Midsummer Madness may be listed in the line up of Grosset and Dunlap’s “Thrilling Stories of the Modern Girl,” but this novel’s writer sets it apart. Unless I’ve missed something, this is the first time I’m reviewing a romance novel written by a Newbery Honor author. Sterling North is best known for Rascal, which not only received a Newbery Honor in 1964 but was also adapted into a Disney movie. North additionally wrote Midnight and Jeremiah, which was adapted into the Disney movie titled So Dear to My Heart, as well as many other midcentury children’s books.
This novel was published in 1933, fairly early in North’s career. It takes place mainly in the woods of Wisconsin, familiar territory to Sterling North and a marked difference from the urban settings found in many romance novels. This 218 page light melodrama features a large font with wide margins, so I can at least say this novel didn’t plod on endlessly.
Barbara “Bobbie” Manners meets Jack “Horner” on a train while on vacation traveling to a remote lodge. Bobbie has left Chicago for two weeks of relaxation and to forget Eddie, a former beau gone bad. Jack just so happens to be going to the same place, which may or may not be haunted. Without getting too bogged down in crazy plot elements, it turns out that Eddie’s gang is using the secret passages of the lodge to smuggle large amounts of alcohol. A Chicago based gang using secret passageways to facilitate a large illegal smuggling operation? I’ve read this one before. Anyway, Bobbie falls for Jack and bids farewell to the no good Eddie and in the final plot twist that should surprise no one who has actually been reading the book, Jack “Horner” turns out to be the son of Bobbie’s employer, a famous architect. They reunite in Chicago and live happily ever after.
That’s the gist of the plot. It’s nothing to write home about, but that is exactly what Bobbie does. North includes a convenient plot summary letter home to anyone who is tuning in or who had previously tuned out, and the letter reads with a degree of hilarity. To sum up, “Dear Aunt Pearl, … I went canoeing and had an accident… Some men in a big motor boat stole our gasoline… Jack and three others fellows had a slight misunderstanding. These events, plus seeing a wolf… and a few other incidents are all of importance that have happened to your loving niece… So you see I am perfectly safe, and I don’t want you to worry one bit.” For the record, the “slight misunderstanding” involved Jack very nearly getting shot in the head.
The next highlight in Midsummer Madness was whenever North vaguely attempted to describe Bobbie’s fashion sense. Typical of these romances, the forward movement of the novel would randomly pause to describe an outfit at length. These passages read as comically forced, awkward, and as out of place as an ankle-length dress of aquamarine blue chiffon with matching slippers and a cape of black velvet is in the Wisconsin woods in the middle of the summer.
My next favorite part of Midsummer Madness was when Bobbie attempts to canoe away from the lodge in a storm. It’s a stupid plot setup for an implausible scenario, but the lead up is a priceless rarity in literature. “She was no amateur with the paddle. She did not shift from side to side, nor trail the paddle to guide the boat, nor splash as she lifted it smoothly from the water and slipped it in again. She knelt low in the boat and started each stroke from the shoulder.” Yes. In all of the obnoxious virtues that glorify a protagonist, here is one I finally care about. No matter what poor choices and questionable actions Bobbie executes in this book, at least she is a decent canoeist. Thank you!
While Midsummer Madness is not the most compelling book I have ever read – or even have ever read for this blog – I did discover a “new” idiom. When Jack trails some of the gangsters in a half-baked attempt to infiltrate their lair, he overhears one of the men discuss Bobbie and Eddie’s past. “She gave him the gate.” The meaning is clear, yet I’ve never come across that phrase before. Will anyone reading this blog integrate this phrase into everyday conversation? Probably not, but we can try.