Here Today

by Ann Matthews Martin
ISBN: 0439579449

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A Review of: Here Today
by Olga Stein

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 changed a great number of lives. For Eleanor Dingman, it meant the falling apart of her family. Her mother, Doris Day Dingman, beautiful, overambitious and self-absorbed, takes Jackie Kennedy's drastically changed circumstances as a cue. Life is too short, she decides. She can't wait for what she wants to happen; instead she must make' it happen by leaving her life and family in suburban Spectacle behind and heading for New York and its showbiz opportunities. Here Today is about a woman who is dissatisfied with her ordinary life-her small, older home in a cul-de-sac that isn't one of the nicer streets in a mid-sized American town, and her domestic responsibilities to her husband and three children. Obsessed with the idea of fame, she takes acting classes, auditions for town theatre productions, and does everything possible to get ahead', letting her 11-year-old daughter do the cooking for the family. She convinces the owner of the local department store-where she can't afford to shop-to put on a fall display of the latest fashions so that she could model for the occasion. But something inside Doris Day Dingman snaps when she auditions but isn't chosen for the part of Circus Girl, spokeswoman for a chain of restaurants, and when, soon after that, the Harvest Parade, for which she had lobbied just for the chance to be the Harvest Queen, is cancelled because of Kennedy's death.
Here Today isn't Doris's story. It's her daughter's story. We see the consequences of Doris's behaviour-her slightly vulgar style of dressing and her undisguised desire to stand out, which elicits derision from many who witness her antics-through Eleanor's eyes. It is her pain we're shown as she's forced to cope first with the emotionally distant ways of her mother, and then her full absence from her and her sibling's lives. Eleanor and her small world-the kids in her school, her best friend Holly, her sister and brother, and the four other atypical families living on her street, misfits by the standards of 1960s middle-class America-are wonderfully rendered by Ann M. Martin. Martin has cleverly captured the period with her descriptions of clothing, common phrases, and even the food that a lower middle-class family like the Dingmans would have for dinner. She has also captured the darker side of 1960s suburban America: the snobbery of the town's residents, which filters down to their children, and shapes their behavior towards other kids from families of modest means; the mild anti-semitism; the censoriousness towards unwed mothers or towards women like the kindly Miss Woods and Miss Nelson whose house is on Eleanor's street and who "are unrelated but live together." We are shown the cruelty of Eleanor's class mates as they conspire to hurt both Eleanor and Holly physically and emotionally. The cruelty is part and parcel of the town's mores: Eleanor and Holly are considered weird' because Eleanor isn't dressed as well as the other girls and because Holly was born out of wedlock. Most moving of all is Eleanor's struggle to hold on to her mother, despite her inability to relate to Doris's ambitions, and her eventual realization that she can't hold on. "You've been leaving forever," Eleanor tells Doris when she turns up unexpectedly to announce that she is moving to Hollywood ("to give her career one more chance") and to gather up the last of her belongings left in the Dingman's home. Sitting with her father and being comforted by him while Doris is packing upstairs, Eleanor finally understands and accepts that she and her siblings will manage without Doris. I recommend this novel for girls eleven to fourteen years of age, though it can be read and fully enjoyed by older readers as well.

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