Greensleeves, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

My copy of Eloise Jarvis McGraw's Greensleeves is battered, ugly, and features a gigantic stamp on the dust jacket reading "THIS IS NO LONGER THE PROPERTY OF THE SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY".

Part of me pities the Seattle Public Library for their loss. After all, this book is several decades out of print, and they don't have any other copies in circulation.

But the rest of me? It's saying tough luck, suckers, because your loss is my gain. Greensleeves is completely awesome, and anyone who was silly enough to let this amazing, hard-to-find coming-of-age novel slip through his or her fingers probably didn't deserve it anyway.

Published in 1968, Greensleeves is about a very strange summer in the life of eighteen-year-old Shannon Lightley. Shannon has spent her childhood wandering through Europe and America, constantly in transit between her divorced celebrity parents and an assortment of aunts, uncles, and family friends. Freshly graduated after a lonely senior year in an American high school, Shannon is self-conscious, unhappy, and dismally certain that she'll never really fit in anywhere. She's glumly considering her options for the future when one of her honorary parents (a Portland lawyer) makes her a most unusual job offer: Shannon can spend the summer living in an boardinghouse near the local university and secretly keeping an eye on the inhabitants, some of whom are involved in a bizarre will that one of his clients is contesting. Seeing the job as a summer-long reprieve from her life, Shannon enthusiastically accepts, and soon she's living in the boardinghouse with an assumed name and an elaborate false identity, working as a waitress in a campus diner, and getting to know the people around her.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw frequently wrote about the ways that young people deal with feelings of alienation (her Newbery Award-winning book The Moorchild is dedicated to "All children who have ever felt different") and Greensleeves is certainly a superb exploration of that theme. But even if literary navel-gazing isn't your thing, Greensleeves is still totally worth reading. There's some veeeeery interesting romantic triangle action. The will storyline makes for an intriguing, character-driven mystery. And best of all, all of McGraw's characters—even the minor ones—are realistic, thoroughly fleshed-out creations, and her book is imbued with a strongly defined sense of place and time. I wasn't alive in the sixties and I know next to nothing about Portland's university neighborhoods, but I still feel like I could (and would love to) navigate the neighborhood that Shannon lives in.

I have no idea whether or not Greensleeves will ever be reprinted, although someone very kindly sent me an address for Eloise Jarvis McGraw's daughter, so I might write and ask her. But you can still find copies of it online—as long as you're willing to shell out more than ten times the original cover price of $4.75. (And, hey, if you have $50 burning a hole in your pocket, this book is totally worth it.) Otherwise, keep an eye out for it at garage sales. Or maybe, if you're lucky, your public library system (unlike mine) knew a good thing when they saw it and actually kept their copy.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


robotic princess
robotic princess
30 Apr, 2005 12:40 AM @ version 0

I've read this book! I LOVED this book. I think I got it from my school library, though....

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