That Was Then, This is Now: And Both Were Young
I was thinking about the books I’ve been reading and discussing for this series and wondering if there was anything they had in common. And there is: they are all books that somehow found their way into my daydreams and imaginings (I was a very daydreamy child and teenager). No book provided quite so much daydream material as Madeleine L’Engle’s And Both Were Young. I adored this book and read it many times over the years, at a variety of ages. This book had it all for me: romance, boarding school, a special kind teacher, and an exotic setting. It wasn’t just boarding school, but in Switzerland! Day trips to Gstaad, skiing trips counting as your gym class, and hot cocoa to warm up.
The main character, Flip, feels a bit out of place with all the other ruddy-cheeked outdoorsy girls and is grateful for a kind young teacher who lets her spend time in her cozy study and is a bit of mentor to her. There is a boy that she meets outside, and she ends up spending time with him and his father at their chalet, too. As a young reader I was equally entranced by her secret outings and the sweet friendship (chaste romance) she had with the young man as I was by the relationship she had with the teacher and how the teacher helped her come out of her shell and learn to make friends. I was charmed by this book for many years, finding something comforting as well as something to new to like each time I read it. I’m looking forward to seeing what I think now!
A note on the edition. I’m reading the Dell paperback I had as a teen, part of the Young Love series. A note from the author in this edition says that when she originally published it, she had to tone down Flip’s romance to suit the times. This edition is quite chaste, so I can’t imagine what the more chaste original was like.
Well, I can honestly say that although I have enjoyed all the books I’ve reread for these posts, this was the best. It lived up to my sentimental memories, and I was charmed all over again by the story. Sure, some things might be a bit dated, especially compared to newer boarding school books, but it really was wonderful. Madeleine L’Engle was a 1998 Margaret A. Edwards Award recipient, so you know she’s a top-notch writer who can connect with young people’s feelings — and that’s definitely apparent here.
Now, about that boarding school. If you’ve ever chatted with me about books, you know that I adore books set in boarding schools (no, I’ve never been to one). While this is not the first book I ever read that had that setting (that would be The Secret Language by Ursula Nordstrom), it’s definitely the stand out for me. As a teenager then, and as an adult now, I really liked reading about the rules they had (no unsuitable pajamas!), the camaraderie between the girls, the excitement at holiday time, and all kinds of other details that seemed so strange to me such as mail call, a bath schedule, a numbered cubby, and a common room. The story was as I remembered it, although I had forgotten what the mystery was with Paul (her secret friend). There are many references to the war (World War II) and how it has affected her classmates, so it is definitely time period-specific. However, Flip’s discomfort at making friends with other girls as well as her sadness over her mother’s death and her father’s new friendship with a woman would certainly ring true to a modern reader.
There are plenty of newer boarding school books to recommend:
- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is one of my favorite newer boarding school books. Although Anna is also at a foreign boarding school and enjoying a romance without parental supervision, this is so strikingly different in terms of the freedoms Anna enjoys compared to Flip. It’s definitely got the appeal of an international setting and a lovely romance as well.
- Bloomability by Sharon Creech is a great choice for middle schoolers and has a lot of similarities to And Both Were Young, including the Swiss setting and having trouble fitting in internationally.
- I’d love to also recommend Finding Hattie by Sally Warner. I think this book has a difficult cover but a worthwhile story inside if you can press it into the hands of readers. The historical setting is key to the story, but it also has some common boarding school themes, such as how a charity case manages to fit in with the rest of the girls.
- The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart was a Printz Award Honor winner in 2009. As a more modern book with older teens, the boarding school hijinx are a bit more daring than Flip and her friends’. Yes, there is sneaking out to meet boys, but there is also drinking and rather elaborate and clever (and funny) pranking. This is a great contemporary choice.
As you can see, I really love this niche genre, so you can imagine my insane excitement when I learned last year that YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks committee was working on a boarding school themed list! There are some really terrific titles on the list, so do check it out. And I really do recommend you read (or re-read) And Both Were Young by Madeleine L’Engle.
– Sarah Debraski, currently reading Enchanted by Alethea Kontis for the Hub Reading Challenge