Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

First Love: A Treasury of Three Favorites by Beverly Cleary

romance-books-3 nadine keels

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

Five Gold Stars

first-loveFirst Love: Jean and Johnny / Fifteen / The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book/description/blurb.)

Shelley gets to spend her senior year of high school in sunny San Sebastian. Meeting Philip there only adds to her feeling that she may be the luckiest girl in the world.
When Jean unexpectedly catches the attention of a handsome flirt, Johnny, it all seems too good to be true–and it may very well be.
At fifteen, Jane gets asked out by the most popular boy in school and doesn’t quite know how to handle herself.

Yes, I consider these young adult novels by my favorite childhood author to be classics, and I had a marvelous time taking a second spin with them.

5 Stars for The Luckiest Girl
Gee. Gotta love YA Lit from the 50s!

Though I adored the story from the beginning, I didn’t discern in my adolescence, when I first read The Luckiest Girl, how wise and poignant a story this truly is, not only for its portrayal of young romance and the road to maturity but for its lesson on mother/daughter relationships as well.

I also found that I’d misremembered Philip as some kind of macho guy, likely because my memory of the leaning boy on the book cover of the paperback I read left me with that impression of him, but he’s a much more interesting character the way Cleary wrote him. Hartley is, well, Hartley–good ol’ Hartley!–and Shelley’s wonderful reflections on life and love at the end of the novel put honest-to-goodness tears in my no-longer-adolescent eyes. I even laughed more this time around!

5 Stars for Jean and Johnny
Ah! Young people listening to records and tuning in to their favorite television and radio “programs,” drive-in restaurants with carhops serving Cokes, folks with telephone numbers like “Toyon 1-4343,” and teenaged boys saying things like, “Gosh, that would be swell!” and meaning it.

Such fun to return to this old-fashioned, cozy, slightly heartbreaking, relatable, sweet story, since I understand it better this time and have a greater appreciation for Jean’s gradual maturation through the novel. She grows in a much more satisfying way than I remembered. Plus, I don’t know if I realized it years ago, but there’s actually an Asian girl in this book, incorporated into the minor cast of students just like the rest of ’em, but with a clearly different name and a distinct look to her in one of the illustrations.

And, speaking of the illustrations–the darling illustrations! My reading time probably doubled just taking extra moments to study and enjoy all of the fitting and amusing details in the pictures. Wonderful!

4 Stars for Fifteen
Oh, it seems that, compared to Jean and Shelley, Jane here in Fifteen is flimsier, more internally whiny. And this may be the flattest, perhaps the most juvenile, of Cleary’s YA romances. Could be because it’s the first, or at least was the first published.

Still, I found the novel to be charming on the whole, and it got better as Jane finally began to “learn her lesson,” as these young heroines of Cleary’s inevitably must. Gee, such an experience rereading books like this as an adult!


These are the paperback editions I read years ago. At the time, I was unaware that there’s another First Love novel by Cleary, Sister of the Bride.

the-luckiest-girl jean-and-johnny fifteen



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