Book Report: Our highly scientific analysis of a book, from the characters to the writing style to the swoon. See More...

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Alix reviews Dear Enemy, the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster starring Judy's bff, Sallie McBride.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

BOOK REPORT for Dear Enemy by Jean Webster

Cover Story: The Madness Continues
BFF Charm: Platinum Edition
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: Epistolary Awesomeness
Bonus Factors: Best Friend, Pictures!
Anti-Bonus Factor: Eugenics
Relationship Status: College Bestie

Cover Story: The Madness Continues

Dear Enemy is a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, a book I reviewed a few weeks back. I was appalled then by the lack of decent covers, and I’m afraid that its sequel has an even rougher time. I just threw up the title page in the header because I couldn't bring myself to post any of these:

Yikes.

The Deal:

Disclaimer: this review contains minor spoilers for its predecessor, Daddy-Long-Legs. If you haven’t read it yet, WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE?

A few years after the events of Daddy-Long-Legs, Judy and Jervis are enjoying being the most enviable married couple on the planet. In fact, Jervie has just gifted Judy the present of making over her old orphanage, the John Grier Home, because that is apparently what passes for appropriate gift-giving amongst Hot Fabian Socialist Husbands. An orphanage. MARRY ME, JERVIS PENDLETON!

Anyway, Judy and Jervis try to con Judy’s BFF, Sallie McBride into being the new superintendent in charge of fixing the JGH. Sallie isn’t having any of it until her Gentleman Caller, handsome politician-type Gordon Hallock, basically laughs in her face at the idea of Sallie running an orphanage. Being both stubborn and ginger, she sets out to prove him wrong.

Despite her initial protestations and complaints about the job, Sallie soon finds that she will entrust no one else with her orphans and gets to work fixing up the place. The story is told in letters from Sallie to Judy, Jervis, and Gordon, as well as a heated correspondence with the orphanage doctor, one Robin MacRae that Sallie insists on addressing “Dear Enemy.”

BFF Charm: Platinum Edition

I was really worried to read this book because Judy is pretty much my SOUL MATE, and I couldn’t imagine how a sequel in which she isn’t actually present could be anything but disappointing. But I was clearly doing a disservice to Judy and her ability to pick baller friends, because Sallie is also awesome. She goes into a job that she is wholly unqualified for with all her heart. Despite her stubbornness and conviction that she is always right (to be fair, she usually is), she is still able to learn, admitting when she is wrong and sticking her neck out when she knows she isn't. As a result, she really grows up over the course of the book.

Sallie might not be for everyone, but we get each other. She’s kind of a control freak perfectionist who doesn’t like letting other people do her work because they will do it WRONG. This might come off as a really irritating quality for a lot of people, but as something with which I also struggle, I sympathize. Similarly, I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend while I was standing in line for more more than an hour, outside in the cold Scottish morning. Naturally, I was my chipper self, which my new friend noted almost immediately. “You’re so cranky!” he told me. “I love it!” Sallie, like me, is super cranky about everything. But unlike me, she’s sarcastic and charming about it in a way that allows her to get away with it. Plus, beneath that crusty exterior, she just has so much heart. I can see why someone as awesome as Judy loves her so much, and I do too.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

My favorite kind of love story is the will they/won’t they love/hate kind, so I should be all over Sallie and the Scottish Doctor. I mean, she spends the entire book addressing him “Dear Enemy.” If that isn’t a rock-solid foundation for a romantic relationship, I don’t know what is (related: maybe this is why I’m single). But I just... wasn’t feeling it? I think it’s the Doctor’s outdated views on heredity that were off-putting (see: anti-bonus factor). I mean, I was ABSOLUTELY rooting for Sallie to dump Gordon’s sorry ass and get together with the doctor, but none of it was very tingly.

Plus, it’s really hard to compete with Jervis, even when he’s hardly in the book. As Sallie herself says to Judy,

I think that such a spectacle as you and Jervis is a menace to society. You look so happy and peaceful and companionable that you induce a defenseless on-looker to rush off and snap up the first man she meets - and he’s always the wrong man.

Talky Talk: Epistolary Awesomeness

How much would I give to be as good at letter writing as Judy and Sallie? SO MUCH. Webster nails it again. Here are some of my favorites:

At the head of the nursery I have placed a jolly, comfortable middle-aged woman who has reared five of her own and has a hand with bairns. Our doctor also found her. You see, he is useful. She i technically under Miss Snaith, but is usurping dictatorship in a satisfactory fashion. I can now sleep at night without being afraid that my babies are being inefficiently murdered.

On the subject of the same useless Miss Snaith:

I am hoping in time to eliminate her by a process of delicate suggestion; perhaps I can make her feel that her health requires a winter in California.

On a woman who wanted to adopt a baby to “surprise her husband:”

I had a hard time convincing her that, since he is to support the child, it might be a delicate attention to consult him about its adoption. she argued stubbornly that it was none of his business, seeing that the onerous work of washing and dressing and training would fall upon her. I am really beginning to feel sorry for men. Some of them seem to have very few rights.

On Judy and Jervis’s gift of three new bathtubs:

I do love presents for the babies that are too big to be swallowed.

Someday, I would like to be this witty and charming. YOU SLAY ME, WEBSTER.

Bonus Factor: Best Friend 

As I mentioned in the BFF Charm section, I was really concerned about reading a sequel without Judy. But now that I’ve read Dear Enemy, I’m glad that I got to learn more about her best friend, Sallie McBride. Too often in books, the Best Friend is dull and one dimensional at best (Diana Barry) or sad-sack cautionary tale at worst (Charlotte Lucas). And when your heroine is such a BAMF, you have to wonder why her friends aren’t more awesome also.

It was nice to see the other side of the coin, here. In Daddy-Long-Legs, Sallie was barely a footnote--a character often mentioned but rarely significant. Seeing her come to life in this sequel was not only enjoyable but also made me feel better about myself. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like the Best Friend in my own life. I’m not saying that to fish for compliments and have you all reassure me about my leading lady status. I mean that my best friend is actively more interesting and impressive than me on a daily basis. Like a couple weeks ago, she was on holiday in Tokyo when an old man collapsed in front of her on the street. After checking his vitals, she ran and found an AED, performed CPR, and then RESTARTED HIS HEART. Then once she’d gotten him in an ambulance, she just... went on about her day all casual-like, as if she hadn’t just saved some random old Japanese man’s life. !!!!!!!???!!! My best friend is actually a superhero. I don’t know about you, but the most impressive thing I’ve done lately is eat a vegetable four days running.

Seeing Sallie’s story told made me feel like someday, I too will amount to something more in life, and that everyone has a story worth telling.

Bonus Factor: Pictures!

So check it! After I posted all over the internet about how I wanted EVERYONE IN THE WORLD to read DLL, my fabulous aunt sent me a care package from Colorado with her old copies of both DLL and Dear Enemy. They even have a really adorable inscription in the inside cover from when she used to lend them out in college:

Not only was this super sweet of my aunt, but it also meant that I got to enjoy Dear Enemy in print form, instead of as a shitty (fre)e-book that doesn’t include the original illustrations! Which is a shame because both this volume and DLL have hilarious illustrations. And by hilarious I mean they look like they were drawn by a small orphan at the John Grier Home. They enhanced my reading experience greatly. THANKS AUNT NANCY!

Anti-Bonus Factor: Eugenics

This book was published at the turn of the 20th century, which means it suffers from all sorts of antiquated ideas about genetics. Dr. MacRae (for reasons that are explained later in the story) is super obsessed with heredity in a way that ventures into the uncomfortable and mildly offensive in a modern setting. Luckily, my girl Sallie thinks it’s all a load of bullshit and falls solidly on the nurture side of the argument, choosing to believe that all her orphans are not going to grow up to be alcoholic criminals simply because their parents were. It’s a rather squicky theme of the book that I would rather not be present at all, but I’m glad that Webster at least included both sides of the discussion.

Casting Call:

I’m not sure how many years have passed since Sallie and Judy have been in college, but I suspect Sallie is still pretty young, given that she’s an unmarried socialite at the beginning of the novel, which was published in 1916. By 1916 standards, I’m already a spinster. Which is why I chose:

Emma Stone as Sallie

Emma’s playing adult roles now, right?

As for Sallie’s DC Politico beau,

James Marsden as Gordon Hallock

Let’s see here... tall, skinny scotsman to play a secretly charming doctor?

David Tennant as Dr. Robin MacRae

I’m pretty sure David Tennant could convince me to overlook anything, including antiquated and vaguely offensive medical ideas.

Relationship Status: College Bestie

This book isn’t quite the long-lost sister that its predecessor was, but I still love it all the same. I suspect, like Judy and Sallie once did, we have a lot of Friday nights ahead of us, gossipping about boys and spilling hot fudge all over the carpet. I look forward to it in eager anticipation.

Alix West's photo About the Author: Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.
K