Review 1596: Her Father’s Daughter

When I was a girl, I discovered some old Gene Stratton-Porter books of my mother’s, and I just loved them. Later, in high school, I had a job at the public library, so I resolved to read all of her books. However, one of those books put such a bad taste in my mouth that I stopped reading her.

Skip forward 50 years and I found an old copy of one of her books in good shape in a used bookstore, so I bought it. I finally got around to reading it, only to discover on the very first page that this was the same book that turned me off in the first place. How did it strike me now? You shall see.

Linda Strong is in the halls of high school in Los Angeles when she is accosted by an upperclassman, Donald Whiting, who asks her why she wears such odd shoes. She in turn raises an issue with him that I will address in a bit.

Linda is an independent girl who was brought up by her father exploring the desert environs of Southern California, learning how to identify and use plants and how to live in the wilderness. Her parents died four years ago, and she has been living with her older sister, Eileen, who has been systematically robbing Linda of her inheritance to pay for her own clothes and entertainment. Hence, Linda in high school makes a shabby, eccentric appearance, but her shoes are for comfort.

Eileen has also deprived her best friend, Marian, of her boyfriend, which she did as soon as John became successful. Marian is leaving for San Francisco, where she has a job in an architect’s office and has entered an architectural contest. But the plot takes a turn when John brings over an old friend, writer Peter Morrison, who is looking for a place to settle, and Henry Anderson, an architect.

This book is really almost all subplots. I was going to say that the main plot was the relationship between Linda and Eileen, but that plot goes into abeyance for quite some time. There is a romance of some uncertainty, of course, and a plot about a stolen drawing of Marian’s. But my objection to the novel mostly concerns Linda’s issue with Donald. For this novel contains a ridiculous, racist subplot about Japanese adults being sent to attend California high schools so that they can best the American students academically and make them feel inferior. It is one of the stupidest plots I have ever read, and the book is one of the most racist I have ever read, a blueprint to the thinking of white supremacists. Not only does Linda believe all kinds of paranoid things about the Japanese, but she lets others have it as well—African Americans, Mexicans, and Communists. I usually try not to judge books out of their time, but I’ve read plenty of books from this time period (1921), and this one is just despicable. All these horrible attitudes are expressed by an otherwise appealing heroine, which I think makes it worse. I am again disappointed in this author, who has written several really good books for young adults.

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Day 1239: Michael O’Halloran

Cover for Michael O'HalloranSome of Gene Stratton-Porter’s more well-known novels have been favorites since I was a girl and favorites of my mother before me. I’m speaking particularly of A Girl of the Limberlost, Laddie, A True Blue Story, and to a lesser extent, Freckles. In most of her novels (Laddie is an exception), she features disadvantaged young people who improve their lives through honest hard work, perseverance, and a love of nature. (Laddie wins his girl through honest hard work, perseverance, and a love of nature.) Stratton-Porter has a tendency toward melodrama that I think wasn’t unusual for popular fiction of the time, and most of the time you just go with the flow. So, I was pleased to find Michael O’Halloran, a novel from 1915 that I had never read, in a used bookstore.

Michael, or Mickey, is a young newsboy. He has been living on his own since his mother went away ill. At the beginning of the novel, he takes on another youngster, a crippled girl named Peaches, whose grandmother has just died. Both children fear the state orphanage.

Mickey attracts the attention of Douglas Bruce, a lawyer, when he has a fight with another newsboy who tries to cheat him. Bruce is struck by his insistence that things be “square,” that is, honest. He wants to be Mickey’s “big brother” and help him make his way, but Mickey is too independent. He is also familiar with another man who has a “little brother,” Mr. Minturn. Mickey and a respectable woman witnessed a nanny battering the head of Mr. Minturn’s daughter against concrete and then coaching her two brothers in a lie when the little girl became unresponsive. After she died, Mickey and the woman tried to tell Mrs. Minturn about it, but she called them liars. Then they tried Mr. Minturn, but he did nothing.

It was at that point that the novel lost me. Bruce and his fianceĆ©, Lesley Winton, already had a project to try to reconcile the Minturns to each other. After that story and their daughter’s death, I didn’t want to read about them, and I could see where the plot was leading me. Also, Stratton-Porter can have a tendency toward sappiness, especially when she depicts children. Mickey’s story was already quite saccharine. I was willing to put up with that until the Minturns turned up. With regret, I decided not to finish this novel.

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