29/09/2015

Goodbye, Gemma [Gemma in Love] (by Noel Streatfeild)

I started reading Noel Streatfeild books as a child, after discovering some of them on the shelves at my grandparents’ house. She is probably best known for her classic ‘Ballet Shoes’, but in my early teens my favourites were the ‘Gemma’ series of four books featuring the Robinson family. I’ve been re-reading them recently, with the third, ‘Gemma Alone’ (aka Gemma the Star) a few weeks ago.

So I decided it was time to re-read the final book in the series, ‘Goodbye, Gemma’, which I had not read for about fifteen years. Unfortunately my paperback copy had been so well-read that it was starting to fall to pieces, so I took the opportunity of ordering a replacement from the AwesomeBooks site, which has a big ‘bargain bin’. My new copy is a modern version, re-titled ‘Gemma in Love’, perhaps to appeal more to today’s teenagers, with an unpleasantly garish green and black striped cover. It doesn’t contain the handful of line drawings that my older paperback did, but as far as I know the text is unchanged.

The series was written as contemporary children’s fiction in the 1960s. In this story, Gemma, a talented actress who is now fourteen, is asked to take on the part of Juliet in the local University production of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Meanwhile, Gemma’s cousin, Ann Robinson (also fourteen) and her younger brother Robin are asked to make a record, after doing well in a TV talent show. And Lydia is upset because her ballet teacher is going abroad for a few months, so she decides to find out whether or not she is good enough to be taught by a famous French ballet master…

The Robinsons are a likeable family who live in a small town in an undetermined English location within easy train distance from London. The father teaches music, the mother works in a hospital, and as with many families of the era, they can pay the bills and buy food, but had no money left over for luxuries or ‘extras’ of any kind. Gemma, whose mother has been working in the United States, is very much part of the family despite being rather better-off financially, but all are aware that things are likely to change as they begin to grow up.

While ‘Goodbye Gemma’ could be read as a standalone, it would be a bit odd to do so, as it ties up a lot of ends and provides a good finale to the sequel. Ann discovers that her talent at singing can be used in a positive way, Lydia learns the value of hard work and honesty, and Gemma falls in love; perhaps an infatuated crush would be a better way to describe it, but it gives a slightly different focus.

While a child of around ten or eleven might well enjoy the first couple of books in the series, this one is more thoughtful and more appropriate for young teenagers; not that many of today’s teens would be interested in such a tame, family-oriented series, but eclectic readers or those who prefer classic and ‘wholesome’ stories might well enjoy it. It’s inevitably slightly dated, but the family interactions are realistic, the people surprisingly three-dimensional (albeit in the ultra-gifted way Streatfeild was so well-known for) and one or two scenes were really quite moving.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this very much.

Not currently in print, but widely available second-hand; it's worth searching for both titles if looking for a copy at an online bookshop.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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