I believe it was a long, boring summer day that I first picked up the classic story Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The copy we had at my house was an ancient one that my mother had had as a girl (no offense, mom) and it felt like buried treasure to me. As I devoured the letters of the fictional Jerusha Abbott, I felt like I was the first person on earth to discover it.
"Judy" Abbott has been a life-long friend since then. She's one of my best literary friends.
Daddy-Long-Legs is about an orphan named Jerusha "Judy" Abbott living in New York in the early 1900s. She's lived all her life at the John Grier Home and now that she's 18, typically she would be on her own, but something miraculous happens. One of the rich trustees of the orphanage sees promise in her writing and wishes to send her to college to become a writer. He has a few requests: he is to remain completely anonymous and she is to write monthly letters to him updating him on her progress. Jerusha knows him only as "Mr. John Smith".
The bulk of the novel is comprised of these letters and we see scrawny Jerusha Abbott, used to being a pitied orphan at her high school, grow into a young lady who calls herself Judy, who attends classes, makes friends, and writes and writes and writes.
I read this book many times as a child and I recently listened to the audiobook on a car trip. Kate Forbes provides excellent narration and the story took me straight back to those lazy summer days when I curled up on the couch with my friend Judy. I also picked up on things that went over my head when I read it as a kid. There's an element of romance that's way more blatant than I remember it being (or maybe that's just because now I know the ending...).
Um, how did I not know there was a sequel?? You can bet that I'm going to go straight out and find it.
Pair this book with A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly for tales of scrappy literary-minded women determined to educate themselves in the early 1900s. It's too bad I can't introduce Judy and Mattie - I think they might be good friends. ;)