Just Patty, by Jean Webster

33299440Just Patty is the prequel to When Patty Went to College, which was Webster’s first novel. We see the same lovable prankster at school, causing just as much havoc as ever and delighting her fellow students with her scornful disregard for rules and etiquette (from Goodreads)

There’s no storyline, it’s more like a recollection of episodes from Patty’s last year of school. She attended to a boarding school for girls, because of course.
This book began as a huge disappointment. I had high expectations of it, because Daddy-long-legs and Dear Enemy, her most known works, are books that I have read unnumbered times and I cherish them with all my heart.
But the first chapters were dreadful. I understand that this book was written before WW1 and that everything was different and blah, but I couldn’t read it without my 21st century mind, and fear what could a young person today could learn from it (I kept thinking about my 13 years old cousin)
During the first chapter we learn that Patty is, basically, a bully. She and her friends begin to torment their classmates in the aim of “improve them”. Studying too much, being too religious, being a butch, those where the kind of sins they wanted to erase from the other girls… Fat shaming? SURE! Were they punished for their behaviour? Of course not, Patty and her friends are intelligent, vivacious, joyful, resourceful, a role model for everyone! Ugh…
I kept reading hoping it would get better eventually… Luckily, the extreme cringe-worthy events occur in that first chapter. The rest of the book is… ok. Patty is annoying throughout the entire book, and there were always little bits here and there that kept reminding me of how far we have come in terms of human decency, feminism and general common sense in the last century, despite everything.
I couldn’t stop thinking, though, that if I’d read this book when I was 12, I’d probably enjoyed it. That’s a little disheartening.
I’m wondering now whether I would read the other book about Patty or not.

Dear enemy, by Jean Webster

23800850This is a sequel for Daddy-Long-Legs. Unlike the other, it doesn’t need a preliminary chapter: it already starts with letters. However, these letters are from the hand of Sally McBride. Judy got married and now owns the orphanage where she grew up, and convinced Sally, her best friend from college, to run it. By doing this, Sally acts against her parents and her boyfriend –a promising young politician-, and decide to take the position to prove she’s capable of taking care of a hundred kids. In the letters she writes to Judy, and eventually the doctor that works at the orphanage, we learn how well or not she’s dealing with this new situation. Sally’s writing style is a bit different than Judy’s, but the little drawings she adds in her letters are suspiciously similar 😉

Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster

2257833The book starts as a regular novel, where we met Jerusha Abbot (she hates her name and makes everybody call her Judy), an 18 year old orphan girl. At her orphanage kids would leave around age 16, but she was allowed to stay for 2 more years while she attended to high school and helped with the younger orphans. She had a very good academic development and great writing skills. These achievements induced one of the orphanage’s Trustees to pay for her college education. The only requirements: he wanted to stay anonymous and Judy must write to him about her studies, without expecting or demanding any answer from him. From this point on, the novel turns into an epistolary one, where we read every letter Judy wrote to the Trustee (whom she named “Daddy-Long-Legs”, because all she saw of him was a very long and slender shadow).  Judy’s writing is hilarious and sharp, as she gains trust in her benefactor. She writes to him as she would write in a personal diary, so we get to know not only her college routine, but also her friends, her insecurities regarding her backstory and the differences she perceived she had with the other girls, who had the privilege of growing in a loving family, and any kind of adventure and misadventures she gets into.

I read this book for the first time when I was about 10 years old, and re-read it uncountable times. I believe it was my first approach to letter writing and the reason I always wanted to keep correspondence. The book is now on public domain, so you should be able to read it online or download it for free. I highly recommend you to get a copy that includes pictures, because Judy not only wrote her letters, she added drawings too!