Won't you let me walk you home from school
Won't you let me meet you at the pool
Maybe Friday I can
get tickets for the dance
and I'll take you….
Big Star, “Thirteen”
Although the ages aren’t the same, I had this song in my head when I read Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen. Maybe it’s because it captures a time of sweetness, a time when you’re just figuring out who you are and what you want to be, and maybe that boy likes you, but what if he doesn’t? Oh, if he doesn’t, you will D-I-E, die! Yeah, I went through this. It usually didn’t end well.
That’s because like Jane in Fifteen, I’ve never been good at dating. Part of it is I never knew when someone was interested in me until he moved on to someone else, or a couple of years later when it hit me that whoa! He was interested in me! Why didn’t I see that? Jane is lucky though. She knows right away that the new boy Stan is interested in her. After helping her with a bratty girl she is babysitting, Stan calls her the next day, asking her for a date. A date! Oh, fabulous day! Jane Purdy is being asked out for a date!
However, she has to deal with things like telling her parents she’s got a date, and asking permission. They’re pretty suspicious because this is a New Boy in Town, and they don’t know anything about him. The book is set in the fifties, which means Jane can’t Google Stan and get info about him and she can’t check YouTube and see if there’s any embarrassing videos of him. She has to go with the fact that he seems like a nice boy who just moved into town and drives a truck delivering horse meat/dog food. (All together now, ick!!!) The most important part of it is, he asked for a date, dammit!
This is good enough for her parents, and they give her permission. After fussing about what to wear and getting irritated at her mother for not letting her charge a new dress for six dollars. (I have to say Mrs. Purdy was being unreasonable on that one. My shoes cost more than a new dress for Jane.) Stan comes and, of course, they have to deal with good old Pop making jokes. Then worst of all, in true Cleary fashion, Sir Puss decides to start licking his butt when everyone is looking at him. Let’s face it—did any of the ladies on Sex and the City have to deal with this problem? Nope! Although God knows what Samantha would’ve said in this situation.
Jane goes out on a date with him and, even though she’s nervous most of the time, it goes well. Soon Stan is calling all the time, asking her to the movies, giving her rides— one night, he even takes her to Chinatown. However, Jane gets worried when he doesn’t ask her to the big dance. Is Stan not into her anymore? Is she going to always be Jane Purdy, the girl who can’t get a boyfriend?
It would be easy to dismiss Fifteen as a romp through the so-called easier times of the fifties. However, I think they would miss the message of the book, which is learning to be yourself around boys. During the trip to Chinatown, Jane has a hard time with chopsticks and couldn’t stand the food. When she finally admits the truth to Stan, she is pleasantly surprised when he apologizes, and then takes her out for a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake. If only dates like this when you get older were this good!
Jane also realizes that she has been made to feel inferior by other girls for not being pretty enough or smart enough. She realizes that “…maybe she didn’t have a lot of sun streaks in her hair or a drawer full of cashmere sweaters… she was certainly as attractive as most girls at school. All she lacked was confidence… From now on, she would be Jane Purdy and no one else. Maybe if she continued to be herself, Stan would like her again. And if he didn’t there was nothing she could do about it.” What’s amazing about this is Jane is fifteen when she figures this out. Fifteen! I don’t think I had this figured out at fifteen. I’m still figuring it out at thirty-seven.
While Fifteen has aged a bit (kids going to a sock hop and saying “Swell!” a lot), the one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that when it comes right down to it, you must be yourself, no matter what happens. This is a lesson that is just as useful in 2009 as it was in 1956.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries