Jane Purdy dreams of having a boyfriend, but at age fifteen, living in a small town, she wonders if it will ever happen. So when she does meet a new boy–a very nice boy–she’s over the moon. Stan Crandall is everything she wants in a boyfriend–sixteen, able to drive, fun to be with, tall enough for her to wear heels. But when you’re fifteen, few things are as simple as they seem, and when Stan invites another girl to the school’s first dance, Jane is sure her good luck is over. But here too, nothing is simple, and soon Jane begins to hope that her dreams for a boyfriend might come true, after all…
Every time I read this book, I fall in love again–with Jane and Stan, with 1950s America, with the wonder of first love. What really struck me this time, though, was how much I identified with the heroine, Jane Purdy, an ordinary girl with many fine qualities but who, by the world’s standards, is really no one special. Don’t most of us fit into this category? I think so, and I think that’s also why Fifteen remains a classic. I won’t try to critique this book in terms of literary style (which have changed a lot since the mid-’50s), except to note this: Cleary wastes no time in dropping us smack into the story. “Today I will meet a boy.” With this first line, we meet Jane thinking…wishing…longing. Cleary continues to move at a rapid clip without time wasted on filler. Perhaps I noticed this more keenly having recently read another (though vastly different) YA novel, The Hunger Games. There too I was struck by the author’s ability to move the reader from one important scene to the next, making for an easily digested read.
But beyond cold technique, Cleary has a knack for sweet, simple poignancy that had me crying and chuckling (yes, again) in all the right places. I especially enjoyed revisiting Jane’s first date with Stan, and later her personal crucible, which she walks through with her head held high.
5/5 stars for sheer delightfulness.