youth cults

authors index

books index




click to enlarge

Corgi, London, 1970
(first published in Great Britain by Corgi, 1952)
price: 20p (4s); 152 pages

The blurb on the back:

She was fifteen. Her mother was dead, her father was a drunk. She was leader of the toughest cellar club in the city - it took a cruel initiation to get in and you couldn't get out alive. Tomboy planned the capers, the rumbles with other gangs. She mugged drunks and robbed trucks and stores to buy presents for her boyfriend. But she hadn't let any boy cut his initials into her arm - yet.

opening lines:
Almost midnight now, it was raining lightly and the neon signs blazed softly along the avenue. Yet in spite of the hour the pulse of the city was only beginning to diminish as Tomboy and Lucky turned the corner together and walked into a darker street where the quietness suddenly moved around them and the sound of the rain became a whisper.

The most curious thing about this book is the date of its reprint. This is the seventeenth edition of the British publication of a book first published in America in 1950; twenty years on - twenty years that had transformed the face of youth culture for ever - copies were still being churned out in an attempt to feed the insatiable hunger for tales of youthful delinquency. You won't be surprised to learn that it's a bit on the dated side. When it was written, the world had yet to encounter James Dean, and it might have seemed something really quite shocking; in 1970, when gangs of skinheads roamed the land when and A Clockwork Orange was but a year away, it was less startling.

And now? Well, now, it's quite charming. But it's also one of the better gang novels, possibly even a classic if there is such a thing in this sub-genre. Truth be told, the basic themes and structure haven't changed a jot in the last half-century and, with suitable adjustments to clothes and vocabulary (the term 'mother-jumper' might be amended, for example), you could film this pretty much unchanged.

Just in case, like me, you're attracted by the promise of 'cruel initiations' on the back, you'll want to know that it involves girls stripping naked and being beaten with belts soaked in cold water ('they hurt more that way'), but you'll also want to be warned that it's only a brief scene, and isn't entirely satisfactory.

For some reason that completely escapes me, this edition comes complete with an introduction by anti-violence campaigner Dr Fredric Wertham.


Like this? Try this...

Sol Yurick, The Warriors
youth cults