The First Flower by Augusta Wallace Lyons, 1956
The magic trick:
Setting up Eva’s self-editing paranoia with the opening scene that shows Eva as observer, critic
Eva Stuart is coping with the worst part of teenaged insecurity – the nonstop self-editing. She is so obsessed with the notion that her every word, look, and action will be judged harshly, she has retreated into a kind of anti-personality shell. She is a literary antecedent to Lee, the similarly repressed heroine of Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, Prep. Whereas Lee often comes off as a whiny and self-absorbed, Eva is sympathetic.
The key, I think, is the opening scene in which Eva and Josie analyze different teachers at their school and dream of their own potential love lives, while watching the school-dance preparations begin from afar. The conversation reveals the two girls to be immature and naive but also kind-hearted and surprisingly insightful. It also helps to explain Eva’s self-editing paranoia. Clearly, her mindset is an analytical one. She observes others and thinks a lot (a lot!) about what their lives must be like. It is a natural leap from there to assume that everyone at school is dissecting her life in the same way. And of course, this being high school, her assumption is probably correct. By the scene’s end, the reader likely has a higher opinion of Eva than she has of herself. That balance (or imbalance, I guess) is crucial to setting up the emotional movement of the remainder of the story. And that’s quite a trick on Lyons’s part.
But she checked the fantasy, embarrassed to be caught, even by her own mind, indulging in such ridiculous hopes. The soldiers would want their Florence Nightingale to look like Miss Digby. Or, as a second choice, Molly McCloud. And suddenly she ached to be Molly. To be Miss Digby was too much to ask, but an unrequited love might be within her reach someday. She tried to think of the kind of man she could love in vain – Lord Byron, Heathcliff, Francois Villon. Villon – poet and thief. By comparison, Harvey Winston really didn’t look like much.