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The New Boy at Hilltop

March 25, 2007

After all those Ruth Fielding books, I was kind of sick of girls, so I set out to find a fun boys’ book. I ended up reading The New Boy at Hilltop, and Other Stories, by Ralph Henry Barbour, except that I didn’t notice the subtitle at first, so I was kind of surprised when I got to what I thought was the second chapter and Kenneth Garwood wasn’t one of the characters. But it really is a boys’ book, so I’m not that disappointed.

Kenneth is the hero of the first story. He arrives at Hilltop, his new school, after Christmas, and is told by the principal that he’ll be rooming with Joseph Brewster, a model student. Ken is sure he’ll dislike Joe, and Joe is kind of upset when he gets back to school and finds that he has a roommate now. So of course they immediately get into a fight, and after that they’re friends.

Ken gets to like Hilltop pretty quickly, but there’s one boy, Grafton Hyde, with whom he doesn’t get along so well. It doesn’t help that they’re competing for the same position on the basketball team. Eventually Ken proves himself the better player, and Graft basically accuses him of smoking and gets him suspended. Then, the night before Ken is going to be sent home, a fire breaks out in their dormitory. No, it’s not because Graft was smoking, although that’s what I thought at first. The boys don’t seem to be all that angry at the boy who did start it, which is funny because the girl who started the dormitory fire in Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures was ostracized.

Anyway, Ken and Graft go back into the burning building together to rescue a teacher, and afterwards Graft admits that Ken wasn’t really smoking and they become friends. And then Ken wins a basketball game. Oh, and Ken and Graft’s fathers are business rivals who used to be friends, and when they hear what happened, they make up and also donate enough money to rebuild the dormitory.

This is fun, light reading. I like Ken. He’s sort of cool and unassuming, which I guess describes a lot of the characters in these stories, of which the first is the longest. The rest can each be summarized in a couple of sentences:

1. Jerry isn’t admitted to the school club because he hasn’t really distinguished himself. His friend Ned suggests that he remedy this by joining the baseball team, but instead he rescues someone from drowning.

2. The boys of Harvard are in very high spirits the day before they know their football team is going to lose to Yale. They haven’t got a band, so they recruit McTurkle, a studious boy with a french horn, to head their nighttime procession to the football field.

Okay, that one deserves a little bit more space, just for this:

“McTurkle was a funny genius. He was forever grinding. When he wasn’t
grinding he was causing strange, painful sounds to emanate from his room.
For a good while we had puzzled over those sounds. Then, finally, one
fateful night, we had descended upon McTurkle in force and learned the
truth. McTurkle performed on the French horn. A French horn is an
instrument which is wound up in a knot like a morning-glory vine, and the
notes have such a hard time getting out that they get all balled up and
confused and are never the same afterwards. I’m not musical, and don’t
pretend to be, but I’ll bet a hat that the man who invented the French horn
was the same chap who invented French verbs.”

Cute, right? This whole book is cute.

3. The boys at Willard’s school don’t respect Curly, their new teacher, until they find that he’s a really excellent baseball player.

4. Patsy is a small boy who hangs out with the Harvard track and field team. At a crucial moment during a meet, he throws himself in front of a shot put gone astray and dies of his injuries, allowing Harvard to go on to win the event. Cheerful, huh?

5. Tom Collins has an idea that he’s going to get a job as a reporter, although he’s not exactly sure what that entails. The city editor at a well-known paper gives him an impossible task, and when Tom completes it by a fluke(and the editor knows it’s a fluke, too, because Tom tells him how it happens), he gives him a job.

6. Pemberton is the youngest and smallest member of the Yale football team, but he’s very fast. He gets a chance to play in the final moments of a game against Princeton, and scores after completely misinterpreting a signal from the quarterback. Nobody minds.

7. Raymond Dale is kind of an asshole until his new tutor knocks some sense into him. And also forces him to inhale a dangerous quantity of secondhand smoke.

8. Roy Milford and his pony Scamp get caught in a really terrible storm. Neither of them drowns, but it’s a near thing.

9. It turns out Satherwaite can’t stay with his friend Phil over Christmas, much to his disappointment. He ends up spending Christmas Eve with some poor and nerdy guys, and a fun time is had by all.

10. Don Satterlee doesn’t really believe that his younger brother is any good at baseball. He’s proved wrong.

11. Everyone thinks Bi Briggs should be a terrific football player, so they keep putting him on teams. But Bi’s not really that interested. He realizes that football is a game. This makes everyone think he’s crazy. Finally, when they have nobody else they can use in a really important game, the coach calls Bi a coward and Bi gets all riled up and wins the game.

Huh. I hadn’t realized there were that many stories. Anyway, the boys all perform their last-minute acts of heroism admirably and predictably, and seriously, it’s really cute. They’re all so clean-cut and honest and modest and brave. Martin Gray, from Who Cares?, was one of these boys before he grew up to be the husband of Joan and the friend of Tootles.

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