Maureen Daly

Seventeenth Summer

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Seventeenth Summer Summary

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Seventeenth Summer (1942) is Irish-born American Maureen Daly’s debut young-adult novel. Set during summertime in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, the story follows seventeen-year-old Angeline “Angie” Morrow. When Angie is asked out on her first date by popular basketball player Jack Duluth, the two begin to fall in love. However, when Angie knows she must leave Wisconsin to attend college in Chicago, Jack decides to move to Oklahoma to help run his uncle’s bakery. Despite their feelings for each other, Angie and Jack realize they are too young to get married and their love goes unrequited. Thematically the novel deals with first love, symbolized through the growth and death of plants as summer turns to fall. Additional themes of propriety, peer pressure, social status, and coming of age are also explored. Daly began writing the novel while in college when she was seventeen.

Narrated in the third person, the story begins in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin in June circa 1940. Angeline “Angie” Morrow is a self-described “plain” seventeen-year-old girl who recently graduated from an all-girls prep high-school. As she begins her summer vacation in June before attending college in Chicago in the fall, Angie meets handsome, eighteen-year-old Jack Duluth, who has recently graduated from the nearby public high-school. Jack is a popular basketball star whose family hails from Oklahoma. Angie lives with her strict mother, Mrs. Morrow, as well as her two older sisters, Margaret and Lorraine, and her younger sister, Kitty. Angie is a traditional good girl who behaves properly and never thinks about boys or schoolyard crushes. However, upon meeting for the first time in June, Angie and Jack immediately fall in love with each other. During the first few weeks of summer, they begin to go out on dates together, and soon, the once invisible Angie starts getting more attention from the popular crowd in school. With love in the air, lush green plants bloom all around Angie and Jack as they grow closer to one another. Jack is eager to express his love for Angie, but she is reluctant to say it back to him. This is because, in the back of her mind, Angie knows she must leave Fond Du Lac for Chicago in the fall to attend university.

After a while, Angie decides to go out on a date with Tony Becker, who is known for courting loose women. As a result, Angie is perceived to be loose by her classmates, and soon Jack becomes so upset that he stops calling Angie. As an act of revenge, Jack dates Jane Rady, which makes Angie a bit jealous. Angie spends many days and nights waiting by the phone for Jack to call. She loves Jack but is unsure that she likes or fits in with his crowd of friends.

Throughout the novel, many high-school boys and girls casually engage in smoking cigarettes and underage drinking. For her part, Angie remains steadfast in her moral propriety, never giving in to peer pressure. Angie details the strict rules imposed by her mother, which include turning underwear inward on the clothesline so that people can’t see it from the street, keeping the windows covered, never going downtown at night with other girls. When Jack visits for dinner one night while his parents are out of town, his ill-mannered behavior makes Angie “start to hate him a little bit.” For example, Jack fails to use the two-handed salad tongs properly and clanks his teeth twice with a spoon while eating ice cream. Angie’s parents disapprove of her relationship with Jack, viewing him and his family as social and intellectual inferiors.

Meanwhile, a secondary plot takes place involving Lorraine’s difficulty readjusting to life while back at home for the summer. While she found less success than her sisters in Wisconsin, Lorraine has become popular with the boys at her university in Chicago. Lorraine has started a romance with a rude older man Martin Keefe, who has recently been transferred to Fond Du Lac for work. Angie doesn’t understand what Lorraine sees in Martin, as he constantly causes trouble with Lorraine and her family. All through the summer, Martin asks Lorraine out on dates at the last minute when he can’t find other girls to go with. Lorraine tries to confide her problems to Angie, but Angie is too young to understand. When Martin stands Lorraine up for a date on his birthday, Lorraine, enraged, peels the initials gilded to a wallet she purchased for him. Martin is never seen again, and Lorraine returns to Chicago early. It is implied that Lorraine and Martin had sexual intercourse.

As fall approaches, Angie’s decreasing love for Jack is symbolized by the frosty, decaying plant-life all around them. Although Jack declares his love for Angie almost daily, she still does not reciprocate the words back to Jack. When August comes, Jack learns that his family is moving back to Oklahoma to help run his uncle’s bakery. As a result, Jack hastily proposes marriage to Angie. This does not appeal to Angie, who decries Jack’s fate as a baker, stating “I hadn’t been able to mention it to him, but I had never liked it, either – his being a baker.” Angie denies Jack’s marriage proposal, following Lorraine to college in Chicago. At the end of the novel, Angie vows to always remember her first love and the summer she spent with Jack Duluth, even if she never sees him again and meets a more suitable mate.

Seventeenth Summer is often regarded as the first example of young-adult fiction, as it was written for teenagers by a teenager. The book drew controversy due to its salacious depiction of teenagers expressing their desires for sexual intercourse, as well as engaging in casual cigarette smoking and underage drinking, topics that were considered highly inappropriate in the 1940s.