There were three sisters fair and bright,
Jennifer, Gentile, and Rosemary,
And they three loved one valiant knight–
As the dove flies over the mulberry-tree.
I was a very romantic and well-read pre-teen. I wanted to learn Latin and sing madrigals and have ankle-length hair that I could braid in complicated hairstyles.
I was absolutely in love with Lord Peter Wimsey and Gilbert Blythe.
I would go around quoting from The Raven and Crossing the Bar and I would make up long dramatic songs about my adolescent angst.
The only problem was that there was nobody else in my little town that had these same interests, so I never got to have my friends float me down the creek in a boat pretending to be Lady of Shalott and nearly drown and be rescued by the boy I always pretended to hate but would really marry when I grew up. There was this one boy I liked, Brian Lindamood, whose father was an airline pilot who was killed in a plane crash, and so he moved away and I sent him a valentine from "a secret admirer." However, you can't really write back to a secret admirer, so nothing ever came of it.
Anyway, all of this is to explain why after the first few pages of Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary it was more or less surgically attached to my face until I finished it. It is the story of a young girl who lives in a midwestern city and goes to a progressive, ultra-cool school where they let you pretty much do anything you want and study whatever interests you. (Basically like the elementary school I went to, after which regular junior high was a cruel, cruel shock.)
She has two sisters and these cool parents who all get together after dinner and do dramatic readings of the Shakespeare plays
they are studying in school.
She also has a group of friends who are all equally fantastically smart and interesting, and they get together and have very ritualistic slumber parties with particular foods and activities.
And finally, to top it all off, she wants to be an astronomer, (just like I did), and spends hours up on the roof of their multi-story house (our house was very typically southern-California with only one floor), in which she has the attic room, looking through her telescope.
Basically, Pamela Dean has described exactly the person I was at eleven or twelve, and the feelings I had (and still have) about getting older and growing up and not being sure you recognize the person (woman? I still have trouble thinking of myself as a woman. A woman is wise and confident and maybe keeps a journal, you know?) you're becoming.
Of course, there's more of plot to the book, apparently based on an old ballad called Riddles Wisely Expounded, but that's really not what made me love this book, what made me burst into tears when I read this sentence:
...Everything's changing so much. I don't even know how tall I am or what size bra I wear, and when I had that cold last week I got out a Goosebumps book to read, and it was so bad I wondered if somebody had taken the inside away and substituted a different one.
I don't cry very often, but it put into words something I didn't realize I'd felt until then.
Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean
Tor Books, 1998