The Years of Grace edited by Noel Streatfeild

The Years of Grace by Noel Streatfeild

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was alerted to The Years of Grace by a friend (thank you!) who knew I enjoyed books of this nature. And I do, I am very fond of those kind of ‘how to be a girl’ books from, say, the 1940s and 50s that try to grapple with the fact that they are trying to instruct a generation in how to be themselves when absolutely everything about that world is in the process of changing. Not only do they reveal precisely what factors the adults deem important (and by implication, not particularly present in their readership), they also tell us all about the world these children should be inhabiting. And that’s interesting to me, that tension between where people should be and where they are now and the tension of children doing their own thing when they should not.

There’s a lot here to boggle at whether it’s the chapter about how to watch sports successfully with your brother (turn up, look interested, do your homework, don’t die of boredom) or the chapter where Elizabeth Arden tells you about the importance of washing your belly button (I mean, what?). And if I’m honest, there’s a lot here that becomes a bit exhausting. Your sympathies become very much with those poor kids who had to read about the thousand different things that they were doing wrong. There’s so much!

It’s rescued, a little, by Noel Streatfeild’s curation. She introduces each chapter with a little essay, often self-deprecating and witty, and I particularly enjoyed it when she talked about how to be a writer. Basically you can’t learn to be an author, because they’re “born to write, just as a singer is born to sing” and so you don’t get a chapter on that. Reader, I cackled. That’s the sort of detail I come to these books for. They’re fun. (Even when the rest of it is a lot of work…!).

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