“The last two weeks of July melted away like brown sugar into nothing but warm, crowded memories.” (Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly)
“The radishes had blossomed with white flowers and gone to seed, the round red radishes grown into long, gnarled roots, coarse and reedy. The leaves were rough and scratchy. Even the onion stems were thick and bulbous, topped with purple flower clusters.” (Seventeenth Summer)
I have always hated hearing books described with the word ‘gem’. It is an understatement to say that the word is overused, and because of that the meaning has been obscured. So, instead of calling Seventeenth Summer a gem, lets experiment with some new phrases: diamond in the rough, for example (or is that too Aladdin?), zork (a word made up by my grandfather that describes the best part of the chicken), or perhaps the cream in the coffee. Whatever you choose to call an unexpectedly delightful and unique thing, this book is it. Written in 1942 by a teenager, Seventeenth Summer launched the now scandalously popular genre of YA literature with this one work. Before Maureen Daly, teenagers transitioned from children’s lit to adult without an intermediary stage to speak of. Now, they live in a world filled with Twilight, Percy Jackson, and the last 3-4 books of Harry Potter.
More so than other books rooted in a specific time period, this book conjures the feel of 1940’s country life directly into the imagination of the reader. The dialogue is full of ‘fellows’, ‘going steady’s’, and ‘Gees’, and the imagery is replete with nature. Daly charmingly describes gardens, fields, and lakes in a way that would seem forced in the hands of a more modern writer. Although difficult to tell whether it has to with the time period or not, reading Daly makes the reader want to be a better person. The main character doesn’t argue with her parents, she patiently does the housework, and she always appears composed and content, even while struggling with undefined emotions. It is a world where peeling potatoes is considered a ‘leisurely activity’, one that gives a person time to think things through. Now, asking a child to peel potatoes would be a good indicator that a war scene is about to ensue. This, combined with the teenage restlessness for an unknown future, makes Seventeenth Summer a book that would remind any adult of the drive to improve one’s self, and to look at the future as a chance to do so.