Yay! My ex-eighth grader has his French exam yesterday, and life is better and I can start getting caught up on my review backlog....
The Highest Dream, by Phyllis A. Whitney (1956), another discard from my local library (actual cover of my copy shown). And yes, this is the Phyllis A. Whitney of Gothic Mystery Fame, taking a break from damsels in distress to write an edifying book for teens. I almost did not take it home from the booksale sorting closet, because, frankly, it looks like she's a stewardess who wants to claw someone's eyes out (that fingernail is scary!), and that is not really My Thing.
But I did.
And now I can safely say that if you want 1950s propaganda for the United Nations, along with a career story, along with a romance, this is the book you need! Me being sincere (really): I enjoyed it. I think I was in the mood for tender optimism and regression to the childish naivete that lurks beneath the cynical surface of my mind.
Our heroine, Lisa, has just graduated from college and all she knows about life is that she doesn't want to go into radio because that's what her father is famous for. While visiting the UN with her mother, she is struck by the attractive uniform and neat appearance of the young African American woman giving the tour, and is struck as well by the realization that the UN is a Good Thing. Being attractive and slender herself, and happy to be convinced that the UN is wonderful, she decides to become a tour guide.
This gives her the chance to make Friends from Many Lands (all attractive young women) and also Friends from New York (including an attractive man with relationship issues, and a not-quite-as-attractive-as-the-tour-guides room-mate, uneducated and unrefined, but Warm and Vibrant, who suffers from reverse intellectual snobbishness that Lisa manages to overcome with her frank, accepting disposition). (Me being sincere--I actually appreciated that Lisa and her room-mate were able to talk about their differences in education and expectations in a frank way--it avoided being a set piece of lesson learning, though it came close. Really close.)
Fun! is provided by the little girls who live in the apartment across the way, with their playful playfulness etc. (more sincerity--they were actually kind of fun).
And the girls across the way go trick or treating for UNICEF.
I was genuinely moved by the UN propaganda. In the years of my own adulthood, I'm not sure what the UN has managed to achieve viz world peace, and so it was rather poignant to read a peon to the good it did back in the 1950s (UNICEF! the fight against disease! the optimism of it all viz world peace!). That being said, I appreciated that amid all the propaganda there were cynical characters who didn't think the dreams of world peace were going to happen, and interesting, somewhat cynical speculation about what role the US should have in world affairs (one character speaks disparagingly of the US approach of jumping in and ramming democracy down people's throats), and there's a straight-out acknowledgement that the "good" of the UN can't explain or justify or balance the Korean War to those who have lost their loved ones to it.
In any event, I also very much appreciated that several of the Friends from Many Lands were not at all shy about expressing their critical opinions about American cultural values (such as hurry hurry hurry to get more, more more!). AND I appreciated that Lisa and her young man had a Frank Conversation about how she would want a life of her own, with meaningful work to do, and wouldn't be just his wife.
So I can imagine re-reading it someday...But that being said, I was in a Troubled state of mind because of all the French, so I'm not convinced if it was all a fever dream or not.
And really annoyingly, I don't think that five days of intense French review has helped my own French at all (nor do I have any conviction that my son did well on the exam....). But at least I know more about the UN in the 1950s, and that's something.