Spoilers ahead for Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer.
The great thing about reading young adult literature in class is that we get to analyze it in so many different ways.
The class kicked off with talking about Angie as a character.
"So many mistakes, so many missteps, so many missed cues..."
"She's an extra-weird teenage girl."
We came to the conclusion that she's a typically average teenage girl: she thinks things are always her fault or tied into her personality; she gives into gender norms for the time period; she's dramatic. (There's no denying that - she's completely dependent on a guy she met three times for validation that she's, you know, a person.)
We forgave her for being dramatic, though. Considering that all there was for her in life was family, school and dating, it seems forgivable that her life revolved around, well, her social life. Besides, it's a classic gender norm trope: even Jane Austen texts revolved around what men thought around them.
We also decided she was:
- conservative (in actions & clothing)
- awkward ("tortured soul")
- overly analytical
- lost (no mentors)
Most of these depend on the social and familial forces that influenced her as she grew up - all of which add to the theory that Seventeenth Summer is a coming of age novel. (Or "bilsdungroman.")
"In Harry Potter, [the plot point that motivates the characters] is Voldemort killing his parents. In Seventeenth Summer, eh, it's Jack asking Angie out on a date."
A brief side note about class influencing how Angie acts - in relation to Jack and her choice of marriage versus college - we jumped over to the a different look at the text: Seventeenth Summer as a feminist work.
Yes, I whipped out the f-word!
See, the typical romance is girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl wins boy. But Seventeenth Summer doesn't follow that pattern, despite arguably being the first young adult novel for girls. Angie chooses college over depending on the men around her. Can't deny that as a sign of female empowerment.
I mean, really.
- The novel focuses on a young woman's education in a patriarchal world.
- There's a web of relationships that incorporate family, boyfriends and friends - not just boyfriends.
- Angie tests her self-expression in different ways throughout the story.
- Angie follows her dreams of college rather than choose a conventional relationship - particularly notable in a time where few girls went to college.
And there is, of course, her sexual awakening.
"But what," some oblivious readers ask. "She barely kisses Jack!"
Symbolism, my dear friend! I mean, there's the whole firework scene where a "tingling ran up her arm" before the fireworks asploded in the sky... but there's also the feet and tomatoes. It's all blatantly obvious, but hey, here's a summary anyway.
There's also a lot of symbolism with nature and caterpillars and butterflies. My favorite bit of symbolism is at the end, when Jack gives her the class ring - she refuses to put it on her hand, but there's nowhere for her to tuck it, so she just holds it awkwardly. Just like there's no place for the ring, there's no place for Jack.
And that was what we talked about in terms of Seventeenth Summer!
Young adult history moment: J.D. Salinger originally wrote Catcher in the Rye, the next book we'll be reading, for adults.
Question for the comments:
What do you think of Angie as a character?
Did you miss a class?