Today I’d like to start with a book review. The book of choice is: Black Forest Summer, by Mabel Esther Allan.
It’s a dear old vintage YA novel, which we got years ago at some booksale or other. I’ve just dived into my third read through, and while there is no doubt that it’s a quick and fun read, there are many problems along with it.
It’s quite predictable. Set fifteen or so years after WWII, three orphaned sisters are sent by their elder brother to stay with their uncle and cousins in Germany. The two oldest (sixteen and fourteen, respectively) kick up a bit of a fuss as they wish to stay and further their careers in dance and art. The youngest, however, is happy with the idea of a ‘holiday’ and so in the end, they all listen to their brother (not without the occasional complaint from the oldest, a young lady who despises house work and keeps her hands as soft as possible) and go to stay with their family in Germany.
Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. At first the two oldest English girls are extremely rude and sharp to their family, and horrible to their cousin, whose father is not letting her work at a shop because it’s ‘unladylike’. But in the end everybody makes friends, their great aunt comes back from Australia (I always feel like Australia is only mentioned in books as a place where great aunts turn up from out of nowhere!) and adopts them, and everyone’s happy.
For some reason, when one reads the book, one enjoys it. It’s fun, it’s (mostly) well written, and it’s fast moving enough to keep you interested. Besides, my edition just smells so nice that everytime I got bored, I could just take a sniff and be transported back into the Black Forest, Germany.
Of course there are many things wrong with this work. The first and main thing is that for nearly the whole entirety of the book, the two oldest sisters (and they are the main characters) are the most selfish people you ever laid eyes on. They don’t do anything but complain, particularly the eldest, and as the oldest sibling myself it was quite painful to read about. It’s a bad reflection on me that I only noticed it this reread.
Also, the domestication theme that runs through the book. The sixteen year old Drama Queen firmly believes that ‘domestic duties’ are for those who are not talented enough to hold a ‘real’ job. Of course, not only is this terribly selfish but it’s also unkind to those who are not ‘talented’, as she puts it, in areas other than the Arts.
At the end, while everyone does become friends and makes up (and even forgives the Drama Queen for those insulting caricatures she drew of them the day she arrived) there is not much character development in the way of Learning That Domestic Duties Are Not Demeaning. Oh, and that If One Doesn’t Achieve Their Dream Of Becoming A World Famous Ballerina One Shouldn’t Cry About It.
It’s easy and it’s fun, but the lessons learned are not exactly that good. In fact, they’re quite rubbish.
Such books are fine in small doses, but more than that could be quite dangerous.