When Grace Livingston Hill died at eighty-two, she had penned more than one hundred Christian romance novels. Chief among them is The Prodigal Girl, a chronicle of two parents’ efforts to transform sinful children into obedient daughters and sons of Christ. The plot of this novel deviates from Hill’s standard fare. Many works contain a rags-to-riches motif (indigent Christian girl meets wealthy Christian man who rescues her from dire circumstances through marriage). Instead The Prodigal Girl features the Thorntons, a middle-class family whose fortunes have improved, but whose standard of living is reduced by the father’s choice. Teenaged Betty, lured by the temptations of fast boys, fast cars, fast dances, and sloe gin, impulsively elopes with the unprincipled, but flashy Dudley Weston on a winter’s night in 1929.
As the novel opens, businessperson Chester Thornton contemplates celebrating a successful venture by rewarding his children with luxuries. Christmas approaches, and he imagines surprising Betty with a sports car now that she is old enough to drive. These thoughts entertain him until when riding the train home, he overhears a ruffian who boasts about his lustful exploits and mentions Betty’s name. Blinders off, Chester arrives home and is further disillusioned. He sees his children for what they are: his son, a drunken gambler; his daughter Jane, an exhibitionist; and his prized Betty, a slut. During dinner his youngest offspring, the twins, share their lesson from school that day: evolution! Chester has seen and heard enough; he forbids his children to leave the house, but the teenagers sneak out with his wife’s knowledge. A convert to modern child psychology and permissive parenting, his wife sticks to her ways until her husband physically collapses later that night and she joins his crusade.
When Chester locates Betty in a car parked outside a bar, he pulls her from the arms of her boyfriend. The father criticizes his daughter’s loose behavior, and she laughs. Reminiscent of the family’s dinnertime discussion (when the children proved more knowledgeable than their parents about evolutionary science and adamant about...
(The entire section is 894 words.)