(Review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/28127.html)Why I Read It:
Along with The Silent Boy
, my friend also lent me The Penderwicks. It looked like something light and fun so I thought "Why not?". In November when I was distracted with school and needed something short, this fit the bill perfectly, so picked it up I did.
This book immediately made me think back to classic children's novels full of wonder and adventure a la The Secret Garden infused with the mischief and optimism of Anne of Green Gables. If you enjoy either of those books, you should have no problems with this novel -- it's a comfort read: familiar and homey. The downfalls to these kinds of books though is that they rarely present anything new, because so many other greats have come before it.
This book really is sweet and cute and fluffy though. Sometimes this exudes so much from the writing that I was actually perplexed. For example, there's a scene fairly early on in the book when three of the four sisters, accompanied by their new friend Jeffrey, go to a pasture that's fenced off. On the other side of the fence is an angry BULL. The youngest child, Batty, crawls under the fence while the other kids are distracted and almost gets GORED. Of course, the crisis is averted, but the way the whole scene was written was just... odd. I mean, a child being GORED is kind of terrifying and sort of a big deal, but the way it was written was all "La dee dah, and then they never went near the fence EVER AGAIN and was well." I don't know, it felt strange.
The only other quip I had with the writing was that some of the characters spoke more maturely than what I expect from someone their age. The most serious offender of this was Batty, the four-year old. This isn't a huge deal, as it's something I've noticed from several authors, but it was present nonetheless.
The characters are of course the focus of this novel. The four sisters are cute and diverse in personalities so they were never particularly dull. I was slightly confused at why Skye was such an angry child, though I suppose being around three other girls constantly and losing your mother so young might have some kind of adverse affect on you. She does go through some personal growth through the book and while her anger isn't rectified (she has quite the explosion at the end of the book) she appears to have a better handle on it and seems more aware of it. Each girl goes through some kind of little personal journey over the course of the novel and its never anything major, but Birdsall still managed to make me care, which is obviously good. The supporting characters, especially the adults, were equally heart-warming and feel-goody.
The one character I absolutely could not stand was Mrs. Tifton. I know we're obviously not supposed to like her, but I found some of her characterization kind of lazy -- I have a hard time believing someone could be SO MEAN to children. And the things she was saying near the end of the novel when Skye blows a fuse on her? I mean C'MON. But at the same time, I guess her behaviour isn't impossible either. There are some pretty crazy people out there... So I guess I'm a bit on the fence about her.
The plot is kind of fun in that it's a lazy, summer vacation adventure kind of book where the kids get up to all kinds of fun and mischief. It's a nice atmosphere and I can see this being the kind of book I would have loved reading every summer as a kid. The events in the plot are never incredibly engrossing but they're always fun and usually light-hearted (though some incidents, especially the ones concerning Mrs. Tifton and her bigotry, were quite a bit heavier in tone).Final Judgment:
This is a fun summer adventure novel that I think most kids would enjoy. The four sisters are all diverse and well-characterized so that they never get boring and they're also all flawed in some kind of way, steering them away from perfect good two-shoes. The story is never especially exciting or action-y, but I was still invested in the characters all the same, making those smaller moments feel bigger than they actually were. This book will also appeal to older readers looking for something to harken back to the older children's novels, such as Anne of Green Gables, as they're very similar in tone. It was more like than love for me, but I still think I'll check out the other two installments in the series and see what other shenanigans the girls get up to. :)