I took this photo of the book cover Fifteen by Beverly Clearly; it was one of my first young adult (YA) reads…it was also one of the few YA books available at the time.
I read and reread the novel Fifteen because I felt there was someone who understood how incredibly embarrassing it was to be self-aware and fifteen. The plot of the novel is driven by the number of times the heroine, Jane, is embarrassed in front of Stan, the boy she likes.
First, Jane’s family embarrasses her.
“That was the trouble with this house. A girl couldn’t even carry on a telephone conversation with any privacy”
Jane’s inability to order off a Chinese menu is embarrassing:
“Now if only she knew which was the won ton, and should she pour the sauce over it or dunk the won ton in the sauce? And what on earth could those floating things be that looked like little brown hands?”
Finally, Jane does not own a cashmere sweater…(how embarrassing)!
As the the oldest of nine children, I knew about embarrassing…especially when I was fifteen. Any potential boyfriend was subject to spying or having his car rifled as my younger brothers looked for loose change.
Beverly Cleary understood me….and I had never even ordered off a Chinese menu.
There were her other books as well. Mouse and the Motorcycle, Henry Huggins, Ribsy spoke to the other members of my family. We all shared her books…we recommended them to each other. We even adopted the language from her books in our conversations. Someone would be advised to sit over by the “dawnzer lee light” (from Ramona the Pest) if they wanted to read.
I recently learned that Beverly Clearly is turning 100 years old. That is certainly a milestone, but not as impressive as the enormous an impact her stories had on me and members of my family.
Happy Birthday, Beverly Clearly. You made me….and hundreds of thousands of others….a reader.