An Everyday Girl

June 5, 2018

An Everyday Girl, by Amy Ella Blanchard, is one of those books that wants to be two or three completely unrelated books, but it’s fine. I didn’t mind the structural issues half as much as the casual racism (including blackface and the N-word). 

We start off super conventional, with 15-year-old Ellen North going to live with her Aunt Orinda after the deaths of her parents. Aunt Rindy is the relative least able to take care of Ellen financially, but the only one equipped to do it morally. She’s not demonstrative, but they get along fine, and come to love and respect each other. And Ellen, in spite of a temper and a Bohemian upbringing, is a nice and obedient teenager who takes her responsibilities seriously. This part of the book is pretty good all around; not much happens, but what’s there is well done.

Eventually more stuff happens, and An Everyday Girl loses some ground. Ellen goes to New York and hangs out with some people (one wearing blackface). Eventually she goes to Maine and hangs out with other people (and the same guy again, no longer in blackface). She falls in love, having, as far as I’m concerned, grown up too fast.

I liked Ellen, but somehow you get less deep in her character as the book goes on. The things that interested me obviously weren’t the ones that interested Blanchard. I guess my main feeling about An Everyday Girl, now, is that I want to know what happens to Aunt Rindy in Seattle more than I wanted to know anything that happened to Ellen,


  1. I would love to have the book of what happens to Aunt Rindy in Seattle, but I expect it does not exist, as Amy Ella Blanchard’s line seems exclusively focused on youth. I was also more interested in many of the threads that the book started but then abandoned than in what actually ended up happening, but so these books go, sometimes, and it’s fluff – it’s not always going to get into the interesting things.

    I do sort of wish that some good author who is still alive would take on writing all these abandoned Project Gutenberg more-interesting-than-the-main-character stories, though.

    Racism-wise, I get more twitchy when reading judgment-based casual racism (where the narrative or a narratively-perfect character applies universal traits based on nation-of-origin or race-of-origin, for instance, because of *course* according to the author the people from [race] are 100% [attribute] with no exceptions ever), than about the n-word when used as part of “dialect” or about blackface (the n-word when used by a Narratively Perfect character to denounce someone as always going to be worthless/lazy/etc. hits my very irritable side, however). Obviously, Times Have Changed and times changing is a very good thing regarding it no longer being acceptable to use the n-word or dress up in blackface randomly, but an inadequately critical reproduction of the cultural noise of the time is less offensive to me than when books give more explicit, self-reflective support of negative racial stereotypes; on a lower level, by having absolutely all [race] characters coincidentally just naturally be [attribute], or on a more-frustrating-to-me level by having explicit racist views positively promoted in the storyline/dialogue. (the ways in which people’s ideas of what Germans were absolutely inherently like before WWI and during/after WWI are instructive as to the infallibility and immutability of these national/racial stereotypes, ahem)

    That said, I’d have to re-read Project Gutenberg books pretty closely before giving them to kids, or to anyone who was not thoroughly accustomed to the World of Project Gutenberg (even Alcott has some casual racism and misogyny in there, despite being very abolitionist and feminist-for-her-time, sigh).

    And it does sort of worry me that I didn’t even especially notice racism in this book when I first read it! Hm…

    • Obviously there are worse offenses on the racism front, and as a white person I’m not going to set myself up as the judge of anything. That said:

      1. Yes, times were different, but not every author was racist, so it’s not, like, essential.
      2. I’m not going to dismiss a book because of era-typical racism, but that doesn’t mean era-typical racism doesn’t still make me uncomfortable, and I think that’s reasonable and worth noting.

      I used to feel like I could come to some kind of conclusion about this, but instead I find myself mentally hashing out this issues every few books I read, and…I think I’m okay with that? Being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing.

      I often wish I would write sequels and companion books about minor characters for a lot of what I read, but a) I’ve never written a novel and am not likely to, and b) If I ever do this the first thing on my list is a sequel to Three Weeks called Three Weekends. Anyway, it’s kind of a be-the-change-you-wish-to-see thing, unfortunately.

      • Oh, absolutely; not saying what is worse or what is “okay” or “not okay” – just what things seem to make me in particular more twitchy vs. what things I seem to read past when in books of that time period.

        Revisiting it honestly sounds like the healthiest option, although also the least convenient, hmph.

        I sometimes wonder, especially after a long trawl through a particular series archive (where I’ve been immersed in one author’s point of view for quite a lot of books in a row without intermission), whether the Mid-Victorian World Views are having too much subconscious effect on me – things can be contagious. On the other hand, I react very differently to ambiently racist stuff written now vs. ambiently racist stuff written 100-150 years ago, which suggests that on that, at least, there’s still some cranial partitioning going on.

        If you wrote a novel (or short story, etc.), I would enthusiastically read it (although Elinor Glyn is not my favorite). My prose style is probably too convoluted (and heavily parenthetical) to be successful at personally being the change I want to see in the world, unfortunately. But I will happily copyedit anything and/or cheer on the writing of such things, if that’s ever useful?

        • Elinor Glyn is ridiculous, and that’s why Three Weeks needs a fix-it sequel. I can’t deal with Paul Verdayne being miserable for the rest of his life. His Lady taught him how to have feelings, and now he needs someone to teach him how to have a sense of humor. (I’m not really ever going to write this, but I do feel strongly about it.)

          There’s definitely different expectations for old books–I’ll put down a more modern book over something I’d only cringe and pass by in one from the 1910s.

          • I endorse repair sequels! Also, I would love to watch the process of someone being taught how to have a sense of humor. Do you think you could compass a short story (or a sequence of three short stories, or a novella?) to that effect? (basically: I would love to have you start writing the Books We All Want, if you have time/energy for it, and am not especially picky where you start. :-) )

            • I’m really, really not going to write it, I just a) like to say I will someday and b) enjoy thinking about it sometimes. Also a sequel for Billy Peterkin from Tracy Park. Also gayer versions of a bunch of E. Phillips Oppenheim stories. But my only fiction writing experience is the occasional fanfic, and I don’t think I’ve really got a novel in me.

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