A hyperimaginative Catholic schoolgirl channels Holden Caulfield as her suburban Cleveland family’s considerable fortunes decline.
It’s later in the century than it was in The Catcher in the Rye, the setting is the Midwest rather than Manhattan, the heroine lives with her large family in a big comfortable house, and the mood is rather more upbeat, but first-timer Reed owes plenty to America’s most reclusive chronicler of upper-middle-class teen angst. The head of brainy and boyish Boyce (“Zuzu” to her adman father, after the daughter in It’s a Wonderful Life) is not impressed by the luxuries of the awfully nice Shaker Heights mansion donated to the family by a fond grandfather. There are Tensions. Religion, for one. Mum is Catholic, really Catholic. Organized-family-novenas-after-breakfast Catholic. Pray-for-the-conversion-of-the-excellent-resident-housekeeper-Catholic. But Dad (“Egg Man” to Boyce, for his elaborate metropolitan Easter hunts) is not. In fact, the swell house was dropped on them only after the disapproving paternal and Protestant grandmother departed life. Dad is not only not Catholic, he’s not ambitious, not professionally so, at any rate. He would rather be a writer than commuter, and his rather boozy advertising career isn’t building the capital needed to put five children through Good Schools or maintain the family fleet of Buicks. Boyce, whose conscience was rattled by the municipal poverty she saw on one of the annual egg hunts, has been taken on as a soulmate by Mary Parker, the smartest girl in her class, whose bus-driver father puts her outside the social sphere. Mary teaches Boyce the pleasures of obscure cultural references, skipping school, shoplifting, unlimited movies, and riding rapid transit. None of these skills can save Boyce when she exhibits signs of Lust and is shipped off to a boarding school that her father isn’t able to pay for.
Not likely to replace the great midcentury mope, but pleasant enough to be a respectable candidate for book groups.