Beverly Cleary once stated, “As I grew up…I could rarely find what I wanted to read most of all….stories about American boys and girls….who lived in the same kind of neighborhood I lived in and went to a school like the one I attended.” Her praise in the classroom during her adolescent years, coupled with her desire for particular literature seems to have motivated her to write children’s texts like Fifteen—her seventh book, published in 1956.
Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen is a young-adult fictional novel that acquaints readers with Jane Purdy during a pivotal stage of her adolescence. In the beginning of Fifteen, Jane Purdy declares, “Today, I’m going to meet a boy” (1). By that afternoon, she meets Stanley Crandall, who’s not just any boy, but about whom, by the end of the book, she proudly thinks, “she was Stan’s girl” and “that was all that mattered” (203). Jane Purdy. Is she a prophetess or a psychic? Neither. She is a typical fifteen year old Cali girl, who thinks, acts and dreams like the quintessential fifteen-year-old female of the 1950s. During the summer months following Jane’s freshman year at Woodmont High, in Woodmont California, Jane spends her days babysitting, thinking about how she can measure up to cool kids like Marcy Stokes, and daydreaming about boys, of course. Upon one of her sitting appointments, she haphazardly meets Stan Crandall, who works as a driver and delivery boy for Doggy Diner. It is puppy love at first sight.
Yes, Jane has finally met a boy; however, developing a relationship with him wouldn’t come without a series of missteps, misgivings, misunderstandings, and winning parental approval on many occasions. She goes from devising all sorts of ways to track down her mystery, nameless boy to being tracked down by him; from being asked to go on a few dates with him to not being asked to go to the dance; from behaving like a Miss Muffet to behaving like the thoughtful, caring and heroic Jane that Stan adored. So like any great story, it has its ups and downs before the satisfying ending.
As Jane’s story unfolds, we see how the life of a teenager during the 1950s meets challenges that cause her to re-evaluate who she is, determine the importance of how she is portrayed by her peers and why, and learn that being herself is what makes her so admirable. In a cutesy and quaint and 1950sish way, Fifteen captures the realities that fifteen year-olds deal with universally. Though settings and cultures and beliefs across the board may vary, I believe that the innocent attitudes and thoughts that Jane and her peers portray can be related to by nearly every fifteen-year-old. Whether you agree with my opinion or not, I think that you would understand that Beverly Clearly books are indeed middle-school classroom proof.