So I was going to write a Thoughtful Post about what makes a really good middle grade book, and how kid appeal isn't the same thing as universal appeal, and memorable characters etc., but then I realized that all I really had to say about it was that a great book is one that, when you reach the end of the last page, you think "that was a great book" and how far does that sort of discussion post get you? Not very.
So instead I will share my thoughts about the book I read for pure escapism because it is Friday and my eighth grader has a french exam Monday and it was a hard week at work.
Bonnie, by Lee Wyndham (a Doubleday Signal Book, 1961). "A shy young girl finds friendship and romance in her first term at a new school."
Bonnie is shy and young. She has just moved to the city. While walking the family dog, she meets a Steve, a handsome boy whose hair is the color of ripe wheat (question--did readers back then have a greater familiarity with ripe wheat, so that they could take it in their reading stride without wondering what exact color ripe wheat really is?). Like good wheat, he is the golden boy of the school, and he wants to be an athletic director when he grows up (this did not make me swoon).
(pause while I look at pictures of ripe wheat and am not impressed by hair-color-attractiveness of it. I am thinking my boys both have hair the color of ripe wheat, possibly on a cloudy day. Neither of them has a future as an athletic director though.)
But in any event, guess what! The most beautiful, richest girl in the school is a Spoiled Bitch and wants Wheat Boy for her own! She is Mean to Bonnie.
Bonnie is sad. But she makes friends with a plump jolly girl who is, in all sincerity, a great friend, transcending the trope.
And then, my favorite part of the book! Bonnie volunteers in the school library! She shelves. She plastic-protects. She helps other students find books! The school librarian is young and attractive, defying stereotypes!
But Bonnie is sad. Steve is still being pursued by Bitch Beautiful girl. He seems to like Bonnie, but it's not his friendship she wants....
Bonnie and her nice friend become singers from a band of boys from their school. They enjoy it.
And then a new character is introduced, an interesting boy who seems to have character! Whose hair is not wheaty! Surely he and Bonnie will learn together that sweetest of all life lessons--that being tan and having white teeth isn't all there is to life!
Not. I was let down. Snarl.
This is my second Doubleday Signal books, the first being Nurse in Training, which was the most shallow nursing book I have ever read. I am not sure I will seek out more of them-- though the list inside Bonnie had many that looked, um, interesting-- Judy North, Drum Majorette, and Nancy Kimball, Nurse's Aide (poor Nancy doesn't even get to train to be a nurse...) and the enticing Fishing Fleet Boy (because not all of them are for girls! There's also Nat Dunlap: Junior "Medic" [sic], and many more, for the lads.)
Oh well. Sometimes books like this are just what one needs, and there it is. My favorite of this genre, though, far and away, is Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary. I wish I still had my copy of it!
Bonnie came my way because it was only just now being discarded from my local library, which for many years was a time capsule, frozen forever at around 1970. I get first crack at discards, because of running the book sale, so it's all worked out very well for me. But the weeding is almost at an end (the librarian having reached "W" for Wyndham), and now no library in all of Rhode Island seems to have any of the Doubleday Signal books. Not even "Fishing Fleet Boy" which is the most Rhode Islandish of the lot. Sigh.
And I wish there were still malt shops.