Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Back to the Future: Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster

Introducing Back to the Future, a new feature at YAA where we revisit young adult books from back when we were well, young adults.  Sometimes we'll be reading these books for the first time, sometimes we'll be rereading to compare how our adult selves interpret the book and sometimes, as the case is today, we'll be doing a bit of both.  Noelle read Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster when she was 12-ish.  Maggie just read it for the first time.  Did a character nickname of "Daddy" creep Maggie out while sailing over 12 year old Noelle's head?  Only one way to find out---To the DeLorean!

GoodreadsPuffin Classics Paperback •  Free Kindle version

Book description:
Bright and lively Judy Abbott is an orphan who dreams of escaping the drudgery of her life at the John Grier Home. One day she receives a marvelous opportunity—a wealthy benefactor has agreed to fund her higher education. In return, Judy must keep him informed about the ups and downs of college life. From horrendous Latin lessons to falling in love, the result is a series of letters both hilarious and poignant.

Michigan circa 1995:
(via personalized stationery)

Dearest Judy---can I call you Judy? 

Forgive me for jumping ahead of myself but in my imagination we are already the best of friends.  I've already let Anne, Jo and Sarah know to make room for you at our lunch table.  I feel like I know you so well!  Reading your letters to Daddy Long Legs (DLL) was like reading your diary and I bet it felt like that to you too, with him stubbornly refusing to reply and all.  (I knew he'd cave in eventually.  I mean, how could he resist?  You are awesome.)

Your letters jumped right off the page showing how smart, resourceful and hilarious you are.  I hate to think what might have happened to you if you hadn't written that funny paper about your life at the orphanage, cracking DLL up enough that even though he was a trustee of the very orphanage you were making fun of, he decided to send you to college. And to become an author no less!  Forget being best friends, I might just want to BE you!

Getting to read all of your new and exciting experiences in the outside world was so gratifying.  I rooted for you so hard, Judy! And you didn't let me down.  You approached every challenge with such pluck that I couldn't help compare it to my own attitude and sad to say, Judy, but I'm often an ungrateful brat.  You'll forgive me though won't you? I love to read too. And write letters!  And have adventures!  I already laugh at all of your jokes. You'll be such a great influence on me, I can already tell.  

I heard that you had a recent opening for a penpal and well, might as well just come out and say it---I'd like to apply for the job.  What do you say, Judy?  Will I do?


Present day Los Angeles:
(via email)

Dear Noelle,

I just did an email search of the first time you mentioned this book -- it was almost exactly a year ago on August 25, 2011. This is what you wrote:

Daddy Long Legs is written way back in the day by Mark Twain's niece.  It's kinda a little Anne Shirley mixed with Jo March.  It's all in letter format but the protagonist is so charming.  She's an orphan (guess I should put Jane Eyre in there too!) and then one of the orphanage's benefactors decides to send her to college anonymously so she writes him letters about her experiences there.  She only saw his shadow on the wall so she calls him Daddy Long Legs b/c he seemed really tall. 

This is what I wrote:

That's so funny because in the Korean drama I was watching, the lead girl starts getting letters from someone anonymously after her parents die and she just calls him "Daddy Long Legs." They're just friendly letters that offer support. I wonder if it was a reference to the book.

And this time, it wasn't me just using any excuse to bring up a kdrama. It totally was a reference to Daddy Long Legs! Korean dramas, where literary references happen. Also where this happens:
But I digress. I loved Daddy Long Legs! Judy is such an impertinent, feisty little badass. She's not embittered or hardened by her upbringing, but she's not overly solicitous either, which I really liked. Of course she's grateful for the opportunity to go to college, but in her mind, it's a loan that she's going to repay so she doesn't feel subservient to her mysterious benefactor. I know I would be tripping over my words and calling him "Sir" but Judy's all "Hey Daddy. What's up?" ...or as close to that as the 1900s allowed. I love that she is smart and straightforward, but thank God she fails a class or two or else I would've hated her perfect ass, amirite?

Noelle, you should've forced me to read this book sooner! (Hehe, I know you tried.) Even though it's older and obviously dated, I think there's definitely an audience for it now. I wonder if Jaclyn Moriarty was influenced at all by this book when she wrote Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments (both of which you must read). I can totally see how this book influenced Little Noelle, and I'm definitely putting it in my niece's hands. I can just see her asking her dad the Very Important Question, ARE YOU BALD? (Sorry, Joel!) This is also a book I would give to high school students. I love Judy's approach to life and how she embraces her college experience. She's so self-motivated, and that helps her deal with rejection as well. If Rory Gilmore had read Daddy Long Legs instead of Mencken Chrestomathy, she wouldn't have dropped out of Yale after one bad encounter with Mitchum Huntzberger. 

Great rec, Noelle. I loved this book and I won't wait a year to read your next recommendation. What can I say? I spent my childhood reading Baby Sitter's Club and Sweet Valley High. What should we go back to the future with next?

Cordially yours, (<--I think this is how Samantha Parkington ended her letters)

Present Day Orlando, Florida:
(via text message)

Noelle:  Secondly, I'm kind of shocked my original harasking wasn't "JUST READ IT, DAMMIT!" As for next time, as you replied to my Anne Shirley reference with "Anne who?" I think you answered your own question.  Yup, totally called you out on the blog.  OH YES I DID.

12 Year Old Noelle: 5 stars
Present Day Maggie: 4 stars
Present Day Noelle: 4 stars


  1. Anne who? Why that is BLASPHEMY.

    That stated, I love the sound of Daddy Long Legs and I need to rectify my Jaclyn Moriarty situation and just read her books soon.

  2. This looks amazing!
    Jo AND Anne (spoiler: My name is made up of awesome characters)? AND SARAH? My favourite ever ever characters.
    I've never heard of this book before but it's sounds like perfections.

    Also, I adore this feature ladies. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for the rest of these posts :)

    ps. Maggie! Anne who? WHAT.

    1. Yay Jo! I think you'll love Judy's snarkiness. Let me know if you read this :) --N


    Also, guuuuuuys, "Free Kindle Edition?" Fuck yeah. I'll read this sucker tomorrow!

    1. "Free Kindle Edition" might be my most favorite magic phrase besides "open bar". Can't wait for you to read this! --N

  4. What's this I hear about a free kindle edition? Sold. Noelle, you have the coolest lunch bunch ever. And Maggie - I normally don't condone emo-hair, but that boy is WEARING that sweater. Swoon.

    Ohhhhhh, Maggie. You've been shamed enough in the previous comments and by your own co-blogger about the Anne situation but...seriously? SERIOUSLY? I can't wait for THAT review.

    1. I feel like I'm doing my Oprah impression down the comment section here with "you get a free kindle edition! and you get a free kindle edition!" but awesome, right? Hope you like this one Catie :D --N

  5. First of all I am stoked that for once the Kindle version is free for me too, YAY!

    Secondly I really loved the format of this review, ladies! Loved the letters, email and texts - it was a lot of fun to read and I really want to read this too, especially as Magz wondered about Jaclyn being influenced by it :)

    1. Thanks Mandee! And woo! So glad it's an internationally free Kindle version. It's pretty short and sweet if you feel like taking a break between from your TBR pile :) --N

  6. I feel like I need to comment separately to feel like I'm not piling on Maggie (BUT OMG, RIGHT?!?!) and admit that I didn't have cable til I was in college or some other weird childhood trait. But yay for Anne Shirley Peer Pressure! :D --N


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