Off and on this year I’ve been reading malt-shop YA that I get via interlibrary loan– Anne Emery’s set of four about the Burnaby girls, and last week, to commemorate Lois Duncan, her first novel Debutante Hill. I love the malt-shops, but their worlds are relentlessly white and after awhile I was longing for books from the same period about black girls.
The closest I came up with was Brenda Wilkinson’s Ludell, published in 1975 but set in 1950s Georgia where Wilkinson grew up. Ludell would be categorized now as middle grade, and its sequel, Ludell and Willie, as YA. I’m still waiting for the third one, Ludell’s New York Time.
The first two have all the back-then vocabulary and detail that I love about old kidlit. This is before school lunch programs, so the teachers sell boiled hot dogs and candy and soda at lunchtime. Blue jeans as girls’ fashion are a brand new thing and the grown-ups disapprove. The jukebox at the after-football dance is called a “piccolo.”
The dialect is stronger than in most books now, and it took me a few pages for my associations with old racist books like the Bobbsey Twins to fade away. I like “nem” for “and them.” And you know how everyone’s always yelling and shouting in Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret? These books are like that too! I mean, I think Ludell is especially loud, like Harriet is. But in both cases, it’s almost everyone, not just the main girl.
Checking dates on Goodreads just now, I see that there are several reviewers of Ludell who say it’s the first book that made them like reading. I heart Ludell. (And Ludell and Willie are a sweet couple.) I will be starting a Wikipedia article about Brenda Wilkinson, in case anyone has favorite articles or links about her.