John Farris was 23 when he wrote Harrison High, a sprawling and controversial and controversial novel that went on to sell over a million copies and was filmed as Because They're Young (1960, starring perpetual teenager Dick Clark and a 17-year-old Tuesday Weld. Although Farris had already had four novels published by the time Harrison High came out in 1959, three of them paperback originals and three of the four published under a pen name, his was not a well-known name. Harrison High changed that. It's realistic (at times) and somewhat graphic treatment of sex blinded many critics to the novel's importance -- much the same as Peyton Place had done three years earlier. Farris went on to become a best-selling author of horror and dark suspense novels such as When Michal Calls, The Fury, and All Heads Turn When the Hunt Comes By, but in 1968 he returned to Harrison High with the first of five paperback sequels from Pocket Books.
Happy Anniversary, Harrison High was the fourth of these sequels and the only one of the five that I've read. It's a potboiler of sex, exploitation, sex, greed, and graphic sex. It's also a well-controlled, over-the-top romp. It's the 50th anniversary of the school which has had a storied and troubled past. Once one of the best high schools in its unnamed state, it had been torn apart by racial tensions five years before. With the hard work of principal Neal Hendry (who, as a new teacher, had an important role in the 1959 novel) and his staff, the school has rebounded. Racial tensions have not resurfaced although they remain in the background, as have the relations between the establishment and the counterculture, with the establishment being more prominent within the student bodyand the local and state governments. A week-long celebration of the school's anniversary has been planned. Also planned is a race riot that will destroy the school.
Enter the varied( and interesting) cast of characters:
- A brash, self-centered documentary filmmaker
- His live-in assistant who had attended Harrison High six years before and who had transformed herself from a drab nobody to a Jane Fonda lookalike
- A randy, greedy, and amoral multi-millionaire
- A racist, ultra right-wing former Vice-President of The United States and the most famous alumni of Harrison High
- A high-school vixen who uses sex to finance her mother's political campaigns
- A shy, dedicated, and sexually inexperienced veteran teacher
- The student leader of the school's conservative club
- The angry Black student leader
- A secretary whose job it is to keep people sexually distracted
- A lonely and confused religious fanatic
- A large, ugly dangerous dog who loves his rubber dolly toy
And, trying to hold it all together.
- Neal Hendry
Great literature this isn't, but it's a fast, fun read. I'm not ashamed to say that I laughed at the "kidnapped baby" scene and smirked at the special anniversary cake that was too large to go through the doors and had to be lifted by a crane through the skylight. The sex scenes (and there are plenty of them -- so take caution, any who might be offended) are funny and farcical. I'm willing to bet Farris really enjoyed himself writing this one.