Despite being a fan of Beverly Cleary’s since I was old enough to know which way to turn the pages of a book, I didn’t find Sister of the Bride until I read Shelf Discovery: the teen classics we never stopped reading a couple of years ago1. Having read pretty much all of Beverly Cleary’s other books, this one was something of a surprise in that it was very mundane. Not in the negative sense of the word, but after cutting my literary teeth on Ramona (“Sit here for the present.”), Ellen Tebbits and all Cleary’s other young protagonists with vivid imaginations, this seemed almost startling in its prosaic detail. Perhaps this is what Beezus and Ramona grew up to become in another decade?
The book begins with the older sister, Rosemary, calling her younger sister Barbara to ask for help on how to break the news to their parents that she’s decided to marry despite being only in her first year of college. (Modern parents, rest assured: Cleary does put across subtly (for a YA book) that Rosemary is a bit young to be thinking of such things–she’s still got a retainer, having only just gotten the braces off before going to college in the first place.) Rosemary’s parents say pretty much everything you would expect parents to say, but, as the title suggests, Rosemary prevails and the wedding comes about despite the mere two months’ lead time2, with the help of the “Amys”3 and despite the (mild!) spats between the potential in-laws.
This was published in 1963, and is very much a product of its time. The book’s more than slightly dated now–18 seems awfully young to get married, and the jokes about Putting Hubby Through make me cringe–but grit your teeth and keep repeating “The book was written almost 50 years ago.” Rosemary horrifies her family when she insists she wants to get married in a wool tweed suit rather than a long white satin dress, no silver for wedding presents but rather hand thrown pottery and burlap placemats4 and so on. Having read the whole book, I’d say that Cleary does pull off a book that portrays the college educated forward thinking women as a Good Thing while also leaving me with the impression that all those casserole baking June Cleaver lookalikes might actually have been fulfilled women happy with their lot. It all depends on what you’ll be happy doing.
This really is a book by Beverly Cleary with all the sweetness that entails, and less conflict than even the Beezus and Ramona books, now that the two protagonists have grown up. It might be good for kids who’ve finished all Cleary’s books for younger readers, but who aren’t quite old enough to move up to the modern YA/teen section; Sister of the Bride is a gentle read about what it’s like to want to date boys and think about getting married, but yet not be quite ready to give up all one’s beloved stuffies.
1Lizzie Skurnick’s blog here
2I can hear all the engaged girls out there having meltdowns at the short planning period
3originally, L’Amis, a support group for the local housewives
4for the romantics at heart, never fear: Rosemary doesn’t go the whole orange blossoms route, but she does end up with an engagement ring, white veil and satin wedding gown