Fifteen by Beverly Cleary – A Book Review

Unlike other material things, books do not lose their beauty as they age. On the contrary, they become more appealing. Old books are enriched by the lives they have led. When I pick up an old book, I am holding a treasure trove of someone’s thoughts and ideas that has touched the minds of multiple people over the decades. If the binding is coming undone and the pages are dog-eared or torn, I know that this book played a significant role in someone’s life. Just as laugh wrinkles bear truth to a life of joy, a beat-up book testifies to years of touching hearts and minds. (Or, someone with a rambunctious preschooler owned the book…but that’s much less poetic…)

Old books are just so…good. I can pick up pretty much any super old book at the library or a yard sale and feel pretty confident that it will not contain anything inappropriate, or at least something mild compared to today’s literature. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, such a philosophy holds true.

Which brings us to a spontaneous read I picked up at the library – Fifteen by Beverly Cleary.

Fifteen chronicles the life of Jane Purdy, a fifteen-year-old girl growing up in a suburb in the 1950s. Jane longs to find a boyfriend – one who is somewhat tall, handsome, and polite. When Stan Crandall, the delivery boy for the Doggie Diner, rescues her from the antics of Sandra, the little girl Jane babysits, Jane realizes she has found her knight in shining armor. Throughout the story, Jane experiences the typical teen-girl insecurities as she builds a relationship with Stan. She feels the pressure to be attractive, flirtatious, and stereotypical. For much of the adventures she encounters with her beau, Jane succumbs to these pressures, trying to live up to image established by the siren of Woodmont, Marcy Stokes. But, in the end, Jane learns the importance of being true to herself, and she begins to see that people will accept her for just being Jane Purdy.

Something about these 1950s children’s stories are just so sweet and innocent. The pictures, created by Joe and Beth Krush (how appropriate!), are so vintage that I would read the book just to see the cute illustrations. Of course, you would be missing out on an adorable story if you did that. After all, while Cleary’s writing style is very basic, it is filled with personality. She makes the characters come to life through vivid recollections of their thoughts, dialogues, and feelings. The characters, although imperfect, are not “dirty-minded.” Jane is just a typical fifteen-year-old girl dealing with typical fifteen-year-old girl emotions. She is constantly preoccupied with what she can do to impress her boyfriend and tries to change herself to fit the mold of what she considers the perfect girl. Cleary demonstrates a valid point through this struggle. She shows that trying to be someone else only leads to misery and, in many cases, anonymity. The author demonstrates the social and personal rewards of being one’s self by engaging the reader in the redemption of Jane Purdy.

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This is the edition I read. To really appreciate the story, you’ve got to at least see a vintage copy (1956 edition of Fifteen by Beverly Cleary).

Compared with many pre-teen “romance” stories of today, Fifteen is extremely innocent. No language is used. No violence occurs. The only inappropriate element of the book concerns kissing. Jane allows a boy to kiss her because she wants to be like the popular girls. Later on, she and Stan kiss. Also, parents may want to consider some of the other messages this book sends before handing it over to their daughters. The entire story concerns the relationship of Jane and Stan, which may be harmful for young girls struggling to deal with all the emotional changes they are experiencing as they mature into young ladies. Older girls will probably find the story a bit too perfect and roll their eyes in exasperation at the predictability of the plot. However, for the emotionally stable preteen girls in your life, Fifteen is a cute, safe piece of chick-lit that will engage the reader’s attention from start to finish.

Got a book you’d like to see reviewed by The Vintage Book Lady? Leave me a comment and tell me about it! This blogging experience is not just for sharing books I love, but also getting to share the books you love.

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