Saturday, 3 January 2015

Review: Good for Gracie (school story, 1938)

Good for Gracie--Dorothy Vicary, 1938, Blackie & Son

“Good for Gracie” is one of the school stories I feel intensely conflicted about. On the one hand, it has some of the most vivid characters I can remember in any school story. (More on them later.) On the other, it is set around a trope I particularly dislike: a girl doesn’t fit in, in other words shows too much individuality, and “has her corners rubbed off”. Not only do I find that trope uncomfortable at the best of times, “Good for Gracie” takes it to extremes rarely seen in the genre.

First, the good. Talking about tropes that are relevant to my interests, “Good for Gracie” has one of my very favourite pairs of characters, the gallant tomboy with a masculine nickname (in this case, Billie) and her more feminine inseparable friend (deliciously known as Bubbles, and what a fey creature she is.) They are a delight, especially how handsome Billie is in male clothing at a fancy dress party.

Unfortunately, the bad is very bad indeed. (Break to link to blog)The plot centres around, not Billie or Bubbles nor the protagonist (who is so very dull I forget her name, and can’t be bothered fetching my copy it look it up), but the Gracie of the title. Gracie is a big fish in a small pond at her first school, accustomed to hanging around the Seniors and being treated as a pet. Then, when she and the protagonist transfer to a bigger school, she takes her “special” status with her and fails to show proper humility as a new girl. All hell breaks loose, and I’m not kidding.

The book revolves around Gracie being snubbed, humiliated and actually physically bullied into submission, by everyone from the Head Girl to the otherwise charming Billie. Sure, Gracie breaks cardinal rules of school stories, like giving unsolicited advice to the Games Captain and reporting younger members of her class to the form mistress, or refusing to play for the school, but the sheer brutality of the response seems out of all proportion. You don’t usually get descriptions of the new girl’s bloodied wrists and complete mental breakdown. Well, unless this is supposed to be misery porn, which I really don’t think this is.

Still, in this trope, it’s all for for own good, and supposedly we are meant to cheer the sadism on. In the end, Gracie gives in entirely, submits to the girls who have treated her so cruelly, and is allowed to be friends with Billie & Co. “Good for Gracie”!

It’s hard to hate this entirely, given Billie and Bubbles, but even they show a nasty, sadistic edge. Read this one for the shippiness and one of my favourite tomboys, only.

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