I am attempting to stress something that may surprise you: I am a serious person and a hard-working writer. I've matured greatly as a person and a journalist since those early days in Europe. And I'm interested in Maureen Daly at the moment (as are a few other people) because my career as a fiction writer (much of it about adolescence), such as it is, has been a bit of a puzzler. In fact, I have heard that numbers of book lovers, including some fine teachers and librarians, had thought I was dead.
And that strikes you as funny?
No, it strikes me as macabre. In fact, a stranger even called me at home in Palm Desert a couple of years ago (I'm listed in the phone book) to tell me that her creative writing professor at one of the Claremont Colleges had told his class that I had been killed ten years prior in a car accident on the Tijuana-San Diego border. No follow-up novel to Seventeenth Summer, ergo muerto. Of course, 44 years between novels is long, even for a slow typist.
You do think it's funny, don't you?
I suppose so. But not amusing-funny, just hurtful-funny. My fiction credits may be short, but I'm a qualified editor and researcher. One of the by-line credits of which I am most proud is an article I wrote for a national magazine about a young black girl (her policeman father had been killed in a gang shoot-out) in a ghetto high school in Chicago.
I remember the opening line: "Myrdice Thorton lives on Forty-Second Street on Chicago's South Side." That article, titled simply "City Girl," won for me a Freedom Foundation Award for "humanity in journalism."
Yet you know that The ALAN Review is a journal on literature, primarily fiction, for adolescents. Do you not wonder—at this stage of your career—why you have been asked to write anything at all for this influential publication? Do you not wonder if the group might just feel sorry for you? Want to give a "has-been" a nice, little hand? Something in that mood?
Why? Because my personal life has become as fraught and melodramatic as a cancelled soap opera? I don't think so. ALAN is a highly professional group; they have specific aims in view. It was the publication of Acts of Love in August of 1986, my second and most recent novel, which brought me down to San Antonio in November of 1986 for the NCTE meetings.
I had been invited, on the last morning of the conference, to talk to an ALAN meeting. In the audience I saw some familiar faces, friends from the old days, and people I had just met in San Antonio. I happened to be in a turmoil of uncertainty and personal confusion. Yet the mood of that morning was so alert, informed and giving that I personalized the whole experience. I wanted to be there. I was a kind of prodigal coming home. I needed that audience to care that I was trying to write fiction again. I needed the right to be among them again. And they let me.
It was a catharsis day for me. I was right back where I was when I was 21, older, wiser, more sad, but there.
When you mention yourself at 21, I know you are thinking about that first novel once again. Do you think having a super-successful book at a young age was good or bad for you? Forget for a moment the matter of journalism. Could it have been a fear of a non-success that made you give up fiction for so long?
I think you are digging for an answer I may not be self-knowing enough to give. Let me answer you obliquely.
Haven't you been doing that all along?
Perhaps. One can't always answer questions exactly if one doesn't truly know the answer. But this time, I am being deliberately oblique because I have a special point to make.
In the January/February 1987 issue of The Horn Book, Connie C. Epstein wrote an article titled "Young Adult Books." She mentioned several important novels about young people which she considered classics—The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird—and Seventeenth Summer.
In part, the article stated: "In 1942, the landmark girls' romance, Seventeenth Summer (Dodd, Mead), by Maureen Daly, was published on a children's book list …"
On a children's book list? That misinformation was a blow to your sensitive Irish sensibilities, I'm sure. How did you react?
I can tell you exactly. Good reporters keep their notes. In this instance, I kept a carbon of my letter to Ms. Epstein. I knew from the tone of her article that she was a woman of intelligence and wit and would not mind if I pointed out an error or two.
My letter said: "I read your piece with interest and was pleased to find myself and Seventeenth Summer in such good company as Salinger, Knowles and Harper Lee. But a bit of publishing history that may have evaded you in the mark of time. Seventeenth Summer, in 1942, was published by Dodd, Mead and Company as an adult novel, the winner of that publisher's first Intercollegiate Literary Fellowship Contest, a pompous title. I think they ran the competition for three more years but good manuscripts were not forthcoming.
"My book was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times ' "Book Section," The New Yorker, Atlantic—all other similar spots—as an adult book. It made the bestseller lists and had a hectic send-off. Three years later, Ladies Home Journal magazine did a national survey of the tastes of American youth through the Gallup organization and found that "the three favorite books of young Americans" were The Bible, Gone With The Wind and Seventeenth Summer. I was in college when I wrote the book and put it on paper as a message to myself. The book was completed before a teacher (Sister Mary Aquinas) told me about the Dodd, Mead contest. And in all that time, S.S. has not been out of print in both hard and soft cover and is just being published in France for the first time."
Ms. Epstein wrote back an amusing and understanding note. I am glad I got in touch with her.
You say "understanding note." But I don't understand. Why did you bother to get in touch with her at all? The Horn Book has a small circulation. Why not drop the matter?
Because of the intensity of my feeling about Seventeenth Summer, when I wrote it, and even now. It was my first-born. I don't want it considered as a laggard, a slow-witted child.
Once again, I don't know quite what you're talking about. Can you clarify?
I'll try. I was 17 or 18 when I started Seventeenth Summer, and I finished it when I was twenty. During that time, I also completed four years at Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois with degrees in English and Latin. I wanted an A-average, but I also had to work my way through college as I did at my prep school, St. Mary's Springs Academy in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. My particular skills were serving tables, plus gym and auditorium mop-ups. I did most of my writing at odd moments or very late at night.
The first chapters of Seventeenth Summer were written during a June-to-August vacation from school. I said one night at the family dinner table that I didn't want to work at the local awning factory that summer (I folded advertising mail-outs), but would like to try a novel.
My first office was a small coal-bin in the basement of my family home. My mother had swept it out the night before. There was a small window near the ceiling and a hanging bulb for night work. My father carried down the kitchen table and for that summer we chopped our salads on the kitchen window sill. And that little office had natural airconditioning, I remember: a fine cement sweat from Wisconsin humidity.
I've written in a lot of places since, from a balconied suite in the Gritti Palace Hotel overlooking the Venice canals to the top floor of the RKO building in New York City, but I have never had a more comfortable and precious office than that coal-bin.
I did not show a word of that manuscript to anyone, neither my parents nor my high school mentor, Sister Mary Rosita, until it had been bought by New York publishers, printed, distributed and stacked in book stores. I did all the writing myself, sitting somewhere at an old typewriter, alone.
But why are you so touchy about all this? No one ever suggested the book was ghost-written, did they? Nor are you the only writer ever to struggle with a first novel, are you?
No to both questions, but your queries turned me back to the moods of those days. And I want to make it clear that whatever that novel is or was, it was myself writing at the absolute peak of my abilities at that time, and caring desperately about "getting it right." Every morning, I played Charles Trenet records of French love songs and read passages from Thomas Wolfe's novels aloud, begging fate that the rhythms of both could get into my thoughts and my sentences. To be a small-town teenager trying to crack the publishing world can be a lonely process. And I put so many palpitating, emotional thoughts on paper that I was desperately afraid I might be ridiculed or laughed at. Even when Sinclair Lewis gave the book a rave review in the New York Times, I still didn't know or feel with certainty that I'd done an interesting piece of work. Yet that book was a catharsis for me. It allowed me to record my own adolescent joys—and then grow up.
Are you suggesting that one experiences joy only in the time of "beginning," in adolescence?
No. In the years I spent in "fact writing," with Megan—and then Patrick—as well as Bill beside me, I thought I was one of the luckiest persons alive. I have a very approachable pleasure threshold. Until a few years ago, I could get an emotional high on the most simple of things. A pair of doves on the back garden wall could send me spiralling off into joy for the day. But now I have been forced to reevaluate.
I sense there is something you want to say. So why not say it?
I wasn't going to bring up that compound tragedy unless you did. But you have, so I shall try. A few years ago, Bill McGivern developed cancer of the throat, had surgery and intense treatment, and lived three-and-a-half years longer in what he called "the most marvellous years of my life." He died with true gallantry, his pencils and yellow pad on which he was writing his last novel on the bed beside him.
But tragedy seems to spawn tragedy. This may seem like fantasy to some, but Sloan Kettering, the New York hospital specializing in cancer, has done deep research on this theory. Our darling Megan, married and with two tiny sons, mourned too deeply for her father. Her spirit and physical entity interacted and her own immunity systems reached a low which allowed a rare cancer to attack her body. She died just twelve months after her father.
But how could family tragedy of that nature make one want to write fiction again?
It didn't. Not at once. I tried at first to do a tribute to our daughter and her short, fruitful life, a book to be titled Megan: A Different Love Story. But I soon discovered I was rusting my typewriter with tears.
So you re-wrote that fact book into a novel?
No. I have put Love Story aside for a while. My instinctive mother love turned defiant. I refused to think of that beloved human being as only "sad" and "defeated." I was determined to remember her when she was happy, hopeful—and warm with love. I felt I could celebrate Megan best in a fact/fiction novel.
After all these years, how did you expect publishers to take you seriously? Didn't you have a tough time getting a book contract?
No. Over the years, many publishers had asked me to do a new novel or a sequel to Seventeenth Summer. But I dug out the publisher's query which had interested me most when it arrived, a letter from Editor Ann Reit at Scholastic publishers. She offered me a pair of unbeatable lures: a specific and generous cash advance and the suggestion that I try to work my old short story, "Sixteen," into the background of a new novel.
The book is Acts of Love. I wanted it to be a tense, dramatic and sensual book, the almost-true story of a teenager (Megan) and two events that nearly tore her life apart in one memorable year: the year a six-lane highway destroyed our family farm in Pennsylvania, and our way of life there, and the year she fell deeply, committedly in love with a teenaged cowboy.
Fortunately, the editors and critics agreed I'd managed what I set out to do. And I found for myself that I could write again with some joy, remember some things without total pain, almost a miracle.
So it's over? You produced a second novel, and you're finished with fiction for another 44 years?
No. Acts of Love opened some hidden valve of emotion deep in my subconscious. I can feel again, joy as well as pain. I wasn't truly aware of this until last fall when I signed on as a member of the press for a week-long cruise down the coast of Mexico.
Our ship was the Stardancer, the great white star of the Admiral lines. Her crew serves coffee on the aft sun deck at six a.m. I stood that first morning with a steaming cup in my hand, seeing the light of early dawn touching the white wake of the ship. The moment was, as was the entire cruise, peaceful and filled with the fascinations of wind, weather and lone expanses of strange water. It was a spiritual moment. I felt that Megan and Bill were near me, almost close, and yet my thoughts were restless. I was lonely for someone else. I realized then for whom I felt such a strong need.
I went down to my cabin on the Stardancer, pushed aside the champagne and flowers on the desk, and began to outline a new novel.
That Mexican trip was sometime ago, and I am now almost finished with the book. The people I was lonely for were Henrietta Caldwell and Dallas Dobson, my two lead characters from Acts of Love. They were still alive for me, in my head and heart. I wanted to find out what happened to those young people so I put them together again in a new framework and let them grow and interact. This book will be called Promises to Keep.
Does it seem unusual to you that you should try to write about young people now? What I mean is, at this stage of your life?
No need to try to be euphemistic. I know exactly what you mean. No, I am not too old to know and understand love, trust and commitment. Hopefully, there are emotional constants.
And all my life, through schools, talks, visits, correspondence and my own observations, I have kept in touch with young people.
So that's it?
Almost. Your other question brings back a memory that makes me smile. Once, during an interview in Spain, an earnest young reporter asked Bill McGivern if he didn't think he was rather old (at 36) to be writing those action-filled, physical novels which were his specialty.
Bill McGivern said, "Age is so relative. Perhaps I am too old to be a good jockey, but yet I am very young for a cathedral."
In short, I am excited about my new attempts at fiction and I feel the efforts are working. Hopefully, I am a very young cathedral.
Maureen Daly and Lisa Ann Richardson (interview date February 1993)
SOURCE: Daly, Maureen, and Lisa Ann Richardson. "Books for Adolescents: A Retrospective with Maureen Daly." Journal of Reading 36, no. 5 (February 1993): 424-26.
[In the following interview, Daly examines the autobiographical elements of Seventeenth Summer, explains the novel's lasting popularity, and empathizes with the difficulties facing today's youth.]
[Richardson]: You were very young when you began writing, weren't you?
[Daly]: Yes, I was. I had published short stories before I wrote Seventeenth Summer. When I was 16, I wrote a short story titled "Sixteen" that won a national short story contest sponsored by Scholastic Magazine and it was printed that year.
I began writing Seventeenth Summer during my 17th or 18th summer, and I finished it when I was a senior in college. I was short a credit in English to graduate, and a professor gave me one full credit for writing the novel. I had no clear intention of ever having it published. The book was written when I had decades ahead in which to do whatever I wanted. So, I think I envisioned it as writing "poetry for myself."
The characters inSeventeenth Summer portrayed the lives of you and your sisters?
Yes. Angie Morrow represents my life at 17. I was well aware of sexual emergence, and even then I was trying to show that sexuality is a given in any human life. I think Angie was in awe of the wonder of it, yet she welcomed the increased feelings of passion and involvement. In that 17th summer, she did not intend to go into deep sexuality. Her innocence, possibly, was that she never faced squarely what she meant to do.
For me, there was no personal self-consciousness in writing that novel. In my little town, to have a book such as that published meant revealing how I felt about the young man I was spending time with. It took a certain amount of courage to be frank because it was like allowing people into my most intimate life.
When I did get a book contract an editor wanted me to include some scenes in which one of the sisters has an abortion and Angie knows about it. I think it is a credit to my judgment as an emerging artist that I just refused to do that.
I said to him, "It could occur in someone else's summer, but it could not occur in Angie Morrow's summer." It was partially a moral judgment on my part, and I was determined to set a mood. I felt an abortion would be too jarring an element. It would rob Angie of any "perfect" experience of her own. Her own emotions would have been overshadowed. She would have reacted with sympathy and horror and sadness for her sister. Angie never admitted—even to herself—that her sister was having an affair.
Seventeenth Summer has continued to be a success over the years. Why are young people still reading it today?
Seventeenth Summer deals with falling in love for the first time. The first love experience is of prime importance in any life.
That novel is totally a naive and honest outpouring of feeling. I wrote it for myself. Yet I touched some eternal interior truths. Almost by mistake, in speaking of myself, I inadvertently spoke for a lot of other people. It was amazing. In my teens, I was so overjoyed at sheer existence, I wanted to record that feeling, "This is magnificent!"
Another reason I believe Seventeenth Summer has continued to survive is that it has some pretty persuasive language in it. And it has a very nice thread of suspense; not a hard-boiled mystery story, but it works.
Also, for all its innocence, there is a strong sexual beat through the entire book. Young people sense that strongly and respond to it. They identify it with a growing sensation in their own lives.
There is a section in the book in which the characters, Jack and Angie, go on a picnic. Eventually they leave the group around the fire and go off into the woods together. Librarians have told me that the four to five pages covering that incident are often torn out of books, and though it wasn't my intent, there is a distinct feeling there that Jack and Angie's romance had become ultimately sexual. I guess it was suggested strongly.
I've met a lot of people as I travel around the country who still have their own first copy of Seventeenth Summer. They have kept the book after all these years. It is like a talisman of youth for them. A friend of mine recently read that a town in Florida ran a moratorium on overdue books. A woman returned a copy of Seventeenth Summer she had withdrawn in 1942. She had kept it until a month ago. She said, "I liked it too much to bring it back."
Seventeenth Summer has been viewed as a milestone in the field of young adult literature. What contributions do you see that it has made?
Recently. English professors at the University of Nebraska and teachers from the Nebraska school systems met and were analyzing Seventeenth Summer, so I'm repeating what I heard there more than what I've thought myself. They found that Seventeenth Summer was considered a "turnaround" book for young adult literature. Before Seventeenth Summer there had been books like the Ruth Fielding series and the Tom Swift series where stories were told, stories which made little attempt to show a realistic picture of adolescent life. So, Seventeenth Summer was considered the first to break the barrier of showing real sexual feelings of teenagers. Also, it briefly treated the issue of homosexuality, an unspoken issue at the time. And there are realistic hard drinking scenes in Seventeenth Summer, not too prolonged, but they are there all right. We all smoked and drank a lot.
It never occurred to me not to write about those things. I wrote about what I wanted to write about. There was a jazz pianist who played at a place called the Rathskeller, and he wore nail polish. At that point homosexuality was not as open as it is today, as I've said, but I was well aware of homosexuality. I was also aware of the kind of courage it took for that young man to wear red nail polish in such a small town as ours. Supposedly, these elements have caused Seventeenth Summer to act as a turnaround book for the entire field of young adult fiction.
Its publishing history makes it an unusual book in itself. The novel came out 50 years ago this last April, and it is still in every library and most bookstores in both hardcover and softcover. It prompted many very good writers to turn toward writing to and for young people of America with a more realistic look at what their lives are like.
Are there other elements ofSeventeenth Summer that influenced the young adult genre?
Seventeenth Summer was not written as a young adult novel, incidentally. It was published to be an adult novel; it was reviewed as an adult novel. There was no such thing as adolescent literature in that day. I am very grateful that many librarians now mix the classics with contemporary YA novels.
Seventeenth Summer proved to the publishing world and writing world that a lot of money could be made in the YA market. Many talented writers turned to writing for adolescents, and they have had distinguished careers. It opened up the minds of librarians and teachers even further to the fact that young adult literature could be true literature.
In your writing you express a passion for nature.
I am glad that you noticed that. Everyone has a "right" to nature. Most of us have responded to flowers in the spring, snow, and leaves changing. My own emotions are influenced by nature. This has created in my books a feeling of universality. If one loves nature, one has a gift that is invaluable. There is always something for you every moment you are awake, every time you go outside. You can see and feel, and that is magnificent!
Are you in the process of writing another book?
Yes, and the subject is so strange you'll wonder why I'm doing it. I'm writing a book about a young woman of today who decides to enter the convent. It is a deep love story, as all of my books are, I guess. It is a story of her personal evolution in her attempts to enter the convent and what she finds there and why she leaves. The title of the book is Mariette Loves J. C. There are so many people who are deeply religious, and I am religious in my own way. This is a very challenging book.
I became partly interested in writing Mariette Loves J. C. 3 years ago when I took a trip to West Africa and spent a lot of time with the young people of the Masai tribe. Only the young males in the society are school educated. They are usually taught to read and write by Catholic nuns. There was a time when the Catholic nuns were the educators of much of the world. People who might have been nuns in the old days might be members of the Peace Corps today. Both were trying to make a life better for a lot of people.
I was educated by nuns and have found them mostly interesting and informed women, often ahead of their time. They built hospitals and grammar schools. A lot of young people today would like to be doing that kind of work. The question remains: Is it possible today to obey the rules of the convent and still recognize the problems of today's world? That's what I'm exploring in this new book.
How did you prepare for writing Mariette Loves J. C. ?
I did a lot of research for it. I spent a month on my own college campus, at Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois. I was teaching creative writing, but I lived with the nuns in the convent. Then I went to the Dominican Motherhouse in Wisconsin where all the nuns do their final studies. I interviewed many nuns there. Finally, I spent 3 days in a lovely, tiny, old fashioned convent in Hayes, Kansas, where everybody wears secular clothes. On such limited budgets, all of their clothes are secondhand, and yet they're keeping the school open. I found the visit very touching.
How do you capture the interest of your readers?
In Mariette Loves J. C., the chief thing that I want to do is make it highly readable for those who don't care one bit about the subject. In the other books, I wrote for myself, not for a particular audience. With this book, I have to use techniques to engage people's interest initially.
Like Seventeenth Summer, Acts of Love, and my other books, Mariette Loves J. C. has a very strong man-woman relationship. It is a complete involvement with human beings and how they are going to turn out, how each is going to handle the terrible emotional claims life makes.
How has being a reporter and an editor influenced your writing over the years?
Sometimes I have too much material in the first drafts because I am so interested in detailing facts. One of my books, First a Dream, was about a third too long. For example, I tried to be accurate about what an Arabian horse eats. "Standing there nibbling at the hay" is all I had to say. Being a reporter makes me tend to be overly explicit. Also, it makes me observe everything. For instance, I rarely go to a supermarket or a party that I don't come out able to describe the room, the people, the conversation in detail.
What concerns do you have for young adults today?
I am concerned about the lack of opportunity for individual resolution of lives. I am troubled that many people can't find work or meaningful work and are not trained to earn a living. It is not necessarily an individual's fault. Living in impoverished areas or city ghettos puts up obstacles and barriers that can be almost insurmountable. If I woke up in the morning and had nothing to do, I would be in despair. Too many young people are currently in despair about their futures.
Because of television, young people are assaulted every day with the problems and the oppressions of others. In my day we were all great newspaper readers; we had a lot of radio, but we didn't feel as responsible for the entire world as many people feel today.
SEVENTEENTH SUMMER (1942)
Dwight L. Burton (review date September 1951)
SOURCE: Burton, Dwight L. "The Novel for the Adolescent." English Journal 40, no. 7 (September 1951): 363-64.
Literature for adolescents" and "adolescent literature" are terms which should not be used synonymously but often are. Novels for the adolescent reader may represent mature literary art as surely as novels for the adult reader may not. This is one prefatory remark for any discussion of novels for the adolescent. There are others. One is that when we speak of "adolescent readers" we may feel that we are talking about a very limited audience, but actually the "adolescent" or "the adolescent reader" is something only theoretical and amorphous, for, as every high school teacher knows, the quantitative and qualitative differences in reactions to literature are as great among adolescent readers as among the general reading population. In this discussion "the adolescent" refers to a person who might usually be found in Grades IX-XII of the high school.
Perhaps it should be said, too, that the writers under discussion here have not all written specifically for the adolescent public. Several of them have aimed their work at the general public, but their writing generally or certain specific novels may have special relevance for adolescent readers. Conversely, several of the writers have chosen adolescence as their specific domain. I shall be concerned with this group first.
Maureen Daly's one novel, Seventeenth Summer, perhaps captures better than any other novel the spirit of adolescence. Probably one reason for this is that the author was so near adolescence herself when she wrote the book. In fiction with adolescent protagonists and in our thinking about the adolescent generally, we have never freed ourselves from Booth Tarkington's influence, which has projected itself into 1951 as the Corliss Archer-Henry Aldrich tradition, a vision of adolescence which infuriates the adolescent, amuses some adults, and adds nothing to the understanding of either. Seventeenth Summer is a cogent refutation of Tarkington's Seventeen. Basically, Seventeenth Summer is a serious story because adolescents, particularly seven-teen-year-olds, are basically seriousminded. In simple plot the novel is the story of the love affair between Angie Morrow and Jack Duluth and their experiment in "going steady." This love is a serious, almost all-consuming kind of love, and this is important because adolescents can be serious about love, as the engagement rings on the fingers of high school girls affirm. The love between Angie and Jack has its erotic aspects, and this, too, is healthy. Many writers have been loath to admit the eroticism in adolescent relations.
In the magnificently conceived ending of the book, Angie, because of her summer love affair, gains a flash of insight into life. We are not left with the tacit promise that Angie and Jack will some day, despite separation, marry and live happily ever after. The fact that the book is written in the first person adds impact through giving the reader the impression that he is peeping into a high school girl's secret diary.
More than just a love story of two adolescents, Seventeenth Summer, with its introspection and fine mastery of the scene, portrays the adolescent validly in several of his important relationships—with his family, with his age mates, and, very important, with himself. In each of these three aspects, Miss Daly is discerning.
Virginia Schaefer Carroll (essay date spring 1996)
SOURCE: Carroll, Virginia Schaefer. "Re-Reading the Romance of Seventeenth Summer. " Children's Literature Association Quarterly 21, no. 1 (spring 1996): 12-19.
[In the following essay, Carroll discusses how Seventeenth Summer offers a feminist perspective and how young adults react to it in the 1990s.]
Begun when the author was seventeen, Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer was published in 1942 as an adult title. As Daly herself notes, "the book was in print for 20 years before someone noticed that teenagers were reading it and designated it YA" (qtd. in Fakih 36). Seventeenth Summer is still in print, one might suspect, precisely because of its distinct position as a cultural and literary artifact: I regularly include this novel on the syllabus of my adolescent literature course because, as one critic notes, "the modern period of young adult literature is often said to have begun with Seventeenth Summer " (Vogel 41). Recently, however, my students' responses to Seventeenth Summer have prompted me to brush the dust from my usual reading and to discover, within the sweet and arguably sometimes dated narrative of Angie Morrow's first summer romance, a strong, unlikely heroine in a complex novel of female development.
When I first heard students complain about the novel—they groaned that "nothing happens" and felt incredulity at Angie's naiveté—I asked them to reexamine the work by focusing on Angie as a female hero.1 Jeanette Mines's assertions about the kinds of heroines needed in young adult books became the basis of this guided reading:
Librarians, teachers, parents, and anyone concerned with young adult readers need to know the literature that speaks to young girls about real people, particularly females, in real situations with real feelings. Teenagers deserve encouragement to read stories with female heroes who transcend their worlds in positive, healthy, female-oriented ways. They deserve introduction to books with strong female characters who have stories worth telling and hearing.
More than half of the twenty-seven essays my students wrote in response expressed at least partial disagreement with the view that Seventeenth Summer fulfills Mines's criteria. Criticism of Angie herself was frequent: she "leaves too much unsaid," "doesn't really know what's going on in the world around her," and is "too wishy-washy," "dim-witted," and "subservient." One reader remarked that the story "isn't worth hearing" because it is too realistic: "Falling in love and all of the fear, happiness, and confusion Angie feels are real situations with real feelings, but so is walking a dog." Another confessed that Angie seems so passive and naive that "it's hard to keep from wanting to yell at her when reading!" In addition to this dissatisfaction with the plot of Seventeenth Summer, a number of students expressed a range of negative reactions to the way the relationship between Angie and Jack is developed. Students commented especially on the ineptitude of Angie's communication: "she never freely expressed her feeling for Jack. Indeed, she communicated most often with the indifference of silence." When considering Angie's response to Jack's marriage proposal (she cries and says nothing), two male students placed themselves in Jack's position: "If I were Jack, I would want more response than a blank expression"; "she should have been much more open and vocal with her feelings about Jack and her family."
Some of these criticisms may be simply related to the era or to the quality of the writing, but the most negative responses seem to indicate that readers in the 1990s have clear requirements in mind for the romance genre—and Seventeenth Summer fails to satisfy their expectations. One female student, for example, suggested that the slow pace of the action is unrealistic and uninspiring: "readers like to read about the kissing, hugging, and even sex.… If these things don't happen within the first couple of pages in the book, we tend to want to put the book down." A male reader also remarked that "it took them forever, or so it seemed, just to hold hands and then kiss." Others pointed out that the novel "had no real excitement and surprise" and that its "long, boring parts … [left them] irritated, expecting more." Such disappointment is not surprising, given the marketing strategies evident in the Archway Pocket Books edition the students used. On the cover, a muted photograph shows a star-quality couple, in modern dress, seated casually in front of a lake. His hand caresses her arm near the elbow; his lips, just inches from her ear, seem ready for whispering or kissing. Beneath the novel's title is the tag phrase "The magic and wonder of first love," and the cover opens to an excerpt of the passage describing Angie and Jack's first kiss. Students assume that they are reading a romance consistent with the patterns of current mass-market books, and some feel disappointment—even mild anger—to discover that the formula is not followed, that there is more complex action than the formulaic plot of girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-wins-boy.
Although one might expect university students in the mid-1990s to support Angie's decision, at age seventeen, to choose college over marriage, a number of students expressed regret about this ending. For example, one wrote, "I thought that she loved Jack and no one would separate them, but her family and college did." Another student confessed, "I [would have chosen] a fairy-tale ending for them." Several students expressed shock that Angie "loved Jack and just let him slip away." The undercurrent of dismay about Angie's rejection of Jack suggests some differences between ideas of dating in 1942 and 1995. More importantly, however, the essay responses may reveal these students' unresolved conflicts about the roles of modern young women in their relationships with men. Perhaps Angie's lack of popularity as a heroine is due not to her naiveté but to her assertiveness: she determines her own fate; she spends considerable time weighing, testing, and articulating her feelings; and she acts responsibly and courageously.
In many ways, in fact, Seventeenth Summer is an inherently feminist text with four distinctive features. First, Daly concerns herself primarily with a young woman's education and development in a highly constricted patriarchal world. Second, the protagonist's identity-formation is examined not in isolation but within a complex web of relationships with her own new personality, her parents, her boyfriend, and her circle of female role models. Third, the protagonist's self-expression, her testing of her own voice, is as essential a part of the story as any action that occurs. And fourth, the novel encourages feminist response by boldly reassuring readers about the need to trust one's perceptions, as well as the need to follow one's dreams, even at the expense of breaking with conventional relationships.
The first step in reading Seventeenth Summer as a feminist novel is to view it not as a romance but as a story of personal development in the context of a romantic relationship. The distinction is subtle but important. As Janice Radway's ethnographic study of romantic fantasy and its readers explains, the rules for romance are firmly established. Readers in Radway's study could identify specific traits they desire in their heroes and heroines, and the romance plot, too, is expected to surprise and delight without crossing clearly understood boundaries. Studies by Marilyn Kaye, Pamela Pollack, Susan Kundin, and Mary Anne Moffitt define similar parameters for young adult romances. Daly, however, writing long before publishers conducted market surveys to determine what would sell best, produced a story about a love affair that adheres to few of the principles of popular romances for adults and young adults—principles that have changed little over the past fifty years.
Angie Morrow barely resembles the bold heroines described by the readers in Radway's study. The three most important traits for a heroine, according to frequent romance readers, are intelligence, a sense of humor, and independence (77). At first glance, Angie seems to have none of these qualities. Although Angie has been successful at school and has been admitted to college, Daly provides no evidence of her intellectual achievements. Angie also seems to have no sense of humor, a characteristic that Brenda Daly suggests is typical of young adult romances (50). Although Angie describes scenes in which she and Jack share some special joke, such episodes are never funny to the reader, and Angie has limited capacity to laugh at herself. She relates each disappointment in her summer romance as an intense, emotional response, such as "I was sick with unhappiness and my heart felt sore as a bruise" (112).
On the surface, Angie also seems to lack the independence romance readers expect in their heroines. Radway explains that the ideal heroine is differentiated from others by her "extraordinarily fiery disposition" and "particularly exaggerated quality of … early rebelliousness against parental strictures" (123). Angie, however, spends each day not in the "rejection of feminine ways" characteristic of romantic heroines (Radway 124) but in a ritual embracing of traditional domestic roles: cooking, dusting, cleaning, ironing, and caring for her younger sister and her mother. Much of her identity, in fact, seems to stem from her being a "good" girl from a good family. Far from rebelling against her parents, Angie takes pride in her membership in "the kind of family who always use top sheets on the beds and always eat our supper in the dining room" (62). She follows her parents' rules about not going downtown, and her parents' attitudes stay with her in a nightclub when she remarks, "A girl can't feel like a lady with a bottle of beer before her" (169). This mindset is hardly the overt rebellion of the heroines of romantic fiction.
Daly's protagonist also fails to satisfy another important requirement identified by the readers in Radway's study: romance heroines are not self-conscious about their physical attractiveness. Such heroines are "characterized by an especially alluring appearance," and they "always have 'glorious tresses' and 'sparkling' or 'smoldering' eyes, inevitably 'fringed by sooty lashes,' that undermine their determination to remain detached from the opposite sex" (Radway 126). The first-person narration of Seventeenth Summer prevents such dramatic descriptions: the reader does not know Angie's hair or eye color, or other distinguishing features. Although at one point Angie looks in the mirror to discern whether she has changed, she never tells the reader what she sees. This mirror is turned entirely inward.
Angie also differs from the ideal romantic heroine in her capacity for compassion, kindness, and understanding. Radway explains that some minor catastrophe typically occurs as an opportunity for the nurturing, empathetic heroine to emerge (127). Nurturing, when combined with her smoldering sensuality, is capable of transforming a man "into an ideal figure possessing both masculine power and prestige and the more 'effeminate' ability to discern his needs and to attend to their fulfillment in a tender, solicitous way" (Radway 127-28). Angie seems to have some kind of power over Jack, but without getting his perspective, the reader cannot understand his reasons for loving her. No catastrophe allows Jack to see Angie's nurturing side. Although readers glimpse her attentiveness to her sick mother and her occasional kindness to her sister Kitty, a greater capacity for compassion is not demonstrated.
Perhaps because the story is told from the point of view of someone to whom Jack's reputation as an ideal, popular boy is important, his portrayal is closer to the romantic ideal than Angie's is. Radway explains that "the hero of the romantic fantasy is always characterized by spectacular masculinity" (128). Although "almost everything about him is hard, angular, and dark," his rugged maleness is "always tempered by the presence of a small feature that introduces an important element of softness into the overall picture" (Radway 128). To Angie—fixed in a world where the only male presence is the father who occasionally peeps out from behind his newspaper—Jack is this kind of powerful Other. He is a basketball hero, twice elected class president. Daly never gives a full description of his build and features, choosing instead to have Angie focus on the kinds of details that suggest his effect on her: he "looks strong and brown with his football sweater on" (84) and smells like Ivory soap (11). Jack is "the kind of boy who looked best in the bright sunlight" (123), and he tells Angie that he likes physical exertion: "'I like to do things that make me feel big. I like to row a boat; I like to lift heavy boxes down at the bakery—things that make you feel as if you have muscles.' His voice grew louder as he talked about it" (198).
Despite these parallels between Jack and the heroes of romantic fantasy, Angie's sexual inexperience and fear of sexual power prevent her from describing Jack as an embodiment of raw masculinity. Modern readers may be startled to notice that her descriptions of him—particularly at moments when Angie experiences the "queer feeling" of sexual arousal (13)—border on the effeminate. She is attracted not by stubble or muscle or the size and strength of his hands: Jack has "lips as smooth and baby-soft as a new raspberry" (51) and legs "as tan and smooth as a girl's" (154). She is pleasantly surprised to discover that Jack prays, and his arm around her shoulder gives her not chills but "a warm, contented feeling … like when you drink hot milk" (14). Readers who expect to find passionate heroes in Seventeenth Summer are likely to be disappointed both in Jack, who is first seen blowing the paper from a straw, and in Angie, whose eyes never blaze with passion or rage.
The plot of Seventeenth Summer also does not fulfill the qualifications for romance. In the usual narrative logic, Radway explains, after a series of ambiguous, even antagonistic, encounters, the hero and heroine are separated, then brought together to resolve their former misunderstandings (134). But one of the most crucial features of popular romances—the happy ending based on a joyful acceptance of "the inevitability and reality of male power" (Radway 78)—is notably absent in Daly's novel. This couple neither marches down the aisle nor rides into the sunset; they say goodbye without tears and go their separate ways.
The novel is thus significantly different from the romances of Radway's study and from mass-market young adult series romances, such as the Sweet Valley High books. It is also significantly different from modern realistic fiction and formula romances, which Kundin argues often emphasize the problems young adults face (362-63). In fact, Seventeenth Summer reflects only two of the twenty-six problem-concerns of young adults identified by Mary Compton and Juanita Skelton: the need to express oneself and the need to be part of a peer group.2 One critic suggests that the novel's appeal to teenagers is based on the young author's intuitive understanding of "the fears and doubts, the heights and depths of their emotions at that moment" (Cosgrave 260). Daly herself describes her writing process as much more selfishly expressive; she was barely aware of a potential audience:
I began writing Seventeenth Summer during my 17th or 18th summer, and I finished it when I was a senior in college. I was short a credit in English to graduate, and a professor gave me one full credit for writing the novel. I had no clear intention of ever having it published. The novel was written when I had decades ahead in which to do whatever I wanted. So, I think I envisioned it as writing "poetry for myself."
(Qtd. in Richardson 424)
Instead of being a product designed for a target audience, then, the work is a young adult's attempt to clarify, capture, and share her story, that happens to be about love. Stating very directly, "Angie Morrow represents my life at 17," Daly explains that "it took a certain amount of courage to be frank because it was like allowing people into my most intimate life" (qtd. in Richardson 424).
More than fifty years after its publication, Daly describes Seventeenth Summer as "totally a naive and honest outpouring of feeling" which happened to speak "inadvertently … for a lot of other people." The characters in the novel are the principal players in Maureen Daly's life at that time: Margaret, Lorraine, and Kitty Morrow are her sisters Maggie, Kay, and Sheila Daly, featured in a 1949 Life article about their careers. The novel is dedicated to her mother, and Jack is a fictionalized version of Daly's own first love. Daly wrote the only story she could have written: a testing of a young woman's responses to the world when she discovers, or thinks she discovers, that she is or might be in love.
The novel's first sentence establishes a clear authorial intent that is significantly different from what we see in mass-market romances. Angie, her voice indistinguishable from Daly's, begins with an invitation, a promise, and an insight into her narrative method: "I don't know just why I'm telling you all this" (1). The narrator, by using "I" and "you," immediately invites a connection between the reader and herself. The tone is confessional, almost conspiratorial: one can imagine the teenage girl with her hand cupped to the reader's ear, whispering.
It also begins a paragraph that reveals Daly's circular, introspective narrative style; she writes, "I don't know why," and then thinks on paper about the possible reasons she wants to tell her story. She anticipates some resistance from the reader—"Maybe you'll think I'm being silly" (1)—and then counters the objection with increasingly complex articulations of her thoughts, beginning with simple, emphatic negation ("this is important. You see, it was different!"), which leads to contrasts with more familiar representations of romance ("it wasn't as it's written in magazine stories") and a denial that her situation can be reduced to "puppy love or infatuation or love at first sight or anything that people always talk about and laugh" (1). The pronoun it is used in the opening paragraph—as elsewhere in the novel—without an antecedent, suggesting both the writer's inability to name her subject directly and the intimacy with the reader that assumes a shared referent. By the end of the paragraph, the writer finally clarifies her subject and its importance:
Maybe you don't know just what I mean. I can't really explain it—it's so hard to put in words but—well, it was just something I'd never felt before. Something I'd never even known. People can't tell you about things like that, you have to find them out for yourself. That's why it is so important. It was something I'll always remember because I just couldn't forget—it's a thing like that.
From the start, then, this novel denies that someone can tell another about love and promises to let the reader in on the process of discovery. The text is very much defined by an adolescent voice that struggles to defend the validity and importance of its own passion. And adolescent egocentrism leads the writer to envision a reader identical to herself: there seems to be little sense of dramatic climax or the need for editing since the writer assumes that readers are as fascinated by the machinations of Angie's mind as she herself is.
This attitude toward self, subject, and audience is sustained throughout the novel. When she goes to the local hangout for the first time, Angie tells the reader, "You would like Pete's, I know" (31), and she often reminds the reader that her goal is to convey her thoughts and feelings, even as they are just taking shape: "I can't explain to you the feeling it gave me" (96). Angie engages in frequent metacognition, as revealed in statements such as "I wonder, I thought, what I am really thinking" (73). She enjoys reflection and focuses on this psychological action as the real plot of the novel. In the midst of her routine life with her family, Angie finds excitement in interior explorations: "It's funny how having nice thoughts in your head, it is so pleasant to pull them all out and think them all over again" (58). Such introspection is a way of processing experience, trying to understand what it means, how it changes her. Even when she is with Jack, Angie cannot help doing this, commenting at one point, "I tried to turn my thoughts so they looked inward; so I could really find out what was going on inside my head" (74). On the surface placid and unresponsive, Angie reveals herself to the reader as endlessly curious and active.
Unlike the inhabitant of the exotic, idealized world that draws readers to formula romances, Angie is a real person in a mundane world. The reader of Seventeenth Summer is not "transported out of her daily world into an imaginary realm," as Radway explains that a devoted romance reader might be (192), but is left with what one of my students describes as the sense "of having relived [one's] own dull day." The novel is not a calculated effort to produce "a myth in the guise of the truly possible" (Radway 207), which would elicit a satisfied response and potential "repetitive engagement" from a carefully targeted audience. Rather it is a type of female Bildungsroman that assumes that the reader is more interested in the emotional and intellectual development of the young woman than in the romantic relationship depicted on the cover.
As an important part of her development, Angie is carefully engaged in recognizing and responding to her conflicted role in her family. Her comment that she feels "older" and "more important" when she is away from her family (188) shows the young woman's urgent need for separation-individuation:
They cared whether I would rather have pork chops or steak for dinner or whether I would rather have a white collar on my dress or no collar at all, but they didn't seem to think much or care what was actually in my head.
When I was away from them it was different … at home you are just part of a family, but away from them you really are somebody!
Many of the comments about family that Angie seems to drop inadvertently into her narrative suggest her growing dissatisfaction and her sense that she cannot achieve emotional maturity and independence until she distances herself from them and tries to become "somebody." Although the Morrows share similar interests in the business of the household, each person contributing to a level that shocks students in the 1990s, they express few opinions about important subjects. Mrs. Morrow spends much of her time in a darkened room with a cloth over her eyes, and the others—including Angie—are almost equally self-absorbed and remote from one another. They share a "home where no one forgets to say 'Pardon me,' or gets indigestion, or neglects to have a clean handkerchief" (148); they "aren't the kind of a family who loves each other out loud" (195). Coming from this middle-class, proto-suburban background, Angie is especially confused about falling in love. One painful night—when she has suffered all day in silence about a misunderstanding with Jack, when the "sharp thought" of her friends somewhere having fun "needle[s] into [her] brain"—Angie's anguish is accentuated by her mother's repeating, "with warm contentment, 'Isn't this the best night to be all home, cozy and inside?'" (112). Angie seems to feel much more connection to the world outside, where the "low thunder applauded," and "the wind was still worrying the tired trees" (112). In this isolation from her family, Angie is in a position to think about herself as a sexual person and to evaluate other models of relationships. Catherine Ann Ecroyd mistakenly classifies Seventeenth Summer among the "fluff" romances that "feed upon the idea that girls cannot be happy, nor can they have an identity, without boys" (5). Angie's psychological quest pushes her to challenge, not reaffirm, this kind of assumption.
At the beginning of the summer, Angie looks carefully at the models for dating around her, seeing, for what may be the first time, the ways girls can be changed by their love relationships. Although Angie initially feels the thrill of a new identity forged by her attachment to Jack, her examination of other models ultimately causes her to reject self-effacement. For example, she notices that "it's funny what a boy can do. One day you're nobody and the next day you're the girl that some fellow goes with and the other fellows look at you harder and wonder what you've got and wish that they'd been the one to take you out first.… Going with a boy gives you a new identity" (51-52). By the end of the summer, however, Angie has seen enough negative examples to be able to define for herself what she does and does not want from romance and from life in general.
Her new circle of friends offers models of "smooth girls" who know how to dance, toss their hair, drink, smoke, and talk to boys. But Jane Rady, Jack's former girlfriend, seems manipulative and phony, as if gauging each action in terms of its ability to exert power over boys and establish superiority over her female rivals. Dollie, a giggling fifteen-year-old who knows how to chug-a-lug and entertain a boy in the back seat of the car, is described by the boys as "a find" (65); through Angie's eyes, however, she comes across as a pathetic figure, desperately searching for the love missing from her home. Margie, claiming to be "very much in love" with Fitz (80), often assumes the role of mentor with Angie, who notices that she uses "a very instructive motherly tone of voice, as if she were teaching me my catechism" (80). Margie advises Angie to be more attentive to Jack, to worry about him more, to place him more squarely at the center of her world. And Angie tries at first to heed this advice. But ultimately the model of Margie and Fitz's relationship is revealed to be hollow: Margie petulantly tells Angie, "I wonder if I haven't spoiled my chances by going steady" (223). She is "disgusted" with Fitz but resigns herself to the idea that "a girl has to go out with somebody" (223). Far from accepting this view of a girl's incompleteness without a boy, Angie assumes the reader shares her almost angry response to this sham: "To realize that the whole thing was a farce was depressing and I didn't know whether to be annoyed with Margie or sorry for her" (223). In contrast, Angie's older sister Margaret, who is engaged to someone who seems to be another member of the family, appears already married and settled. She is as removed from the angst and terror and deepfelt joy of new love as Mrs. Morrow is.
The middle sister, Lorraine, on the other hand, is in the trenches of the battle to define the self in the context of another person. In fact, many of my students expressed a strong interest in the subplot of Lorraine's relationship with Martin Keefe, wanting to hear more about this affair, which is clearly sexual and ultimately confusing, even humiliating, for Lorraine. Viewing this relationship through Angie's limited perspective, the reader wonders about the conversations and intimate encounters between the playboy from out of town and the girl who "puts her lipstick on with a brush" (2) and resists small-town ideas at every opportunity. An editor of Seventeenth Summer was similarly drawn to this more adult, more problem-oriented theme and urged Daly to include an abortion. Daly's refusal reveals her insistence that this is Angie's story:
I said to [the editor], "It could occur in someone else's summer, but it could not occur in Angie Morrow's summer." It was partially a moral judgment on my part, and I was determined to set a mood. I felt an abortion would be too jarring an element. It would rob Angie of any "perfect" experience of her own. Her own emotions would have been overshadowed. She would have reacted with sympathy and horror and sadness for her sister. Angie never admitted—even to herself—that her sister was having an affair.
(Qtd. in Richardson 424)
Including an abortion, and thereby creating in Seventeenth Summer a version of the problem novel, would have been too ugly for Daly, as well as for her fictional alter ego, Angie. It might also have reduced the impact of Lorraine's relationship to a didactic exemplum about the dangers of sexual activity: if you are sexually active, you will become pregnant. By maintaining its focus on Angie's response, Daly's lesson is more subtle and more complex. At first embarrassed even at the idea of Jack seeing her bare feet (4), Angie experiences a growing sexual awareness that leads her to a vague understanding of the psychic contradictions involved in loving someone: wanting to touch and to be touched, to feel simultaneously comforted and threatened, to feel a "new sense of power" (50) and an overwhelming sense of weakness. This ambiguity is an integral feature of the female novel of development: "repeatedly, the female protagonist or Bildungsheld must chart a treacherous course between the penalties of expressing sexuality and suppressing it, between the costs of inner concentration and of direct confrontation with society" (Abel et al. 12).
Through Lorraine's example, Angie defines for herself the distinction between testing a new identity in partnership with a boy and reducing one's self to caricature. When preparing for a blind date, Lorraine muses, "I wish I knew what kind of girls he likes. I don't know if I should pretend I'm the real intelligent type or pretend I'm sophisticated and have been around" (54). Angie does not confront Lorraine, but she expresses her shock to the reader, noting, "I'd never thought of 'pretending' with a boy. I'd thought either you had been around or you hadn't, either you were the intelligent type or you weren't" (54). Even in late July, when this scene occurs, Angie is determined to be honest with herself and Jack, to compromise in some ways but not in the construction of her identity.
Angie sees her relationship with Jack as a chance to reveal and develop something within herself. Even on their first date, she says, "I wanted to tell him something too. There were so many things I had always thought about to myself and never wanted to tell anyone before" (13). Like the act of writing itself, the relationship becomes another means of testing, tuning, and strengthening her own voice. And although she almost flippantly remarks early in the novel that "in the summertime it is handy to have a boy" (42), by the end of the August section she is able to understand and articulate precisely what she would want in a long-term relationship. In explaining to Jack the "quick, urgent feeling" she sometimes has (211), Angie defines for the first time what she wants from life—to stop wasting time, to improve herself, to learn all she can; she assumes that Jack shares this "eager restlessness" (212). When he is "hesitant" and does not understand, she has the confidence and urgency to try again:
"But, Jack, don't you feel sometimes that you should have read more—that you've wanted your mind to be bigger so you could understand what goes on? You know what I mean.…" He was sitting looking out into the darkness, hardly listening.
I wanted him to understand so badly, I almost shook him. "Jack, Jack, listen to me. I got it figured that I could be a smart girl and a smooth girl if I wasn't scared of so many things—if I didn't spend so much time wondering why I'm not what I'm not."
Her attention then turns to the ways that a love relationship could help in the process of strengthening the self. Even though their individual goals are not clear at this admittedly early stage of her development, she defines what could be a mutually supportive relationship: "You and I could start now to work on ourselves so we would be, maybe, great people when we grow up" (212). Unlike Margie or Lorraine or Margaret, who seek relationships with boys as a way of defining or completing themselves, Angie proposes that she and Jack work together, as equals, in improving themselves. In articulating this essential difference between themselves and the other couples in their group, Angie delivers her only passionate speech in the novel:
Jack, it seems sometimes that I can't ever do things "enough." When I eat, everything tastes so good I can't get all the taste out of it; when I look at something—say, the lake—the waves are so green and the foam so white that it seems I can't look at it hard enough; there seems to be something there that I can't get at. And even when I'm with you, I can't seem to be with you … enough.
Far from being passive and unresponsive, then, Angie shows her vitality, her sensuousness, and her almost aggressive impulse to squeeze what she can from every experience. Unfortunately (but perhaps realistically), Jack misunderstands. Not listening to her words or her heart, Jack responds only to the previously undisclosed passion in Angie's voice. He feels sexually frustrated by his own reading that Angie "can't seem to be with [him] … enough" (212). And from that moment on, Angie knows that this love is just a season, not the long-term relationship she had sought. My students frequently comment on her lack of response when Jack later proposes in a desperate attempt to stay together, but this scene is Angie's proposal.
Faced even with Jack's rejection, Angie is not devastated. In fact, her reaction does not differ greatly from her assessment of his role in her life at the beginning of the summer. The morning after her first date, when Angie finds herself lying in bed "unconsciously lining [her] thoughts up on either side" of a crack in the ceiling, she realizes that her date with Jack is important "not because it was a special boy—a boy different from other boys—but just because it was the first one" (19). The reader is told from the start that this relationship is "important," but Angie's descriptions of some of her routines—so dull to modern readers—indicate her unchanging perspective on the transience of first love: she continues her reading for college, watches her mother knit sweaters and alter suits to pack in her trunk, and patiently sews her name into all of her clothes. Angie has suspected all along that the summer romance will yield to the realities of fall. And through the act of writing, of self-expression, of connecting her experience to a community of readers, Angie comes to understand what it has meant to her life. The fact that on the eve of Lorraine's return to Chicago the Morrows drive around Fond du Lac "so she could say 'good-bye' to things for the summer" (229) suggests that the Morrows have cultivated an appreciation for nature and its cycles. This perspective becomes essential in understanding the central metaphor of the novel. Angie accepts her first love as a season—something beautiful to be noticed and enjoyed, even celebrated—and remembered long after.
As a romance, this ending is unsatisfying. It leaves open the frightening possibility that perhaps a romantic relationship cannot satisfy all the needs of a young woman, and it refuses to soothe the reader by reinforcing the patriarchal power structure that Radway agrees is implicit in conventional romances. And, in several ways, the ending falls a season or two short of satisfying the traditional requirements for a Bildungsroman. Angie seems unable, at this point in her development, to articulate a clear critique of the societal and class values that restrict her. In the final scene Angie leaves her home and society, but this is hardly the kind of flight that Judi Roller identifies as characteristic of the endings of feminist novels (102). There is no condemnation of the society that she leaves behind; in fact, readers might well wonder how much of her world Angie has actually left. And although Angie's sexual development is evident, the novel does not go so far as to meet a basic requirement of feminist romance, as defined by Anne Cranny-Francis: "Romantic fiction continues to challenge patriarchal assumptions by stating female sexual desire as a reality, reconstituting women as sexual beings" (187).
To the frustration of modern readers, Angie never questions the "good girl" role imposed by her family. She remains complacent about the middle-class values that emphasize manners and glorify the stifling relationship of Margaret and Art, and—like many adolescents—she distances herself from her mother so much that she never examines the nature of her mother's "sickness." A less solipsistic, and thus more adult, perspective would allow Angie to engage in a critique of the idylls that oppress her mother to the point of physical and emotional withdrawal, the cultural values that simultaneously encourage and thwart Lorraine's rebellion. But Daly's choice of first-person narration allows Angie to develop only to the "threshold of maturity." She never crosses that threshold.
As a young adult novel of female development, however, Seventeenth Summer offers a feminist perspective that is consistent with several recent studies. Gloria Steinem's 1992 best seller, Revolution from Within, reconsiders the value of personal transformation and restored self-esteem as another kind of feminist action. Peggy Orenstein, spurred by the American Association of University Women's report on the treatment of girls in American education systems, spent a year observing eighth-grade girls in two California high schools. The experience led her to revise her previously held ideas of feminist work: "I believed that the sole feminist work that needed to be done was on the politics of the external. But spending time in the world of girls (and reflecting on the world of women) convinced me that the internal need not, and indeed should not, be ignored" (xix). Seventeenth Summer is a feminist work of this sort: a novel that focuses on the politics of the internal, the ways that an ordinary individual goes through the process of discovering and articulating her position. Psychologist Mary Pipher, in her analysis of the adolescent crisis that girls face when they realize the chasm between their true selves and cultural prescriptions for them, emphasizes the importance of this kind of reflective process. It is not a linear, coherent pattern of development, Pipher explains, but a wandering, introspective process:
Girls who stay connected to their true selves are also confused and sometimes overwhelmed. But they have made some commitment to understanding their lives. They think about their experiences. They do not give up on trying to resolve contradictions and make connections between events.… They will make many mistakes and misinterpret much of reality, but girls with true selves make a commitment to process and understand their experiences.
The act of writing the novel, addressed to an unknown and potentially critical reader, is powerful evidence of Angie's growth, her "sense of entitlement," a feature that Orenstein observes in girls with healthy self-esteem; they give themselves "license to take up space in the world, a right to be heard and to express the full spectrum of human emotions" (xix).
The novel succeeds because it is rooted in the ordinary but allows readers access to an extraordinary process of development. It is distinctly feminine in its narrative structure, avoiding the linear models of organic growth in the male-centered Bildungsroman tradition and focusing instead on the recursive, tentative, spiraling process of female development.3 The novel invites readers into the contradictions in Angie's mind; is it important that Jack clicked a spoon against his teeth, or is it petty to care about table manners when one is talking about a boy? Angie's limited testing of her new identity and the restrictions of her narrow, sheltered world lead to further questions, further challenges for both Angie and the reader: Do I like who I am when I drink beer? Am I a good girl if I enjoy physical intimacy? Do my family members see how I wait for the phone to ring? Am I exposing myself to everyone?
Just as Radway and Moffitt began their studies with assessing the objects of reading and eventually shifted to considering the act of reading, a re-reading of Seventeenth Summer pushes one to ask how the novel itself delivers on the promise of its opening sentence. My students are generally bothered by Angie's age, thinking that her situation might more realistically approximate that of a modern pre-teen than that of a seventeen-year-old; however, nineteen of twenty-seven essays commented positively on the value of the novel for the young reader who is curious about or struggling with the same questions of first love. Many of my university students remarked that "at one time or another, all of us have felt this way," and one male student noted, after reading Seventeenth Summer, "I can see somewhat of how the person I'm dating might feel sometimes. This will help me adjust to concerns and feelings we share."
Others found in the novel some reassurance about their own choices and priorities, such as putting education before relationships for the time being and avoiding the peer pressure of drinking and becoming sexually active at an early age. It also reinforces, even to readers in the 1990s, the value of listening to and trusting one's voice. Although the pattern of conventional romances is to raise doubts about women's position in society—only to allay such responses in a predictable pattern of careful reinterpretation and self-deception—the narrative structure of Seventeenth Summer plunges the reader into the sometimes uncomfortable waters of unpredictability and irresolution. The disagreements among my students about whether this is "a story worth telling and hearing" brought to the surface the implied tensions in a female Bildungsroman:
The tensions that shape female development may lead to a disjunction between a surface plot, which affirms social conventions and a submerged plot, which encodes rebellion; between a plot governed by age-old female story patterns such as myths and fairy tales, and a plot that reconceives these limiting possibilities; between a plot that charts development and a plot that unravels it.
(Abel et al. 12)
Mass-marketed romances with their feisty heroines may appear to be rebellious, but they actually reaffirm the status quo. Angie—who appears compliant, subservient, and timid—is rebellious, and in ways that the typical romance heroines usually are not. The plot reconceives possibilities: Angie is autonomous and resisting, so she ultimately transcends stereotypes. She is not just another innocent young virgin.
For readers in 1996, Seventeenth Summer can be not only provocative but disturbing. More than a generation beyond the women's movement, we like to convince ourselves that our culture has resolved many of the core issues of modern womanhood. Readers do not want to identify with Angie, who seems too vulnerable, too willing to expose what she does not know. In an age that glorifies "coolness" and control, we resist admitting the foolish things we have done in the name of liking someone or confessing that we, like Angie, spend considerable time staring at the cracks in our ceilings. Readers all know Angie and can applaud her quest for self-discovery and assertion. But there is still something unsettling, especially in the 1990s, about the idea of letting go of a good enough love for the sake of personal fulfillment. My students want Angie to be on that train, savoring the last taste of summer romance like a mint on the tongue, but—they hate to admit this—they would be more comfortable if someone were beside her. Daly rejects this ending, just as she refuses to allow Angie to mourn. Daly, like Angie, leaves the season of her first love preserved like a flower in a text. The novel itself is an attempt to leave behind some indelible mark, like the lovers' initials carved into the ancient tables at Pete's. Readers are left fingering the delicate, looping, distinctly adolescent imprint, wondering about the carver and where she is now.
- In considering the importance of a fictional young adult's narrative voice, I would be remiss not to acknowledge the voices of students in my Adolescent Literature class (Spring 1995, Kent State University/Stark Campus, Canton, Ohio).
- Mary F. Compton and Juanita Skelton have developed a scale for measuring the extent to which young adult novels deal with the major problem-concerns of adolescents. Working from a list of twenty-six problem-concerns (personal, interpersonal, and intrafamily) developed by a group of adolescent development specialists, Compton and Skelton examined fifteen popular young adult novels for their portrayals of genuine adolescent concerns.
- For a fuller description of female narrative structure, see Abel et al. 5 and Rogers 39-116.
Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland, eds. Introduction. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover: UP of New England, 1983. 3-19.
Compton, Mary F., and Juanita Skelton. "A Study of Selected Adolescent Problems as Presented in Contemporary Realistic Fiction for Middle School Students." Adolescence 17 (Fall 1982): 637-45.
Cosgrave, Mary Silva. "Maureen Daly." Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. 3rd ed. Ed. Tracy Chevalier. Chicago: St. James P, 1989. 259-60.
Cranny-Francis, Anne. Feminist Fiction: Feminist Uses of Generic Fiction. New York: St. Martin's P, 1990.
Daly, Brenda. "Laughing With, or Laughing at the Young-Adult Romance." English Journal 78 (October 1989): 50-60.
Daly, Maureen. Seventeenth Summer. 1942. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1960.
Ecroyd, Catherine Ann. "Growing Up Female." The ALAN Review 17 (Fall 1989): 5-8+.
Fakih, Kimberly Olson. "The Long Wait for Maureen Daly." Publishers Weekly 229 (27 June 1986): 36-39.
Kaye, Marilyn. "In Defense of Formula Fiction; or, They Don't Write Schlock the Way They Used To." Top of the News 37 (Fall 1980): 87-90.
———. "The Young Adult Romance: Revival and Reaction." Top of the News 38 (Fall 1981): 43-44.
Kundin, Susan G. "Romance Versus Reality: A Look at YA Romantic Fiction." Top of the News 41 (Summer 1985): 361-68.
Moffitt, Mary Anne. "Understanding the Appeal of the Romance Novel for the Adolescent Girl: A Reader-Response Approach." Paper presented at the International Communication Association Conference. 21-25 May 1987. Eric Ed 284190.
Orenstein, Peggy. SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. 1994. New York: Anchor, 1995.
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Grosset/Putnam, 1994.
Pollack, Pamela D. "The Business of Popularity: The Surge of Teenage Paperbacks." School Library Journal 28 (November 1981): 25-28.
Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. 1984. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1991.
Richardson, Lisa Ann. "Books for Adolescents: A Retrospective with Maureen Daly." Journal of Reading 36 (February 1993): 424-26.
Rogers, Jacqueline McLeod. Aspects of the Female Novel. Wakefield, NH: Longwood, 1991.
Roller, Judi M. The Politics of the Feminist Novel. New York: Greenwood, 1986.
"Romance: How Did You Get Back Together?" YM 40 (December 1992): 64.
Steinem, Gloria. Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Vogel, Nancy. "The Semicentennial of Seventeenth Summer: Some Questions and Answers." The ALAN Review 21 (Spring 1994): 41.
THE SMALL WAR OF SERGEANT DONKEY (1966)
Elizabeth Yank (review date July-August 2001)
SOURCE: Yank, Elizabeth. "Small Heroics." Catholic Faith 7, no. 3 (July-August, 2001), <http://www.catholic.net/rcc/Periodicals/Faith.
A story of heroism without fanfare, that is the heart-warming story of The Small War of Sergeant Donkey by Maureen Daly. It is the simple tale of a young boy who risks his life without question for the life of another. On a much smaller scale, this act can be compared to Christ's offering up his life for us. It is an act that we are all called to perform each day, sacrificing our lives for one another, even if it is as simple as denying ourselves some pleasure in order to bring joy to another, or as essential as completing the tasks of every day life, so that our children may have the comfort of a warm home and a healthy meal.
Set in war torn Italy, during World War II, The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is the story of young Chico, who has lost both parents. He along with his older sister, Annalise, eke out an existence in the poverty stricken town of San Palio.
The story centers around Chico's relationship with a young soldier from the United States, who trains mules and donkeys for the Animal Remount Division of the United States Military. The development of their friendship leads to a mutual affection for a little African burro, nicknamed Sergeant Donkey.
On a deeper level, the story is an example of Divine Providence, showing how God can work in mysterious ways through events and people. If they had not become friends, would Chico have sacrificed his life for Sergeant Missouri? Would he have even known him? Yet, the friendship between Chico and Sergeant Missouri is nothing spectacular. They enjoy one another's company even though Chico doesn't understand English very well and Sergeant Missouri doesn't understand Italian. What bonds them is their common interest in their love of animals. They are both farm boys (Chico, of course, being much younger), sharing an interest in life from a similar perspective.
With little to do in the poor town and a keen interest in donkeys (his family once owned two), Chico curiously observes the large corrals of animals, waiting to be trained for warfare. His interest leads him one day to meet Sergeant Missouri, who takes care of and trains the animals. Sergeant Missouri, lonely for some companionship, is only too happy to have someone to talk to and share his love of animals. Their friendship leads Sergeant Missouri to seek out Chico and his family on Christmas to have some family as part of his Christmas day. From this point on, their friendship gradually grows deeper until one day Chico hears the startling, bad news that Sergeant Missouri is trapped on the mountain and wounded by a German reconnaissance patrol.
Chico, without hesitation, offers to make the perilous journey to save him. The cliff is dangerously steep, the path is hidden, and the Germans are waiting for the fog to lift to attack him once more. Can he make the hazardous journey at night, when the air is so still that the least sound magnified could attract the attention of the German soldiers? Can he save Sergeant Missouri?
What makes this story especially enjoyable to read are the references to the Catholic Church and Chico's faith. Already on the opening page, we read about the church bells ringing for the Angelus. Daly also makes several other references to Chico's Catholic faith: the family celebrates Christmas Mass, he dips his hand in the Holy Water font at church, his family has a small shrine in their home—a statue of the Blessed Mother with flowers and a flickering candle. These and other references to his faith are a joy to read for the simple fact that they point to a reality that God and the Church are an integral part of our lives. Conversely, one of the saddest aspects of modern fiction today is the omission of God from the characters' lives. He simply isn't mentioned in many books, even though He is a very real part of life, whether or not the character's faith is practiced.
One reference which is particularly nice to read about is how Chico, once a week, goes around town "begging" for any items the merchants or townspeople might like to give to the three remaining friars in the bombed out abbey up on the mountain. The friars, in turn, as poor as they are, also share what they can.
Another aspect of this book that is presented realistically without being morbid is Chico's poverty. His poverty is presented in such a way that we not only empathize with him, but we also feel very grateful, along with him, for any "gift" God has given him, as well as feeling grateful for all the "gifts" God has given us. The story is an excellent example of how fragile life can be. One moment he is comfortable in the security of his home and the gentle rhythm of his family life, and the next moment, his life is turned upside down and he is living in abject poverty, his parents and Grandfather dead, and life in utter turmoil.
After reading about the subject matter of this book, you may get the mistaken notion that the story is written for older children. On the contrary, the story is very accessible to younger children. The recommended age group for the book is ten and up and I would heartily agree.
The Small War of Sergeant Donkey is fast-paced and an easy read, yet not fluffy. Although that may sound like a cake mix, it's a plea to expose your children to real Catholic moments in literature. The Small War of Sergeant Donkey will expand your children's horizons to experience in a realistic, yet interesting manner another time and another place. Your children will have a greater appreciation for their Catholic heritage and another culture. But more importantly, they will be stretched to think about someone else who is less fortunate, living in utter poverty, or someone whose very life depends on someone else risking his life, when no one else dares to save him.
ACTS OF LOVE (1986)
Dorcas Hand (review date October 1986)
SOURCE: Hand, Dorcas. School Library Journal 33, no. 2 (October 1986): 189.
Gr 7-10—Blueblood Retta Caldwell meets and, of course, falls in love with Dallas Dobson, son of Danny Dobson, a town ne'er-do-well. Their relationship develops predictably amidst the Caldwell family crises. Finally, Retta's father decides to move the family to California where Retta is pining for Dallas until he finds a job nearby, and readers will presume that everyone lives happily ever after. As romances go, this [Acts of Love ] is fairly well written, and the characters have a bit more depth than those in the "Sweet Dreams"-style series. The parallel with Retta's mother's high-school almost-romance with Danny Dobson is perceptively drawn, and the cowboy image is not just pasted on Dallas. A quick, easy story that will be popular with early teens.
English Journal (review date March 1987)
SOURCE: English Journal 76, no. 3 (March 1987): 103.
Retta's world is threatened by the red surveyor's flags of a new highway which soon will slice through the property that has been in her family for three hundred years. Her family must decide about a move to California, away from all she has known and loved.
At the same time, her rather sheltered life within the fine, old Caldwell family is challenged in her meeting with Dallas, who has been wandering from job to job with a father who was the victim of a motorcycle accident. The two young people are drawn together despite the differences in family background.
[In Acts of Love, ] Maureen Daly captures the gentle awareness of first love as she did in her novel Seventeenth Summer. She also revives the bittersweet experience of the young girl in the short story "Sixteen" : Dallas' father is the boy who quietly stole the heart of Retta's mother on that moonlight night. But in this new novel, Retta's awakening love has a chance for some maturing. After she moves to California, Dallas plans to strike out on his own to be near her while working on a ranch nearby. We see two young people, once completely tied to family, begin to find their own way as they explore the possibilities of a lasting relationship.
FIRST A DREAM (1990)
Diane Roback (review date 30 March 1990)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 13 (30 March 1990): 64.
Daly (Seventeenth Summer ) follows up her recent Acts of Love with [First a Dream ] a disappointing sequel. Retta Caldwell's family has recently left the Pennsylvania town that has been home to generations of Caldwells, in order to start a small newspaper in California. The pain of the move for Retta is assuaged somewhat by the presence of her boyfriend, Dallas Dobson, who has a summer job training horses at a nearby ranch. Dallas, however, has little free time for Retta, and friction mounts as they confront his prospects for the future—college scholarships and tempting offers of employment. Unfortunately, the excited tones of Daly's early writing yield here to aridity. Retta seems free of teenage confusions and concerns, and the challenges she faces—reporting for the family paper, clarifying her commitment to a relationship—might well be those of someone twice her age. Any attempt at realism is trounced by a completely inauthentic resolution. Ages 12-up.
Joyce Adams Burner (review date April 1990)
SOURCE: Burner, Joyce Adams. School Library Journal 36, no. 4 (April 1990): 139.
Gr 6-10—Retta Caldwell and her family have relocated to California from Pennsylvania, and she is delighted that her boyfriend from back home, Dallas Dobson, has landed a summer job on a nearby ranch. Daly's depiction of their blossoming relationship [in First a Dream ] is sensitive and poignant, as Retta and Dallas savor their limited time together and apprehensively anticipate the future. Details of Retta's work at her father's newspaper and Dallas' life on the ranch are nicely integrated into this bittersweet love story that practically squeaks, so clean is it of sex, profanity, or suggestive scenes. The book is the sequel to Acts of Love (Scholastic, 1987), and several passages are lifted straight from the earlier book. Retta and Dallas are well-drawn characters, but Retta's parents and brother remain wooden and two-dimensional. The book's major flaw is its fairy tale ending, which takes the plot from a realistic look at Retta and Dallas' impending separation and sends it spinning off into La-La Land. Retta suddenly inherits property in Pennsylvania, and the will stipulates she must live on it for two years. After some affected agonizing over leaving her family—discredited by Daly's lack of developing her relationship with them—Retta jumps at the chance to rejoin Dallas. A realistic resolution this is not, but teens caught up in Retta's situation will enjoy fantasizing about her incredibly good fortune.
Cathi MacRae (review date February 1991)
SOURCE: MacRae, Cathi. "Young Adult Perplex." Wilson Library Bulletin 65, no. 6 (February 1991): 118.
Like Tom, Dallas Dobson is certain that he belongs with Retta in First a Dream, Maureen Daly's sequel to Acts of Love. After Retta moves from Pennsylvania to California with her family, Dallas engineers a summer job on a ranch in order to be near her. She is thrilled to have him there, but at sixteen Retta cannot match the decisive discipline of nineteen-year-old Dallas. They spend a frustrating summer moving in and out of sync with each other, Retta straining against Dallas's pressure to make future plans. Sensible Retta realizes that she isn't ready for commitment: "I needed him, but I still need myself.… I'm only the start of a person. I have to be more." At last, a fortuitous inheritance offers them the time they need to move toward each other.
In the more than forty years since Daly's quintessential YA love story Seventeenth Summer, she has not lost her respect for the power of young love. Under Carl Sandburg's epigraph "Nothing happens unless first a dream," Daly writes of shaping reality to fulfill dreams. Her tale is full of hope without cloying sentiment. Images of light infuse Daly's California desert, enhancing her message of promise. Even though Dallas alarms Retta when he places her ring finger in a band of light from a stained glass window, "the afternoon air was still a brilliant blue-white, and shards of light flashed back from crystal fragments in the mountain rocks." All will be well, though again, sexual tension is omitted from the challenges they face.
Vogel, Nancy. "The Semicentennial of Seventeenth Summer : Maureen Daly's Acts of Love." Nebraska English Journal 37, no. 2 (spring 1992): 7-21.
Examines Daly's life and the autobiographical aspects of her writing.
Arbuthnot, May Hill. In Children's Reading in the Home, 173-4. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1969.
Regards Angie, the protagonist in Seventeenth Summer as an excellent role model for teenage girls.
Belden, Elizabeth A., and Judy M. Beckman. "Books for the Teenage Reader: First a Dream. " English Journal 79, no. 5 (September 1990): 92.
Offers a positive review of First a Dream.
Bushman, John H., and Kay Parks Haas. In Using Young Adult Literature in the English Classroom, 270. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 2001.
Explains why Seventeenth Summer was a breakthrough novel in the YA genre.
Additional coverage of Daly's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 5; Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Vol. 6; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 37, 83, 108; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 17; Junior DISCovering Authors ; Literature Resource Center ; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers ; Something about the Author, Vols. 2, 129; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 1; and Writers for Young Adults.