Sunday, July 24, 2011

Through No Fault of My Own

When retired newspaper reporter Peg Meier was digging through the Minnesota archives one day, she came across the diary of 12-year-old Clotilde "Coco" Irvine, which had been published in a limited edition for friends and family many years earlier.  As Peg read through it, she found herself having to stifle her giggles in the quiet historical society library.  Coco's irrepressible character shines through the pages of the diary as she recounts the trials and tribulations of growing up in Minnesota in the 1920s, and her words made me laugh out loud, too.

Peg Meier so loved the diary that she was able to get it republished, and now it is available to a whole new generation of readers.  Meier's introduction is helpful to setting the scene, particularly for younger readers who may be unfamiliar with the historic background, but those who want to skip right to the actual diary will be drawn immediately into her story and will likely be interested enough to go back and read the introduction once they've finished the book, just to find out more about the fascinating girl who received a diary for her birthday and started writing about her day-to-day life.  Coco is a wealthy girl growing up in beautiful home on Summit Avenue that today is the official Minnesota Governor's residence.  But her life is something that young readers today will easily identify with, particularly the crush she has on "Him," a boy who is never mentioned by name but is frequently written about, as Coco tries to figure out what his behavior means:
He danced with everyone but me.  That's a good sign because even tho he didn't dance with me He looked at me three times.
Coco gets into trouble constantly, though she often protests that it is "through no fault of" her own, such as the time she repeats a joke she doesn't quite understand when the family is having dinner, and is baffled when her father becomes angry.  Or she sneaks out of the house with her brother, dressed up in her mother's clothes, to go dancing one night.  Or she time she steals silverware from the school in an attempt to prevent them from serving dreadful meals - without silverware, she reasons, everyone will have to be sent home for lunch.  Coco has a way with words, although she is only twelve, and it is easy to see that she was well on her way to becoming a writer even then.  She is a sweet, precocious, funny child and her words, written so long ago, will resonate with young readers - and older ones, too.  Here is a passage taken at random just to show how charming and funny her words can be:
It was raining today so Dotty and I played paper dolls on our sleeping porch.  This sounds like a childish game but isn't.  Mother thinks it is.  She smiled benignly at us when she looked out to see we were not up to something.  If she only knew!  My Cassandra paper doll is pregnant tho not married.  Dotty got mad when I got her in this predicament because she is my best doll and as Dotty says we don't know how to get her out of this trouble and if we can't think of something I'll just have to tear her up.  I suggested pretending that it had never happened, but Dotty said that isn't fair.  Secretly she is jealous because my Cassandra is much prettier than her Isolde.
At the end of the diary is a section full of fascinating photos and anecdotes about the later life of Coco, including the identity of the man she finally ends up marrying (she writes about him in the diary, so it is fun to find out who it turns out to be).  Coco apparently edited the diary later before she published it for her family and friends, and I do wonder what she might have changed or cut out, but no matter - what remains is truly delightful. 

Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl's Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age by Coco Irvine (University of Minnesota Press, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Extended Shelf Life"The chosen book is so charming I laugh aloud, so charming I read parts aloud to my family at dinner last night."

9 comments:

  1. Virginia Gal - Yes, it's an actual diary!

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  2. This sounds thoroughly delightful. I'm going to have to look for it. You always have such interesting picks, Darla!

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  3. Kiirstin - Thanks! I saw this one in a list of books we'd recently purchased at my library, and once I read the description I knew I'd have to read it. I love diaries and journals, and this one is laugh-out-loud funny. I wish I still had my diaries from when I was that age! I bet they'd be pretty funny, too. :-)

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  4. This sounds really good! Thanks for the review!

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  5. Oh gosh, I think I *do* have mine from that age somewhere. I'm not sure I could read it without dying of angst, though...

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  6. Kailana - It's a quick, delightful read. I think you'd like it.

    Kiirstin - It would probably be pretty painful to read those old diaries, but funny, too. :-)

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  7. Reading people's diaries is always fascinating, especially for nosy people like me. It's been a while since I've read one, maybe I shall pick this one up!

    --Sharry

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  8. Sharry - This one is SO funny, and it's a very quick read. I hope you enjoy it!

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