Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Bab a Sub Deb

1916. A. L. Burt Company. Hardcover. 350 pages (not the same edition as shown above)

Recommended by: Aarti at Booklust


This was the book chosen randomly by the Classics Spin. I was to finish the book before July 1st, which I did – I just have been slow to post a review!

Bab: A Sub-Deb is a light, humorous read that consists of five parts/chapters, each describing a new misadventure in the life of the naive, spoiled, funny Barbara Archibald, called Bab. Bab is 17 and not yet “out” in society which frustrates her to no end, as her barely older sister gets to enjoy parties and outings with the opposite sex. Thus, Bab is a sub-debutante, or sub-deb. There – that is the title explained!

Each of the five parts is framed as either a school essay or diary entry, complete with atrocious spelling. That is a stylistic feature some readers may not tolerate, but I found it mostly endearing. Another aspect that may deter some readers: Bab is often self-centered, is sometimes disparaging of her friends and almost always of her sister and mother. But within that characterization are the identifiable strains of common teenage concerns: desire to be treated as an adult; curiosity about romance and love; high ideals. We know and Rinehart knows that Bab is quite silly, and the joke is almost always on her, but she’s also evolving as a person, especially in the last story.

For me, I enjoyed the first, fourth and fifth chapters the best. The misadventures in the second and third stories felt repetitive, and Bab was not as charming there as she was in the other three stories. That is where my pace slowed down. In the fourth story, she buys a car and I liked that while she was bad driver, she became quite adept at changing a flat tire. The fifth story was my favorite. On a train ride from school to home, Bab’s newly awakened patriotism stirs her to ask a young male passenger if he is going to enlist (the book was written and set during World War I). He says that he already has, and then criticizes coddled society girls who “can’t even walk , but they talk about helping in the War.” Bab takes this to heart and rallies her female friends to form the Girls’ Aviation Corp – “but to be known generally as the G. A. C. as because of Spies and so on we must be as secret as possable.” The end of that story, and of the book, is genuinely sweet and so I finished the book feeling rather fond of it.

Here is an excerpt from the first story. In an effort to be taken seriously as an adult, Bab has just implied to her mother and sister that she has a beau:

“I’m perfectly mad about him,” I said. “And he’s crazy about me.”

“I’d like very much to know,” Sis said, as she stood up and stared at me, “how much you are making up and how much is true.”

None the less, I saw that she was terrafied. The family Kitten, to speak in allegory, had become a Lion and showed its clause.

When she had gone out I tried to think of some one to hang a love affair to. But there seemed to be nobody. They knew perfectly well that the dancing master had one eye and three children, and that the clergyman at school was elderly, with two wives. One dead.

I searched my Past, but it was blameless. It was empty and bare, and as I looked back and saw how little there had been in it but imbibing wisdom and playing basket-ball and tennis, and typhoid fever when I was fourteen and almost having to have my head shaved, a great wave of bitterness agatated me.

“Never again,” I observed to myself with firmness. “Never again, if I have to invent a member of the Other Sex.”

The book is available through Project Gutenberg.

Excerpts from others’ reviews:

Booklust – “The best thing about Bab is that she balances so well between being a very realistic, overly dramatic teenager and being one of the funniest and most endearing narrators you’ve ever encountered.  I generally hate ditzy girls in books because they are so overblown and ridiculous.  But I love Bab”

Howling Frog Reviews – “I laughed so much while reading this; I’m sure I’ll go back and read it again often.  I kept reading bits out loud to whoever was nearest.” [And I see that this review picked the same excerpt as I did.]

Redeeming Qualities – “No one really wants to read a book that’s misspelled all the way through. I mean, if you’re Daisy Ashford and you’re, like, eight, it’s excusable.”


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3 responses to “Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart

  1. aartichapati

    Aw, I’m so glad you read this one! Even if you didn’t love it as much as I did. Just reading that excerpt above had me giggling again – it’s just so hard to take her seriously, but she takes herself so seriously, and I just really loved that.

  2. Miss Bibliophile – it is a cute cover. I wonder if that was ever the cover jacket for my used edition.

    Aarti – Yes! For her the stakes are always *so high* – and, it does remind me in that way of how it felt to be a teenager though I wasn’t anything like Bab. 🙂 Thanks so much for bringing this book to my attention!

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