Wednesday, August 1, 2007

After the Dancing Days

Reading a childhood favorite as an adult is an interesting experience.

Last year, I taught college English classes at a satellite campus located in a junior high school. One evening I found myself scanning the teacher’s collection of books. One caught my eye: The Woodshed Mystery. I have fond memories of reading The Boxcar Children. I remember wanting to live the Aldens’ life. I wanted to fend for myself in a boxcar—and to solve mysteries while I was at it.

I read The Woodshed Mystery, and it was only vaguely what I remembered. As a child, for example, I did not catch the social mores of the 1940s, when Gertrude Chandler Warner started writing the series. I felt uncomfortable with many of the sexist and racist undertones of the book. Why were Violet and Jessie expected to do all of the cooking and cleaning? Because they were female?

I was intrigued by one aspect of The Woodshed Mystery. The book suggests there is some sort of romance between Jessie, who is a teenager, and John Carter, who is a retired FBI agent. Oh my. I read another four books just to see how this obviously inappropriate relationship would advance. Perhaps Warner realized its inappropriateness because none of the other books mention the relationship.

As such, I was a little reluctant when I picked up After the Dancing Days today. I have memories of loving this book, memories of sobbing at the end. Clearly, I was obsessed with romance as a preteen. All I cared about when I read the book was Annie and Andrew’s potential romance. And I obviously missed Margartet Rotkowski’s point.

This book is not a romance. Andrew is a severely wounded WWI veteran; Annie is thirteen. Clearly, I had no issues with a May/December romance as a teeny bopper, but as an adult, I was relieved to discover that the romance was mostly a concoction of my imagination (and Annie’s).

In reality, the book is about acceptance. Rotkowski is not shy about advocating women’s rights, victim’s rights, and tolerance. This message is clear to me now—and I’m afraid for my twelve-year-old self that I completely missed it the first time.

No comments: