Monday, November 02, 2015

Beany Malone: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Over the last few years, I have been slowly reading through the Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber.  I would have enjoyed these a lot when I was a kid.  It seems they were out of print then, because throughout my entire childhood, I never saw a Beany Malone book anywhere, not even at used book stores or our village library, which was otherwise overflowing with vintage children's literature.  I'm not sure why the Beany Malone books fell out of favor, but they did, until the late nineties, when, for about five minutes, they appeared on the shelves of Barnes & Noble and then disappeared again.

After that brief glance at Barnes & Noble, I started a frustrated search for these books, always disappointed until the miracle of Amazon came along, which made it easy for me to acquire the series.

The Beany Malone books are about the Malone family (mainly the youngest daughter, Catherine Cecelia, aka "Beany") but the other siblings, Elizabeth, Mary Fred, and Johnny, are important characters.  Their mother is dead and their father, Martie Malone, is a newspaper columnist.  The family lives in Denver and the books are set in the 1940s and '50s.  They're relentlessly wholesome, but the series as a whole touches on some serious issues: war, death, poverty, classism, delinquency, crime, and domestic abuse.  The modern reader might bristle at the occasional fat-shaming and cringe at the ethnic stereotypes from when Beany starts working at Lilac Way, a community center that serves mostly immigrant children.

Something Borrowed is one of the last books in the series.  Twenty-year old Beany is getting married. This book was written in 1963, so we may be able to claim that Beany Malone is the first recorded bridezilla.

When the story opens, there are only two months until the wedding and Beany is disappointed that no one in her bustling family is showing much interest in her wedding plans.  To make matters worse, their roof springs a leak, so any money that might have been spent on the wedding is eaten up by a new roof.

Enter Nonna, the Malone kids' step-grandmother, who stops in Denver one night on her way home to Kansas City.  Nonna appeared as an elegant, snobbish, coldhearted villain in an earlier book in the series, and Beany claims to loathe her.  Nonna had been an interior decorator, but at dinner she announces that she has just launched a new career for herself as--OMG you'll never guess--a wedding planner.

Nonna offers to put on a wedding for Beany; is even willing to pay for the whole thing and Beany quickly lets go of her professed loathing.  The offer seems too good to be true, but she insists that this is her wedding present to Beany and her groom. You'd expect Beany's father to squash the plan, but he accepts it, rationalizing that since Nonna made off with an inheritance that should have gone to Beany's mother, this might be her way of making amends.

With Nonna in charge, the wedding quickly assumes a monstrous scale.  Beany begins to have misgivings.  How can she expect her friends and sisters to shell out for the expensive bridesmaid dresses that Nonna has chosen?  How can she let her beloved priest know that she will be married in the cathedral, rather than her parish church?  How can she tactfully prevent the rough-edged Lilac Way kids from participating?  The groom (I don't want to reveal his identity and spoil the whole series for those of you who might want to read it) is unhappy.  He doesn't like being dictated to by Nonna, he's offended when Beany turns down his mother's offer of her prized roses for the wedding, and he definitely doesn't want to force his groomsmen to buy tuxes.

Despite the misgivings, Beany doggedly insists that she would like to have ONE day that is entirely hers, in which she is the star of the show, rather than a helper in the background.  Can't everybody just go along with her this one time?  Beany's friends and family, because they love her, do their best to play along, but a serious rift develops between Beany and her fiance.  How she escapes the wedding juggernaut is a neat little plot twist that I wasn't expecting.

I really enjoyed this book.  I'd count it as among my favorites in the series.  It also got me thinking about the circus that the modern wedding has become.  Beany's cathedral wedding seems simple compared to the extravaganza weddings of today.  With two daughters who will be probably be getting married sometime in the next ten years, I'm starting to worry about this.  The whole point of Something Borrowed is that a wedding is supposed to be a joyful event in which the bride and groom share their happiness with their loved ones and should not bring stress and unhappiness to those involved.  I'm hoping that when my daughters get married, we can escape the overdone wedding trend and still provide an event to remember for our friends and family.

There is only one book in the series that I haven't read yet--Come Back, Wherever you Are.  A used copy is on its way from Amazon and my newly Kon-Mari'd bookshelf has a space waiting for it.  The whole series is highly recommended for those of you who like vintage teen lit.


  1. The series sounds lovely!

    The wedding thing scares me too. My girl has had her location picked since she was 3. Not joking. Thankfully, it is the home of a family friend, so we won't be dropping $10G on a winery rental.

  2. I have never heard of this series, but am sure I would have loved it when I was growing up!

    The wedding thing is starting to weigh on my mind these days - three daughters in their early 20s, one with a serious boyfriend of several years. Hmm....

  3. I never heard of this series--I'd have loved it, too!
    I feel lucky to have 3 sons--wear beige, show up, pay the bar tab. Booyah.