Friday, August 12, 2011

Crazy Southern California Girls – 1980

Here are two novels set in Southern California that feature teenage girls on the brink of disaster.

Flames Going Out by Kin Platt. Methuen, 1980.

In a 1977 speech that Platt wrote for a talk at a workshop at Kern Library, he spoke a bit about a new young adult book he was working on and had this to say: “...I will go back to other forms of madness in our society and their effect on young people. I've started one of a brilliant, wonderful young girl going mad, called Flames Going Out --- which I had to put aside, and hope now to get back to soon...It will be downbeat and depressing, and probably nobody will want it, and they will hope I had never written it. Just as before....But hopefully, my own interest and sympathy and understanding will communicate itself to others.”

This is one of Platt's last published books for an older teen audience and like The Doomsday Gang, it only appeared in a hardcover edition and was never reprinted. It think it's one of Platt's best.

The setting is Los Angeles and Platt paints an extremely fierce caricature of this area and time. In this world teenagers are having sex, getting stoned out of their mind, attending disco clubs and listening to punk rock. Tammy Darling, age 16, is a girl lost. She has created a double for herself in order to escape from the nightmare of her everyday life. By watching a match burn, she tries to insure herself that she will not disappear. That she will not become an object. Tammy is aware of psychology, she understands poetry; she is far from naïve. Still, she's hiding from the world and the reader can't blame her.

The story is told through a series of brief scenes in short chapter form. Platt puts together only the essentials and like a true poet his words build to many levels within their simplicity. The book is in the third person, but we hear the inner dialogue of Tammy's struggle through thoughts written in italics.

Tammy sees a psychologist named Dr. Greengold. He doesn't have any easy answers. Greengold has problems of his own. His son Jonathan is a drug addict. Tammy meets Jonathan in the waiting room one day and she forms a relationship with the self-destructive boy. The three characters form a sort of triangle of support. They all are struggling for survival. Tammy is searching for meaning in herself, Greengold is searching for purpose in others and Jonathan is rebelling against his father while clinging on to Tammy.

For more about Platt, please read my essay here.

I've also posted some drawings I made based on Flames Going Out here.

Gimme an H, Gimme an E, Gimme an L, Gimme a P by Frank Bonham. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980.

This one was published the same year as Flames Going Out and was by another veteran writer whose work I have written more about here. The story takes place near San Diego.

Katie Norman is a pretty 16 year-old teenager who also happens to be suicidal. She tries to gain the attention of her lab partner Dana Furlong. Dana collects, sells and breeds birds. In an attempt to communicate with Dana, Katie places a series of false advertisements for rare bird sales in the newspaper. When Dana calls the various numbers that she has left (numbers of homes in which she babysits), Katie answers under the guises of false accents. Dana does not catch on, but grows frustrated that this seller is setting out to ruin his business.

While all this is happening, Dana develops a crush on Katie. At first he doesn't know she is suicidal. Her fantasies of car wrecks and drowning at the beach are private. But then Dana begins to notice Katie's strange activities. And he sees the troubled situation in which Katie lives including her horrible stepmother.

Katie is also attracted to Dana and hopes that he will decipher her cry for help, however oblique and erratic. When Dana finally realizes the signs, he tries to do everything he can to save her life. Not only because he cares about Katie, but because he loves her.

In 1986, Frank Bonham had this to say about research material and his book in the Something About the Author Autobiography series.

“Gimme an H (E.L.P.) was based on the predicament of a suicidal girl. A friend who was a teacher and counselor at a high school, had worked with her during a crisis in her life. To learn more about the subject of suicide, I visited the school several times, met the girl and some teachers who worked their way into the story, did book-research on suicide, and studied backgrounds I would use in the story. The girl's father was patterned after a friend; her mother after a young woman I knew. The boy was a blend of a couple of boys, friends of my son Keith. After that, all I had to do was write the story”.

For more on this subject, please see this previous blog entry about the Hal Sitowitz movie A Last Cry For Help.

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