Sweet Seventeen captures summer romance

Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen is a frivolous, funny, and forgettable tale about awkward 17-year-old’s first romance.

Willy Baxter looks at himself in mirror
A view of his trousers makes Willy break out in perspiration.

Gawky William Sylvanus Baxter, called Willie by his family and “Silly Billy” by his friends, is smitten with the charms of blue-eyed Miss Pratt, who is visiting the Parchers for the summer.


Seventeen by Booth Tarkington

Arthur William Brown, Illus. Grosset & Dunlap, 1915. 1916 bestseller #1. My grade: C.


Willie  and his pals compete for Miss Pratt’s attentions, congregating on the  porch off Mr. Parcher’s study.

Miss Pratt’s blue eyes are about the only thing in her head. She converses in baby talk through the medium of her lap dog, Flopit,.

Miss Pratt’s baby talk and her serenading suitors offend Mr. Parcher’s ears.

Willie’s younger sister, Jane, accidentally overhears Mr. Parcher telling his wife to rid of the girl and her satellites, especially Willie.

Jane promptly brings the story home to her mother.

Seventeen’s turn of the century setting has a certain charm, but it can’t conceal the triviality of the plot or the shallowness of the characters.

One summer is too short for a teen as dense as Willie to learn anything from his experience.

Willie doesn’t grow up a bit in this novel, and readers are the poorer because of it.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Penrod Still Is Good for Laughs

Cover of 1914 edition of Penrod features an ink drawing of Penrod readingBefore the Great War, before iPods and video games, boys invented their own fun.

Penrod Schofield, age 11, is nothing if not inventive.

Silent films give him outlines of stories. Penrod’s imagination transforms them into stunning productions in which he plays the lead.

Booth Tarkington is justly famous for his word portraits of adolescents from a bygone era. His tongue-in-cheek comments and Gordon Grant’s sketches for Penrod are sure to tickle your funny bone.

In his imagination, Penrod is strong, brave, and powerful.

In his home, he’s a trial.

In his neighborhood he’s “the worst boy in town.”

Penrod’s family tries hard to control his behavior, but their idea of appropriate behavior for boys —Sunday School, attending dance classes — doesn’t appeal to Penrod. He’d rather spend his time with “Herman and Verman,” the neighbor kids whose father is in jail.

The worst insult that anyone can give Penrod is to call him “a little gentleman.” Anyone who attempts such vile language is apt to be tarred.

Fortunately, few people have reason to offer that particular insult.

The only person who actually understands Penrod is his ancient Aunt Sarah. She says boys are just like people, only “not quite so awful, because they haven’t learned to cover themselves all over with little pretenses.”

Penrod
By Booth Tarkington
Illustrated by Gordon Grant
Grosset & Dunlap
306 pages
Project Gutenberg ebook #402
1914 bestseller # 7
My Grade: C+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Peder Victorious Suffers Fractures

In Peder Victorious, O. E. Rolvaag looks at the second generation of Norwegian pioneers who broke the Dakota prairies to the plow.

Peder Victorious Holm and his siblings think of themselves as Americans. Their mother, Beret Holm, still regards herself as Norwegian. She wishes her children to speak, read, think in Norwegian; have only Norwegian friends; marry within the Norwegian community.

The outcome is never in doubt: the Norwegians will assimilate.

The Norwegians cannot get along among themselves.  Even Beret displays American independence in speaking out in church in defiance of tradition over the matter of the Lutheran congregation split.

Moreover, Norwegians are deeply divided over the question of whether the Dakotas should be admitted to the Union as one state or two.

Against this background, the adolescent Peder is trying to define his identity.

Rolvaag’s plot is pulled in as many directions as Peder is. Rolvaag will focus on Peder, then on Peder’s mother, zoom out to talk about the community, zoom in on a church deacon. The shifting point of view has an unsettling, centrifugal effect.

Eventually Beret’s late husband appears to her in a dream and tells her how to handle Peder.

Too bad he didn’t appear to Rolvagg. The author needed serious help with this fractured plot.

Peder Victorious
By O. E. Rolvaag
Trans. Nora O. Solum &
Harper & Brothers, 1929
350 pages
1929 bestseller #6
My Grade: C-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni