When I was looking for the Verney book, I also found The Fair Adventure, by Elizabeth Janet Gray (shelved under her married name, Vining, never mind how she identified as a writer or what her publisher put on the title page. I blame the patriarchy). This was one I liked when I was, oh, maybe in middle school, I’m not sure. The sixteen-year-old heroine, Page MacNeil, was definitely older than I was, enough older to seem glamorous, but near enough to seem like someone I could aspire to be. I remember that it took me awhile to read this book instead of re-shelving it after a quick glance at its pages, because the title suggested a fantasy-quest sort of book, when in fact it’s a book about What Happened The Summer After A Girl Graduated From High School.

There are a lot of those books. Sometimes they’re about jobs, and sometimes they’re about looking forward to college, and they’re nearly always about boys: outgrowing a high school boyfriend, or meeting a new one who’s going to the same or a nearby college. Whatever. The Summer-After-High-School book is, to me, a recognizable sub-genre.

The Fair Adventure seems far more modern than Friday’s Tunnel, though published in 1940 and set in the late 1930s. Daddy’s Depression salary cut has not yet been restored, and wealthy visitors have strong opinions about the New Deal, Trade Unions, the Race Question, and Socialism, but there is not a word about what might be happening in Europe. Page does have a rather narrow outlook. Well, she’s sixteen, she just graduated from high school, and she lives in a small college town in Virginia. She knows she hasn’t experienced anything much; she’s never even left the state. She hopes to go to a women’s college in the north and study Art History, and learn to be a painter. Daddy teaches Classics at the local co-ed college, where “girls went in for dates and clothes and feminine charm” (120), and because money is tight and she fails to get a scholarship to her northern dream school, Page may have to go there, where there isn’t a single class in Art History.

The plot mainly consists of episodes in which events in her older siblings’ lives overshadow significant firsts in Page’s life (high school graduation, a good role in a play, getting a permanent wave), alongside the problem of where she’ll go to college. Marriage is a significant theme: her next older sister gets married, her oldest brother gets engaged. However, it’s not explicitly one of Page’s ambitions. She’s being “rushed” by a very eligible boy, the college president’s son, back from his freshman year at Princeton. In fact, he has flunked out, and seems willing to go to the local college if Page will be there. Clearly, she could stay home, date this boy, and settle into a comfortable small-town life, if she wanted to.

Such a life can be busy and useful, as her mother illustrates: she’s a member of multiple clubs, including a church group, the PTA, and the garden club. Page’s older sister, Jean, graduates from nursing school on the same day that Page graduates from high school; although Jean marries a young doctor before the summer is out, Page reflects on the way the couple have “fresh responsibilities both to each other and to the community” (244). The oldest sister, Alison, is 28 and has three children, the oldest eight years old. Dr. MacNeil complains that “Every thought she has is impregnated with Fred’s ideas. It comes of marrying too young. Page, you are not to marry till you’re thirty” (108). Nonetheless, Alison is staying with her parents temporarily after three years in Panama with Fred, her engineer-husband, and at the end of the summer the young family go off to Canada. Even if Alison doesn’t work outside the home, it’s pretty clear that she’s contributing a lot to her family’s well-being, and that when her children are older she will, like her mother, put her talents to work in the community.

The large family is close-knit and imaginative. One of the charming set-pieces is the play that they write and perform to celebrate their mother’s birthday, a spoof of their family life in which they work in all the characteristic activities and sayings of the family members, and Alison’s five-year-old plays her great-grandmother to great effect.

“What I need is scope,” Page says early on (42), and she eventually gets it. Or makes it. She’s not really impressed by the eligible boy who wasted his time at Princeton on extra-curriculars instead of studying at least enough to stay in school. She forgets a date with him when she has the opportunity to get paid for a water-color, and this leads her to tell him they’re seeing too much of each other. She clearly identifies as an artist, not as a girlfriend or muse.

I didn’t notice the period elements when I was in middle school, but I enjoyed them now. It’s the US before the second world war, before Eisenhower’s highways, when a mountain guest house provided candles to go to bed by, when the younger members of a family turned out of their rooms and slept on cots on a sleeping porch in order to make room for guests, because putting them up at a hotel just wouldn’t be hospitable.

I’d like to know what SophyLou thinks of this one.

10 thoughts on “YA book review: The Fair Adventure

    1. I can’t believe I missed that! (And I had to read through the comments to make sure I did miss it—I wouldn’t have been too surprised to find that I commented and then totally forgot the whole thing. Brain. Sometimes on, sometimes off.) Nice to see you liked it, too, and yes, it did sort of remind me of Dinny Gordon, who I only found as an adult thanks to SophyLou. But I would have loved those to pieces if I’d read them as a kid.

      1. I read Dinny Gordon because of SophyLou too. Good stuff!

        Slice of life JV literature seems so *deep* and *meaningful* these days unless it fits into a sub-category like humor. It seems like most of the slice of life stuff my kids read, other than the humor, is entirely made up of children’s classics.

      2. So true on the deep/meaningful.
        On the turning out of younger family members, what really struck me was the sleeping porch. It was such a Thing, pre-air conditioning, and houses built post a/c never have sleeping porches.

  1. Hey y’all! I missed the bat signal because I had not one but two conference papers to deliver today! I did read Fair Adventure awhile ago after the Grumpies flagged it for me… now I should read it again and post, since I’m freeeeeee from those two presentations!!

    I do remember thinking that it had a 40s feel, because girls’ books in the 40s tend to have more independent, career-minded girls; 50s books are more about social adjustment, which is why I love Dinny: she will only adjust on her own terms. I also liked the artist theme — isn’t this the book where the girl struggles with trying to get people to let her alone so she can work? And I loved the storyline where she grows out of the boy.

    Is this also the book with the unmarried brother who in a contemporary YA book would be gay, but who falls in love with a girl the family thinks is tacky until they give her a chance?

    Must reread!

    1. Yes! Tacky girl turns out to be really appreciative—notices beauty, is very grateful for kindness, sees the best in people. Come to think of it, those are really nice traits. I had the impression Page was never that into the boy—impressed, maybe, but reserving judgment, too. It was convenient to have a boyfriend, but not necessary, and I liked that. She seemed very self-possessed, and I’m sure that appealed to me when I was 12-ish, too. The book must have been written in the ’30s to be published in 1940, so that’s one reason for its social outlook: everyone can afford manners; women may need to have jobs or at least be able to run a household efficiently; people need to pitch in. Marriage is important but romance isn’t everything? Something like that.

      I hope your conference papers went well and that you had a good time at the conference.

      I would enjoy a post from you on Fair Adventure. I’ve also re-read some of Gray’s other books. They have good characters, but the historical ones set in the South are a bit problematic in their treatment of African-American characters. Since Gray was from Philadelphia, I have wondered if she was basing the historical ones on stories heard from her husband’s family, and sort of took over their stereotypes without thinking about them.

  2. (Also, love all the Dinny love! 🙂 I still can’t believe I read all the Beany Malone books as a kid but never found Dinny or Anne Emery’s other books…)

    1. I’m pretty sure none of the libraries I frequented as a child had the Dinny Gordon books. Since I wanted to be an archeologist, they would have been my bible if I had discovered them then.

      1. I asked my mom about Dinny Gordon and she gave me a lecture about how when she was 12 she was reading the classics and had no time for YA fiction about girls who date. Even worthwhile fiction with subversive messages. (Some pushing got her to admit to enjoying mysteries and satirical humor etc.)

        When I asked her about the Fair Adventure, though, she had read it and remembered the plot. Of course, she’s probably also the one who picked it off the library discard pile so I’m guessing she read it as an adult as a screen for one of us. (She probably also thought it was an adventure novel! Since my sister only really read adventure novels.)

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