Golden Age Gals:
Helen Wells - Cherry Ames Boarding School Nurse
First Published: 1955 Grosset & Dunlap, Inc.
Series: Cherry Ames (obviously)
Summary: Deep within the country resides the Jamestown School for Girls, a boarding school meant to offer a good education to girls of all backgrounds and they are in need of a nurse! The headmistress is an old friend of Cherry’s mother and the school is near her hometown Hilton, Illinois, so Cherry decides to take the job.
On the train there, Cherry unexpectedly meets one of her future charges, a friendly but secretive girl named Lisette. Cherry observes her partiality to a huge book she carries with her (and won’t let Cherry see the title of or its contents) and flowers. Over the course of the school year Cherry navigates both her official and unofficial duties as a boarding school nurse; colds, scrapes and the general psychological well being of the students.
Lisette and her book remain a mystery until Cherry discovers her tiptoeing around the infirmary at midnight! It turns out Lisette is on the scent of a secret. Hidden somewhere in the school is a cupboard. By using the clues in her great-grandfather’s diaries, Lisette is sure she can find her great-grandfather’s cupboard and its contents. Cherry, unable to resist a mystery and the hopeful look in Lisette’s eye, agrees to help.
Review: It has been a long time since I have read any of the golden age young adult mysteries and I forgot how much I enjoyed them! (Seriously I don’t know how I forgot I made my way through all the Nancy Drew’s) I didn’t know this series existed until I was perusing thru Powell’s collectable YA shelves and ran across this series and I am glad I decided to pick one up! I am hooked! What is even better is the fact that most all the titles are still in print!
Still in print after all these years? How is that possible, you ask? Well, a few years back, a fan of Cherry Ames met Helen Wells’ brother and he was getting on in years. His sister Helen had left him the rights to her books and he didn’t know who on earth to leave them to when he joined the great turtle in the sky (my word not his - a bad allusion to Pratchett btw). He mentioned this quandary to her and she raised her hand and said leave them to me!!! So he did and she set about having them reissued again, which is great news - because if the rest of the books are half as fun as this one I am hooked!
What I enjoyed about this book:
- it didn’t rely on a series of coincidences to move the plot forward
- it was a mystery a kid could find and investigate on their own (and romanticize)
- the distrust of adults was based on their ridicule of another adult - adults were not portrayed as being inept or inherently untrustworthy
The writing was warm and inviting, and while I didn’t start with the first in the series I in no way every felt lost or left out of the loop at any point while reading this installment. Plus the series and the singular book shows a rather wide variety of situations where a nurse’s presence is needed and the practicality of their training. I would highly recommend this series to anyone looking for a warm, safe and lively read!
Why did so many people consider that because she was young she might not be capable of handling responsibilities?
Interesting Fact: What do "Bob’s Burgers", Cherry Ames Boarding School Nurse and Valentine’s Day have in common?
No, this is not a punch line to some bizarre joke, I promise!
(the Belcher kid's discovery of ambergris)
Just in case you haven’t watched "Bob’s Burgers" season 4 episode 18 Ambergris (which, to be fair, is likely as it is the lowest viewed episode in its history) and don’t know what the heck ambergris is let me review (as the episode was surprisingly factual!). Ambergris is a waxy-like substance which male sperm whales secret in order to protect their soft inside bits from being damaged by the beaks of the giant squids they enjoy eating. Eventually after the material accumulates into a large enough mass the whale either throws it up to poops it out - several tons at a time. Scientists aren’t sure exactly which end it comes from because no one has ever witnessed its passage - however since it smells more like the back end than the front cetologists (people who study whales, dolphins and porpoises) favor the poop hypothesis. Conversely most non-scientists call ambergris whale vomit, favoring this notion probably because the thought of wearing highly process whale poop doesn’t set the heart aglow. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Unless you are Gene Belcher or King Charles II of England who enjoyed noshing on ambergris, the most common use for the substance is in perfumes and/or colognes. Why? When ambergris is blended with the other perfume ingredients it allows these scents to last much longer than they would otherwise. Plus ambergris adds its own unique signature to the perfume! From what I understand, the scent of ambergris is rather unique and no two lumps are exactly the same. Why? When the ambergris is first expelled from the mammoth marine mammal, it has a rather dubious dung-of-the-sea smell. However as it floats in the ocean (which it can do for decades) the salt in the sea water, sun and wind all leach the liquid out of the ambergris, transforming the lumps from a fishy fecal smell to the coveted sweet, earthy and musky scent it is renowned for. So the older the piece of Ambergris you find the more it is worth (the lumps also get broken up over time due to the same forces which ripen them - so while a beachcomber might find a relatively small piece like the Belcher kids - it can be worth a pretty penny to the right buyer). Thus no two lumps ever smell the same - which allows the perfume which uses the same claim to fame as well.
(what an aged lump of ambergris looks like)
While the perfume that Cherry and Lisette made relied on floral notes to create a new unique scent, it still required a fixative - and even back in the fifties in which this mystery was set - with more whales wandering the ocean - ambergris would still have been too rare and expensive for the two chemists' budget (seriously Cherry was a school nurse and Lisette a school girl). They did use a far cheaper but more consistent smelling synthetic fixative which most perfumers favor. Perhaps not the synthetic version ambergris but the story didn’t specify - so perhaps they did!
While pricing would restrict the potential perfumers for using ambergris back then (and now for that matter) - legal issues would constitute a more significant barrier for them now. The same legal barrier which caused Tina, Gene and Louise try their very first black market deal - with dubious adult supervision. In the US and Australia, it is illegal to own or sell ambergris due to the sperm whale’s place on the endangered species list. However if you live in Europe - the EU has no problem with it, since ambergris is naturally passed from the whale and hunting them in hopes they contained this pearl would only net a poor quality (since it has not been ripened by the sea), significantly less valuable stuff. Well, that's the theory anyway.
(a reputed user of ambergris)
What does this mean for you? Well, if you have a great Valentine or treat yourself to your own Valentines Day present - like a nice bottle of French perfume - there is a chance you could be swiping your neck and wrists a concoction which includes essence de whale waste! (We won’t touch where musk comes from....)
Thus Cherry Ames, "Bob’s Burgers" and Valentines day are all related - no matter how loosely!
My 52 Weeks With Christie:Golden Age Gals:A.Miner©2017