paper boys and paper girls

Yesterday was Beverly Cleary’s birthday. Her teen romances are special cases in that hobby of mine because they were written long before the eighties—in fact, my mother was a teeny child when they came out. But they survived, and were reprinted often, with updated covers for my eighties-child sensibilities.

She didn’t write many of these and is much more famous for Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby, but these are the ones that were important to me. I know that when I was reading them it didn’t really register that the books were so old. (Maybe they were editorially updated, the way they did with Sweet Valley a few years ago?) The girls are winsome and the boys say things are swell and everyone worth knowing is just a little bit shy and says the wrong thing from time to time. (Or gets appendicitis.)

From left to right: on Fifteen, that’s Jane and Stan. Oh, Stan. He’s my favorite boy of all the boys. At the end of this one, Stan gave Jane his ID bracelet and I swooned. I can’t stop myself. I must quote.

Jane felt Stan’s hand brush hers, but when she looked up at him in the flickering light he was staring straight ahead. She was surprised to feel his hand on her arm and still more surprised—almost unbelieving—to see his fingers unclasp his identification bracelet and remove it from his arm. Silently he fumbled with the bracelet and slipped it around her right wrist. With a tiny click he snapped the clasp shut. Jane gave a gasp of astonishment and turned questioningly to Stan. She was wearing his identification bracelet! The silver links on her wrist were still warm from his arm.

Stan leaned toward Jane. “OK?” he whispered.

In the middle, on The Luckiest Girl, that’s Shelley and Philip. Philip is not the boy for Shelley—Hartley is, though, and by the end of the book when she figures it out, there are fireworks, I tell you. On the right, well, you know who’s on the cover of Jean and Johnny. I’m a little embarrassed to tell you that I had a skirt that looked just like that. (I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I have shoes that look just like that right now. Now that the snow’s melted I can wear them again, too.) Poor Jean can’t quite tell that Johnny’s a jerk, but she figures it out just in time before she lets a good guy get away.

These are not books my mother picked out for me and left on my bed. These are ones I chose myself from the Troll book club flyer and paid for with my own quarters. There’s something nice about that, too. And there are whole sentences and passages of these that I remember word for word. I remember Stan giving Jane a back-scratcher in Chinatown and Shelley’s brainstorm about how one should cut carrots for the best flavor. What we read as children really does have an effect on us as adults, and these books have stayed with me longer than most. Part of my envy over Heather’s life in California comes from a seed planted by The Luckiest Girl, because Shelley gets to spend her junior year there. And I married a Stan, and Stans are the nicest boys in the whole world no matter how old they get or what their parents name them. In the linked interview, Cleary says “I didn’t start out writing to give children hope, but I’m glad some of them found it.” I did, I really did.