This first novel by Maureen Daly is often considered one of the first YA novels. It’s been nearly seventy years since Seventeenth Summer was published; has time been kind to this novel of first love?
It’s the summer between high school and college, and Angie figures it will be like other summers. There will be chores, time with her family, the same everyday feelings. All that changes when Angie meets Jack. Angie’s now a girl who gets noticed, with new friends and new pastimes. Jack sparks new feelings in Angie, ones she’s never felt before. Through the summer days, they become closer. But the end of the summer means changes for both Jack and Angie.
Best known as a romance, Seventeenth Summer yields a wealth of details about teen relationships in pre-World War II America. Angie’s parents worry about her getting too serious about Jack, not to mention the family’s reputation for letting Angie see Jack too many times in a week. Margie, Angie’s new friend, criticizes her for not worrying more about Jack and his feelings. The relationship between Jack and Angie slowly develops, even though they kiss on the third date, which seems very fast for Angie. Yet her first kiss in the daylight doesn’t come until after several dates. As Angie notes, “How wonderfully, wonderfully odd to be kissed in the middle of the afternoon.” All these aspects combine to create a leisurely pace to the romance, unlike today’s relationships.
More than a romance, though, Seventeenth Summer is a study of a girl’s life in early 1940s America. Housework plays a big role in Angie’s daily life. There’s no air conditioning to fight the summer heat. Entertainment is listening to the radio or going into town for a movie. There’s little talk about what happens outside of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and everyone is only looking ahead to the end of the summer and no further. It’s a different kind of life than we live now, leaving the reader to wonder what we have gained in the trade-off.
Written as if Angie is writing in her diary, there’s a sense of being taken into confidence. Angie comes across as a
thoughtful, sensible young woman, but also a girl eager to discover romance. Jack is a near-perfect first boyfriend, respectful and devoted to Angie. Interestingly, while Jack reveals that he loves Angie, Angie finds herself unable to say the words back, since “Love is such a big word. And no one had ever said it to me before.”
Seventeenth Summer certainly feels like a book of its time. Yet in exploring the near-universal experience of first love, it manages to retain a sense of freshness. It won’t appeal to every reader, but those dreamy, romantic teens who want a clean romance will find much to enjoy.
Melissa Rabey–currently reading Across the Universe by Beth Revis