Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I just can't get into this one (review of The Penderwicks)

I've tried. I've really tried. This is the third time I've checked out The Penderwicks from the library. This time I actually started reading it to Crayons.

And I appreciate all the advice froml the well-meaning people who keep telling me I should read it if I liked This Book and Those Books.

But I have to agree with some of the Amazon commenters; I don't think they're just dumping on the book, I think they're right.

When I read the Melendy books, I believe in Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver. When I read The Moffats, I know who Sylvie, Joe, Jane and Rufus are. When I read All-of-a-Kind-Family...you get the point. This book feels kind of like someone shook "characteristics" up in a Ziploc bag with "hair colour" and "age," and produced four girls--with some added "cuteness" factors like putting the youngest in a pair of butterfly wings. I agree with one of the reviewers who said that the ages seemed all wrong too--they all seemed to act older than their ages. Interestingly, my seven-year-old most liked the four-year-old character--who sounded a lot like her (she made her own poster-board wings awhile back). The time factor also seemed a bit unbelievable--all that happens in the space of three weeks?

But that wasn't what really finished the book for me.

Usually when Crayons and I read a new book together, I don't "cheat" and read ahead of her. However, I got about halfway through this one and got a bad feeling about the rest of it, so I finished it myself last night. Without giving away the whole book, let's just say there's too much adult ranting, raving and general angst going on for me to feel like reading the rest to a seven-year-old. The scene where the Boy's Mother questions the morality of the Girls' Mother (would anybody, seriously, get that rude about their summer tenants who should have asked for a refund then and there?) just finished it. Adults in children's books can have issues and sadness (e.g. Ramona and Her Father, Little Plum) but they shouldn't be allowed to take over the story. Neither should there be more than one total page about tweenage sisters mooning over boys too old for them.

And really--without trying to be too hard on a first novel, the "remarrying somebody evil and sending the kid to military school" storyline has been done. (I'm also having trouble understanding why somebody that fabulously rich would need to rent out a cottage.)

There are good things in the book. I liked the rabbits, for one thing. I liked the dog and its relationship with Batty (could have done without the ongoing sick-on-your-shoes gag though). I liked some of the good ideas that came through even if they didn't seem to be totally developed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that reading The Penderwicks reminds me a bit of reading Elizabeth Enright's Thimble Summer and comparing it to her later books: Garnet and her friend aren't the most well-developed characters, but you see bits of Randy and Rush shining through, you see what it could turn into. Anne Tyler's early books kind of wander around too; it wasn't until she'd published several books that she seemed to find the place her writing heart really belonged.

Writing a first novel isn't easy, and I hope that, if I ever get the book written that I've been pushing around for years, people will be nice and not say that it sounds like blenderized Jean Little and Anne Tyler. But I'm a reader and a parent as well, and from a reader's perspective, I wasn't satisfied enough with The Penderwicks to finish it. We're moving on to the second Dr. Dolittle book instead.


Andrea -- Just One More Book!! Podcast said...

My girls loved the first Penderwicks. I couldn't really figure out what exactly they loved -- and it definitely wasn't written with adult readers in mind (in my opinion). But I loved that they loved it.

The SECOND Penderwicks, though, we *all* agreed, blows the first out of the water! We all had a great time reading it. My daughters interrupted me after every sentence or so to shriek or laugh or repeat the last line. They saw the ending coming very early on and enjoyed the suspense of getting there. If you have any energy at all left for this extremely functional family, and love a happy (romantic) ending, give Penderwicks on Gardam street a shot.

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks, Andrea!--I'll look for the second book.

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