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Gemma Alone

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 and Availability

Story

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 Books

Gemma Alone is the third in a four book series: the other three books are Gemma, Gemma and Sisters and Good-bye Gemma.

Thoughts

(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 family cannot.

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

UK Editions

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.

US Editions

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

1999 Collins paperback edition of Gemma the Star    

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.)

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. © 1969 Noel Streatfeild

 

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