Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reading Through History: Veronica Ganz by Marilyn Sachs (1968)

Veronica Ganz is a horrible bully, and most of the kids in her school and neighborhood know better than to cross her. Only Peter Wedemeyer, a new kid who keeps teasing Veronica, is wily enough to outsmart her and avoid being beaten up. This makes Veronica terribly angry, and she begins to try setting traps to catch Peter, only to find the tables turned on her when she least expects it.

As I scanned through the reviews of this book on Goodreads, I noticed that a number of readers really wanted this to be a story to help kids deal with bullies, and to teach them how to behave properly. Interestingly, it is precisely because the book does not do this that I found it so enjoyable to read. This is not a story about how kids should behave; it’s a story about how they often do behave, told without politically correct apologies and Very Special Lessons. There are allusions to the fact that Veronica’s home life is not great. Her father is out of the picture, and her mother has been known to hit the kids when they misbehave. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to conclude that Veronica acts as she does at least in part because of her negative feelings toward her family, but this is not spelled out for the reader, nor is the reader lectured about kindness, tolerance, or diversity. It’s just a story, refreshingly unburdened by the contemporary notion that every book is poised to make or break the reader’s entire childhood by its portrayal of unpleasant happenings. There is no implication that Veronica is a role model; rather, she makes an interesting character because of her outrageously bad behavior.

Veronica Ganz was published in the 1960s, and is connected, at least by setting, to Marilyn Sachs’s novels about Laura and Amy. (I own some of these, and will review them eventually.) All of these stories are set in the 1940s, a fact which would not necessarily be apparent to contemporary readers, but which is interesting, especially given that the story focuses on a girl who beats up boys.

By today’s standards, this book might be seen as a terrible thing to recommend to a young girl, but I will certainly allow my daughters to read it when they reach the target age group, as it is well-written, different from many other stories at this level, and a great study in human behavior, both good and bad.

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