Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Harcourt Brace & World, 1st edition, 1968
Genre: Young adult, literature, Bildungsroman
Synopsis & Review: Shannon Lightley was in despair. Tired of being dragged about Europe from school to school in the wake of her divorced parents—her mother a famous English actress, her father a prominent television news commentator—she had taken her last year of high school in a small Oregon town, only to find that she didn’t “belong” in her native America either.
Reached by an old friend of her father’s—a lawyer in Portland—just as she was on the verge of leaving for Europe again, Shannon undertook the assignment he offered her, to track down some odd strangers, living near the local university, who were involved in an unusual will that was being contested. Using an assumed name and working as a waitress in a campus diner, Shannon was entirely on her own for the first time in her life, and as the summer went by, she tried t sort out who she really was and where her future lay. (jacket copy)
At Jenny’s behest (and because I do love Eloise Jarvis McGraw’s Moccasin Trail), I checked Greensleeves out from the MCL, and OH MY GOD, I LOVED IT. Greensleeves has a lot to offer: alienation, a world-weary girl expat on the verge of womanhood, investigating a mystery while disguised as her polar opposite, two men who both see through her disguise to the worth beneath, someone finding themselves after high school, and blue eyeshadow. (I love blue eyeshadow. I have LOTS of it)
Shannon is a fish out of water in Oregon; everything about her, from her accent and clothes, to her education and her very hair, sets her apart from the very ordinary college students surrounding her at the Rainbow Café. But despite these ultimately superficial differences—which she hides by assuming an identity as one Georgetta Einszweiler Smith of Morton Center, Idaho—how different is Shannon really? She’s afraid of the person she was or thinks she is, she’s afraid to be herself, and unsure what “being herself” really means? By hiding Shannon beneath Georgetta, and then beneath Greensleeves, Shannon can avoid having to answer those questions. It sometimes seems as though she might try to avoid all of life just by hanging on to her new persona instead of making choices about where her life will go.
But she doesn’t. Coaxed out of hiding by Sherry, one of those young men who sees though the Georgetta disguise to–well, he isn’t sure what’s beneath it, but he knows that there’s something there, Shannon finds that she can talk to people, that people will not only accept her, but like her. She figures out that maybe college isn’t like high school, and that it may open opportunities for her rather than slamming doors closed in her face. Much of Shannon’s self-discovery is also entwined with the mystery she’s been set to solve, investigating the various beneficiaries to a will. Each of those beneficiaries is a fully-realized character, with strengths and weaknesses Shannon can learn from, until she learns the lesson that Mrs Elizabeth Dunningham couldn’t.
Greensleeves is beautifully written, and why it’s no longer in print is a mystery to me. A walking bundle of adolescent anxieties and insecurities, Shannon vacillates wildly from mature to immature, sometimes in one breath, but the self-possession she gains over the course of the story charms. Greensleeves has a certain pathos that evokes other Bildungsroman like I Capture the Castle—particularly the ending, which is very indefinite, but all the more realistic because of it. And did I mention how much I love the ending, and how beautiful it is? Shoots, I would call Greensleeves the American I Capture the Castle in its moving portrayal of a young woman becoming aware of her sense of self and her capacity for love—and on what terms she is willing to take love offered. The next time I have fifty bucks to drop on a book, it’ll be on Greensleeves fo sho.
Read also: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, Moccasin Trail by Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Cover: My library copy was permabound long ago, but the cover I see online is no great loss. It’s very Sixties in it’s orange and yellowness, and looks really busy, but appears to be Shannon crying? Hmm.
“Oh, you don’t need French to go to France, dear,” Helen told me with a kindly smile. “Everybody in Europe speaks English now. They’re glad to.”
Oh, are they really, I thought. Funnily enough, I can’t recall one single enfant de la patrie who’ll speak anything but French unless he has to. I seem to remember that Austrians prefer German, too, and Italians Italian, etc., etc. However, I feel certain that even if Helen went to Outer Mongolia, she’d hunt up the Hilton–I assume there’s an Outer Mongolian Hilton–where she’d be sure of air conditioning and Cokes, and everybody at a Hilton would speak English, so the whole thing would be as easy as taking a nap. Helen’s always going to find the easy way–I feel one can rely on that absolutely. Well, it’s her nap. Presumably, she doesn’t even want to wake up.
2 February – 3 February