Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: Eleven Kids, One Summer by Ann M. Martin (1991)

Eleven Kids, One Summer is the sequel to one of my favorite books from childhood, Ten Kids No Pets. Looking back, I remember the first book as the better of the two, but reading them both again as an adult, this sequel is the story that won me over. Keegan, the youngest in the Rosso family, is now six months old, and the family is taking a vacation to Fire Island, where they will stay in a beach house. As the summer passes, each of the kids has an adventure involving everything from fishermen and haunted houses to movie sets and romances.

Here’s what made me love this book:
  • While each of the kids has his or her own adventure, some of the adventures overlap. For example, Candy’s chapter early in the book introduces a haunted house plot that reappears in Hannah’s chapter and Hardy’s chapter in the middle and end of the book. Woody also becomes an entrepreneur in his chapter, which influences things that happen to Bainbridge later on. This interconnectedness made me feel like I was living amongst the Rossos during their vacation, and even when some of the kids were not heavily featured in a chapter, the ongoing plot threads gave me an idea of where they were and what they were doing.
  • Justin Hart, the romantic hero in Ann M. Martin’s romance novel, Just a Summer Romance, as well as the heroine from that story, Melanie, reappear in this book. I read Just a Summer Romance when I was in ninth or tenth grade, and by then I’d forgotten the details of Eleven Kids, One Summer, so I never made the connection until now. I remember really liking those characters, though, and it was nice to check in with them. 
  • Eleven Kids, One Summer has everything in it that I loved about the various plots of the Baby-sitters Club books- a big family, a ghost story, lots of kids of all different ages, movie stars, twins, a hospital visit and a summer vacation. The Publishers Weekly blurb on the back cover of the book says that Ann M. Martin “knows well what pleases young readers” and I would so agree with that statement. She knows how to keep the pages turning and how to create adventures out of seemingly everyday experiences.
  • This book reminds me of The Penderwicks series, and especially of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Abbie Rosso and Rosalind Penderwick are both wonderful big sisters, and the younger Rosso siblings all reminded me of Skye, Jane, and Batty at different points. Both books evoke a timeless sense of childhood innocence and the they celebrate the joys of imagination and independent play. Eleven Kids, One Summer was published 14 years ahead of the first Penderwicks book, but they both feel equally contemporary in style and content.
Eleven Kids, One Summer is a perfect example of Ann M. Martin’s talent for creating unique kids and making each different personality relatable for her readers. Reviews from when the book was published were not particularly kind - especially one from School Library Journal that said “signs of formulaic contemporary sit-com fiction are in abundance” in the book, and that “sometimes the pace and content strain credibility.” I think this book is actually heads above many of those poorly written sit-com books, and maybe not everything that happens is likely to happen in real life, but it worked well in the fiction.

Eleven Kids, One Summer is out of print, which makes me sad, but there is obviously still some love for the Rossos, since copies of their books are quite expensive (over 140 dollars!) on Amazon. I think this book brings about heavily nostalgic feelings for a lot of kids of the 90s. I know it does for me.

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