Beverly Cleary, illus. by Alan Tiegreen. Morrow, $15 (192p) ISBN 0-688-16816-7

Cleary's first Ramona novel in 15 years opens as this strong-willed20heroine enters fourth grade, determined to find herself a best friend. A new girl at school named Daisy fits the bill perfectly and costars in two of the novel's liveliest scenes: she and Ramona vacuum Daisy'20s cat, and while the two play a game of make-believe in the attic, Ramona's legs break through the floor and dangle over the dining room table. Though this precocious nine-year-old is on relatively firm ground at school ("20By the fourth grade she had learned to put up with teachers"), she resents the emphasis that this year's teacher places on correct spelling, tries to tolerate the seemingly perfect Susan and“very realistically“20alternatively feuds and flirts with classmate Danny (whom she calls Yard Ape because he "acted like an ape on the playground"). On the home front, Ramona stews over her mother's preoccupation with a new baby and rolls her eyes at how sister Beezus (now a high-schooler) tends to integrate her newly acquired French vocabulary into conversation. A couple minor subplots seem dated (e.g., Beezus takes dancing lessons from her father in preparation for her first boy-girl party, to which she wears a blouse with ruffles), but most of Ramona's triumphs and traumas are timeless and convincingly portrayed. "I am a potential grown-up,"20 declares this spunky protagonist on her 10th birthday, proudly trotting out one of her challenge words in spelling. Yet fans will hope that Cleary has many more growing pains and pleasures in store for Ramona before this potential is realized. 100,000 first printing. Ages 8-up. (Aug.)