JUVENILE books for twelve-to-sixteen-year-olds are a bookseller’s myth. The twelve-year-old has already outgrown juveniles; the sixteen-year-old reads what adults read — often with more alertness. There is, however, a middle group of books, neither juvenile nor adult, which serves as a bridge between simple stories for children and complex novels and biographies. From this group the following titles are selected purely and simply for their appeal and interest. John Tunis has long had a monopoly on sport stories because of his taut, vigorous style, his sure knowledge of games and lingo, and his understanding of players. Add to that a definite belief about the place of democracy in sport. His All-American (Harcourt, Brace, $2.00) is not only a fast-paced football story but also an account of how a young athlete and his fellow high school students reacted when a neighboring school refused to play their team unless the star end, a Negro, was left behind. No punches are pulled in the handling of race prejudice and commercialism in sport; here are some specific problems of democracy in terms young people can understand.
Mr. Tunis has done much to kill the curse of namby-pamby, milk-and-water writing for boys. Howard Pease has helped, too, in his books with their background of sea, tight mysteries, and fleshand-blood boys for heroes. His latest volume, Night Boat (Doubleday, Doran, $2.00), takes Tod Moran and Captain Jarvis through a rousing series of adventures all over the world and may prove that short stories sometimes sell.
There is nothing namby-pamby, either, about Hubert Skidmore’sHill Lawyer (Doubleday, Doran, $2.00). A young lawyer, sent into the mountain country to settle coal claims, arrived in time for an attempted holdup, was on hand when a mysterious murder was committed, barely escaped being killed by an infuriated mob, but lived to solve the mysteries of both holdup and murder. These are elements of the typical thriller, of course, but the understanding of mountain people and the characterization of the young lawyer as intelligent and courageous lift the book well above the melodrama of Superman.
The toughness of the hard-bitten crews who handle dynamite and giant drills in pushing roads through the Western mountains get their due in Jackhammer (Knopf, $2.00), by Agues Danforth Howes. Young Ed Minot learned construction the hard way as he battled the uncertainties of terrain and weather and traded blows with the camp bully. Here again authenticity of detail and vitality of characterization give substance.
Boys in their early teens have outgrown little-boy and fairy-tale characters. These four books give t hem heroes not too much older than they, who are just proving themselves part of the adult world. Small wonder, then, that the twelve-, thirteen-, and fourteen-year-olds like to read of the eighteen-, nineteen-, and twenty-year-olds.
Girls thrive on a special literary fare known to us — and them — as “girls’ stories.”They are less profound in plot and characterization than the novel, but have heroines with problems that girls recognize as their own. Occasionally a book appears which meets all the criteria for a good girls’ story and a good novel. Such a book is Maureen Daly’sSeventeenth Slimmer (Dodd, Mead, $2.50), which many twelve-, thirteen-, and fourteen-year-olds will cherish as the first novel they ever read. It hardly needs an introduction. It is the story of a girl’s first love told with charm, delicacy, and a sensitive appreciation of youthful emotions. For the girls its appeal is the complete sincerity and seriousness of treatment — in contrast to Tarkington’s Seventeen and the Lorimers’ Stag Line, books in which adults laugh at youthful heartaches. Of Seventeenth Summer one girl said, “ It’s so real. The author must have felt it all herself.” Beneath that statement was the tribute, unvoiced but certain, " This must be true because I have felt it all myself.”
Two other books for girls which have something of this sincerity and simplicity are Dixie Decides (Random House, $2.00), by May Justus, and Big Doc’s Girl (Lippincott, $2.00), by Mary Medearis. Both are more adult than the usual girls’ story and both deserve credit for their clearheaded heroines. Dixie settles a feud and makes sure of her education with the same determination that she manages her family — ailing mother, sharp-tongued Gran, liquor-loving father, and gangling brother. There are realism and the flavor of mountain speech. Big Doc’s girl, with a dream of life outside the little community her father served for so many years, must finally choose between home and the world beyond. The warmth of family relationships is especially good.
Boys and girls in the early teens do not rush for biographies as such; when they read them, they read them for action and adventure. They will read Covelle Newcomb’sVagabond in Velvet (Longmans, Green, $2.50) because it is the crisp, dramatic tale of the Spaniard Cervantes wrho, to be sure, wrote Don Quixote but also fought in the Battle of Lepanto, fell into the hands of pirates, and made daring attempts to escape from them. They may need some introduction to Nina Brown Baker’sJuarez, Hero of Mexico (Vanguard, $2.50), the life of the Indian shepherd boy who became President of Mexico; but once in the thick of his struggles with Santa Anna and Maximilian, I think they will stay.
All these books interest many young people. But a really comprehensive list of what sixteen-year-olds are reading at the moment would include The Raft, The Uninvited, Assignment in Brittany, The SeaGull Cry, They Were Expendable, and many other books of adult caliber.
MARGARET C. SCOGGIN