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June 29, 2015

The book I found beside my bed when I got to spend the night with some friends in Louisiana was one I had already gotten interested in when Jenny wrote about it, Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw.

It’s a very old-fashioned book in some ways, and yet not completely dated. It’s about the summer after high school for a well-traveled girl named Shannon who wants to get away from parental influence (she has two sets of parents living in Europe) and decide what to do with her life. Her father is pressing her to go to college, but she’s not sure if she wants to. She happens on a mystery and a waitressing job and decides to spend the summer in disguise, living and working as “Georgetta,” who wears her hair up in an elaborate bouffant, has bows on her shoes, and speaks with an American accent.

One of the college students who eats regularly at the diner where she works, George Sherrill (known as “Sherry”), sees partly through her disguise and begins calling her “Greensleeves” because she is hiding her true identity:
“there’s been a rumour around since the sixteenth century that Henry the Eighth wrote that song and that the girl in it was Anne Bolyn. He just called her My Lady Greensleeves to hide her identity.”
From this nickname, you see that he is paying more attention to her than most of the people she meets, and that one day she will probably cast him off discourteously, which she eventually does. He is pressing her to marry him and promises to change his plans and his dreams for her, but she doesn’t want that kind of compromise. In that way, she feels very modern.

Shannon/Georgetta’s struggle throughout the summer is to find out what her “true” identity might be. In Europe, she feels like an American, but in Oregon, where she went to high school, she felt like a European. After spending most of the summer as Georgetta, trying to become Shannon again makes her feel that “this was a mask I hadn’t known I was wearing. It raised the question of how many more masks there might be underneath.” One of the things Sherry helps her see is that American college students don’t feel as much need to pigeonhole the people they meet as high school students sometimes do, and that she doesn’t have to fit herself neatly into any one category.

By the end of the summer, when she is quitting her waitress job, she is asking her boss “Is everybody in some trap or other?” and he is replying “I think it likely. We move from one cage to the next one, don’t we?” Shannon can’t see that her own trap is the way she runs away when things get difficult.

At the end of the novel, though, having established that Sherry is not holding himself back in order to pursue her, she tells him where to find her and seems likely to stay put until he gets there, a new move in the repertoire of things she could do carelessly as Greensleeves that she wants to be able to do more deliberately in her life as Shannon.

Originally published in 1968, this is one of the first Young Adult books. One of the things it does best is show the difference between what infatuation feels like and what love feels like, including the way love can incorporate some of those wonderful infatuated feelings once a person lets herself go.

Another of the things this book does well is show the difference between going to college because you want to learn new things and going just because it’s expected of you. What do you expect of yourself? Shannon’s tale of her eighteenth summer shows that question to be the one a person has to answer before she can go any farther.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 30, 2015 8:36 pm

    I think my favorite thing about this book is how honest it is about who people are. Shannon tries to run away from the person that she is, but it can. not. be. done. “Your giant is with you wherever you go” & so forth. I don’t know, that hit me really hard when I was reading this for the first time.

    • July 2, 2015 2:24 pm

      I think it’s a good coming-of-age story. In terms of being “honest,” I think the author does a good job of showing how any role we take on can take over a little bit, until it’s hard to tell where you end and the role begins.


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