Thursday, October 8, 2020

#1956Club - Fifteen, an iconic teen novel of the 1950s by Beverly Cleary

The 1956 Club is a meme created by Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings to showcase books published in a specific year.  

Title: Fifteen
Publication: 1956, William Morrow hardcover (2007 paperback edition)
Genre: Young Adult

Description: Jane Purdy is fifteen and yearns for the glamorous life of a magazine teenager – a boyfriend and dates and the perfect outfit for every occasion.  Instead, she is stuck babysitting for spoiled children and watching smug Marcy Stokes drive by in convertibles with whatever boy she wants.  Then Jane meets cute Stan Crandall when he is delivering dog food where she is babysitting and he asks her out!  Jane is thrilled but isn’t sure how to behave, what to wear, or even if her parents will give permission – or even worse, embarrass her when in front of him!  More importantly to the reader, Jane needs to develop enough self-confidence that she doesn’t hide her real feelings and self.  

My Impression: I had not reread this book for many years and it was even better than I remembered! Beverly Cleary, now more than 100 years old, is the beloved author and Newbery winner of the Ramona and Henry Huggins books, not to mention two memoirs I recommend, The Road to Yamhill and My Own Two Feet.   No less than Nick Kristof of the New York Times, also from Yamhill, is a fan.  The four books that Cleary wrote for teen readers are less well known: The Luckiest Girl, Jean and Johnny, Sister of the Bride, and Fifteen, all well worth reading.  This is one of the best examples of malt shop novels.  When I worked at Avon, we were constantly discussing the packaging of Cleary’s books and how to repackage them for a modern audience.   I never liked the art they came up with – here, I included the original cover art at the top, a mid-80s version in the middle, and the current cover below; you can judge for yourselves.  And how could you possibly improve on the original art for The Luckiest Girl?  Every reader remembers Shelley’s raincoat and its black velvet collar!  In fact, look at my raincoat!  

You may want to roll your eyes at Jane’s yearning for a boyfriend and her willingness to be defined by his having chosen her but, for the most part, I think the book should just be enjoyed as a snapshot in time of a more carefree era and reminds us that (nearly?) everyone has gone through an all-consuming crush or relationship, no matter how sophisticated they may be.  So don’t look down on Jane, waiting for the phone to ring; instead, think about whether you ever did the same or perhaps checked your phone repeatedly for a text message!  There is a cringeworthy scene in which Jane and her best friend are at the malt shop and they start talking loudly about their new boyfriends and Saturday night plans: “The faces reflected in the mirror behind the milk shake machines revealed that the girls around them were wishing they had dates for dinner in the city too, and that they were sure to spread the news to every girl in Woodmont.”  You’d think that they’d be more sensitive, given how left out they felt before.  

Links: * Barnes & Noble * Amazon * Book Depository * Worldcat

Ramona Quimby:  Can you pass the Ramona quiz?

Source: Library.  Because my copy is not on the shelf!

I never liked this cover,
created by my Avon colleagues


Nan said...

I know I read this back when I was a girl, probably around 15!

It seems to be so hard for readers to lose themselves in a time and place. Some of those times and places were terribly uncomfortable, but still need to be read as they were written, and understood by the reader that was one writer's view and one writer's time and perception. It is a very complicated subject. I have to just swallow quickly and move on when I read something unsettling.

Anyhow, many of us who are in our 70s or older, remember these times. They were "innocent" but also sexist and racist.

This is why I love these "clubs" - it gives readers a chance to see what things were like then, and not through the eyes of a modern historical writer looking back. Wonderful book review. Thank you.

Karen K. said...

I thought I'd read all of Beverly Cleary but this was probably uninteresting to me when I was a young and middle grade reader, but probably hopelessly old-fashioned by the time I was actually fifteen -- when I was a teenager in the 80s most of the YA books were edgy "problem novels" like parents getting divorced, pregnancy, etc. A lot of Judy Blume and Norma Klein novels, which are probably hardly read today. Groundbreaking for their time, though.

And I agree with Nan about losing yourself in a time and place while reading. I love mid-century novels but there is a lot of cringey stuff.

LyzzyBee said...

I'd love reading this one, sounds fun! I read the Ramona books but not this one. What a wide range of books people are finding for the Club!

Davida Chazan (The Chocolate Lady) said...

Looks cute! I don't read YA books now... and to be honest, hardly ever read them when I was a teen.

Buried In Print said...

I absolutely loved this book as a girl and borrowed it and reborrowed it from the library countless times. So old-fashioned now, in many ways, but she remains a high-spirited character and her excitement and ambition (of a sort) are still such a pleasure to read about.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

What a wonderful choice for the 1956 Club! I tracked down everything I could by Cleary at the library when I was young but I don't remember ever come across this. I still own my copies of her memoirs and this is making me long to dig them out of storage.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

Not heard of her, but what a fun addition to the club! And those COVERS.