We went to Wildwood, New Jersey for the weekend, and it seemed like the perfect place to read Gidget by Frederick Kohner. Actually, I suppose Malibu, California, where the novel takes place, would be the perfect place to read it, but Malibu is out of our price range for a weekend vacation.
Our classic-sitcom-watching family enjoyed the Gidget television series. In fact, I defy anyone to watch it and not find Sally Field to be adorable in every possible way, as well as extremely talented. Personally, I could watch the show just for the cute 1960’s fashions and hairdos.
But, to get back to the novel, I knew it was the source of all things Gidget: the TV series and the movies and the “new” TV series. I was curious to see the original rendering of this teen icon, and I was not disappointed. She’s a worthy member of the great-girl-stories club.
Frederick Kohner was inspired to write Gidget by his own daughter, Kathy, who was the real-life “girl midget” surfer. Kathy, who we learn about in introductory sections that accompany the novel, discovered the strange and unknown world of Malibu surfers and shared the details of their lifestyle with her dad. Being a screenwriter, Mr. Kohner knew a good story when he heard one, and so he wrote the novel.
It is a good novel. It vividly captures a very specific time, place, culture, and language, and for that alone it is worth reading. And it also captures something that transcends time and place: the coming of age of a young girl.
The character of Gidget is sweet, energetic, brave, and curious. She does some “bad” things — lies to her parents, drinks a few beers, and almost winds up in a very mature situation with the classic surfer bum character — but she is not a bad girl. She’s a normal, healthy, fifteen-going-on-sixteen teenager who is grabbing life by the horns and riding it.
The metaphor for that spirit is Gidget’s love for surfing. At the start of the novel, surfing is something new, something other people do, something she has never seen before. By the end of the novel, she’s standing tall and riding the waves. She’s got it down. Isn’t that what growing up is all about?
Frederick Kohner may have capitalized on Gidget with follow-up novels and with the television shows and movies I mentioned above, but the original story rings pure and true.
I liked the character of Gidget. I think you will, too. And, as an added bonus from reading the book, I appreciate watching surfers more than I ever did before.