My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m a big fan of realism. I love a good, gritty novel that doesn’t pull punches about the reality of life, and the harsher the lesson learned, the more invested I get.
But there must still be a little idealism in my cynical, little heart yet (probably nestled next to the part of me that loves puppies and babies and lolcats) because I absolutely loved The Luckiest Girl.
(But I digress.)
I grew up on Beverly Cleary, and I love the Ramona books. I had no idea that Cleary wrote young adult fiction as well, and I was impressed by this one.
Shelley Latham lives a great life in Portland, Oregon. She has loving parents, great friends, and a nice boyfriend. But she’s inexplicably bored with her perfect life, and when she gets the opportunity to live in California for a school year, she jumps at the chance.
She makes friends and gets along well with the family friends she’s staying with and even ends up dating the boy of her dreams: the school’s basketball star, Philip. Along the way, she learns a lot about family, friends, dreams, expectations, and herself.
It sounds terribly cliché, but, somehow, it isn’t. Cleary’s tale of a young girl’s first taste of freedom and independence is sweet and honest. Despite the fact that there’s no tragedy in the storyline, it still feels real, and that’s mostly a credit to Cleary’s depiction of Shelley. She’s a nice girl, but she has flaws, and one of them is a flaw common to many young girls: she just doesn’t know herself, yet.
And that’s why Cleary’s story rings true. Shelley’s reactions are honest. She worries about whether or not an impulsive decision was a mistake. She exults over the smallest hint that the boy she likes might like her back. She’s frustrated because she sometimes doesn’t understand her parents, and seeing another mother and daughter dynamic helps her to understand her own relationship with her mother.
It’s all very innocent, but, then again, the book is set in a much simpler time (it was originally published in 1958).
While it wasn’t the usual “high school = misery” story that I usually gravitate towards (mostly because I identify with them more), I still thoroughly enjoyed The Luckiest Girl. It’s a sweet look at a young girl’s coming of age, and it made me wistful without feeling manipulated. Beverly Cleary should get more credit than she does.