The Phantom Friend (Judy Bolton #30)

By Margaret Sutton

“Oh dear! wailed Clarissa. “I look terrible. My hair is dull. My hair is drab….”

“Turn her off, somebody!” Pauline interrupted. “We’ve heard that record before.”

It kills me to give a Judy Bolton book less than 3 stars but this one was not only flawed but “dull and drab.” Sorry! Judy is still in New York with Irene after their last adventure sorting out the scary Lake family and they have been joined by their friend Pauline Faulkner and another girl at Radio City Music Hall. They are going to tour a TV studio and watch Irene’s local variety show which seems to owe a lot to the old Shirley Temple’s Storybook TV series. They meet the naive and tiresome Clarissa Valentine, an aspiring actress from West Virginia, who wants to return home after not making it in New York City. Her money for her ticket is stolen by a cashier and the girls give her money to go back home. When she disappears from the group during the show, it is suspected that it was all a big scam to get their money. During the tour of the TV studio, the girls are victimized by Subliminal Advertising, and the reader is victimized by a never-ending diatribe on its dangers. Judy and Clarissa constantly bewail their dull and drab hair and can’t stop thinking about Golden Hair Wash. Somehow, a con man who specializes in kidnapping people and scamming churches out of their money gets involved in the story. Clarissa gets kidnapped because she is mistaken for a famous guest actress on Irene’s show and the actress ends up in the hospital and Peter gets shot. It’s all a big muddle and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Especially when Clarissa with her kidnappers posing as her mother and father end up at a surprise party in Judy’s house in Dry Brook Hollow. I might have been generous and given it 3 stars but Judy’s out of character swanning around as if in a trance talking about her nightmares and her dull and drab hair just got on my last nerve. Pauline Faulkner with her cynical outlook and sarcastic remarks was my favorite character in this one.

According to her daughter, Lindsey Stroh, Margaret used Vance Packard’s milestone book, The Hidden Persuaders as research, and apparently it really got to her. She wasn’t alone as subliminal advertising and mind control concerned a lot of people in the 50s and 60s. But it is called “as dangerous as an atom bomb” several times which is way over the top. Judy and Clarissa’s overreaction to the commercial for Golden Hair Wash which contained subliminal tactics overshadowed the mystery and adventure and even Peter ending up in the hospital (again) and in trouble with his boss. Unlike much of her laudable social commentary, it is not subtle and not integrated smoothly into the plot. It’s as if Margaret felt compelled to warn her young readers about mind control, but by the time she got back to writing a Judy Bolton story, it was too late.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

February 27, 2022

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s