Adolescence is understood in our culture as inherently disruptive, a frequently troubled and still more frequently troubling transition between two states implicitly (if not necessarily reasonably) perceived as more stable. The articles in this issue, all of which focus on works for an audience either entering into, experiencing, or departing from adolescence, share an emphasis on how authors, fictional characters, texts, and/or readers from a range of periods and nations address the unsettling and the uncertain. Striking notes ranging from hostility to nostalgia, and in several cases seeking a union of traits associated with categories sometimes defined as mutually exclusive, the texts analyzed here offer different responses to disruptions individual, national, and even species-wide.
While Martha Finley’s Elsie Dinsmore series is sometimes dismissed (perhaps particularly by people who have heard about it but have not read it) as so saccharine as to be entirely divorced from reality, Allison Giffen frames its opening volumes as both a response and a contribution to the religious discord of the American nineteenth century. In “Suffering Girls: The Work of Anti-Catholicism in Martha Finley’s Novels,” Giffen notes that Finley was writing in an environment in which sectarian tensions had been exacerbated by waves of immigration from Catholic countries and by a body of sensational works purporting to expose the abuses hidden behind convent walls. Giffen argues that understanding Elsie Dinsmore and Holidays at Roselands as anti-Catholic novels, and Elsie herself as a martyr suffering for her faith, reveals Finley as committed to countering what she perceives as a threat to family and nation by working to form a particular kind of Protestant identity.
Identity is again at stake in Amanda K. Allen’s contribution to this issue, “‘Dear Miss Daly’: 1940s Fan Letters to Maureen Daly and the Age-Grading and Gendering of Seventeenth Summer,” but in this case the identities at stake are those of the text and its original readership. Having examined fans’ letters to Daly held by the University of Oregon Libraries, Allen concludes that many of the writers were young men, often soldiers, who saw in Daly’s novel a way to escape constructions of wartime masculinity with which they were uncomfortable. [End Page 1] Perhaps precisely for this reason, the critics of the day preferred to define Seventeenth Summer as a “junior novel” for girls, a categorization that we have inherited and that we generally continue to use. Allen’s investigation illustrates the importance that archival work may have in disrupting critical understandings, as well as the role that young adult novels may play in disrupting dominant visions of social categories such as gender.
The latter question is also taken up in Louise Joy’s article, “‘Face to face’ or ‘side by side’? Eroticized Friendship in Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine Series.” Joy explores how Malcolm Saville, the author of this popular British series published from 1943 to 1978, negotiated the complexities of appealing to a mixed-gender readership. One of his strategies in this regard was to layer adventure and emotion in his plots, which involved him in representing adolescent desire for an imagined reader who had not yet quite reached adolescence him-/herself. The disruption to contemporary ideals of childhood that would have been engendered by depicting satisfied desire could not be tolerated, yet the similar disruption constituted by raising the question of adolescent desire was not merely tolerated but, Joy suggests, central to the series.
Moving from Britain to New Zealand, Kathryn Walls uses “The Generic Ambiguity of Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover” to argue that Mahy’s Carnegie Medal winner, which is generally read as a novel of the supernatural, may simultaneously be understood as a realistic exploration of the teenaged Laura’s repressed resentment of her flawed parents, which she displaces and projects upon the novel’s villain, Carmody Braque. Walls notes, however, that while the narrator’s careful language when describing apparently supernatural events often leaves room for a realist reading, at other times the novel resists this approach. This generic ambiguity both resists and encourages the disruption of the reader’s assumptions about the extent to which Laura herself should be understood as disruptive...