Sunday, May 22, 2011

Book Review: Fifteen by Beverly Cleary (1956)

This is my last post in my series of reviews about Beverly Cleary's Young Adult novels. This book was actually the first one published out of all of them, and it even seems to be the most popular, but I had the hardest time getting a copy! Thankfully, a local used book shop had several copies, and I snatched one up for less than three dollars.

The heroine this time around is average fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy. Like Shelley in The Luckiest Girl, she is an only child, and like Jean in Jean and Johnny, she dreams of romance, but has yet to experience it herself. Jane plays silly games with herself, though, promising she'll meet a boy after skipping a certain number of cracks in the sidewalk, or if a new boy miraculously moves to town, but she doesn't really believe it will happen. She figures boys are only interested in popular girls like Marcy Stokes, who get rides in convertibles and wear fancy, expensive clothes. No one wants a plain old ordinary girl who babysits and only has one cashmere sweater. 

This is why it takes her by utter surprise when Stan Crandall arrives one afternoon at the home where she is babysitting, to deliver horse meat for the family dog. Not only does Stan help her out with a sticky sitting situation, he also calls her up and asks for a date! Nervous and inexperienced, Jane struggles with her confusion over Stan's behavior, and her own insecurities about whether or not she is attractive enough, or good enough to really be Stan's girlfriend.

I found this book absolutely excruciating to read, but not because it's not well-written. There is one thing Beverly Cleary knows, and that is the emotions of kids during the most difficult parts of growing up. Her portrayal of a fifteen year old with a crush, though written over 50 years ago, matches exactly what I went through at that age, and what so many girls put themselves through - sitting by the phone, analyzing a boy's every move, wanting, and waiting, and wishing. This portrait of being fifteen years old is so realistic, it reminded me exactly why I am glad not to be a teenager anymore. Jane's constant worrying over Stan's opinion made me cringe, and there were moments where I wanted to reach into the book and shake her a little! I had to laugh at the tag line on the cover of my copy of the book - "Having a boyfriend isn't the answer" - because the message of this book was mostly the complete opposite. 

Fear not, though, for Jane does eventually come into her own, and it is comfort in her own skin, and her willingness to be herself, even if not everyone understands her, that finally wins her the boy of her dreams. But oh, the heart-wrenching drama we have to endure before we get there. So much angst! I think girls experiencing their first crush will absolutely relate to this book, horse meat, dated clothing, and all. 

Conclusions about the First Love Series

All in all, reading these four books was an enjoyable exercise. It showed me a whole new side of Beverly Cleary, and provided me with some great titles to recommend for girls who like good, clean romance and aren't quite ready for the more serious YA novels.

I was interested in some of the recurring themes I noticed - mainly, fathers who don't approve of their daughters going on dates, and boys who think nothing of taking advantage of "nice" girls. I'm not sure if Beverly Cleary was trying to say something about men, but she definitely stamped some of them with warning labels! 

Another thing I really appreciated was that the girl doesn't always get the boy. These are not truly romance novels, where the ending is always happy, but they are stories about first love, in whatever form each girl happens to experience it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. So glad to have found your blog, while looking for an image of the original cover of Fifteen. (Here's what I wrote about it.)

    Do you ever write about the way the covers are changed over the years?

  3. I love your post. The bit about the use of the subjunctive was especially interesting.

    I haven't really written much about the covers. It's certainly something to consider for future "old school" reviews. Thanks for commenting!