My daughter and I were at the bookstore last week, searching for a purchase to use up her Christmas gift certificate, when a contemporary Young Adult cover displaying the tanned legs of a young couple swinging on a dock caught my eye. I’m all about docks and water, so I pulled the book off the shelf, read the title: Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly, and was transported back to the yellow checked bedspread under the quarter-canopy in my childhood bedroom where I used to spend hours reading. For a moment, I dreaded opening the novel; sure someone had attempted to update one of my favorite books from my youth. But when I did, the copyright read 1946. The only thing new was the cover.
I’m not sure I had any idea that the novel was already thirty years old when I first read it sometime in the 1970’s. All I knew was it written so well that I was compelled to read and re-read the simple plot line about a summer romance that was so much more. With the memory of those delicious flopped-on-my-bed reads hovering in the forefront last week, I splurged and bought the book. As soon as we arrived home I plunked myself down on the couch and began reading the old story, soon recognizing that good writing is good writing, whether it’s published in 1946, or 1972 or 2011
Good writing is about making readers live through and empathize with your characters, and as I turned page after page, I could not only see what seventeen-year-old Angie saw, I could also feel it. I was transported back to that rare stratosphere of my own first love, when everything was new and brilliant, scary and amazing; when life was a volley back and forth between acute agony and indescribable joy and no matter what anyone told me, I believed, with complete certainty, that no one but me had experienced anything quite as amazing…ever.
It doesn’t matter that in Seventeenth Summer, the 1946 vernacular calls young men “fellows” or that Angie wears petticoats with her dresses and thrills at the simple act of wearing Jack’s basketball sweater. It makes no difference that the storyline occurs in an era when anything more than a kiss was considered “fast.” The story itself is timeless, universal and conveyed in words that deliver readers of any generation to that place we all remember, with language like this:
“In the brightness of the morning last night didn’t seem quite real—as if it had been a movie which I had sat and watched but of which I had not really been a part. I could hardly have been me who felt almost beautiful just because wind was fingering through my hair and the moon was thin like a piece of sheer yellow silk. I knew in a little while I would be getting up and putting on blue denim slacks and eating cereal at the table beside the kitchen window and dusting window sills and talking to my mother about garden flowers and what to have for dinner just as I had for so many summers. There would be no more of the exquisite uncertainty of last night, no queer, tingling awe at the newness of the feeling and no strange, filling satisfaction out of just being alive.”
Remember feeling that way?
Happy weekend all. What book transports you back in time?