June 9, 2010

I’m slowly making my way through The Leavenworth Case again (there are things I like better this time around, but there are also things I hate a lot more) and yesterday afternoon I decided I needed a break, so I went looking on Project Gutenberg for a book with a girl’s name in the title, as that seemed like a good way to find a light, fluffy romance.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, exactly. Rosemary, by Josephine Lawrence, (best known, I think, as a Stratemeyer Syndicate author) definitely has a girl’s name in the title, but it didn’t seem like the kind of book I was looking for. It did, however, seem like a book I wanted to read, and I didn’t want to lose track of it, so I abandoned my fluffy romance plans.

Rosemary is the story of a year in the Willis household, a year which Mrs. Willis spends at a sanatorium, recovering from a dangerous illness. She leaves at home three young daughters – Rosemary is twelve, Sarah nine, and Shirley six – and a grown-up son, Dr. Hugh, who has just returned home after a number of years at school and a couple more traveling.

It’s a rambling sort of book, with no real plot, although the continuity is better than you usually see in something this episodic. Aside from Mrs. Willis’ absence, the uniting theme is the girls’ possession of the “Willis will,” which sometimes shows up as strength of character and sometimes as stubbornness. In Rosemary, it’s mostly strength of character. As well as being the responsible oldest sister, she’s beautiful, brave, and the kind of girls’-book paragon that you can’t really bring yourself to hate: good without ever being sanctimonious about it, or finding it too easy.

Sarah is the one who’s mostly just stubborn. She’s really into animals of all kinds, and likes nursing sick ones. She gets into all kinds of scrapes because of it: letting stray dogs sleep in her bedroom, bringing snakes to school, emptying the neighbor’s can of worms so he can’t go fishing, etc. She’s also a little bit of a coward, and selfish, too, which is interesting: those are qualities you mostly don’t get in girls’ books except in the snobby rival type. So Sarah ends up being the most rounded character in the book, but not a particularly likeable one.

In one section, she and Shirley are playing with their Aunt Trudy’s rings, and lose one. Sarah is scared of what Hugh will say, and makes Rosemary promise not to tell him, while Rosemary gets all worked up and decides that it’s her responsibility to replace the ring. She starts babysitting for money and gets in trouble for it, and Sarah keeps refusing to let her tell anyone what’s going on, essentially letting Rosemary take the fall for her. It’s not very nice.

On the other hand, Sarah does have a sense of justice, which is more than I can say for Rosemary’s sometime friend Nina Edmonds. Nina is far more of a selfish coward than Sarah. One of my favorite bits of the book was the bit when Nina talks Rosemary into buying high heeled shoes. The first time she wears them, Rosemary gets a heel caught in a train track (shades of Elsie Dinsmore) and Nina runs off and leaves her there facing an oncoming train. The incident ends their friendship. Or, wait, there’s a better bit: everyone’s at a picnic. Some of the girls go wading, and Fannie Mears, Rosemary’s jealous rival, cuts her foot. She’s bleeding badly and Rosemary sends someone for one of the boys to hold Fannie still so Rosemary can bandage the cut. Nina’s like, “wait, you can’t do that; the boys will see our bare feet and ankles!”  and Rosemary’s like – no, wait, I’ll give you the full quote:

“I suppose we should let Fannie bleed to death, then?” suggested Rosemary, her great eyes snapping fire. “Fannie won’t hold still herself and not one of you has the nerve to hold her steady and yet you stand there and make a fuss because a boy may see you without your shoes and stockings on. If you’re going to be ashamed of anything, Nina Edmonds, be ashamed of being a coward!”

It’s kind of awesome.

If I haven’t mentioned Shirley, it’s mostly because Lawrence hasn’t quite managed to create a personality for her. She’s a pretty, bratty baby, and nothing else. So that’s one problem I had with the book, and my worries about what Sarah’s going to be like when she grows up are another. But other than that, I really, really liked it. It’s always just the right side of too silly and too sentimental. Rosemary isn’t too perfect, and none of the other characters seem completely irredeemable, sort of like in the Grace Harlowe series. I mean, I felt like, if this were the first book in the series, Fannie Mears would be Rosemary’s close friend by the end of the next one, and Nina Edmonds would take maybe one more book to be assimilated into Rosemary’s group of friends.

Except not, because this is a book about family, not friends. Lawrence spends a lot more time on the girls’ relationships to each other and to Hugh than to their friends, which is nice, I guess, but sometimes the girls seemed weirdly separated from anything going on outside of their house. But that’s just one of those things I think about when I think about a book for too long; I get nitpicky. This is a really good book.

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