This one is far better than Orrie Hitt’s other juvie novel, The Torrid Teens – both published in 1960 although Wayward Girl was a month or two before Torrid Teens, as tis is Beacon #288 and Teens #294 (we’re talking a month difference here).
The wayward girl is young Sandy Greening and he white trash nowhere life — she was raped by a neighbor at 14 but liked it, started running with a gang and prostituting at 15, got hooked on heroin (but not too badly) at 16.
Her father is in prison for trying to hold up a gas station and her mother is a lush who runs around with criminals and bad boys. She in turn runs around with a street gang, is not quite a “deb” but makes herself available for the use of the club house, where she sometimes brings her johns.
She works part time in a deli, where she meets out of town men or dock workers who pay her $5-10, sometimes $20, for a lay. She believes in giving men what they pay for and sometimes enjoys it. She wants to work her way up to a high class $100/night call girl and lead a nicer life.
One night an older man offers her $25 and she goes to his hotel room but it’s a police sting and she’s arrested. She was witness to a murder in a rumble the night before (a rival gang gang-raped one of their debs) but she plays dumb.
She is sent to a special reform school for first offenders, much better she is told than most reform institutes for young women, and far better than prison. There, she goes cold turkey off the heroin and it’s a hellish two weeks before she kicks it.
Some of the other girls are pregnant, in for drugs or hooking, and half seem to be lesbians or dabbling in the third sex for lack of men. She vows never to go that route but she is blackmailed into lesbiana by one of the house-mothers, who holds her future well-being in lock. Still, Sandy finds she enjoys the forced kisisngs and lickings of another woman — “Sandy had never dreamed of the completeness of this kind of love” (p. 92).
She is given a weekend pass to stay with a family in town, only to find that the man of the house — a fat slob of a guy — expects sex from her, or else he will tell the house-mother to give her a bad report and have her sent to regular jail. He is paying the house-mother $25 for every girl she sends for him to have sex with. Sandy sees it ironic that she was convicted for prostitution only to be pimped out by the state employees who are supposed to be “reforming” her as a good citizen of society.
The slob’s son, 19, however, falls in love with Sandy and wants to marry her, but she can’t see how he can feel that way for a girl like her, especially if he ever found out she was sleeping with his father.
When Sandy is released, she goes back to work at the diner where men are expecting her to return to doing $5-10 tricks, and where her gang mates expect her to return to the Life of rumbling and shooting heroin.
Sometimes at tad preachy and moral, this is still an excellent read, even with the sappy happy ending. Hitt seems to be writing a book made-to-order for Beacon, as the storyline is similar to others, but here he does an excellent job.
On the Hitt Scale, a 9.2.