The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

luckiestgirl

This weekend I went home for my high school reunion. Yes, voluntarily.

I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska, so going home means seeing childhood friends and encountering the gIMG_1222hosts of Christmases past. My public library, located right across the street from my house, was a major part of my childhood. The library hours were tattooed in my brain and I loved nothing more than running over and grabbing a few new things to read.

Soon I grew out of the children’s section and read from all over the library: John Kennedy’s PT 109, during my the summer of WWII obsession (thank you very much, Black Sheep Squadron). Then there was the Janette Oke inspirational phase.  I love books set during the pioneer era but honest-to-pete who knows how any of those characters ever had kids, if you know what I mean.

And I think you do.

luckiestOne of my best book friends from that time of my life was Beverly Cleary’s The Luckiest Girl. I read it over and over, imagining what it would be like to spend a year going to school somewhere else. Somewhere warmer. Somewhere with fruit.

Shelley, 16, is about to start her junior year and is determined this year will be different (clothes, boyfriend, popularity, etc.). Her mother’s college roommate invites Shelley to spend the school year in California, but Shelley is more concerned with buying a yellow rain slicker “just like all of the other girls”.

(Okay, this I could relate to. Not that we ever needed rain coats anytime in Western Nebraska. For us, it was Guess jeans and jellies and other crazy nonsense I never quite understood.)

BUT I DIGRESS.

Shelley is bored with her boyfriend (oh, to have had such problems) and tired of bending to meet everyone’s expectations. So, in a fit of roses-down-the-disposal rage, she changes her mind and convinces her parents to send her to California. There we both learned about smudge pots, doughnut holes and what it was like to be the new kid in school. She breaks free from worrying about other people’s expectations and instead focuses on her own goals and dreams.

luckiestgirlOver the years, my enjoyment of this book has been influenced by my stage in life. As a teen, I was attracted to the glamor of leaving home to study someplace exotic. After my mom and dad died, I wished Shelley had been nicer to her parents, and that she’d decided to stay home (or at least write them a few more letters from California). Reading it again now, it is with great relief that I can again see Shelley’s sweetness as well as her transformation from a lemming to leader.

Which, I suppose, is a lot like my experiences traveling back home. Perspectives change, even if reality doesn’t. My hometown is the same place it always was, but now I think I see things with more clarity–the kindness of the people, the beauty of the land–than I when I was younger.

And that, my friends, is a story that never grows old.

What childhood favorites have you read as an adult? How did they stand up over time?

2 Responses

  1. This is my second-fave of the teen romances BC wrote (Stan Crandall from Fifteen will have my heart always). But I read this one over and over, too. I almost never cut a carrot without hearing “I have used my biology!” in my mind. And it fed my teenage desires to do a year away from home. It may even be partly responsible for my love of picking up for a new city every few years until I settled down.

    And wow, that modern cover. I love that they’re still printing it, though, so I’ll forgive that.

    1. The cover! I know! I really wanted to use the pink rain coat cover for the main image, but I couldn’t find a high quality one. I even looked for the actual book at my home library to take a picture! This may be a reason to haunt used bookstores. Amazing how these books influence us and it’s funny that I don’t remember any of my childhood friends mentioning that they had read it. (Maybe because I always had it out from the library!)

Share your thoughts! Unless you're a spambot.