Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Random, Pointless Review

So, we have officially reached That Day in the Summer when it's just time to go back to school. I don't want to clean anything, I don't want to knit, I don't want to read, I just want to fling books at children!

I recently moved all of my books downstairs, which has been helpful. I've been trying to reread my collection of 1950s and 60s teen fiction, hopefully weeding books that really don't make me that happy, or that I could get somewhere else if I really needed them. (My Maud Hart Lovelace books are in a holding pattern-- I don't have them on the shelf, but can't quite give them away!)

Here's a review of a book that no one needs to read. You won't be able to find a copy, and unless you're Charlotte, you just really don't even want to read it! But here's the review, anyway, because it makes me feel like I accomplished more with my day than just making that disgusting casserole with hotdogs, rice, green beans, canned tomatoes and 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese. I'm not going to eat it, but I cook for some people who want very strange things!

34856556Cone, Molly. Reeney
E. M. Hale and Company, 1963
Personal copy, weeded from an elementary library in 1975!

When Reeney's mother dies suddenly of unexplained causes, her family is thrown into confusion. Her father seems incapable of doing any household chores, and her brother, Matt, is a year older but tremendously immature. His main concern is to work on his car so that he can date the dishy Mary Ann, who only dates him for his car. Domineering Aunt Ada has demanded to stay with the family, but Reeney claims she can manage on her own, even with orchestra, her friends, and dating Steve Montgomery, the lead in the school play. Cooking is a challenge, and she often forgets to turn on the oven to cook the meatloaf, and her mashed potatoes have lumps. Laundry isn't much better, since she shrinks her father's wool socks by not hand washing them, and turns all of Matt's clothes pink when a red sock gets into a load. Cleaning seems an insurmountable task, especially when her friends come to help and claim that pushing all of the furniture into the middle of the room is a necessity. Luckily, the kindly neighbor Mrs. Turner comes to the rescue and teaches Reeney the most important thing that will make her a "good little housekeeper"-- making pie from scratch. Reeney drops orchestra, starts to have doubts about Steve, and manages to keep the household running, but then disaster strikes. Her father has to go to Denver suddenly for business, at the very time when Matt finds out that Mary Ann isn't going to prom with him because he has been grounded from his car. He runs away, and Reeney is left to find him. She is ridden with guilt because she has not been understanding of his sensitive needs in the way her mother was, and has focused instead on keeping him fed and clothed, even nagging him from time to time to pull his own weight. What was she thinking? When he comes home, she makes sure he is okay, tells him Mary Ann isn't worthy of him, and helps him cram for a test he needs to pass in order to pass a class. Reeney dumps Steve and misses prom herself, and when Aunt Ada comes to visit and buy sheets at the white sale, Reeney is able to assure her, and her father, that she has learned to sublimate her entire personality so that the men in her family can live the exact same life that they did when her mother was alive.

Sorry. That review took a bit of a bitter turn, didn't it?

Strengths: Very indicative of homemaking standards in 1963, which is a bit scary. It's not enough to wipe down the baseboards every week, make sure the laundry is done, and insure that the potatoes have no lumps and the pie crust is flaky, but women had to make sure that all of the emotional needs of their family were met. The father and Matt are not expected to do any housework; it is never even considered. The father's only attempt at interacting with his children is to comment that Matt "needs more discipline" and to eat Reeney's cooking "approvingly". On the bright side, Reeney had some small defense mechanism working that she dumped Steve, but I'm sure it's not long until she finds another boy for whom she can make pie and chain herself to for a lifetime of servitude with a smile; washing his socks by hand and making sure that he is greeted with a pleasant smile at the end of a hard day of work and not burdened by the demands of his children.
Weaknesses: This sort of book had an unholy hold over me when I was a teenager. I LOVED books where girls had to take care of the household on their own (Weber's A New and Different Summer was another one.) It makes me wonder how much children's books today serve as weapons of social engineering to quietly mold the readers the way society wants them to be. Hmmm.
What I really think: I really should get rid of this one, but I still enjoy reading it, in a very warped sort of way. Is it, in fact, Reeney's success with pie crust that makes me vibrate to it? I may never know. The heart wants what the heart wants, even when it isn't good for us!


  1. Anonymous10:29 AM EDT

    In the nature vs nurture debate I am on the side that women, in general, are nurturers by nature. So we sacrifice to take care of others when necessary. That is something that just makes us who we are. So while we can and will be scientists and CEOs or ANY thing we please, books like Reeney appeal to that inner nature. I never read Reeney, but I admit it sounds like one I would have loved as well, even though your review does put a bitter twist to it. Now I will go reread The Honor Girl by Grace Livingston Hill about a girl who leaves her rich aunt and uncle to go take care of her poor drunk father and 3 hopeless brothers - one of my favorites!

  2. This one sounds like a bit much even for me, though I would indeed read it if it came my way....