On April 12, Beverly Cleary celebrated her 101st birthday. If you’re a person of a certain age, you’ve probably read one of her books. Henry Huggins, Ramona the Pest, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle were all popular books in middle-school, but the book I immediately associate with Cleary is her Young Adult sweet romance, Fifteen.
I’m not sure how well Fifteen has aged. Probably poorly. When I was that age (a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away), it already felt dated and not just because of the cultural references. There just weren’t many ice cream parlors (though our town had one), drive in movie theaters (oh, we had one of those too), or cashmere sweaters as a status symbol (though clothes have been used as such since clothes were invented, probably). Still, most 15 yr old girls in my small Alabama town had gone far beyond a chaste kiss on the cheek and the promise represented by getting a boy’s identification bracelet. But I grew up reading Barbara Cartland historicals which are also pretty sugary, so I devoured it.
The story is pretty basic for a YA romance (which would probably be classified as middle school now). Young Jane is not part of the “popular crowd” and envies those she sees as prettier and more confident and who wear the nicest clothing. The female antagonist has all those things, and though she’s stereotypically catty, mean, and petty, Jane looks up to her in the way of most fictional teens. She wants to meet a nice boy, go dancing and on dates, and have more than just one cashmere sweater in her wardrobe. She meets her boy, misunderstandings occur, and ultimately get resolved. The ending is sweet and sappy and absolutely wonderful.
If you want to take a trip down memory lane, roll around like a puppy in the nostalgia of your childhood, I recommend celebrating a treasured author’s birthday by reading (or re-reading) Fifteen.