Monday, January 24, 2011

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Where I Got the Book: My paperback copy is from Barnes and Noble

In Short: idyllic, charming, simple

The Penderwicks is an "it book"--one of those books you hear about all over the place because every prestigious book reviewer in the blogosphere or in review journalism is praising it, talking about it, comparing it to every great classic ever made (for example, I would say The Hunger Games is an "it book". I would like to say that Harry Potter also is one, but I consider it more of a mass phenomenon than simply an "it book". As widespread as The Penderwicks or HG is, I don't think they're quite to the degree that HP is at). Although I've always had a huge fondness for MG books, the real reason I sorely wanted it was because of another book--one that The Penderwicks had been constantly compared to: Half Magic.

As an elementary schooler, I was that kid who was obsessed with Harry Potter, Roald Dahl, and Edward Eager. I had read all of Edward Eager's books and, just as I am with Shannon Hale's novels now, recommended Half Magic to all of my friends (and very few have or did ever read it, if any did). To this day, I still think Eager's books influenced me as a reader in my tastes and as a writer in what I tend to write. So when many of my friends and tons of blogs that I read couldn't stop talking about Jeanne Birdsall's book, I knew I simply had to read this. I hadn't touched an Eager book in years, but I was certain this would be a delight.

I was right...but I think my expectations were a little too high for this book. Or maybe I've just aged. I'm not quite sure which, but I couldn't enjoy it as much as I did an Eager book or an Eleanor Estes novel. The feel, the mood--yes, that was familiar. The plot was vaguely similar, though perhaps with more of the adolescent troubles than would have been found in Half Magic.

The Penderwicks starts off very much like an Eager or Estes book: four sisters--so extremely realistic that they could be your neighbors--go on vacation over the summer with their widower father at a rented cottage called Arundel. Within the time span of three weeks, the sisters, each completely different from the next, undergo various Estes-esque adventures: Rosalind, the eldest, is trying to gain maturity and be more of an adult than she truly is; Skye, second eldest but the Penderwick sister with the quickest tongue of all that she simply can't seem to hold; Jane, the idealistic bookworm always off on literary adventures in her head; and little Batty, whose adorableness and innocence make her exactly your run-of-the-mill Estes "baby of the family". Joining the Penderwick girls in their mad schemes is Jeffrey, a boy whose mother has over-the-top expectations from her son, a kid who really only wants the simple and carefree life (or at least summer) that other children like the Penderwicks have.

A National Book Award winner, The Penderwicks is a fun, light summer read for Eager, Estes, and Nesbit fans, young and old alike. (As a random side note, I think those who will love this will relate wholeheartedly with Jane--she makes so many delightful literary references, and literary references + me = nerding out literary fangirl ;) ). I would definitely give this a shot if you're a fan of any of those authors; it may not be quite as beloved to you as Half Magic, Ginger Pye, or Five Children and It may be, but it's still a nice, quiet read for the interested bookworm. Not a favorite of mine, but I'm still excited to read the next books in this unfolding series.

Red Flags: To add to CSM's warnings, Surprisingly, there was perhaps a thing or two that was very vaguely hinted at, but it will easily fly over young readers' heads and can be very differently interpreted. Nothing to worry about, but a little odd, nonetheless.

Plot: 9/10 (wavers, just like an Eager or Estes book, but no direct plotline)
Characters: 7/10 (I really wanted to love all of the characters--and I simply love Jane--but Rosalind sometimes got on my nerves)
Writing: 10/10 (the writing style is not bad, and irons out the quirks that I always found odd in Eager's and Estes's works)
Originality: 10/10 (how many books nowadays do you see in the ilk of beloved authors of the fifties and sixties?)
Enjoyment: 9/10
Overall: 45/50

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Juvenile Fiction
Original Release Date: June 14, 2005

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. Personally, I recommend highly all of the Penderwicks novels.
    (Oh yes! and I have read Half Magic, and many of Eager's other books as well.)