Gemma Alone was first published in 1969, with a US edition
in the same year. It is now out of print, although the recent
(1999) Collins paperback (under the title Gemma the Star)
may still be available in shops.
Story | Connections
to Other Books | Thoughts | Editions
In Gemma Alone, Gemma leaves the Comprehensive School
to go to the Drama School, under her own name of Gemma Bow (rather
than Gemma Robinson, the pseudonym she used at the Comprehensive).
Lydia is also attending the Drama School, an arrangement suggested
- and paid for - by her ballet teacher, Miss Arrowhead.
In her acting classes, Gemma is working on Shakespeare, which
she finds very difficult. When she is unexpectedly offered a part
in the local pantomime, Gemma is delighted to have the opportunity
to be involved in professional work again - and furious when her
mother refuses to let her take part in it. Because of this, Rowena
takes time away from her work to return to England and visit her
daughter. While they are in London, they meet an old friend of
Rowena's, who is doing a television production of Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm, and thinks Gemma would be perfect for
the title role. This time, Rowena is enthusiastic, but Gemma not
sure whether she wants to do it ... until she reads the book,
and realises it is a wonderful part.
Back in Headstone, Lydia is in trouble again: at a Gemma and
Sisters concert, she dances on her pointes without Miss Arrowhead's
permission. As a result, Miss Arrowhead decides that for the remainder
of the term, Lydia will work with Miss Arrowhead's neice, Polly,
rather than herself. In the meantime, Ann is becoming icreasingly
certain that she wants to go to Oxford, rather than the Royal
College of Music; and Robin and Nigs are given the opportunity
to audition for a television program.
Connections to Other
Gemma Alone is the third in a four book series: the
other three books are Gemma,
and Sisters and Good-bye
(This section contains "spoilers" for those who have
not read the book.)
As with Gemma and Sisters,
there are some inconsistencies between Gemma Alone and
the earler books in the series. For example, Lydia thinks that
Miss Arrowhead would "go mad if she knew I was doing tap
with Gemma" (Gemma Alone, 1969:43) - forgetting
that she had told Miss Arrowhead about this at the beginning of
Gemma and Sisters.
Lydia also wishes that Rowena's television program could be shown
in England - "Imagine everybody watching our aunt on T/V"
(Gemma Alone, 1969:16). This does not match with the
fact that the starting point of the whole Gemma series
was Rowena, after years of unemployment, gaining a part in a British
television series ... which was certainly watched by the Robinsons,
and probably by at least some of their friends.
As with the earlier books in the series, Noel again touches on
the professional/amateur divide - this time by showing Gemma's
eagerness to be involved in a professional production, and her
cousins' inability to understand this. Even before the part in
Humpty Dumpty comes up, Gemma is rather envious of the
girls at school auditioning for pantomime troupes. When Lydia
points out that Gemma would hate to be in a dancing troupe and
says "Honestly I'd think you'd much rather work at Gemma
and Sisters", Gemma drops the discussion because she "knew
she could never make her cousins see the difference between amateurs
and professionals" (Gemma Alone, 1969:47). However,
it is never explicitly stated what this difference is - Noel seems
to assume that the reader will understand, even though the Robinson
Arising out of this is Gemma's decision to return to Headstone
after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, rather that trying
to find further professional work. She recognises her own need
for proper training, and also sees the truth of Charles Rooke's
views: he tells her that child stars rarely become actors or distinction,
and explains that "Growing up is a hard enough job for anyone,
but for the child actress or actor to grow into a balanced adult
the difficulties are appalling" (Gemma Alone, 1969:114).
Noel also explores some of the difficulties of growing up through
the character of Ann. This is not done in any detail - Noel's
niche was clearly as a children's writer, rather than in the emerging
field of Young Adult fiction - and presumably was an aspect of
her attempt to make the Gemma series very contemporary.
At the end of Chapter Twenty Eight, Ann is "conscious of
growing up, and in lots of ways she wished she was not".
She is "embarrassed by her breasts" (no other girl in
Noel's children's books is ever described as having breasts!),
and worried by the fact that "other girls in her class at
school used make-up, and had their hair permed and back-combed
and whispered about boys" (Gemma Alone 1969:141).
When she talks to Gemma about this, Gemma laughs it off - "I'm
only a few months younger than you and I'm sure I'm not a late
developer" (Gemma Alone, 1969:148-9) - and the issue
is never raised again, either in the Gemma series, or
in any of Noel's other works for children.
The other aspect of Ann's "growing up" is more central
to the series as a whole - her desire to go to Oxford, rather
than the Royal College of Music. In Gemma Alone this
desire intensifies, partly due to her dislike of the professional
approach Gemma is taking towards Gemma and Sisters, and her realisation
that "I just want to sing, not worry about anything else,
but I can see a professional singer has to bother. I'm scared
that if I'm any good it will be everlasting dressing up and making
pleased faces, which I hate" (Gemma Alone, 1969:25).
This is not helped by her teacher's view that she should move
into opera - something that would clearly be an anathema to her.
Ultimately, she does find the courage to tell her father what
she wants, and although we can see and share Ann's point of view,
Noel also makes us understand the effect this has on Philip:
For a moment for Philip the sky seemed to darken.
He was a Royal College man and since she had been a small child
he had dreamed of Ann taking her lovely voice to the college.
He had particularly longed for the time when she would be a
pupil there for, since his crippled hands had finished his career
with The Steen, he had hoped to live with music again through
her. (Gemma Alone, 1969:149-150)
However, Philip rises to the occasion, showing
sensitivity and understanding towards Ann, as he previously has
to Gemma and Lydia when they needed it, and only Alice guesses
how much he cares.
Editions and Availability
Gemma Alone was first published in 1969, with cover painting
and illustrations by Betty Maxey. The entire Gemma series
was "specially written by Noel Streatfeild for Armada Books".
Thus, the first edition was a paperback, and it appears that Gemma
Alone has never had a hardcover release.
It was republished in the early 1970s as an "Armada Lion"
paperback, still with the Betty Maxey illustrations, but with
a photographic cover.
In the later 1970s it came out as a "Fontana Lion"
paperback with the Betty Maxey illustrations and a (different)
photographic cover. This edition continued to be republished into
the 1980s, with yet another cover design.
In 1999 Collins released a new paperback edition, with a new
cover design and a new title - Gemma the Star.
In the same year as its UK release (1969), Gemma Alone
was released in the United States by Dell.
It was republished in the late 1980s as a Dell Yearling paperback.
As I have not read the US editions, I do not know if the text
was in any way amended.
Out of Print
The 1999 Collins paperback
edition of Gemma the Star may still be available
in shops. However, it is no longer listed on the HarperCollins
website, and can therefore be assumed to be out of print.
In February 2004, second hand copies through online booksellers
start in price at around £2. (Source: Addall
Used and Out of Print Book Search.)
Publishers Ltd. © 1969 Noel Streatfeild