Top positive review
As Wonderful and Readable As Her Own Novels Are!
Reviewed in the United States on July 13, 2017
I loved reading this book and the first memoir, A Girl from Yamhill. But I have to make this comment: What utterly cruel (and mostly female!) adults were in Beverly's life. My jaw dropped while reading of the relentlessly vindictive pettiness of so many of the older women -- deans, housemothers, professors, library science instructors -- Beverly and her classmates had to endure while getting their college education during the mid-1930's, always spoiling these girls' chances and tormenting them with their deliberate and intentional cruelty. A C grade given for A work because the old bat librarian instructor "didn't like the bored expression on Beverly's face during class"? Another gym teacher failing Beverly's friend because she couldn't compose a tap dance on the spot, so the poor girl could not ever graduate from college? A martinet housemother who grimly enjoyed seeing the dorm girls starve over their inedible meals? Was it the times, or just a bunch of emotionally sick old women living in the Pacific West who relished doing everything they could to thwart youngsters coming up in the world, because they happened to have the power of being on a university faculty and were therefore permitted to do so? Beverly wrote with tempered restraint and evenness, but it's all very apparent how resentful, envious, and jealous these dour older women were about their students or the charges they supervised in living arrangements. Middle-aged myself, I never would have dreamed of committing such sadistic cat-and-mouse games on the work study students I've supervised over the years in my academic office. I wanted those sweet kids to get ahead and succeed, not see them as victims I could resentfully and spitefully bully.
I won't even go into the nearly sociopathic Mrs. Bunn, a ghastly manipulator with no honest affection for her own daughter -- imagine wearing her daughter's DRESS to meet the fiance, not to mention all the other coldly monstrous things this hyper-critical, controlling, unhappy woman emotionally tortured her own daughter with over the years. I would love to read a third autobiography that somehow Beverly -- now I'm sure too old to write another book at age over 100! -- had gotten those two toxic parents completely out of her life. The Depression didn't "steal their happiness" as she said. They were just mean, nasty, sour people who resented anyone else having youth and a chance at conducting her own fulfilling life. They never should have had a child, but then, of course, we never would have had wonderful Beverly Cleary and her delightful books. At least her husband and children gave her happiness and she had a lot of friends, and deservedly a lot of admirers who appreciated her talent. And, bravest of all, she was happy and successful despite her parents. Her father was kinder and milder, but still an enabler of her dominating mother and therefore just as much to blame. Such people could absolutely ruin a less stronger child, destroy her for the rest of her days so that she'd be afraid to venture out and try anything to better herself. Abuse in a dysfunctional family is not limited to physical or sexual. Beverly's parents had no concept about how to raise a child in a healthy environment, even if they had had wealth -- and there was enough financial security and stability to get by; to blame "worries" for their unrelenting emotional bullying and grasping control of their daughter is no excuse. The sacrifices they made for her to go to school don't merit much forgiveness or understanding to a modern mind. I never understood why so many older people want to suck all the happiness out of the lives of everyone surrounding them. Let them wallow in their own misery, yet they always need to victimize someone else -- or as many people as possible.
I recognize, now, why there seemed to be that "old fashioned" tone in Cleary's first children's novels in the early 1950's about Henry Huggins and the Quimby sisters (and wish there had been more than one book apiece about Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford). The careful way of speaking without contractions ("I am" instead of I'm, "can not" instead of can't, etc, reflects the speech of Beverly's own stern ex-schoolteacher mother's early 1900's vernacular. I don't think little girls were forced to wear union suit woolen underwear by circa 1950, even in the chilly and rainy Pacific Northwest climate (was woolen underwear still available by then?) , but it's what Beverly endured in her 1920's childhood, and much of the slang, antics, and pranks of the Portland neighborhood children reflect that era as well. The author got more modern and "with it" as her characters grew and evolved, and at any rate the kids in her books were always really charming and fun, but having her own kids by the mid-1950's probably updated her as much as being a former children's librarian did. I still think 1967's Mitch and Amy, based on her own twins growing up in an academic university community (Berkeley) is one of the funniest and most realistic books about kids I'd ever read; I still remember it word for word 45+ years later. In fact, exactly 50 years ago is when I began reading Beverly Cleary's books, during the summer of 1967 when I was six and going into the first grade -- I was a precocious kid already reading at 4th grader level. All of the Henry and Beezus books were available at our local public library, and then in 1968 the first Ramona book came out (I never read any of the other ones of later decades, for I had long outgrown them). The books for teens are really enjoyable, too, and a dishy microcosm of middle-class, 1950's west coast life -- and somehow the parents in Jean and Johnny, Fifteen, and The Luckiest Girl manage to refrain from being the nightmares of Beverly's own struggling adolescence. I give her a lot of credit.