Sunday, February 22, 2015

Reading Through History: To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Ellen Conford (1982)

Sylvie is fifteen years old, and she knows she has to get out of foster care. Each of three foster fathers with whom she has been placed has sexually abused her, and she knows no one will believe her if she reports their behavior. To make her escape, Sylvie gathers a few possessions, dresses herself to pass for eighteen, and hops a bus. When she is robbed by a fellow passenger, however, she finds herself out of money and at the mercy of a traveling middle-aged Bible salesman named Walter Murchison. Walter agrees to drive her across the country to Hollywood if she doesn't mind a few stops along the way, but when they hit Las Vegas, he announces he wants to marry her. Luckily, before Sylvie makes a poor decision, she meets Vic, who helps her understand the proper way to approach love and sex.

I remember Ellen Conford as the author of short middle-school friendly novels about dating and relationships so I was really unprepared for the constant worries that ran through my adult mind as I read this book! It troubled me how quickly Sylvie trusted complete strangers, especially after the way she has been treated by her abusers, and I just wanted to step in and mother her a little bit. In fact, I think the role of a mother is sorely missing from this book, which is basically populated by men who provide Sylvie with their version of how she should behave. While Vic's view of the world, wherein love has meaning and sex is not necessarily its equal, is a healthy one, I couldn't help but feel like Sylvie only accepted it because she found him attractive. Obviously, there is much here for young girls to critique and understand, but as a mother of a daughter who will someday be fifteen, I felt uncomfortable the entire time I was reading.

That said, this book does a lovely job of portraying the time period (the 1950s) and of handling sexual content with an artful, non-sensationalized approach. This book certainly disabuses readers of their romantic notions regarding running away to Hollywood, and it does end on a hopeful, if not entirely neat, resolution. Because it is historical fiction, it doesn't feel quite as dated as other "old school" titles which had contemporary settings when they were published. Girls in eighth and ninth grade will eat this up, even now, and will have a lot to say about Sylvie, her unthinkable situation, and her questionable choices. 

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