Fifteen was first published in 1956, and is probably one of the oldest YA novels I've ever read. It's a story of a small-town girl's first romance, written by none other than the legendary Beverly Cleary of Ramona fame.
Main character Jane Purdy is, somewhat obviously, fifteen. She spends her time babysitting, envying the more sophisticated and popular girls in town - what she calls the 'cashmere sweater type' - and wishing she had a boyfriend. We've all been there, right?
(Well, except for the cashmere thing. Because when I was fifteen, the only place you'd see a cashmere sweater is on my grandmother at Christmas. And while my grandmother was awesome, she was more the 'take your teeth out at night' type.)
Sadly, my twelve year old self managed to read the whole of Fifteen without realising that it was already decades old. It's tragic enough that all the convertibles and visits to the local soda fountain didn't tip me off. But what's even worse is that I didn't question Jane's old-fashioned attitude to dating one tiny bit. Pssst, twelve year old self: go ask your mother to remind you what feminism is.
Because when I picked up Fifteen again this week to reread it, I was a little bit shocked. What I remembered was an eighties-tastic story of an easy-to-relate to heroine falling in love for the first time. What I got was something quite different.
I mean, there's something undeniably innocent about Jane Purdy's first love. When new boy in town Stan Crandall asks Jane out, she's over the moon. Finally, it's her turn to get a little romance. And actually, the way they interact is genuinely sweet. They only kiss for the first time on the next-to-last page, and Stan has been sure to get Jane's permission in advance. You're left with the impression that after a shaky start, Jane has realised the importance of being herself... and she's rewarded by Stan asking her to go steady, giving her a chaste peck, and letting her wear his ID bracelet. Squeal!
But at the same time, by today's standards there's something a little bit troubling about the message we're getting in Fifteen. It's the fifties. Girls who have boyfriends have status and popularity: other girls envy them. And even once Jane has realised that she should just be herself and not aspire to be like the so-called popular crowd, her reward is still measured in terms of being 'Stan's girl', because that's all that matters. Barf!
And the fact that at twelve years old, I didn't even notice that this was outdated? Worrying. It's like Pleasantville, before Tobey and Reese drop by and kick the world into technicolor. There's even a scene where Jane tries to act sophisticated at a Chinese restaurant despite the fact the food scares her, but when she confesses all to Stan he gets her a good old fashioned American hamburger. She's a small-town girl after all: she's modest and good-mannered and wholesome, she doesn't need to be adventurous too. And while 'be yourself' is a good enough message, 'be yourself so you can become someone's Girl' kind of ruins it for me.
Verdict: Nostalgic, but you wouldn't want to live in it. Should today's teens read it? Yes. But in context, folks.