Friday, November 18, 2011

Through No Fault of My Own

 Coco Irvine is my new hero. She absolutely shines in the pages of Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). The diary, found and introduced by journalist and author Peg Meier, encompasses one year in a girl’s life. It’s 1926, and Coco is nearly 13. But this is no shadowy figure from the past. Coco comes through as real, living and highly unpredictable person.

She has all the problems that seem (and actually are) immense at 13. Early on, Coco recalls how as a child she learned that her real first name was Clothilde: “I have never forgotten this gruesome experience.” In winter, she must wear long underwear—one of her especially “humiliating problems.” Her plan to improve lunch fails when she and her friend are caught trying to carry away all the school’s forks and spoons. (“We were planning to hide them, not steal them and sell them or anything like that…” she writes, “so we would have to go home for lunch until they could afford to buy new ones.”) And in the summer, she takes her tiny rowboat onto the vast waters of White Bear Lake only to caught up in high winds. Her solution—to jump into the lake and tow her boat to shore—doesn’t quite work out as planned. Through no fault of her own.

Coco’s diary is full of mentions of real places that would interest Minnesotans, and the house she lived in on Summit Avenue is now used as the governor’s mansion. But this book will appeal to any reader who, like Coco, has to wear “humiliating” clothes, simultaneously hates and loves her mother, is mostly fascinated but sometimes horrified by boys, has “fiendish” teachers, occasionally and inadvertently tells off-color jokes, and loves to go the movies but thinks Mary Pickford could use a new hairdo (“I bet she’s 25 and still wears curls…”).
A quick and delightful read. A fascinating glimpse of a real girl from the past.

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