Children's Literature - Kathryn Erskine
A reprint of the original published in 1956, this novel provides a fascinating window into the past. The thoughts and desires of fifteen-year-olds may be the same today as they were over fifty years ago, as are the disagreements between protective parents and their teenagers who want privacy and freedom, but the look and feel is definitely very different. It may be hard for today's teen readers to relate to the quieter lifestyle focused on baby-sitting and on girls not socially able or expected to ask boys out or even be open about their desire to be asked out by boys. Today's young readers are generally used to greater freedom of expression than their counterparts in the early- to mid-1950's. This is certainly a book that can be appreciated today, particularly by those looking for a calmer, less edgy book for teenagers about high school, growing up, and dating.
In this blast from the past, Cleary offers a crisp, albeit dated, portrayal of Jane's first dating experiences. Not part of the in-crowd, Jane has never dated anyone¾then popular Stan moves to town. Much to her surprise, Stan asks Jane out for a date. As their relationship begins to develop, Jane must overcome her parents' overprotectiveness, her difficulty joining the in-group and her insecurity over Stan's commitment to her. At times, the book presents overly traditional views of women. Nonetheless, Jane's struggles transcend time. 1996 (orig. 1956), Avon Books, $5.95. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Rebecca Joseph
Read an Excerpt
Today I'm going to meet a boy, Jane Purdy told herself, as she walked up Blossom Street toward her baby-sitting job. Today I'm going to meet a boy. If she thought it often enough as if she really believed it, maybe she actually would meet a boy even though she was headed for Sandra Norton's house and the worst baby-sitting job in Woodmont.
If I don't step on any cracks in the sidewalk all the way there, Jane thought, I'll be sure to meet a boy. But avoiding cracks was silly, of course, and the sort of thing she had done when was in the third grade. She was being just as silly as some of the other fifteen-year-old girls she knew, who counted red convertibles and believed they would go steady with the first boy they saw after the hundreth red convertible. Counting convertibles and not stepping on cracks were no way to meet a boy.
Maybe, when she finished her job with Sandra, she could walk down to Nibley's Confectionery and Soda Fountain and sit at the counter and order a chocolate coke float; and if she sipped it very, very slowly a new boy might happen to come in and sit down beside her. He would be at least sixteen-old enough to have a driver's license-and he would have crinkles around his eyes that showed he had a sense of humor and he would be tall, the kind of boy all the other girls would like to date. Their eyes would meet in the mirror behind the milk-shake machines, and he would smile and she would smile back and he would turn to her and look down (down-that was important) and grin and say . . .
"Hello there!" A girl's voice interrupted Jane's daydream, and she looked up to see Marcy Stokes waving at her from a greenconvertible driven by Greg Donahoe, president of the junior class of Woodmont High School.
"Hi, Marcy," Jane called back. People who said, "Hello there," to her always made her feel so unimportant.
Greg waved, and as the couple drove on down the hill Marcy brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes and smiled back at Jane with the kind of smile a girl riding in a convertible with a popular boy on a summer day gives a girl who is walking alone. And that smile made Jane feel that everything about herself was all wrong. Her yellow cotton dress was too-well, too little-girlish with its round collar and full skirt. Her skin wasn't tan enough and even if it were, she didn't have a white pique dress to show it off. And her curly brown hair, which had seemed pretty enough in the mirror at home, now seemed childish compared to Marcy's sleek blond hair, bleached to golden streaks by the sun. The trouble with me, Jane thought, as the hill grew steeper, is that I am not the cashmere-sweater type like Marcy. Marcy wore her cashmere sweaters as if they were of no importance at all. Jane had one cashmere sweater, which she took off the minute she got home from school. Marcy had many dates with the most popular boys in school and spent a lot of time with the crowd at Nibley's. Jane had an occasional date with an old family friend named George, who was an inch shorter than she was and carried his money in a change purse instead of loose in his pocket and took her straight home from the movies. Marcy had her name mentioned in the gossip column of the Woodmontonian nearly every week. Jane had her name in the school paper when she served on the clean-up committee after the freshman tea. Marcy belonged. Jane did not.
And if I were in Marcy's place right now, Jane thought wistfully, I wouldn't even know what to say. I would probably just sit there beside Greg with my hands all clammy, because I would be so nervous and excited.
Jane reached the end of Blossom Street and paused to catch her breath before starting to climb the winding road to Sandra's house. She looked back through the locust trees at the roof of her own comfortable old house in the center of Woodmont. In recent years this pleasant village had begun to grow in two directions. Toward the bay, on the treeless side of town, there was now a real-estate development called Bayaire Estates-block after block of small houses, all variations of one ranchstyle plan, which Jane thought of as the no-down-payment-to-veterans neighborhood, because of the advertisements on billboards along the highway. On the other side of the Purdys' part of town, where Woodmont rose sharply into tree-covered hills, there were also many new houses, referred to in advertisements as "California modern, architect-designed, planned for outdoor living." These houses were being built into the hillside among the gracious old redwood homes, now called "charming rustics."
It was toward one of these new houses in the hills that Jane now walked so reluctantly. Sandra Norton and her parents had lived in Woodmont only a few months, having recently returned to this country after two years in France, where Mr. Norton had been the American representative of an airline. Already Sandra was notorious among Woodmont baby sitters. The last time Jane sat with the eight-year-old girl, Sandra had grabbed a Flit gun full of fly spray and aimed it at a new chair upholstered in pale fabric. Before Jane wrested the Flit gun from Sandra she was drenched in fly spray. Afterwards she had laughed about the incident and turned it into a funny paragraph for a baby-sitting (baby-running was really a better word) article she had written for Manuscript, the Woodmont High literary club. Never theless, it was not an experience she would care to repeat. Fifteen. Copyright © by Beverly Cleary. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.