Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

published 1968

Greensleeves 2

[Shannon has suddenly changed her travel arrangements, so her luggage has gone and she is left with what she had in her carry-on]

I went to see what fate had allowed me in the way of a summer wardrobe. Not much. I found the usual mad jumble of odds and ends that always winds up in the camel-bag—underwear, toiletries, my gray seersucker frock but not the jacket, my blue cotton but not its belt, a paperweight, a couple of wash-and-wear shirts, my winter dressing gown, an elderly cardigan lacking two buttons, an old journal I hadn’t written in for years, a skirt or two, a frightful raincoat I got once in Petticoat Lane for ten-and-six, a bottle of ink, a shoehorn but no shoes. I was wearing my sleeveless yellow linen and my white pumps, and to keep down air weight, I’d carried my winter coat, an Irish tweed about right for Poland in December. Oh, well. I’d probably be going straight to London anyway.


[Shannon gets a job as a waitress in a diner]

Then I fetched one of my new uniforms out of the closet and had a look at it. It was just the frock—the starchy white pinafores were issued us daily, fresh-laundered, at the café—and it was really quite pretty, with a full skirt and extremely full sleeves caught in at the elbow. But unfortunately, mine was not yellow, like Brünnhilde’s. I should have known—the waitresses matched the decor. I was to be grass-green, a peculiarly penetrating shade, which with my hair and bright-blue eyelids turned me into a kind of rainbow all by myself.

commentary: There will be no real criticism of this book from me. It’s not that I thought it was perfect – but, how can I not be kind to a book that to many people obviously stands as I capture the Castle by Dodie Smith does for me? If you look online, you’ll find many reviews from people who read Greensleeves as a teenager (it is a YA novel) and loved it to distraction, many who say it was an all-time favourite. It has recently been resurrected in a line called Nancy Pearl’s Crush Rediscoveries, and I read about it over at Barb’s Leaves and Pages, and Simon’s Stuck in a Book.

I was probably too old on first reading to love it unreservedly, but I can absolutely see why so many people hold it in high regard.

First of all, it has the best set-up you could imagine. Shannon suddenly changes her summer plans (and kudos to McGraw for threatening us with the exciting and glamorous but careless divorced parents – a journalist and a filmstar – but never really featuring them) and is in Oregon with nothing to do. She takes up the chance to move to a small college town, where a lawyer friend (the very oddly-named Uncle Frosty – the name does not suit him at all) wants her to find out about the people who live in a boarding-house. There is some funny business over a will, and he needs to know what happened to the old lady who lived there, why she left all her money to her fellow-residents. Naturally Shannon takes a room in the boarding-house, and gives herself an entirely new name and persona - Georgetta Einszweiler Smith from Morton Center, Idaho. Her job in the diner gets her the nickname Greensleeves, and the attention of a young student.

She spends her time taking notes about the people around her, ticking them off one by one, and wondering about the young men, and about what she is going to do for the rest of her life, wondering what she really wants from life. And trying to work out what the old lady was thinking of with her strange bequests.

It would be a rare 16-18 year old who didn’t want to read that book, and throw herself into Shannon’s life, and wish someone would give her a summer like that… and indeed it is all charmingly and cleverly done and very well-written. Shannon has a great voice – as does her alter ego Georgetta with the big earrings. She reminded me at times of blog favourite Nina Stibbe – high praise. There is also a faint feel of the Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s 1978 YA classic - much-loved by many, though I never got on with it myself.

So full disclosure - it is a tad too long and repetitious, and sometimes I lost patience with the heroine, and it simultaneously was predictable and fizzled out at the end. But that’s not to say it isn’t a marvellous book, highly enjoyable, and a perfect light but not silly read.

Summer wardrobe picture from a fashion advert of the era. 


  1. And that balance - light, but not silly - is so important, isn't it, Moira? It sounds like a terrific YA story, and the premise is interesting. I love the description of what's in that carry-on, too. It's so...human if that makes sense.

    1. Yes, I know just what you mean Margot. I was wondering how well-known it is in the USA - sounds as though you hadn't come across it. But perhaps having a resurgence now.

  2. But her packing skills... Oh dear, oh dear! Winter and summer clothes all jumbled together - doesn't she know where she's going? Or what time of the year it is? And who on earth packs a paperweight going anywhere - let alone by air? (She mentions keeping down air weight, so obviously she is.) I feel this novel might very well have been titled "Clueless". :-)

    1. It's tough with a slightly scatty character - it can be endearing, but it can also be annoying. She also has two large suitcases - but these have been taken on board a plane, and she has decided not to join them. (She was meant to go to London, where in truth you might need a heavy coat at any time of the year!) But this collection is not at all believable as cabin luggage. I did get annoyed with her some of the time.. but perhaps that would appeal to readers of her own age.

  3. I read this (when I was a teenager - late Jurassic period) and remembered the book but not the title. Thanks for refreshing my memory.

    1. I wish I'd read it when I was a teenager - I think it would have had the authentic magic for me.


Post a comment