Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Forever (1984) 
Illus. Alan Tiegreen 

This Ramona book came along when I was too old (in my young reader’s opinion) to be seen reading Ramona books.

And, so, I read it in the public library, at a table, with my textbooks and notebooks spread out around me, so that nobody could see that I was reading a c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n’s book.

I was at that in-between age. Sure, I was reading from my cousin’s true-crime shelves, and I was reading my grandmother’s Sidney Sheldon novels, but I did still want to know what was happening in Ramona’s life too.

*WARNING: Spoilers below. But it’s a short book. You would find out in an hour or so anyhow.*

Ramona could have appreciated my efforts to fit into one slot or the other. She is faced with some identity questions in this book too, when she discovers that there will soon be a fifth Quimby, a baby in the house.

“Her mind was full of excited questions, but deep down inside where she hid her most secret thoughts, Ramona realized she would lose her favored place as the baby of the family. She would become the middle child, neither big nor little. She thought maybe she would rather have another cat.”

And Ramona could use another cat because Picky-picky dies in this story.

I know, I know: I am usually all-about-avoiding-spoilers here. But even though Picky-picky’s character has been mostly on the margins, you should be prepared.

Because nobody sees Picky-picky’s death coming. He is only ten years old, and although some of his habits have changed to those of an aging cat (he has trouble jumping up into some of his cozy spots now, and he doesn’t dislike Ramona as much as he used to), readers aren’t overly aware of his presence until it transforms into an absence, which happens in less than three pages.

At the time I viewed this as a betrayal on Beverly Cleary’s part, leaving Ramona and Beezus to sort this out. But as an adult reader, I see that she handles this scene deftly. And this tragic element of the novel is counterbalanced by a number of happier events.

“A limosine and a pizza! The end of a perfect day.” (And I’ve already blurted out the sad event: I’ll keep quiet about the details behind this one.)

Things are still stressful for the Quimby family though. Her father having gone back to college to get his teaching certificate has meant a lot of changes for all of them. But he will be much happier with a teaching job than with his job at Shop Rite, and…

“Nothing in the world was worse than unhappy parents. Nothing. When parents were unhappy, the whole world seemed to go wrong, The weather seemed even rainier, although this was probably in Beezus’s and Ramona’s imaginations. Their part of Oregon was noted for rain.”

That’s one of the aspects of the Ramona books that I really appreciate, the way that the Quimby parents are both tremendously important and barely present at the same time.

Much of the action in these stories takes place when the parents aren’t around — and they aren’t meant to be at the heart of the stories — Ramona  is, but they are still afforded a three-dimensional existence, even if it’s not centre-stage.

“Growing up is hard work,” said Mr. Quimby as he drove away from the hospital. “Sometimes being grown-up is hard work.”

Beverly Cleary gets it right on both counts.

Do you remember sneak-reading when you were younger?