Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary

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.

Sister of the Bride by Beverly Cleary

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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

She had felt sorry for the girls she had known who had married right after graduation from high school… But now…Barbara was beginning to change her attitude and to wonder if there was something she could do to speed up love. All she needed was a boy.

Barbara’s older sister is getting married, and all the wedding and newlywed business has got Barbara’s sixteen-year-old mind whirling in a poetic daydream. But she may have a thing or two to learn before the coming ceremony is over in Sister of the Bride, a novel by author Beverly Cleary.

Although it’s the fourth book in the First Love series, I wouldn’t at all call this book a romance. The bits of Barbara’s pre-adventures with love are mostly on the fringes of the story here and there, and they follow something of a Jean and Johnny and The Luckiest Girl pattern.

This novel is mainly about wedding preparations and what Barbara learns and observes during the experience, especially what she learns about herself. I can see how I might’ve found the read more thrilling back when I was still looking forward to being sixteen, and rereading it now would’ve had that added dash of nostalgia. Instead, in reading it for the first time now, a good deal of it felt pretty slow, and, well, ordinary.

Still, the humor had me laughing, the lightness was delightful, and I could absolutely empathize with Barbara on various levels. The lover of old-fashioned fiction in me is quite content for having finally read this old-fashioned but relevant tale.


Here are my reviews of the other three novels in the First Love series.




Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester


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

black-white-otherBlack, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by Joan Steinau Lester

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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

…I find three whole chapters of MISS SARAH ARMSTRONG: ON THE RUN. Sarah, who might actually be the only person on the planet I can relate to. The only problem: she’s dead.

Nina’s black father and white mother have decided to divorce, a racial uproar is spreading through Nina’s hometown, and it seems her fellow teenaged classmates and friends are now dividing everything along color lines. Seeking direction, Nina turns to the story of her great-great-grandmother’s escape from slavery in Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong by author Joan Steinau Lester.

What a story this is about family and friendship, injustice and unrest, slavery and freedom, legacy and identity. I’ll admit that Nina got a few head shakes from me, when she’d slip into bratty, know-it-all, disrespectful mode, even when only in her head. And I don’t automatically shrug that stuff off just because a character is a teenager in a YA novel. But I didn’t find her too unbearable to read about, particularly during her moments of protectiveness and dry humor. Besides, the lessons she learns are more than worth it.

Along with my head shakes came nods of appreciation for different points raised in the story, including how so many of us (no matter our “color”) are really more mixed than we know, and about how slavery is not merely something that happened back in the past, in one country.

Whether you’re an inspirational fiction fan or not, a young adult fiction fan or not, I’d recommend this as a worthwhile and moving read.

But a part of me argues back, telling me that just because things aren’t perfect or easy or right, it doesn’t mean God’s not here.

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

Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff


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. I received a complimentary copy of this book through a notice from the author for the purpose of an honest review.

Four Silver Stars

Ella WoodElla Wood by Michelle Isenhoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

This was the image she wanted to share, the truth she wanted to show to the world.
She had found her voice.

As far as my reading for pleasure goes, I got my start with young adult historical fiction about America’s past while I was still a young adult, with novels by Ann Rinaldi. Ella Wood by Michelle Isenhoff took me back to that same brand of enjoyment, and the story grew on me as I read.

Emily is no perfectly angelic protagonist. It’s her independent thinking, her ambition as an artist, and her gradually shifting views on slavery in the South (the very institution her family and the society around her depends on to maintain their way of life) that make her a compelling heroine, particularly through the way her gift as an artist informs her thoughts on humanity, and vise versa. There’s a richness in her growth in character over the course of the book, intertwining well with the brink and onset of the American Civil War.

I haven’t an absolute dislike of love triangles in novels, though when the romantic involvement and displayed affection between one party and both of his/her love interests is essentially equal, the alternating back and forth between the relationships isn’t something I can quite wrap my mind around or get into, as turned out to be the case here.

The third-person narrator uses identifiers for characters such as “the black woman” or “the colored girl” a good deal more than, say, “the white boy” or “the white woman,” which could inadvertently undermine the story’s message on human sameness just a tad. Also, I was admittedly disappointed to find the story end with a total cliffhanger. I personally feel more “cordially welcomed” and thus inclined to read the next book in a series when the preceding book has a natural conclusion, one that may leave inviting promise for a continuation, than when the story simply cuts off.

Again, though, I enjoyed this read overall, particularly after hitting around the halfway mark, which pretty much became the “unputdownable” point for me.