Glad to be the last stop on this hop!
When Deb suggested a “bring back that lovin’ feeling” blog hop to follow up on her “you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling” series, her timing was uncanny—and not just because as a resident of a town with a median age of 70, I hear that song on the radio all the time. Struggling through the umpteenth draft of my fourth novel, I’d begun looking at books from my childhood to see if I could recapture the feelings that led me to sleep with books as if they were in my collection of stuffed animals. I’d already been wondering whether I’d find them as charming as an adult as I did as a child.
As a pre-teen, I had an affinity for 1950s YA, written by authors such as Beverly Cleary and Rosamund du Jardin. My mother introduced me to these books, and while Cleary is best known for her children’s series about Ramona and her sister Beatrice, she also wrote about older girls. Fifteen had been my favorite; a friend suggested I also take a look at The Luckiest Girl. Du Jardin wrote about twins. At the same time, I was eager to revisit my favorite 1950s heroine – Henrietta “Snowy” Snow, protagonist of Ruth Doan MacDougall’s book The Cheerleader. The latter was actually published in 1973, although it takes place in 1955-1957.
What a difference a life makes. Reading the books made me realize that Cleary and du Jardin were writing fiction for middle graders dreaming about their teenage life. Their heroines were so squeaky clean, they’d date a boy for months and never even kiss him. (This may have been due more to publisher rules at the time about what was appropriate for teenagers than the choice of the writers, however.) MacDougall, on the other hand, may have been writing for adult women who wanted a clear-eyed look back at their teenage years.
Unlike the other books, which I’d merely enjoyed, I was obsessed with The Cheerleader for years. In middle school, I studied it as if it would give me clues as to the type of high-school experience I could aspire to. By the time I made it to high school, I knew that my experience would be nothing like Snowy’s. Still, she was the girl I wished I could be. A hard worker, naturally smart, who pulled all As. A cheerleader who took her school-support duties seriously. And the girlfriend of a boy she crushed on anonymously for a year. As an under-achiever without an athletic bone in my body, the one thing we had in common was the name of the boy we crushed on. But Snowy dated him for a year while my crush only saw me as a friend. In the end, Snowy leaves him behind, eager for a future where she goes forward rather than back.
Revisiting Snowy as an almost-fifty-year-old was a delight. There was so much I didn’t see, but must have grasped on some basic level. Here’s one line that drew me: So she’d sit on the riverbank and watch for a seagull, and the longing for something, she didn’t know what, was as intense as pain.
That sums up the experience of being a teenager better than any sentence I’ve ever read.
I also realized how much MacDougall’s voice had influenced my own writing at the time. Sometimes I wrote short, fictionalized pieces about the life I wished I were living rather than the life I was currently stuck in. I came across these writings not too long ago, and was surprised to find myself writing in a voice I didn’t recognize. It was hers.
The overarching irony in the book, something I couldn’t see as a teenager, was that no matter how hard-working and diligent Snowy was, her 1950s female existence meant her choices were so limited, she didn’t even see the barriers to her future, blaming a lack of imagination because she didn’t want to be a teacher, nurse, or secretary. (Eventually she decided to be a poet.) Relationships and marriage were so important to these teenage girls because they literally did not have a future without a man.
The only aspect that bothered me about the writing was that MacDougall was somewhat guilty of the crime we now call “head-hopping.” Although the book is written from Snowy’s point of view, the author occasionally goes into other characters’ heads to reveal how they see Snowy. As a reader, I found this enlightening, but the writer in me wondered about rule-breaking and the difference between head-hopping and the omniscient point of view.
Finally, the best part of this journey about looking back for Snowy was the discovery that, twenty years after The Cheerleader was published, MacDougall came out with a sequel, Snowy. And eleven years after that, Henrietta Snow was published, taking Snowy’s journey from a teenager to a woman in her 60s. Apparently I was not the only reader obsessed with this character, and enough of them hounded MacDougall enough that she came out with two more books. Perhaps we’ll see a final one this decade. Reading these books, reuniting with Snowy after so long, and getting to know her as a grown-up, was a privilege I hadn’t anticipated and one I appreciated every minute I read those books. But—and not wanting to give away too much unless I’ve inspired you to check out the collection yourself—the feeling I got at the end of The Cheerleader—of Snowy heading full-on into the future, of college and life without her small-town boyfriend with small-town goals—was misplaced. In the end, though, Snowy was a product of her generation, and the future she did earn was perhaps the best one available to her.
Thanks so much to Deb for suggesting this topic! I hope you all check out the Cheerleader books… here they are on Amazon!