Gina Glassman, the high school librarian, said she has never seen a book anywhere near so overdue as this one.
What would the late fee be for the tardy borrower, who did not leave his or her name when dropping the book off in an envelope at the school over the summer?
Believe it or not: nothing. Glassman said that Arlington County public schools do not charge students for overdue books, as long as the book gets returned (a policy that would have saved this reporter, a heavy library user, many a dime in high school).
Glassman said that the library does not have a copy of “The Underside of the Leaf” nowadays. It cleared out many of the older books in its collection when the school moved to a new building several years ago. And she won’t be putting this returned copy back into circulation, due to both its condition and its content, she said.
“It’s pretty yellow — it looks like a book that’s been in somebody’s attic for years and years,” she said. Plus this book might bore today’s teen readers. “I guess there’s a lot more engaging stuff out there now.”
The novel, by M. B. Goffstein, was published in 1972 and proved to have little staying power. According to a Kirkus review from the time, it tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who fantasizes about her neighbor’s boyfriend, then learns five years later that he’s actually kind of a creep.
The New York Times praised prior work by Goffstein, who until “The Underside of the Leaf” had written picture books, but said that this first full-length novel was “a disappointment.”
“She describes every single thing that involves her heroine, whether it be a sunset or a sandwich,” reviewer Barbara Wersba complained in the Times upon the novel’s publication.
In 1979, The Post offered a much warmer appraisal of Goffstein’s body of work: “one of the finest illustrator/writers of our time,” the review of two of her new picture books said. “Like porcelain, there is more to her work than meets the eye. Beneath the delicacy and fragility is a core of astounding strength.”
If you’re curious about Goffstein’s work, you can still check out at least eight of her books at D.C. Public Library branches, though “The Underside of the Leaf” is nowhere to be found. For that one, you might want to rush to Wakefield High School, before the library consigns it to a bin just like some long-ago high schooler did for 34 years.