NY: Putnam, 1973.
It’s difficult to write a review of a book like this. There’s so much the author has to say that ought to be noted, and there’s so much I need to say about my reactions to it. Very briefly, it’s 1955 and Henrietta Snow — known to everyone as “Snowy” — is fifteen and a sophomore at a small-town New Hampshire high school. Almost everyone she knows is blue-collar, but she and a small number of her friends are determined to go to college.
She’s smart and an excellent student and an over-achiever in all her endeavors, from girl scouts to the school newspaper, and especially with the varsity cheerleading squad, the activities of which provide one of the principal foci of the narrative. But as important as it is to her to make straight-A grades, and to be on all the committees, and to become an officer of NHS, and to acquire all the other awards of teenage success, the biggest thing in her life, and in the lives of her friends — of every girl in the school, actually — is to be dating the “best” boy, to be wearing a letterman’s sweater and going steady. And the best boy, the biggest catch, is Tom Forbes, star of woodshop, center on the varsity football team, and certified hunk. With the help (mostly) of her two closest friends, Bev (the most beautiful girl in school) and Puddles (who’s afraid of nothing), Snowy catches her prize, . . . and then the whole course of the following two years becomes more serious, more trying, deeper, as the narrative matures along with the girls. There’s a huge supporting cast, many of whom are developed in just as many dimensions as the four key characters. And there are a large number of tangled plot threads — just as in real life — from making the squad and buying the right prom dress, to getting a driver’s license and figuring out the dynamics of going parking after a date, to dealing with the crises in her friends’ own love lives — and also with sudden tragedy. And surrounding everything is the constant dance of dating and sex.
I know things are quite different in a great many ways for girls Snowy’s age today and for a reader under the age of thirty, the world of the late ‘50s is likely to seem like another planet. The thing is, I graduated from high school about four years after Snowy’s class did, so my memories are very similar to those of her group, even though I went to high school in a semi-large city in the Southwest and my father was a college-educated professional. Nor was I part of that high-octane circle of class officers and prom queens; I was a nerd, pure and simple. I was in the Library Club and I was obsessed with electronics. But I grew up in the same sort of social straitjacket, just as agonizingly ignorant of the facts of life as most of the kids at Gunthwaite HS. Reading this amazing book was like traveling back in time, MacDougall gets everything so completely right. The style is entertaining and funny, and there are plenty of quotable lines, but for some of us there’s also that strong undercurrent of truth that will suck you right in and bring it all back to you. I can’t recommend this book too highly.