Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (2011)

I only discovered the Penderwicks a short time ago, but I fell very deeply in love with them very quickly. Here on the blog, I listed ten things I love about the Penderwick family, which included my beloved favorite character, Batty, Hound, the lovable family dog, Mr. Penderwick's use of Latin phrases, and of course, the "Penderwick family honor." From the moment I finished The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, I started counting down to the third book, wondering how I would ever make it until publication day. When The Penderwicks at Point Mouette finally arrived at my library, one long week after its publication, I snatched it up before anyone could touch it and took it home right away! Then, over the next couple of weeks, my boyfriend and I read it aloud to each other.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is a summer vacation story, set one year after the first Penderwicks book. Rosalind heads to New Jersey with her friend, Anna, for two weeks, while Mr. Penderwick and Iantha take a honeymoon trip to Europe with Ben. This leaves Skye, Jane, and Batty to join Aunt Claire at Birches, a beach house in Maine, for their own vacation. While there, Skye steps up as the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) , Batty discovers hidden musical talent, and Jane finds and loses her first love. There's also a new cast of supporting characters, and a fair amount of time spent with Jeffrey. 

Since finishing the book, I have seen a lot of really lovely reviews. Elizabeth Bird at Fuse #8 even included the book in her recent Newbery/Caldecott prediction post. But I have to confess that, for me, this book did not fully live up to the standards set by the first two, and I finished it feeling somewhat let down.

Before I explain why, though, let me first talk about what I loved, because there were many things.

First of all, I finally feel like I know Skye and Jane as characters. As much as I enjoy having the full Penderwick family together, I was pleased to have Rosalind in New Jersey for this book, because it gave the other three sisters more time to shine. The concept of the OAP appealed to me in the first two books, and I loved getting to see Skye in that position. I also really loved the continuation of Jane's writing, as she attempted to write a Sabrina Starr book about falling in love, but suffered from seemingly insurmountable writer's block. And Batty was as delightful as ever. Her newfound independence in the absence of Rosalind made me feel oddly proud of her, and the discovery of her unexpected musical talent added a new layer to her character. I also enjoyed her friendship with Mercedes.

But there were some definite weaknesses in this book. For one thing, I was really disappointed that Iantha, Mr. Penderwick and Ben did not appear at all in the entire story. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street left me wanting to know what life would be like in this new family, and that was the story I wanted to hear. I'd feel a little better if I thought we'd get that story in the next book, but Jeanne Birdsall has already said that the next book will skip ahead a few years, so our opportunity to see the new family come together is lost forever. I suppose it's a compliment to the series that I care so much about the characters, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel cheated.

My other big complaint has to do with Jeffrey. I like him as much as I like any character in these books, and his friendship to each of the Penderwick girls is wonderful. But in this book, it felt like Jeffrey really stole the show. There are minor dramas in each of the Penderwicks' lives, but it is ultimately Jeffrey who has the story's great revelation, and in the most contrived way. I can't say much more without including spoilers, which I always aim to avoid, but I felt as though the climax of this book required me to suspend my disbelief much more than it should have. I know it's a children's book, and maybe I am a little bit rigid when it comes to bending the rules of reality, but I just couldn't buy into what happens, even if it does make a heck of a twist.

In the end, when it came time for awarding stars on Goodreads, I gave this book four, rather than five. That is to say, I still really loved reading it, even if parts of it made me roll my eyes. Despite its flaws, the book still gets a strong  recommendation from me, as does the entire series.

1 comment:

  1. I've had the Penderwicks on my "to-read" list forever and still haven't gotten around to them--but I'm looking forward to it when I finally do!