Book Review: New to Me–Seventeenth Summer

2010 cover

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?

Seventeenth Summer
Maureen Daly
Published 1942

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

1985 cover

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

4 thoughts on “Book Review: New to Me–Seventeenth Summer”

  1. I first read and loved this back in the 1970’s, and bought a copy this past summer and read it again. I thought it held up really well.

  2. I’m reading this book right now, in 2012, and I am addicted. I love old fashioned love stories, and this one is gold!

  3. I first read this book when I was teenager falling in love for the first time, way back in the early 80’s. Even then the book was dated—it IS set in the early 1940’s, after all—–but many of the feelings Angie had mirrored mine exactly. The whole waiting for the phone to ring (no cell phones in the 80’s), thinking about the boy all the time, worrying about losing him to the pretty girl who had no problem putting out….these are feelings that just don’t change with a first romance, even 70 some years after the book was written. (Girls, you know you’re checking your phone constantly, waiting for him to text.)

    I re-read this book at the beginning of every summer, and here we are at the beginning of June again. It’s fun reading about a much simpler era, but at the same time, I’m glad that girls now don’t have to sit around waiting for the boy to call and don’t have to feel ashamed for doing whatever they want.

  4. Hurray!!!! I am so glad this book is being discussed. I found it when I was 14–waaay back in the late 70’s. I have read it over and over. Each of the four sisters taught me something. I felt most deeply for Lorainne, the college girl who wanted a boy-friend so much that she went “all the way” with Martin. The birthday gift of a “wallet with his initials stamped in gold” is so symbolic. I didn’t get the significance until many years later but it still resonates with me.
    And Angie is a great role model for girls– college bound and with a good head on her shoulders. Not the prettiest or the smartest but she is really herself and thats what initially attracts Jack.
    Every year I hope and hope that this wonderful novel makes it to the big screen–maybe Hallmark channel will make a mini-series out of it.

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