Misfit teen Lola Lundy has every right to her anger and her misery. She’s failing in school, living in a group home, and social workers keep watching her like hawks, waiting for her to show signs of the horrible mental illness that cost Lola’s mother her life. Then, one night, she falls asleep in a storage room in her high school library, where she’s seen an old yearbook—from the days when the place was an upscale academy for young scholars instead of a dump. When Lola wakes, it’s to a scene that is nothing short of impossible.
Lola quickly determines that she’s gone back to the past—eighty years in the past, to be exact. The Fall Frolic dance is going full blast in the gym, and there she makes an instant connection with the brainy and provocative Peter Hemmings, class of ’24. His face is familiar, because she’s seen his senior portrait in the yearbook. By night’s end, Lola thinks she sees hope for her disastrous present: She’ll make a new future for herself in the past. But is it real? Or has the major mental illness in Lola’s family background finally claimed her? Has she slipped through a crack in time, or into a romantic hallucination she created in her own mind, wishing on the ragged pages of a yearbook from a more graceful time long ago?
This book would appeal to any dreamer like me who is nostalgic for a high school life that took place long before they were born. Before Lady Gaga and twerking and cyber-bullying. Before kids landed in hospitals from abusing their friends’ ADHD meds, their parents’ painkillers, and substances purchased from gas stations, better used as incense. Before teens wore $200 sneakers, thongs, and saggy-back jeans. Sigh. It just seems like there is so much ugliness that teens have to deal with today–it is a treat to read a book like this and escape into the past for awhile. (Of course, if you were a teen in the 1920s who was African-American, or gay, or trans, you might not have found your era so charming. Okay, I guess it wasn’t a better world for many people, and Carol speaks to that in her interview.)
The scene where Lola first goes back in time to 1924 is vivid. She walks into the gym in her high school where a dance is in progress. She meets people right away, but is at first mistaken for a boy, which is hilarious.
“You dance funny,” Whoopsie said.
“We have different dances where I come from, ” Lola said. …Whoopsie…plucked at Lola’s sleeve. “I never saw a pullover with words on it before. Nike? Is that your name? Shouldn’t it say ‘Mike’? Is it a misprint, Mike?”
Because I can see the appeal of the past, it was easy for me to believe that Lola would like to escape to a simpler time. However, the author doesn’t describe 1924 in an overly-rosy way. Rather, it is because no one knows Lola in 1924 that Lola realizes she can make a fresh start there. When she finds herself back in present time, she work desperately to get back to 1924. The plot of this novel is so well put together and so swift-moving, it had me flipping pages furiously, and I really did not know how it was going to end. There was a moment while reading when I exclaimed, “Oh my god!” out loud, prompting my son to ask, “What, what?” Also, the descriptions of the two time periods in which Lola lives are so evocative, and the characters are interesting.
Carol Masciola is a first-place winner of the PEN/West Literary Award in Journalism and a former reporter for the Orange County Register in California. She currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland with her family. Coincidentally, we are both alums of the same college (Oberlin) graduating just a couple of years apart, which means might have bumped elbows in a dining co-op there, loading up on tofu and rice.
TTx2: Do you think life was easier for American teenagers in 1923 than now?
Carol: I’m not sure I’m qualified to say, but I think I’ll give it a shot. It seems to me that teenagers’ expectations were so different back then, their worlds were much smaller and their opportunities were fewer. Now we’re exposed to so much information, so many more ideas, instant connections and immense mobility. We learn about life outside of our own communities in a way that was impossible before. I think that gives teens more to aspire to, but also creates anxiety around choosing from among many available paths. I think girls’ lives in particular are much more complicated than they were. Back then, a girl could be a mother, a teacher, a spinster, and possibly a nurse, but so many life paths were closed to them, or at least there were enormous obstacles to achievement. It’s sad to think of all the marvelous talents and ambitions that were frustrated and squashed by sex and race discrimination. Now young women have to navigate the waters of career, sexuality, education. It’s hard, but good.
TTx2: What parts of the plot of the Yearbook were the most difficult to figure out how to write? Which were the easiest? Were there parts that just popped into your head?
Carol: I had an object — my grandmother’s yearbook — that inspired the novel. I knew that I wanted to write a story about a girl who goes back into the world of an old yearbook and falls in love, but I had to decide who that girl would be, and what sort of adventures she would have. I knew when I started how I generally wanted the book to end. It took about a year of working on and off to write the book. (I moved twice during the writing, so that slowed me down.) I went along groping in the dark, and it was that uncomfortable groping that led me to the best ideas, the major turning points in the book. I find it impossible to outline, because my rational brain takes over and my creativity falls asleep. There were definitely things that popped into my head, especially in the shower, when I had been working on the story a lot. Having written six screenplays before the book helped me a lot with arranging the structure, and not flying off into nowhere land.
TTx2: If you could time travel anywhere in the past and stay there for a couple weeks, where would you go, and why?
Carol: I’ve already been to the 70s–as a kid–but I think I’d go there again. I’d like to see some people from my childhood who are long gone now, and just enjoy the whole 70s thing from an adult perspective. I am really attracted to all the 70s stuff, the clothes, the furniture, the movies. Yeah, I think I’d land in the summer of 1970.
Thanks for this interview, Carol!