Saturday, December 17, 2011

Book Review: My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary

Wow, I didn't think this would happen but I actually loved My Own Two Feet even more than A Girl From Yamhill! And it's very well titled as Beverly is trying very, very hard through the whole book to get out from under her mother's thumb.

The book starts just where Yamhill left off, with Beverly heading off to Southern California to stay with her aunt and attend junior college. Naturally, her mother is sure this will be a disaster but Beverly goes anyway. She has a good time and gets good grades. But her aunt doesn't want her to stay with them again next year. Beverly, much more resourceful than she gives herself credit for, manages to meet a girl in a similar situation and they decide to be roommates and manage to find a reasonable boarding situation. And at the end of two years, Beverly transfers to U-Cal (aka Berkeley) where she finagles her way into the only co-op dorm for women near campus. She sits for the dreaded English Comprehensives and goes off to attend graduate school in library science. Meanwhile she makes friends, dates boys, attends classes, and occasionally deals with her incredibly negative mother.

Silly me, each time she met a new boy I'd think "is this the one?" not thinking that "the one" would be the guy with the last name Cleary (duh! I had trouble throughout both books remembering that her last name was Bunn.) When she and Clarence finally meet and start dating, it's not head over heels instantly for either one, and instead they date for a long time, getting to know each to her quite well. Her mother hates him immediately (truly she would have hated anyone Beverly loved I think) because he was Catholic (they are Protestant). But as we know will happen they marry anyway.

War breaks out and Beverly works at a library on an army base and later in one at a hospital. She also works in a bookstore over many Christmases and always makes the best of things. Finally, after the war when she no longer needs to work for the army (never her favorite), she decides to finally write the children's book she has known she was going to write since she was a child herself. And she thinks of a boy who finds a dog, and a story she heard on base about a family who had to get a box from a grocery store during a rainstorm because that was the only way they could bring their dog home on the streetcar. And Henry Huggins is born (and Ribsy!) We end the book with her thinking about a nice girl named Ellen whose woolen underwear is very inconvenient in ballet class (Ellen Tebbits is my favorite of all Beverly Cleary's books!

I adored this book. Beverly is such a wonderful young woman, I think I would have liked to be friends with her. She makes the best of situations (probably as a result of growing up during the Depression, which could have made her depressed and always thinking about what might have been, like her mother, but it does not), and she gets through every problem through hard work, creativity, and determination. Everything does not go her way (see: the dreaded English comps) like for everyone, and yet she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. We don't see the success - only the years of hard work and deprivations and bullying by her mother who could have given Joan Crawford lessons in emotional abuse. She's just on the cusp of succeeding despite poor odds when we leave her, secure in the knowledge that everything will work out. Beverly would make a fantastic role model for any young girl with dreams and goals, and I now feel more warmly towards her than ever. I feel I need to reread many more of her books and perhaps I will in 2012. I highly, highly recommend this book.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I bought this book from my local independant bookstore.


Nicole said...

This is one of my most favorite books (it made me proud to be a librarian). Thanks for posting such a wonderful review--I'm sure lots of people will discover it, thanks to you.

Booksnyc said...

I didn't realize Cleary wrote a memoir - I love her books and would like to learn more about her. Thanks for highlighting this one!

Julie P. said...

How exciting to learn that you loved this book. I think we already own it!