Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review: Debutante Hill by Lois Duncan (1957)

Debutante Hill was the first book to be reissued by Lizzie Skurnick Books. Though Lois Duncan is best known to people of my generation and younger as a writer of teen thrillers, this book does not fall into that genre. Published in 1957, it is the story of high school senior Lynn Chambers who is at the center of the popular crowd of kids who live on the Hill. When it is announced that the mother of one of the less-popular girls has decided to organize a debutante program in order to help her daughter improve her social life, it is just assumed that Lynn will participate along with her friends. To her great surprise, though, her father, Dr. Chambers, does not approve of his daughter making her debut. Suddenly, Lynn finds herself left out of everything. While at first it seems like a major disappointment, over time, Lynn's exclusion from the debutante events leads her to make a series of important discoveries about herself, her boyfriend, her friends, and some of her classmates who don't live on the Hill.

I really love this book. I like its old-fashioned sensibility, which reminds me of Beverly Cleary's First Love books and the later books in the Betsy-Tacy series. I like that it takes a superficial experience - girls wearing gowns and attending parties in order to mark their entry in society - and turns it into a commentary on class distinctions, stereotypes, and popularity. The main character is not perfect, but she is open to change and willing to compromise, which makes her a worthy and believable role model. Even the romance storylines are handled with a heavy dose of realism - Lynn briefly dates a "bad boy" but the story resists the "good girl reforms bad boy" trope, and ultimately, Lynn is able to resolve her issues with her boyfriend in a calm and rational way, without the hysterics or drama so common in more contemporary YA novels.

High school students would probably find the writing and plot of this book too simplistic, but for grades 6 to 8, it might be just right. It's also a must-read for adults who grew up reading books by Lois Duncan - there's nothing more interesting than looking back on the early works of a favorite author. As a bonus, also read Publisher's Weekly's Q & A with Lois Duncan.

1 comment:

  1. Took me a bit, but I figured out how to justify buying this for my library! To go with the Outsiders unit. Yes!!! Thanks for the heads up.