Friday, 19 February 2016

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster- Review by Carlyn

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster is the sequel to Daddy Long Legs, which is the story of Judy Abbott, a young orphaned woman who attends college in the early 20th century. I wrote a review about it here.The sequel follows Judy’s friend Salle McBride , who  has been appointed head of the orphanage that Judy used to live in. Sallie would rather be going to parties and out with friends than work. She doesn’t need to work either as she’s from a rich family. However, she resolves to become the best caretaker ever, after her boyfriend Gordon Hollock, tells her that she’s too silly to do anything.

Sallie does a great job at looking after 101 children. She introduces new reforms that are surprisingly modern. Sallie is excellent at sourcing good workers and volunteers for the orphanage who teach the children life skills.  She gets a new cook to change the menu from potatoes and porridge to a balanced diet. Sallie also gets a seamstress to design new clothes for the children and gets her to teach the older girls how to make them. The children get to choose what they wear instead of wearing a uniform. The children also get their own little vegetable patches and they get pocket money.

Sallie is aided along the way by Dr Robin MacRae who is the doctor appointed to the orphanage. At first, he disregards her and thinks she’s too young and flighty to run an orphanage but he eventually respects her. The two constantly bicker and she addresses her letters to him as Dear Enemy which is the title of the book. Sallie and Dr MacRae are friends though and respect each other.

This is my favourite book out of the series. What I loved about this book was the insight into the early 20th century, which was when this book was written. I also learnt that Jean Webster had an interest in social welfare which is evident in the book. As a teacher, I have a great interest in children so I admire her compassion.  If I could host a dinner party with notable guests, dead or living, she would be on the list. The orphanage in the book seems to be her fantasy on what an institution should be like. I like how she understood the importance of individuality, personal space and play time were important for childhood development.

There is a little bit of controversy in this book too. Sallie McBride sends away disabled children to other institutions because she only wants “healthy children” around and she’s glad she’s weeded them out. I suppose you could put a positive spin on it meaning she felt incapable of taking care of them properly so sent them where they would be better looked after. However, in the book she is glad to be rid of them. Dr MacRae and Sallie also discuss on length about eugenics and how unintelligent or alcoholic parents are likely to have descendants who will never amount to much. It’s best to take into account that this novel is a hundred years old and they meant well at the time.

What I probably will never love is the title of the two books, Dear Enemy and Daddy Long Legs which just seem so immature. I know it’s a reflection of the characters who are young but I still don’t like them. I haven’t got any better ideas though. I hope one day someone will make a new miniseries out of these books. Come on BBC! I think the books are good for people who want to branch into older novels because it’s not so old timey that it is hard to understand. The book is written for young people too. If you liked Anne of Green Gables or any books to do with lovable orphans, Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy will be the books for you.

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