Thursday, August 4, 2011

Love Is A Missing Person by M.E. Kerr

In defining "teen pulp" as a genre, the works of Marijane Meaker would be on the top of my list of candidates whose literary output falls under this imaginary umbrella. Like some of my other favorites (Kin Platt, Frank Bonham) she is one of those writers for teens with a fascinating and varied writing career. Throughout the 1950's-1960's she wrote under the pseudonyms Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich and M.J. Meaker. Many of these books dealt with female romances; her 1952 novel Spring Fire is considered to be the first lesbian pulp novel. More recently Meaker detailed her relationship with writer Patricia Highsmith in the late 50's (known for her psychological thrillers such as Strangers on A Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) in an autobiography. I am mostly familiar with Meaker's work under the name M.E. Kerr. All the books published as Kerr were young adult novels. Her first YA book, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! (from 1972) is probably her most well known. It was adapted into an afterschool special in 1978. Her second YA novel, If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever (1973) was recently reprinted by Marshall Cavendish in 2011. Many of her other books remain in print. She has had 25 YA books published, the last one being Someone Like Summer (2007). Additionally, she wrote 4 children's books under the name Mary James in the 1990's. Many of her books take place on Long Island and deal with difficult relationships and coming-of-age issues. Her characters are often offbeat and while the stories are realistic, they are also written with a sense of humor.

One of her less well known books is Love Is A Missing Person (1975). Suzy Slade is the narrator in the story and much of the events do not involve her directly. It is her reactions to the people in her family and at work that make her ponder the true nature of love. Kerr is a different type of writer than Zindel or Wersba in this respect. While her protagonists are alienated, they are more often than not observers. In this book, the characters that Suzy interacts with are more interesting than the narrator. Her older teenage sister "Chicago" becomes a radical. After befriending an anarchist, she begins dating a black boy as both a political statement and romantic interest. The book's reflections of racial tensions, feminism and hippy values (the rejection of wealthy parents) clearly set this book in the 1970's. Her other friend is an older librarian, who she describes as being a nervous wreck. This lady, Gwen Spring (perhaps a reference to Spring Fire?), is stuck in the past, waiting to rekindle a love from an old fling. In the meantime she works in the library, standing guard over a collection of erotic art. Suzy's parents are also a bit eccentric, and divorced. Her rich father marries a ditzy 20 year old and her mother is a lush.

The complications of love are never resolved for Suzy and the book offers more questions about romance than it provides answers. I did love the ending though. Because this is such a character driven book, I can't describe too much of the plot here without giving anything away. But if you were ever curious about M.E. Kerr's books, I'd recommend giving this one a try.

For more about M.E. Kerr, visit here website:
www.mekerr.com

*Another blogger (and librarian) Peter D. Sieruta has written a tribute to M.E. Kerr HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Lacking a love life to call my own growing up,(thus granting me plenty of time to scrutinize the relationships of those around me)I can attest to these observations.

    It's so amazing there were people writing down such similar experiences over 30 years ago.

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