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What did teenage girls read in the 1940s? Beany Malone

My dear friend from junior high and high school, Beth Carroll, told me about a wonderful girl’s book 3 years ago, shortly after my parents died.  The book was Beany Malone by Lenora Mattingly Weber.  I had never heard of it, but she said it was great. And if Beth says a book is good, it is!

The cover of Beany Malone, originally published in 1948; republished by Image Cascade Publishing  in 1999.

The cover of Beany Malone, originally published in 1948; republished by Image Cascade Publishing in 1999.

So I ordered it for my (then 14-year old) daughter, Sarah.  But I only got around to reading it this week.  It’s one of those books you stay up until 1 a.m. to finish.  After everyone was sound asleep, I sat deliciously alone in the living room, propped up by pillow and read every blessed word until the end.  And then I wanted more!!!  And guess what?  It’s a series!  Not only is there Beany Malone, there are 13 other books featuring her and her delightful family.

The first book in the series, Meet the Malones, came out in 1943, while Beany Malone, the one I read and second in the series, appeared in 1948. World War II is still reverberating for this motherless family of four teenaged and twenty-something children.  Beany is the youngest at 16, her brother Johnny is a senior in high school, and Mary Fred is a freshman in college–but having woes finishing up high school chemistry and getting rushed by a sorority.  The oldest child, Elizabeth, is the one most directly affected by the war.  She is 22, the mother of 3-year old Martie.  Her husband, Don, has been overseas.  Just shipped back, he is mysteriously not able to return home.  We soon learn why.

Beanie is always trying to help make people’s lives better–but her generous interference sometimes backfires.  She calls Don at a hospital on the West Coast and pleads with him to return; Elizabeth just can’t bear being without him.  Of course, none of them realize why Don is delaying his return.

Beany is the only one in the household when Don returns at dawn.  “Beany stood there stupidly, her sleep-fogged mind trying to adjust.  Don?  Elizabeth’s Don?  This thin, sick-looking man, hanging shakily onto his crutches?  This wasn’t the erect, broad-shouldered Lieutenant McCallin who had walked down the chapel aisle under crossed swords with Elizabeth.  This wasn’t the pictured Lieutenant McCallin whose eyes twinkled out of the picture on Elizabeth’s dresser.  This was a thin, drained-faced, crippled soldier” (151).

Norbett Rhodes, object of Beany's admiration, and a jar of freckle cream she uses--in vain!

Norbett Rhodes, object of Beany’s admiration, and a jar of freckle removing cream she uses–in vain!

Don has to have his leg amputated below the knee.  When Beany and Mary Fred visit Don in the hospital, they are sobered by the handicapped men they see.  Beany thinks, “‘The war isn’t over for these men. For the rest of you, yes — but not for them.  These are the ones who are still paying'” (174).  Then they see a “small-town boy” with “a metal vise affair that held his neck rigid.”  He waves to them and says, “‘Hiya Babes! If we’d known you were coming, we’d’ve baked a cake.'”  The girls laugh and wave back.

Beany reflects, “The wolf call and the ‘Hiya Babes’ had said better than any words the attitude of American soldiers. ‘We can take it and go on from here.  We still like girls and fun. We’re down, but far from out.’  The two girls, without realizing it, were marveling at the same thing over which all the nations of the world had marveled. At the ability of ‘Yank’ soldiers to wisecrack through thick and thin. At that superabundance of humor which was typical of American men and which carried them through not only the thickness of tragedy, but through the thin monotony of hospital days as well” (174-5).

Lenore Mattingly Weber

Lenore Mattingly Weber

Weber wrote this just after the war, when disabled veterans would have been a common sight.  Not everyone of “The Greatest Generation” made it home–and certainly not everyone came home in one piece.  Surely teenagers were thinking about this–and seeing it in their daily lives.  Perhaps a father, husband, older brother, boyfriend, or cousin had been injured in the war and a girl had to live daily with helping a family member with his injury.  Rather than a sunny, unrealistic view of war, Weber paints a picture realistically, though with a characteristically practical philosophy that is ultimately imbued with optimism.

I’m thrilled that Image Cascade Publishing decided to reprint these wonderful books by Lenore Mattingly Weber. Here is more about Lenore from their website where you can purchase this series or other fascinating girls’ series from the past.

Charming sketch from the series:  from upper left clockwise: housekeeper (?), Johnny, Mary Fred, Martie and his mother Elizabeth, Beanie kneeling down

Charming sketch from the series: from upper left clockwise: housekeeper (?), Johnny, Mary Fred, Martie and his mother Elizabeth, Beanie kneeling down

If you want to know what kinds of things girls read decades before now, this is the series for you!

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