Pamela Moore was only 18 years old when Chocolates for Breakfast was published. Released in 1956, the book scandalized its audience with its frank (for that time) discussions of sex and illicit love affairs.
The book’s heroine is Courtney Farrell, an unhappy and depressed fifteen-year-old girl who keeps trying to speed through adolescence in her quest to grow up. Her mother is a failed actress living in Los Angeles, and her father works in publishing in Manhattan; he’s present but emotionally distant. Meanwhile, Courtney is flailing her way through boarding school, where her only real friend is Janet, a wealthy and rebellious young girl with emotional troubles of her own. Seeing their daughter struggling, her parents offer to let her quit boarding school and move to Los Angeles with her mother.
Courtney was already hanging by a thread at boarding school, but once she moves in with her permissive mother, things really start falling apart. She begins drinking and smoking; men, assuming she’s more sexually experienced than she actually is (even though she’s never so much as kissed anyone), also begin coming on to her. Her life in LA becomes the classic tale of the screwed up, innocent young girl who becomes drawn to a man who is bad for her. Her only real adult supervision is a mother who, in stark contrast to Courtney, refuses to grow up.
But the book is also more than that, especially once Courtney leaves LA and moves back to New York. Keep in mind that the book was published by a teenager in 1950s America. The drinking, explorations of depression, mentions of homosexuality, and sex scenes that seem tame by today’s standards must have been positively shocking almost sixty years ago. Try as she might to come across as sophisticated and mature, Courtney is really still just a young girl working her way a lot of problems that contemporary young girls can still relate to.
Emma Straub’s introduction also gives the book an interesting context, detailing how the long out-of-print book fell into her hands and made its way towards being republished. Chocolates for Breakfast was Moore’s first book, and it would be her biggest hit. Eight years later, Moore would commit suicide at the age of twenty-six. It’s not hard to see why the book has been getting linked to that other shocking coming-of-age story and its eternally young author, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Chocolates for Breakfast is pulpy and darker than you’d think a book written by a teenager in the 1950s would be. I wasn’t completely blown away by it (nor was I blown away by The Bell Jar), but it’s easy to see why many people are.
Chocolates for Breakfast was published on June 25, 2013 by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. This book is on tour right now, so check out what other bloggers are saying about it.