Showing posts with label Jean Nielsen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jean Nielsen. Show all posts

Halfpenny Linda by Jean Nielsen (1963)

"You can't run away from yourself," Linda Duncan's father tells her one warm September night in Los Angeles as he puts her on a jet for London. Spoiled, stubborn Linda refuses to admit that it was her own carelessness and laziness that landed her on the "flunk" list at South Palms High the spring before. She's sure that in a different environment people will appreciate her more, and Aunt Iris, her mother's twin sister, has often invited her to spend a year with them in the London suburb of Upper Hinchley. So, with the help of her mother, who had never before let them see how homesick she was for England, Linda overcomes her father's objections to the plan.

Even before she is off the plane the next day, Linda begins to have uneasy suspicions that while London is as different as can be from Los Angeles, she still hasn't solved her problems. Her aunt and uncle and two cousins, Icy, a year older, and Roger, two years younger than herself, are kind and welcoming, but their quiet reserve makes them strange to her. She soon finds out that the Lady Phillipa Grammar School for Girls is just that--there are no boys. Furthermore, the students wear unbecoming uniforms and take their lessons most seriously.

During her first difficult days, her main comforts are Mrs. Maxwell, her aunt's housekeeper, and Kath Hollister, a fellow schoolmate. Like Linda, Kath prefers to look on the lighter side of life, but still she is level-headed. In spite of Kath's good-natured guidance, Linda makes one mistake after another until finally a row with her unsympathetic Maths teacher sends her storming to the American Embassy, determined to borrow money to fly home.

An understanding embassy aide encourages her to stay and be an ambassador for her country, and after that things become somewhat easier for Linda. The old monuments of London cause her to take a real interest in the study of history. At a Christmas reception at the Embassy, she finally meets some boys--Andy and Jack, American students at Cambridge. She meets them again in Scotland where she is enjoying vacation with her newly met grandparents, and in Cornwall where she goes for the spring holidays. The high point comes when the boys extend invitations to Linda, Kath, and Icy, too, for May Week at Cambridge.

There are many more surprises and discoveries in store for Linda before her year in the British Isles in over--among them the realization that hard work results in very satisfying rewards. (from the inside flap)

Green Eyes by Jean Nielsen (1955)

When Jan Morgan achieves the goal her heart is set on, being editor of the high school Argus, she nearly loses it by being "immature." It's true that she's a little younger than her classmates, and somehow has taken longer to grow up, but that isn't Jan's only problem. The other thing that bothers her is her family, in which she feels that her mother and her spoiled younger brother treat her like an unwanted outsider. But in her senior year Jan learns to trade "immature" loneliness and envy for responsibility and happiness, and she learns it mainly through her work on the Argus, which helps her begin to appreciate people: Dotty and Cassie, for instance, who show her that pretty girls aren't always unfriendly and superior; Mr. Larsen, who believes in her abilities; and Mrs. Abbott, who gives her a new philosophy and a hairdo to match.

Among all the friendly, warm-hearted people of Cascadeville, there are two who in very different ways become most important to Jan. Pete, the old town printer, conceals his affection for his new "assistant" beneath an acide wit, but his conviction that Jan will become a charming as well as an intelligent woman means even more to her than what he has to teach about newspapering. And there is Danny Mallory, the new boy in town, who turns out to be as much of a newspaper whiz as Jan herself, and with whom she has first a warm friendship, then a bitter rivalry.

The school year flies by faster than any year has ever gone for Jan, because it is filled to overflowing with fun and trouble. The happy school-bus trip to Seattle is followed by a miserable Christmas; the quarantine of which Jan is the heroine means that Danny is getting out the Argus much too well by himself; and the Valentine's Day excursion to Barren Mountain ends in a near-tragedy. But through it all Jan gradually becomes part of the community and of her family. She learns that printing the news is a responsibility as well as an exciting career, and decides once as for all that green-with-envy eyes can't see the full of life--that she is much better off to keep hers blue. She discovers, too, what depth of character underlies Danny Mallory's casual humor, and as this helps her get over her fear of boys and dates and parties, Jan's renewed friendship with him begins to deepen into something very special for them both. (from the inside flap)

The Golden Dream by Jean Nielsen (1959)

Inside the house Starli's mother was still waiting up. "Oh, Mother," she cried, "Avery brought me home, and then daddy . . ."
"Hush, dear, I heard it all." Mrs. Ryland was very gentle.
"It's the first time a boy has ever liked me. And he said such wonderful things. Then Daddy began to--but maybe it's all just a dream."
"But it isn't, Starli, so you might as well make the best of things. They're going to get better. They have to, because I'm afraid they can't get much worse." (from the back cover)

Green Eyes by Jean Nielsen (1955)

 "I was just thinking about the play," Danny said, his usually candid eyes not meeting hers. "It's going to be out of this world."
"And that's exactly what we'll say in our editorial," Jan agreed.
"I was being personal, not editorial," Danny explained painfully. He went on slowly. "I was thinking of how much I'd like to ask you for a date to go to the play if I weren't afraid you'd snap back that you had to work or you wish I'd drop dead or something."
 On another day, she might have snapped at him and refused his offer because she was embarrassed. Today it seemed perfectly natural to lean over the banister, smile, and say, "I'd love to go to the play with you, Danny." (from the back cover)

Fair Exchange by Jean Nielsen (1957)

"What a wonderful idea: senior classes exchange visits . . . go to far-away places  But nobody dreams that the fair exchange will lead to long-distance romance . . . " (back cover)

Fair Exchange is the story of a group of high school seniors who take an exchange trip from their small prairie town of Cottonwood City, Nebraska to the ocean town of Deepcove, Washington.  Along the way, many lessons are learned, and, unsurprisingly, love blooms--for pretty much everyone involved, no less.

The trip is dreamed up at Mrs. Kingston's storm tea.  The school librarian, Mrs. Kingston is from the West Coast and hates the Nebraska storms, so she hosts 'storm teas' to help her through them with treats, music and companionship.  Typing teacher Mrs. Matthew and three students are at school when the storm breaks, so they gather at Mrs. Kingston's and the idea is born. 

Let's meet the three heroines!  Sunny Sundstrom is blonde, beautiful, self-assured and planning a career in home economics.  Terri Baumgartner is the eldest daughter of a big family with a busy mother; she is overworked, underappreciated and unhappy.  Steena Torland, who lives on a dairy farm with her increasingly old-fashioned widowed father, longs to learn typing well enough to get off the farm, but she has increasingly poor eyesight.  Why, this trip could change their lives!  (Psst . . . it does.)

This is a substantial book (348+ little Scholastic Book pages), and not easy to encapsulate.  So here's a quick rundown.  The trip gets planned and the students start earning money for the trip.  Mrs. Matthew, a widow, takes Steena home and talks her father into getting her glasses and letting her go on the trip.  Terri's brother Eric, who works at the Torland's farm, offers to use his money to send Terri, who can't get a job because of her family chores.  Sunny works in the library.  As the trip is coming together, so does the town.  And so do Steena's father and Mrs. Matthew, who have fallen in love.  Fund raising events are planned through the town, including a winter carnival out on Mr. Torland's pond.  Mrs. Matthew's college-age son Jeff comes to the carnival and promptly falls in love with Sunny.  I mean, promptly.  At the smorgasbord after the carnival, Sunny is admiring a Swedish Christmas candelabra:

"'Oh, I just love those,' she said.  

'We'll have one for our first Christmas,' Jeff agreed promptly.  

'Oh, I didn't expect it to happen this way,' Sunny thought with sudden amazement, 'not in the middle of a bright room with people all around and me holding a plate of smorgasbord.  What a proposal!  Well, maybe he can amplify it later.'

By the way, they just met that day at the carnival.  As for Terri, she's got her own unhappiness.  She has a stormy relationship with her mother, and wishes she could be home, cleaning the house and caring for her family, rather than being a community organizer.  Earlier in the book, Terri is waiting in the library for Sunny:

"Only Terri didn't study.  Instead, she reached for some of the magazines nearby and settled back to read them with a hopeless, longing expression on her face.  For these particular magazines were about homemaking and home decoration, and a home--a neat, clean, well-run home--was Terri's anguished dream."

And now her mother is expecting another child, and all Terri can see is more work for her.  But her brother (as well as Mrs. Kingston and Mrs. Sundstrom) is her strong supporter and helps the family see all that Terri does for them, as well as all that her mother does for the town.

As for Steena, it takes her a while to come to terms with her father's new happiness.  The couple plan to marry the day before the students leave for Washington.  Steena thinks her father is being kind to her only because of Mrs. Matthew, but she finally realizes (at the wedding) that their loneliness had kept them apart all these years and that Mrs. Matthew will always be there to bring them together.  Plus, now she can leave for the city without worrying about her father.

And they're off!  Not before Sunny fights with Jeff and falls and sprains her ankle, forcing everyone to search for her the night before the trip.  At the train station:

"The door swung open violently as what seemed like an army of teen-agers trooped inside carrying small suitcases and all keyed up for a wonderful time. 

'It's those kids from Cottonwood City,' the agent muttered to his assistant.  'Looks like the whole high school.'

'Heaven help that poor Streamliner,' the assistant replied piously."

After a fun train trip, they arrive in Washington.  Terri and Eric stay at with a large family whose house is a model of organization and efficiency.  Sunny's hostess is disappointed in Sunny, with her sprained ankle and bad attitude due to her unresolved argument with Jeff.  And Steena?  Here's Steena, at the Pacific Ocean for the first time:

"'Oh,' she cried exultantly.  For there it was--blue-gray-green swells of water cresting into white foam and spilling out on the wet, sandy beach again and again and again in cosmic precision.  There was the rest of it, too, gigantic swells undulating as far as her eyes could see--as ar as they could have seen if she had had glasses on top of her glasses.  Unimaginable miles away the same ocean was washing ashore in the shadow of a pagoda in China, along the jungles of South America, by some sheep farmer in Australia.  The ocean--the Pacific Ocean . . .

. . .  Then she was running again, half in and half out of the water, eyes shining and heart nearly bursting because somehow, half a world away from the place she had been born and lived all her life, she had found her true home."

I love this, because as a young girl growing up in Minnesota within 30 miles of her entire extended family, the idea that you might belong someplace other than where you were born was an amazing one.  And really, kind of an innovative one for teen fiction of the 1950s. 

Steena also meets Ralph, whose family owns a cranberry bog.  He takes her to Seattle, where she gets a post-graduation job and place to live.  More trip fun ensues, including a trip to Canada.  The trip ends and the seniors head back to Nebraska, with the exception of Sunny, who takes a side trip along the way.  As she explains to her hostess when the Deepcove students come for their part of trip:

"'I'd had a fight with Jeff.  That's why I was such a grade A drip all the time in Deepcove.  So on the way home I decided I had to see Jeff, even if they burned me at the stake for it.  I ditched the train and took a bus to where he lives, straightened things out, collected this ring, and came on home.'"

The Deepcove students get settled in with their host families and explore the area.  Over at Terri and Eric's house, Terri has implemented some of the efficiency methods she learned from her host family.  And since Sunny has dropped out of the competition, Terri has the opportunity to compete for a home ec scholarship.  During this competition, Terri has to use grocery ads to fix menus and plan a grocery shopping trip for a family of five; make a meal consisting of meat loaf, baked potatoes and cherry pie; create clothing out of feed sacks; mend clothing, and finally:

"with the aid of cardboard diagrams and swatches of cloth decorated a house.  This was pure joy.  It was such fun to move funiture around, to choose drapes and paint colors.  This was the creative side of housework, and since Terri had read so many decorating magazines and had dreamed so much of a home of her own, this project was easy and pleasant for her."

This is another of my favorite parts.  I totally fantasized about how I would do in this competition, having spent a strange amount of my childhood obsessed with household hints and decorating.  By the way, home ec sounds like such an outdated concept, but every part of this competition is televised every day on HGTV and the Food Network.  Let's reclaim the label of home ec!  Yeah!

Anyhoo, Terri wins a partial scholarship, which means she'll make it to college after all (and so will her sweetheart, blond farmer boy Mort Jacobs).  The trip wraps up and everyone mulls over the effects of the trip.  Here's what the last page of my beloved childhood edition looks like.  Clearly, much loved.  I had to order another copy via Ebay to see what the last line was (spoken by Mrs. Kingston's husband):

"I think Ben put his finger right on what we wanted to know--that this was a worthwhile experience for you young people.  Yes sir, I'd say we had a fair exchange."

Aw!  It was really hard to write about this book.  There's so much in it.  Three very different heroines, complex relationships between friends and family members, feelings about what home is, love and work.  I love that it has such a strong sense of place--there are beautiful descriptions of both the prairies in Nebraska as well as the ocean and forests that they visit in Deepcove.  I love that Terri starts off as a pain in the butt, and a complete martyr, but that all is not lost.  She comes to terms with her family, has a brighter future and gets a cute blond boyfriend.  Sunny, the popular beauty, spends a good deal of the book moping about and contemplating whether to leave her perfect life for the unknown with Jeff.  Steena's contemplations about her father's new romance and her finding of home away from home would be complex even in adult fiction, but still beautifully written and completely sympathetic.  It's a lovely book.  (I know, I say that about all of these books.  But they are!)