Two people in toques and long coats, with their backs to the viewer, walking while holding hands against a backdrop of snow and coniferous trees

About the Book

Title: And Both Were Young
Published: 1949
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: A Makeover Story
BFF Charm: Yay!
Talky Talk: Madeleine L’Engle
Bonus Factors: Boarding School, Mysterious Loner Dude, Loyal Pet
Relationship Status: True Love

Cover Story: A Makeover Story

The book was re-released in April last year with a new cover, but I kind of prefer the older covers with their air of sappy teenage romance. The new one looks like something Oprah’d slap a sticker on, plus snow makes me cold. But I’m sure more people will pick up the new version than would go for the old one.

A medieval looking version of the book's couple alongside an '80s version of the couple on a mountain top

The Deal:

Flip (short for Phillipa, not a precursor of today’s horrible protagonist names) Hunter is being sent to boarding school in Switzerland, and she’s absolutely miserable. Her father’s a famous illustrator and portraitist, and is about to travel around the world working on illustrations for a book and can’t take her with him. Her mother died in a car crash a year earlier, and her father and his friend who’s a lady (not to be confused with lady friend) Eunice decide a Swiss boarding school is just the ticket. But Flip is painfully shy and terrible at sports and has a hard time making friends, so boarding school is basically her worst nightmare. Right before the term begins, she meets a sweet but mysterious French boy, Paul, and for the first time feels like she has a friend.

BFF Charm: Yay

Yay BFF Charm

Poor Flip! I definitely understood exactly what she was going through. When I was 10, I lobbied (successfully) to never have to go back to summer camp because it was SO HARD to make friends each year. All the other kids had groups of friends they either came with, or camp friends they looked forward to seeing each year, and I started out new every time. By the time I’d made a friend or two, the week was over! So I feel like Flip and I could have been good bunkmates, and I would have understood her reluctance to joke around and open up. At the same time, Older Me would try to encourage her to just TRY a little. I know it’s hard to stop taking yrself so seriously, and it sucks when the other girls do things like call you “Pill” for short, and when you suck at sports, but Flip is very sweet and has an endearing earnestness. She loves nature and the stars and beauty, and she’s a fantastic artist and just needs to be drawn (ha) out of her shell.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

The book was published in 1949*, so there’s not exactly a surfeit of sexytimes, but there’s definitely a little swoon between Paul and Flip. Their relationship is very innocent (at one point, Flip is staying at Paul’s house and her room’s across the hall from his. He comes in at night and sits at the foot of her bed and they chat, but it’s all very childlike and, well, pure), but not twee. L’Engle manages to portray a relationship between two children who are becoming young adults without being sentimental:

She knew that he was right and that it was too early for promises and that many things could happen in the next years. But this was a memory that would always be a special treasure, and Paul had taught her about the privilege and the joy of memory.

And there’re definitely kissy times, don’t worry.

*So, this book was published before Catcher in the Rye, which, good or bad, is hailed as a cornerstone Young Adult Book in that it’s written for teenagers rather than children or adults. There’s a lot of literary and social criticism talking about how the post-war period saw the emergence of the teenager as a legitimate animal, where before WWII people were children, then got married and were adults (ok, I know that’s simplistic). Anyhoozit, L’Engle explores all that teenage angst stuff that gets talked about in Catcher all the time, but without making me want to facepunch the protagonist. There are also hints of more mature sexuality with some of the other characters, but it’s like they’re peeking around the corners — a highly inappropriate relationship between one of Flip’s roommates and her mother’s fiance (he gives her lacy negligees as gifts!), the way boy-crazy Esmee. Also, it’s not like Flip and Paul are unaware of sexuality — they hilariously call Flip’s father’s friend-who’s-a-lady Eunice “Lustful Eunice” because of the way she throws herself at Flip’s dad.

Talky Talk: Madeleine L’Engle

Madeleine L’Engle definitely deserves her own talky talk. Her books are so comforting, even when things are scary (like giant mind-controlling brains, or – in the case of this book – possible kidnappers and open seating in the dining room). The mothers are usually understanding, good listeners and have faith that the awkward girl will grow into her beauty, and the fathers encourage their daughter’s career ambitions, and if life gets tough, you can usually find cocoa heating on the stove. None of this means I think L’Engle is cliched or unoriginal at all – the book wouldn’t work if everyone didn’t feel so REAL. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this EXACT same thing (except not at a Swiss boarding school):

And Flip was left standing in the empty corridor in front of the Dragon’s door. She gave a final despairing glance at Erna’s blue skirt disappearing around the curve of the stairs. Then she lifted her hand to knock because if her father was in there she didn’t know how else to get to him. Besides, she didn’t know what else to do. … She tapped very gently, so gently that there was no response. She hugged herself in lonely misery. Oh, please, she thought, please, God, make me not be such a coward. … Then she raised her hand and knocked.

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

Even though this is a popular bonus factor, I’m going to come clean here and say I’d’ve much more likely been a Flip than a Frankie when faced with boarding school. You guys, sometimes I’m still so shy I can’t order pizza on the phone, so moving to another country, even SWITZERLAND, to go to school would terrify me. Plus, I don’t speak French, Italian OR German (but I’m not totally an ugly American – my Spanish and Portuguese are passable!). Still, it’s a cool setting, and is doubly interesting because it’s an international school right after WWII, so there’re all kinds of politics running under the surface. Also, this boarding school used to be a hotel, so it’s extra awesome!

Bonus Factor: Mysterious Loner Dude

Jordan Catalano, a hot brooding stoner, in My So-Called Life

Paul’s my kind of mysterious loner dude — he’s mysterious, and a loner, but he’s not a druggie or criminal or jackass. He’s rather lost and sad, and definitely has a mysterious past and is rather an anarchist, but he’s also kind and playful.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

Golden retriever looking at camera while being hugged by a man

Paul has a great bulldog named Ariel who’s basically a giant fur pillow/laprug and I just want to give him snuggles. I don’t even care if his paws are muddy and he drools. I mean, would you LOOK at those CHEEKS!?!? GAH!

Relationship Status: True Love

I just read this book recently, though I’ve read just about everything else by L’Engle at least once during the last 20 or so years. Even though the book was new to me, we connected instantly. I know it has its faults — it’s one of her earliest novels, so it’s not as developed as it could be — but I don’t care. I love it no matter what.

FTC Full Disclosure: I got this book from the library. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). And Both Were Young is available now.

Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.