Movies They Oughtta Make: Take 3
My mom taught school from 1962-2002 (or 3 or 4...) with just a few breaks to have babies and raise them. One of the upsides of having an English teacher be your mom are the books. My dad built bookshelves in the basement that, while well-crafted, couldn't begin to hold them all. There were textbooks, hardbacks and paperbacks galore. But the best things were the Scholastic Young Adult books that were like a time capsule from the late-50s to the mid-60s. The way the Scholastic Book Club worked was similar to the way Tupperware or Pampered Chef works today. If you shilled the service to your captive audience, then you--the teacher--got an allowance to spend on books for your classroom.
Young Adult (YA) fiction has always been highly topical and slightly didactic, from what I can tell. And these books from the 50s and 60s were no different. They were typical teen romances, but they had the added substance of being about something besides The Big Dance and The Cute Boy. One, whose name I can't recall, was about a school that was newly-integrated and how the various students, white and black, reacted to the sudden sea change.
But the very best of them all was The Golden Dream by Jean Neilsen. This book was so phenominal that I must have read it 50 times, and even (after Mom's original copy was lost several years into my marriage) ordered a replacement from an Antiquarian Bookseller. I still think that it would make a terrific movie.
The lead character, Starli Ryland, is a tomboy on an Orange farm in Southern California. Her best friend and next-door neighbour, Manuel, lives on a vineyard and the story opens on the eve of their Senior year of High School. Starli feels out of place because she's tall and strong, not petite like the other girls. She misses a lot of school to help her father in the fields as they struggle to keep their farm afloat in the face of ever-dwindling citrus crops. Most of the other farms in the area have been experiencing the same blight as the Ryland's orchard, and have sold their land to developers for tract housing. Starli's stubborn father refuses to sell, and insists that the cause of his crops' failures are the oil wells run by the Carter family. His goal is to get a loan from the bank for overhead irrigation that will wash the petroleum from the trees and save his farm. Starli, having put her all into the family business for years, wants to see it succeed. But she also wants to enjoy her last year of high school and perhaps even go to college.
The story continues around the flashpoint of Southern California at its shift from farmland to tract housing. There is a Shakespearean love story as Starli falls for the son of the oil magnate and becomes close with a new girl who has moved into the tract housing up the hill. There are beach parties where the California kids introduce the newcomers to this mysterious food called tacos (it's italicised in the book!), there are fires and betrayals and makeovers and shopping trips and spousal abuse and hope and frustration. And it's a story that is very unique to the time, and very illuminating about something I had never considered prior to reading the book. What happens when there is a massive cultural shift right under your feet? How do you come to terms with it?
Maybe I'm crazy, but I think this story needs to be filmed. Since it probably never will be, if you can ever get your hands on a copy of this terrific book, do so. It's a book for teens, so it's not particularly long or taxing. But it is a fantastic story. And once again I can't find my copy, so I'm probably headed back to the Internet to find another one.