September 1, 2016

Miss America by Janet Lambert (1951)

A year in another country can be a very, very long time, and Tippy Parrish is not at all sure she is going to like the changes time has wrought on this side of the Atlantic. For one thing, pretty clothes cost much more than they did a year ago. And people have changed too: Bobby, unpredictable brother Bobby, wants to leave West Point to go into advertising; and Alice Jordon, Tippy's beloved "Alcie," seems just a shade distant, with a secret she doesn't care to share.

But most painful of all to Tippy is that her dear Peter Jordon keeps getting lost behind a smoke screen of memories raised by handsome Lieutenant Ken Prescott whom she left behind in Germany.

Tippy is frankly bewildered. Then out of a clear sky, war in Korea looms, and the entire Parrish clan is forced into making some pretty important decisions. How does Tippy handle the situation? In her very special "Tippy" way--and what could be more fascinating! (from the inside flap)

We open with the return of the Parrishes to New York, with the whole family greeting them with great excitement and love. Penny reflects on Tippy:
"She was such a lovely combination of all the Parrishes. Dark eyes and brown hair had blended with blue and blond, and had turned to gold for Tippy. She was all cream and gold, but for her curving red mouth that had winking dimples at its corners."
Tippy is excited to see Alice and Peter waiting for her as well. [Sidebar: Through these novels, people keep calling Alice "Alcie" and when I was a young person, I always thought it was a massive typo.] Tippy decides to go home with Alice and Peter instead of her family and thinks about Peter, "the boy who had topped her list on Governors Island."
"Clean-cut, with fine gray eyes. Not handsome--when matched against a certain young lieutenant she had known in Germany--but with a firm trustworthy mouth, and the same sweet smile she had remembered. His light hair was a little longer and crisper than its one-time boyish crew cut, and it softened the stark plane of his cheek and made him seem--seem ... Tippy giggled inwardly at her quick, pleasurably summation of him ...darned attractive."
Through these novels, Peter goes back and forth in Tippy's estimation between handsome and not quite handsome. Depends on the day, I guess. Alice and Peter bring her back to General Jordon's house on Governors Island. Peter, fully aware of his competition in Ken Prescott, kisses her hello and prepares her for the fact that he, too, has been dating. Alice fills Tippy in on Maxsie, and Tippy fills in Alice on Ken. But Alice evades questions about other boys she might have seen while Tippy was gone (for example, Jonathan Drayton), while Tippy suffers pangs of jealousy about Peter.

After Tippy has a rough night of homesickness, she and Alcie get up and go shopping for beautiful dresses. They meet Gwenn at the Waldorf, where Maxsie is lunching with Gwenn. At the lunch: "Tippy wondered where she came in. She was neither ultra-smart nor happily unconcerned."

Tippy returns to Penny's apartment, where Penny gives her some new evening dresses and a new fur coat. Tippy remarks at Penny's kindness and Penny shares a few wise words:
"'Don't ever willingly hurt people, Tippy. If they hurt you, try to see what makes them do it. Turn your thoughts into their thoughts and try to see what circumstances make them behave as they do. Josh has shown me how to do that.'"
Mrs. and Colonel Parrish are in Washington, as Colonel Parrish recovers from his recently re-injured war wound. Penny and Carrol and their families have a plan to buy the Parrishes a house near both of their stately estates. Tippy convinces Carrol and David to come up to the Point for a hop, and Tippy has a wonderful time with Peter.

Penny and Tippy head out to the new Parrish house, which Tippy is ready to decorate for her parents, and receives her first letter from Ken Prescott, addressed to "Cherub darling." Tippy almost collapses for joy, and then sadness as she misses him.

Good news soon comes, as Switzy, Tippy's beloved dog who was a present from Ken, is soon to arrive in America. She goes to visit Peter, and he hopes to take her down the path to the Kissing Rock. She evades in a very honest way, and they have a talk about their possible love. Peter ends with "'You're the tops, Tippy, the cream. You're the girl I want.'"

Tippy's busy preparing the house for her parents, which is supposed to be a grand surprise. But when her mother calls and sounds exhausted, Tippy shares the good news. Her parents returned and are pleased with the house, which is a suitable place for Colonel Parrish's retirement. All is well until the family learns that Bobby is doing very poorly in his work at West Point. This book's significant heart-to-heart (every Lambert book has one that is particularly important) is between Tippy and Bobby, as they talk very seriously about his career in the army, and how he's not sure it's for him. Tippy enlists Peter to talk sense into Bobby.

Winter plods on and there is talk of war, especially from the television set the Parrishes have purchased for their country home. Tippy briefly considers the idea of becoming a WAC--after all, if Bobby leaves the army, someone has to take over. Bobby graduates and becomes a first-classman, and it's June Week. Tippy meets Jonathan Drayton at Alice's party, and finally finds out how close he and Alice have become.

The threats of war have become real and North Korea invades South Korea. Tippy and her mother discuss the upcoming war. David has asked to be recalled, and Carrol is ready to follow him anywhere. Colonel Parrish is looking lonely to Mrs. Parrish in his civilian clothes. Penny and her mother have an interesting discussion about war, as they discuss the atom bomb and the destruction they saw in Germany.
"'Oh, Mums,' she said, with tears in her eyes, 'how are they going to stop it?'
'I think women will,' her mother answered quietly. 'I think that, someday, women, who bring life into the world and so value it more than men, will see that the peace is kept, and their children grow up to normal lives. The Russian women love their children, Penny; the North Koreans, the Germans, American, British, French. Women are all alike the world over. We must have more of them in politics. That's the way to stop war.'"
Yes, Mrs. Parrish! Represent! Tippy and Peter have another thoughtful talk, and then she and her father do the same. He gives her a letter from Ken where he lets her know that he is off to war, but would love to see Tippy, if her father thinks it's wise. Despite her plans with Peter, she is excited to see Ken before he goes off to Korea. The family plans to go and see Ken in Washington to give Tippy and Ken more time together.

Tippy novels are not quite as delightful as Penny novels. She's not quite as engaging a character, and she has a heck of hard time. Always the baby, the afterthought, teased by Bobby, and dragged halfway across the world by her parents. Plus, all of the romantic drama between her two army beaus. This feels like a transitional novel. There's such a sense of dread, as war is approaching, and Ken is heading off to the thick of it. There's also the growing pain of having your dear friend be more ready for love and commitment than you are--I think of Anne, and her relationship with Diana, in the same way. It's a novel of adjustment, as she returns from a war-torn country to one on the brink of war. It all feels very expectant.

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