Saturday, November 27, 2010

Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School

In Grace Harlowe's Junior Year at High School, Grace befriends a sophomore girl, who was the winner of the previous year's freshman prize for highest exam scores. The girl is Mabel Allison, and Grace learns that the girl is an orphan who lives with the mean, miserly Miss Brant. Miss Brant took Mabel home from the orphan asylum two years ago and plans to remove Mabel from school when she turns 16 so that she can work at the silk mill. Grace is horrified, especially after she learns that Miss Brant beats Mabel. Grace vows to do something to help Mabel.

A new girl at school, Eleanor Savell, is strong-willed, and at first takes a liking to Grace and her friends. Later, she labels Grace and her friends "goody-goodies" and begins to cause trouble for everyone. Grace is indignant when Eleanor calls her a goody-goody, but really, she is.

Grace is placed on such a pedestal among her schoolmates that, at times, it is a bit hard to take. I am reminded of how Trixie Belden fans feel about Nancy Drew. They dislike Nancy Drew because she is too perfect. Obviously, they have never read Grace Harlowe. Nancy Drew is far less perfect than Grace Harlowe and her friends.

On pages 123 and 124, Grace and Anne are concerned because Eleanor and her friends are giving the junior class a bad reputation among the teachers. Anne comments to Grace that Eleanor is "helping to destroy that spirit of earnestness that you have tried so hard to cultivate."

Grace replies in part, "The juniors will get the reputation among the teachers this year that the junior class had last, and it seems such a pity. I overheard Miss Chester tell Miss Kane the other day that her junior classes were the most trying of the day, because she had to work harder to maintain discipline than to teach her subject."

Nora then retorts, "That's a nice reputation to carry around, isn't it?" She then continues, "But all we can do is to try harder than ever to make things go smoothly."

Are these girls for real? I will admit that I never, ever did anything wrong in school. I was in some classes that had lots of misbehaving students, but I certainly didn't worry about what the teachers thought of the class as a whole. If I wasn't one of the people misbehaving, then why would I worry about what the teachers thought of the others? Please!

While I do enjoy reading stories about people who do the right thing and want what is best for others, Grace and her friends can be a bit much at times. Even though the moralizing made me want to roll my eyes at times, I enjoyed this story.

The Grace Harlowe books hearken back to a previous time which is extremely different from our world today and is even quite different from the setting of the series books of the 1930s. The stories are engaging but very old-fashioned. The illustrations make the girls look like grown women who are very prim and proper. It is astonishing to see the girls playing basketball in dresses, but that is how life was 100 years ago.


beautifulshell said...

I really enjoy reading some of the secondary source material on google books; it puts the hyper-morality in context for me. Early 20th century history and social conditions aren't news to me, but reading specifically about how publishers and writers used their Grace Harlowes to "instruct" girls is really interesting.

Jennifer said...

Yeah, it is quite obvious that the books are teaching young people how to behave in life. I just read a long passage near the end of another Grace Harlowe book about equating one's path through life as "planting a garden" and watering the garden to maintain it and what happens when one doesn't water the garden.

I find a lot about these books interesting, such as how the girls refer to girls outside of their closest friends as "Miss Harlowe," "Miss Nesbit," etc. Everything is so very proper. Young people are not at all like that nowadays!

beautifulshell said...

Yeah - you can definitely tell that it's before the '20s and the social progress women made post WWI. I'll be interested to see how much that changes in the Overland Riders books.