A Book Set In The Decade I Was Born

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore, was first published in 1956.

The first sentence is: “Spring at Scaisbrooke Hall was clearly the most beautiful time of year.

Chocolates for Breakfast

Courtney Farrell is fifteen years old. Her best friend is sixteen year old Janet Parker. Courtney and Janet are roommates at an all-girl boarding school in New England.

Except for Janet, Courtney doesn’t have any friends her own age. Part of the reason for this is that Courtney grew up with her mother and her mother’s adult friends. There were rarely any other children around.

Another reason is that Courtney’s mother, Sondra Farrell, is an actress in Hollywood. The girls at school all want Courtney to provide some juicy Hollywood gossip, and Courtney doesn’t want friends like that.

Courtney Farrell is going through some gender confusion. She’s attracted to women, but doesn’t like them. She often wishes she was a man, but feels that she would have to be a homosexual man, and she wouldn’t want that.

Janet accuses Courtney of being in love with their teacher, Miss Rosen. Courtney maintains that Miss Rosen is her English tutor, and nothing more. Courtney know that she and Janet are both right.

Sondra Farrell is not happy about being old enough to have a fifteen year old daughter, and wishes people would stop asking how Courtney is. She is not looking forward to when school is over, and Courtney comes home to live with her. Sondra does not want to be a mother.

School is finally over, and Courtney Farrell flies home to rejoin the Hollywood life she grew up with. Courtney’s mother and her friends are all struggling actors, always drinking, always bad-mouthing each other, and often staying at each other’s apartments.

Courtney begins a secret, romantic relationship with an older, homosexual actor named Barry Cabot. The affair is over when Barry returns to his boyfriend.

Courtney and her mother move to New York.

Courtney reunites with Janet Parker, who is also living in New York. Janet introduces Courtney to her circle of Ivy League (mostly dropout) friends. Courtney begins spending more time with people her own age, and less time with her mother. Courtney’s life becomes a cycle of cocktail parties and more cocktail parties.

Courtney begins a secret, romantic relationship with a young aristocratic named Anthony Neville. (They keep it secret because Anthony and Janet have some history together.)

Chocolates for Breakfast is a story about changes. It’s about Courtney Ferrell growing up and finding herself. It’s about moving from a New England boarding school to a public high school in Beverly Hills. It’s about moving from an environment where having an actress for a mother is a big deal, to a place where everyone has a mother who’s an actress. It’s about movie actors trying to adapt to the coming age of television. It’s about a generation of young people gradually breaking away from their parents’ generation. (On The Road would be published the year after Chocolates for Breakfast was.)

Chocolates for Breakfast was written in the mid-1950s. There’s no mention of what year the story takes place, but it seems to have been written as a contemporary story. There is one brief mention of trouble in Korea, which would seem to place it in the early 1950s. (I mention this only because of the Reading Challenge category.)

There are sub-plots in this novel that go nowhere, and that irritated me a little. Courtney’s crush on Miss Rosen seemed to be leading up to something – maybe a confrontation – but it doesn’t. Courtney’s attraction to women is brought up, but then, except for dating at least one homosexual man, she appears to be solidly heterosexual for the rest of the book. (The bonus sections following the novel, about the author and about the book, mention that sections of Pamela Moore’s manuscript were never published. Maybe that explains it. Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh on the author.)

I absolutely loved this book, despite the issue with the sub-plots. It’s a character-driven novel, and well written. Courtney Farrell is an interesting and complex character. It’s set in a fascinating era.

The bonus sections mentions some interesting trivia around Chocolates for Breakfast. The name Courtney was rarely used as a girl’s name until 1958, when the paperback edition of the novel was published. Musician Courtney Love claims that her mother named her after Courtney Farrell.

Pamela Moore’s parents were both writers. Her father, Don Moore, wrote the comic strip Flash Gordon. Pamela Moore wrote Chocolates for Breakfast when she was eighteen. She continued to write, but was never able to repeat the success of Chocolates for Breakfast. Pamela Moore killed herself at the age of twenty-six.

Why I chose this book:

Finding a book for this category was a little tougher than I’d thought it would be. Internet searches for “books set in the 1950s” most often turned up books written in the 1950s. Maybe I needed to word my search differently. I had thought this category needed a nostalgia piece – written in more contemporary times, looking back on the 50s.

I put too much thought into these Reading Challenge categories.

I have a fondness for mid-twentieth century American novels. From the 1950s, Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, and so on. From the 1960s, To Kill a Mockingbird, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and so on. Yet, I had never heard of Chocolates for Breakfast, until it turned up in an internet search. The synopsis sounded intriguing, so I took a chance that, while written in the 1950s, it was also set in the 1950s.

4 thoughts on “A Book Set In The Decade I Was Born

  1. I admire the way you put thought into choosing a book in each category. I admit I would not try as hard as you do! I would not have finished this book, I would have given up. Also, I would have taken the easy way out, to find a book: ask a librarian (an older one!) for suggestions of books set in the 1950s but not necessarily written in the 1950s. A librarian taught me to google and I would agree that the way you are searching, left you with a book written in the 1950s. There some tricks to searching!

    • There have been books I’ve been tempted to bail on, but this wasn’t one of them. I loved this one! As for others, if I start a book and don’t finish it just because I’m not thrilled with it, there wouldn’t be much challenge in a Reading Challenge. The goal is to challenge myself to expand my reading.

      I could have tried different Google search terms, or asked a librarian, yes, but this book sounded so intriguing that I stopped searching and took a chance on it.

  2. Great summary and a very insightful critique! A couple of footnotes that might worth mentioning (some of which are discussed on http://chocolatesforbreakfast.info/)

    Pamela Moore was called a wannabe female JD Salinger by one contemporary review at the time, so the similarities between Chocolates and Catcher in the Rye were recognized even at the time.

    Sterling Lord, who became Moore’s literary agent after Chocolates, was also the agent who discovered and sold Jack Kerouak’s On the Road.

    You’re right that the romantic / sensual tension between Courtney and Miss Rosen feels like it could have been described in more detail and / or come up again later in the book. This is indeed part of what was cut from the manuscript by Moore’s editors at Rinehart. See p. 17 of the typescript which is reproduced at the back of the book.

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