The Southern Chapter of the Big Girl Panties Club is much more intense than the novel’s title might seem to indicate. Also, it takes place in 1959, and this reviewer is not sure that the phrase “put on your big girl panties and deal with it” was used at that time, but maybe it was in Texas.
Despite that reservation, Lynda Stephenson has produced an excellent novel about a small-town girl’s eye-opening freshman year at a Texas liberal arts college. Frankielee Baxter is also the main character in an earlier book by Lynda Stephenson, Dancing With Elvis, but they are stand-alone stories and it is not at all necessary to have read one to enjoy the other.
Frankielee pledges a sorority, but she feels much closer to the girls in her dorm who don’t, so they form their own club, “The Big Girl Panties Club.” One of the members, and Frankielee’s roommate, is the first black student at the college, Eleanor Wilson.
Eleanor is a mature, smart and attractive preacher’s daughter from the North, but to some people she is just black and unwelcome. The girls have to deal with disturbing phone call and petty acts of meanness and racism.
In the meantime, Frankielee also has to adjust to college, bring up her grades, try to figure out the moods of her handsome first real boyfriend, and, as part of the school newspaper staff, try to solve the mystery of what put a fraternity boy in a coma.
Stephenson does an excellent job detailing campus life at a conservative college in 1959, not that different from life at the one I attended a decade later. The dresses, the hose, the curfews, all are absolutely right.
Frankielee’s experience feels genuine, and the mystery and social turmoil are intriguing. The author handles the sexism and racial tension that were an accepted part of daily life, but she captures the lighter, social side of teenage life as well.
While the book has a definite ending, at least one major thread is left hanging. raising the hope that there will be at least one more Frankielee Baxter book in the future.
Frankielee is a character worth spending more time with, and her future stories promise to be interesting, and that means that this is a highly recommended book for young adult and older readers alike.