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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on November 25, 2014
Fun and funny, albeit very old-school. Tarkington is a much-neglected American original.
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on October 2, 2016
This was a gift to someone else. I did not read it myself.
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on April 8, 1999
I read "Seventeen" because in a letter to a friend F. Scott Fitzgerald said he thought the book the funniest ever written; having read it, I agree with him--it is the funniest book ever written. Tarkington kept up the entire thing the whole book through and does not take a breather or pull any punches but gives it to you straight. The characters put things inwardly where things are put inwardly and blurt out what is blurted out, and there is not that feeling of being fake that one can often get from an author when he has written a funny book. But what else is there to say? Read this book if you have ever been in love or seventeen. You will not believe how hilarious being those two things are.
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on March 10, 2016
A truly wonderful and entertaining story. The plot concerns the trials and tribulations of 17 year old William Baxter and his attempts to befriend a new girl in town (Lola Pratt). The story has much humor and the book is a masterpiece of writing as the author contributes many insightful and ironic comments. Be aware, though, that if you dislike old time video such as "Ozzie and Harriet", you might not like this either.
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on July 26, 2003
Small town romance is an uphill battle (and source of public amusement) for easily-smitten seventeens in the 19 teens, when everyone knew everyone else's business--especially the protagonist's bratty little sister. It isn't enough that a fellow suffers the social torments of hell in order to impress a visiting bubble blond--his Baby Talk Lady, but that his pecocious younger sibling makes it her summer business to spy on, tattle on and harrass her haggard brother in his amorous affairs. There is little familial sympathy shown for the young man struggling to beat out the competition to win favor in the eyes of the Most Noble One.
Tarkington's world is blissfully naive compared with the dangers and pitfalls of 21st century life for teenagers, yet William's emotional battles remain poingnant, as young love (actually infatuation) undergoes daily upheavals. Relatively clueless as to his motivations and private agonies, his parents exist on another plane--as do many
adults in this novel of pre war Americana. The most original character created is that of Genesis, the dishevled Black town handyman, whose very presence--with his mongrel canine companion---causes William frightful embarrassment. Keeping up appearances is critical, as William foolishly allows Clothes to Make (and Break) the Man.
The humor comes not only in the pathos of William's extreme efforts and psychological sress, but from the drole style of the narrator's commentary. The story unfolds with little plot but much expenditure of physical and emotional energy. How can William rise above his rivals to capture the heart of the enchanting Miss Pratt in one too-short summer? This summer is anything but short to the female sensation's long-suffering host, who is soon on the brink of breakdown. And through all the anguish caused by Lola's invasion of this small town, Jane eats and sneaks and deliberately torments her bother--
alas, she mostly gets away with it, too! How can a decent fellow court a goddess like Lola, with such disreputable creatures as Genesis and Jane lurking about? This is a delightful pre Happy Days read for kids of all ages--reminding us of the pangs of young love and foibles of youth. As fresh as when it was written by the author of PENROD.
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on January 9, 2003
Writing novels about adolescence is difficult; either because the writer in intimately involved in the business of being an adolescent and has not as yet acquired the narrative skills, or because the adult writing about that developmental stage retrospectively colors his memories of how things were. (Françoise Sagan's BONJOUR TRISTESSE is a happy example of a book written by an adolescent that effectively addresses that period.)
Newton Booth Tarkington had produced the PENROD series of juvenile novels before writing SEVENTEEN. In this work, he narrates the summer of love (lower cased letters then) of William Sylvanus Baxter, who is smitten with Miss Lola Pratt, also known as "the Baby Talk Girl" because of her talking baby talk, endearing to William, but grating on the father of the girl whom she is visiting for the summer. I read this book when I was an early teen; and years later read it to my then pre-teen daughter. On both occasions I found it to be amusing and insightful.
William is a typical young boy who goes through a series of pratfalls and misadventures. Like many of his status, he is clueless. He tries to write, um, poetry. A sure sign that his is smitten. Tarkington is able to straddle the fence of finding humor in William's behavior without being unduly condescending.
A young reviewer commented earlier that the emotions and behaviors of his characters where more like fourteen- or fifteen-year old adolescents. I would have to agree with that perspective: from the standpoint of today's teens, if Tarkington's book were written recently, it would probably merit the title "FOURTEEN." Nevertheless, I think that SEVENTEEN was an accurate depiction of middle adolescents of that upper middle social class in that era in history. Certainly, the average mid-teen is more worldly nowadays than back in the early part of the twentieth century (or even back in the 1960's).
Readers fond of esoterica might find it interesting that Lola is based on Rose O'Neill, who later on developed the Kewpie dolls that were so popular in the early part of the twentieth century.
A caution should be made at this time: there are some passages in this book in which African-Americans are depicted cruelly and in an unnecessarily unflattering light. We maybe should regard this book as reflecting too-typical of attitudes prevalent in that time, but not encourage the emulation of these attitudes.
I did find the device of the omniscent narrator to be intrusive at times, and Tarkington's way of tying things up at the end to be unconvincing, but still this is a great book. I can truly say that it offers something for both the young reader and the adult.
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on July 29, 2010
Having read the other reviews, I would have to say that I disagree that it is a great, but dated, classic. It is a classic, period. While times change, and so do social standards, the core of being human stays the same, and that is why most of us can feel keenly the trials and tribulations of the protagonist, Willie. I would also disagree that this is a book about a seventeen-year-old in love. Rather, it is a book about the effect that a seventeen-year-old in love has on the world around him.

Tarkington has created a subtle and sublime work here. Great characters abound, particularly the irrepressible Jane. Tarkington speaks for little sisters everywhere by showing us that pre-adolescent girls are intolerable not because they are inherently malevolent, but because they are the voice of reason opposed to teenage insanity. Jane's alliances with Genesis, Mr. Parcher, and her mother are the stuff of great writing. Willie's love interest - the baby-talking Lola - is another unique and unforgettable character.

If the book is dated, it is by its underlying assumption that life is a good place where bad things happen, which is the opposite of our modern understanding. The love and patience of Willie's family and his mother's sympathy for his predicaments is practically an allegory for God - someone greater than ourselves who loves us and cares for us even when we do not realize it. The brilliant ending of the book is nothing short of pure hope. Surely, that hasn't been declared archaic, has it?

One aspect of the book that will make modern readers uneasy is Tarkington's treatment of black characters, which reflects the prejudices of a bygone era. Nonetheless, the black characters make a real contribution to the story, and are developed more sympathetically than, say, Willie's teenage pals.

Finally, don't read this book late at night while your wife is trying to sleep - she is apt to kick you out for laughing too loud. I speak from experience.
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on March 12, 2017
Absolutely loved this book. Amazing how people really don't change much - this story stands the test of time. A great read!!!!
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on February 9, 2013
This was a funny parody of the tumult in a teenager's life. As an adult, it gives you a quick reminder at how silly and ridiculously serious teenagers are when it comes to situations they consider to be "life or death." There are some gender and racial biases from the early 20th century present in the book, but they don't detract from the story or the wit the author offers.
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on August 24, 2014
My dad, who is now 94 years old, read this book when he was young. His mother told him to either read it before he turns 17 or way after, because if he read it at age 17, he wouldn' t think it was so funny! I thoroughly enjoyed Seventeen, and even though it takes place before my dad's time, it gave me a glimpse of what his life may have been like. After I read it, I gave the book to him and had great enjoyment watching him read and laugh, and read and laugh!
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