Welcome to the age of Fifteen!

fifteen cover 4Beverly 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.fifteen cover 2

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 Beverly Cleary Collage 3she 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.

-JES

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2 thoughts on “Welcome to the age of Fifteen!

  1. Fabulous read! In relation to today’s society (and most specifically, teenagers) the comment that you posed in terms of being able to relate prompted me to think about whether the youth today would actually be able to relate to this book. The themes of love and youth are most certainly relatable in every classroom, however, would Fifteen be seen as too prude for today’s adolescents? Or would they be intrigued by the innocence of it? I believe that a lot of historical/cultural and contextual support would be needed in order for students today to grasp a clear understanding of what was going on in the 1950’s, as many of the concepts are foreign to the youth of today. Can this novel be executed successfully in a classroom today? If the students are guided through the reading with a healthy dose of supplementary material, it is entirely possible.
    –VM

  2. Great post JES!
    I agree that Fifteen does, indeed, capture “the realities that fifteen years old deals with universally”. I remember discussing this book in class and noticing how frustrated people were with the decisions that Jane made. But to be completely honest, I remembered going to school and caring more about the guys I used to crush on than anything else, and I used to pay close attention to the popular girls in school. I also remembered when my teenage cousins came from Florida to visit over the summer not too long ago and I wanted to run away because all they talked about was boys, clothes, and the popular girls in their schools. So yes, the themes in the story were universal.

    Although the novel gave a realistic portrayal of a fifteen year old girl and it had a great message saying that a girl doesn’t have to change her personality to win a guy, I still don’t think that I would want to teach this book in my classroom. The storyline was not satisfying, because, as we discussed in class, it seemed that in the end it was still all about winning a guy, and that life outside a boyfriend was meaningless at that time. What happens if a girl in school reads this novel but doesn’t have the same outcome as Jane? JA

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