Maureen Daly Dwight L. Burton - Essay

Dwight L. Burton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Seventeenth Summer, perhaps captures better than any other novel the spirit of adolescence. Probably one reason for this is that the author was so near adolescence herself when she wrote the book. In fiction with adolescent protagonists and in our thinking about the adolescent generally, we have never freed ourselves from Booth Tarkington's influence, which has projected itself into 1951 as the Corliss Archer—Henry Aldrich tradition, a vision of adolescence which infuriates the adolescent, amuses some adults, and adds nothing to the understanding of either. Seventeenth Summer is a cogent refutation of Tarkington's Seventeen. Basically, Seventeenth Summer is a serious story because adolescents, particularly seventeen-year-olds, are basically serious-minded…. [Angie and Jack's] love is a serious, almost all-consuming kind of love, and this is important because adolescents can be serious about love, as the engagement rings on the fingers of high school girls affirm. The love between Angie and Jack has its erotic aspects, and this, too, is healthy. Many writers have been loath to admit the eroticism in adolescent relations.

In the magnificently conceived ending of the book, Angie, because of her summer love affair, gains a flash of insight into life. We are not left with the tacit promise that Angie and Jack will some day, despite separation, marry and live happily ever after. The fact that the book is written in the first person adds impact through giving the reader the impression that he is peeping into a high school girl's secret diary.

More than just a love story of two adolescents, Seventeenth Summer, with its introspection and fine mastery of the scene, portrays the adolescent validly in several of his important relationships—with his family, with his age mates, and, very important, with himself. In each of these three aspects, Miss Daly is discerning." (pp. 162-63)

Dwight L. Burton, "The Novel for the Adolescent," in English Journal (copyright © 1951 by the National Council of Teachers of English; reprinted by permission of the publisher and the author), Vol. XL, No. 7, September, 1951 (and reprinted in Readings about Adolescent Literature, edited by Dennis Thomison, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1970, pp. 162-71).∗