Desert Isle Keeper
There is something about adolescence, those teenage years, that marks you and leaves its brand for life. It’s a time of an enormous breadth of feeling; breathless excitement, staggering humiliation, quivering expectancy. When you’re in it, it absorbs you, and when you’re past it, you never quite forget.
Beverly Cleary paints a vivid portrait of this in her book, Fifteen. First published in 1956, it’s the story of first love and all of its painful thrills. Despite the lengthy time gap between then and now, all of the feelings, thoughts and actions still ring true. It’s all there – the waiting by the telephone, the careful decisions of what to wear and say and do, as well as the wondering if maybe you could walk by his house and accidentally run into him without being completely obvious.
Jane Purdy is fifteen and desperately desirous of a boyfriend. She is in the midst of a crushing discovery. All of a sudden it is painfully clear that she, her parents, her friends, her house, and her clothes are all unbelievably lame. She is average; not a glamorous girl-woman like Marcy or an intellectual like Liz. Just ordinary. She babysits for extra money, and she has plenty of time to do it because she doesn’t have a boyfriend or even date much. Unless you count baby parties that she goes to with George, a family friend who is shorter than she is and only interested in his rock collection.
Then one day she meets Stan, Stanley Crandall, the new boy in town. He’s older – at least sixteen because he drives-and so handsome with gray-green eyes and a cute dip in his brown hair. She meets him in an awkward babysitting moment and fantasizes about him. Maybe he’ll call. Maybe they’ll go out. Maybe….
He does call, and they do go out. And he is polite and sweet and older, and all the other girls look at Jane with new awareness. But instead of being happier and having all of her problems work out, she is now in crisis all the time. Because every word she says – everything she does – now hovers on the brink of being a startling social gaffe. If she wears the wrong dress, will he think she’s a baby? If she orders the wrong thing to eat, will that reveal how unsophisticated she still is? Will she ever know the right thing to do?
Fifteen is a wonderful book for anyone who remembers what it was like to be young and nervous and inexperienced and for anyone who remembers what it was like to not quite know yourself yet. The book is, of course, about Jane and Stan and their blooming relationship, but it’s more about Jane and how she learns who she really is and what she really wants. She has to define herself before she can be happy with Stan. She has to figure out who Jane is.
A warning: the sweet factor is very high in this book, but that did not bother me at all. It’s just a charmer. I found myself laughing and cringing at the things Jane does and how her parents react to her. And Stan Crandall is the nicest boy in the world, bar none. I only have one question. Where was he when I was in high school?