rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
This is the third of Jeanne Birdsall's books about the Penderwick family, but they each stand independently.

There are four Penderwick sisters, ranging in age from old enough to be Responsible For Everybody to an energetic five. They also have assorted relatives, a dear friend who is trying to cope with a terrible family situation, and a very memorable very large dog.

This book involves the three younger sisters and their aunt going to Maine for two weeks vacation, which means terrible spasms of guilt on the part of the oldest at not going along to Be Responsible, and terrible fear on the part of the next one down about her responsibilities as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick). It's one of those books which does not seem tightly plotted but actually is when you get there, and which is full of the correct sort of small observed detail and the correct sort of mayhem of the type that happens on that kind of vacation (I was highly amused that the person who falls off the seawall was the aunt, and not any of the children).

Despite the fact that the first Penderwick book won the National Book Award, I could never really warm to it, or the second, but I kept feeling that Birdsall had something, and that at some point either she or I might click into seeing what it was. I am not sure which of us has changed, but this book was beautifully paced, had a great sense of place about a part of Maine I am fairly familiar with, and reminded me strongly of Hilary McKay's Casson family books, which is high praise (Saffy's Angel is a book I press copies of on people, for their own good). If you like non-cloying, friendly, gently funny family stories about genuinely nice people who have real and interesting problems without being overwhelmed by drama, this is a good entry in that genre. I still don't entirely believe in one of the middle sisters' writing habits, because she feels to me more like an example of the way people think children who want to be writers behave than of the way children who want to be writers do behave, but this didn't break the book for me, and anyhow my sample size of kids who want to be writers has been small and mostly consisting of me, so maybe it is more naturalistic than I suspect.

I suppose I should reread the first two and see whether they actually aren't as good, or whether I was in the wrong mood, or both. This one I can recommend unequivocally.

(I also see via flist that Hilary McKay has written a sequel to A Little Princess. Well. That will be interesting...)
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