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Tag: That Was Then This is Now

That Was Then, This Is Now: Pennington’s Last Term

For this latest installment I chose to reread Pennington’s Last Term by K.M. Peyton, a book which, in my mind and memory, I group with books like Requiem for a Princess — British, with pencil drawings that are not especially attractive.

penningtons last term k.m. peyton coverAs a teen this appealed to me for several reasons. The setting — England, and oh so very British. The talk of “forms” and “comprehensive schools” and “A and O levels” and eating chips on the quay was so foreign, exotic, and confusing to me. Also things like the bus into the village, the bread van, and village halls with ladies doling out tea. But there was another element to this book that made it such a keeper for me. The main character, Penn, is a hulking older teenage boy, broody, often in trouble. Yet he is an extraordinarily gifted pianist, a misunderstood bad boy who has trouble relating to girls, who gets into trouble at school, and who has a lousy home life but has an understanding mentor. The trappings may have been vintage England, the but the heart of this story was all YA problem novel with a dreamy boy! This book was a bridge for me into older teen novels, especially sensitive ones. I read it several times over and can’t wait to revisit Penn…


That Was Then, This is Now guest post: Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Dealing-with-dragons-first-editionMarch is Women’s History Month, and in honor of this I asked Sarah Debraski if she would let me use her “That Was Then, This is Now” series to talk about a book that helped make me a feminist. After all, what’s more appropriate for Women’s History Month than a man taking over something that a woman created? Wait, that’s not right.

Anyway, the book is Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, and it was one of my favorite books as a youngster. I still remembered most of the basic plot: the princess Cimorene is tired of being a princess, so she runs away and deliberately gets herself kidnapped by a dragon, which turns out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to her. She gets into swordfights, foils the plots of sinister wizards, uncovers a conspiracy at the heart of dragon society, and ends up having quite a lot of experiences that just aren’t proper for a princess. It’s a parody of fairy tales and the fantasy genre, but a gentle parody, poking fun at some of the logical flaws in these worlds while still acknowledging the fun you can have in them.

I was delighted to find, on rereading Dealing With Dragons, that it was just as good as I remembered it.


That Was Then, This is Now: And Both Were Young

andbothI 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!


That Was Then, This Is Now: Requiem for a Princess

requiem for a princess ruth m arthur coverThis was a favorite of mine that I read many times over many years. It seemed like such a sophisticated and dramatic book to me, and it was obviously, even then, not a popular book. It had a dull, matte, hard cover, but its title popped out T me from the shelves of the books at the library: Requiem for a Princess by Ruth M. Arthur. Requiem. Such a romantic and grown-up sounding word. I didn’t even know what it meant*, but I’m sure the title is what attracted me initially, and then I continued to reread it for the story.

Here’s what I recall of the story: A girl goes to live in a possibly isolated house along the coast. Some mysterious things happen that make her think of ghosts and she finds an antique necklace buried in an old garden by the house. Holding the necklace gives her a feeling of connectedness to someone who lived there long ago — possibly a Spanish princess. There is a strong time-travel or historical and supernatural element to the story. I found it slightly spooky, but beautiful. The most vivid image that has stayed with me is that she wakes up from a “dream” about a shipwreck (or something in the ocean) and is … wet!

I’m eager to reread this and see if it still stands up as a well put together story. I’m already thinking that it’s along the lines of Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.


That Was Then, This Is Now: Up in Seth’s Room by Norma Fox Mazer

When I first thought about starting this blog series, Up in Seth’s Room (c. 1979)  is the book I primarily had in mind. It’s an interesting book for me to re-read for a couple of reasons. First, I really loved it, read it many times, and can remember many, many details about it. I haven’t read it in a long time and am absolutely convinced I will still love it and that the story will totally hold up for today’s teens. The other reason this is an interesting book for me is that it brings up issues of sexuality in books and reading the right book at the right time.

The gist of the story is that a young teenage girl and an older teenage boy are attracted to each other. He is 19 and she is only 14 or 15. Seth lives by himself (or with his brother? definitely not with parents), which right there is a big deal. When the girl (whose name I don’t even remember! Laura?) spends time with him, they have many opportunities to “go all the way.” Her parents are really upset about this and don’t want her to date him. She feels that she can handle herself, but when she is with him and for the very first time discovering sexual feelings, she realizes that stopping may be difficult.

I read this book one summer when my older cousin had it and lent it to me. I read a lot and happily took it and read it. I was 10 or 11. And, as it turns out, totally not ready to read a book like that. It was the first time I had ever heard or read the phrase “to come” and had no idea what it meant. I asked my cousin and she told me to ask my mom, so I did. That’s probably a pretty safe way to learn about sexual experiences, and happily my mom was very frank and open and did her best to answer my questions. I can also vividly remember a scene in which Seth puts his hands down his girlfriend’s pants. I was pretty shocked by that, and now, at 40, I can still see the scene in my head. I mean, clearly it’s not that shocking (it was not described in any greater detail than the words I just used), but definitely images and phrases from the story made such an impact on me that I’ve never forgotten them.

I wonder, how I would feel about the book had I read it when I understood a little bit more about boys and girls and sex? This book was essentially my first experience with sex beyond the basic facts of reproduction and, as such, was completely eye-opening and personally significant. A very good example of the right book at the right time — not just how well a kid reads! It was not the right time for me! Now, before I delve into my tattered and aged copy, a couple of other notes: the cover is completely groovy and I thought perfectly conveyed the story. Also, her dad is a long distance truck driver, a detail that was so exotic to me that I loved every sentence given over to her dad. And here I go…


That Was Then, This Is Now: Midnight Hour Encores

I’m about to read a book that I read many times in high school, and as an adult librarian often referenced as a great book: Midnight Hour Encores by Bruce Brooks.

Unlike my previous re-reads (P.S. I Love You and There’s a Bat in Bunk Five), this is what I considered one of the more “serious” books that I liked to read. In fact, lacking the phrase “realistic fiction” I usually just described this category as “regular books.” Here’s what I remember: a girl (who calls her father Taxi) asks to meet her mother. Because her father is such a unique individual he buys an authentic VW van and takes her on a road trip to meet her mother in San Francisco–all to help her understand that when her mother walked out on her (as a baby) it was because she was a free-spirited hippie who couldn’t be burdened with conventional motherhood. This is all news to the girl. The girl is an extremely talented cellist and makes her trip to San Francisco coincide with an audition for a prestigious music school. That’s the plot, but here are the feelings I remember: being in awe of her musical talent, thinking that her father was just so amazing, and finding it very inspiring all in all. I liked books about serious and talented teens and I thought this was one of the best books I had read. (Even then, though, I knew that the cover was total rubbish.) Let’s see if I still agree….


That Was Then This Is Now: There’s a Bat in Bunk Five

Here I go again, rereading a favorite book from my teen years and seeing how it holds up. This time I’m going to reread Paula Danziger’s There’s a Bat in Bunk Five. The copyright date on my yellowed paperback (which cost a mere $2.25!) is 1980, so it’s over 30 years old, but I swear I still think of this as something kids read. I kind of doubt that’s true, though.

In case you aren’t familiar with it, it’s the sequel to the classic The Cat Ate My Gymsuit (“gymsuit”–that dates the book right there.). Before I start reading, here’s what I remember: the protagonist, newly pleased with her body which is much less plump than it had been in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, spends a summer being a camp counselor at a sleepaway camp. There she has classic summer camp experiences, including a romance. Surprisingly I don’t remember a lot of details, but the thing that stands out the most to me is that on their days off they could go into town. As a young middle schooler reading this it seemed so mature to me that the teenage girl and her swell boyfriend could saunter around the hippie town (Woodstock?) buying things and being on their own. That seems like a strange thing for me to remember, but overall I remember thinking that being a camp counselor was the coolest thing in the world…

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That Was Then, This Is Now: P.S. I Love You

Welcome to a new regular feature! When I was a teenager and child I loved to reread books. Part of it was that I read a lot and it seemed like new books didn’t come in to the library quickly enough for me, and part of it was that I loved the comfort of a familiar, well-loved story. Now I find myself overwhelmed by the number of new books on my to-read list and rarely re-read anything. But I’m about to! In these blog posts I will reread a book that I loved as a teen. I’ll see if it lives up to the golden memory I’ve created about it, and also see whether or not it is something a teen today would actually enjoy (for a frame of reference, I was a teenager in the latter half of the 1980s). I’ll also be recommending some more contemporary titles that are similar to the book I read.

For this first trip down memory lane, I’ll be reading P.S. I Love You by Barbara Conklin. Published in 1981, it was part of the Sweet Dreams Romance paperback line. I was a huge fan of these paperbacks (my other favorite was How Do You Say Goodbye?, which I loved because the protagonist loved to bake) and read every one I could get my hands on. I considered P.S. I Love You to be a weepy tearjerker of the highest romantic quality, and I thought the girl on the cover looked positively dreamy in her lavender blouse. (For the record, when I mentioned this book to some friends one of them also said she thought the same thing about the cover.)


Playlist from the Pages of That Was Then, This Is Now

S.E. Hinton, was the first recipient in 1988 of the Margaret A. Edwards Award. Her most well-known work is likely her first, The Outsiders, but her sophomore novel That Was Then, This is Now is the one we’re making a playlist for today. All songs have been chosen by my teen partner in crime, John Bartolucci. John is going into 7th grade and his band recently performed at an open mic night at the lcoal theater a few doors down from the library– so listen to the man, he knows his music!  We were going mostly for a retro vibe that would fit with the late 60s feeling of the book (which was published in 1971).

Playlist for That Was Then This Is Now– click on the links to hear exerpts from the songs!

1) Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix—“Reminds me of how Bryon was feeling when he couldn’t think strait and everything was
like a haze”—John

Hey Joe  By Jimi Hendrix “I love having these songs on our list because it’s a musical equivalent of the concept of that-was-then-this-is-now and how much American culture was changing in the 1960s and 70s. Generations that have grown up listening to Jimi Hendrix take for granted that he was a musical genius, but can you imagine what it must have felt like to hear these driving, powerful guitar sounds on the radio for the
first time? The course of rock music had taken a major turn, and I bet a lot of people would argue that Jimi Hendrix was the great marker between what was “then” and what has become “now” –Mia