Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: Following Flora by Natasha Farrant (2014)

Following Flora is the second book in the Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby series, following last year's After Iris. (In the UK, the title is Flora in Love.) A year has passed and  Zoran, the family's au pair, has moved out and taken one of his guitar students, Zachary Smith, under his wing in the aftermath of Zach's grandfather's stroke. Zach instantly hits it off with Flora, the oldest Gadsby sister, who is just one of three Gadsbys involved in a romance. Blue has started dating her best friend, much to her utter confusion, and Twig has a crush on a girl in school which has completely changed his behavior. Only Jas is not in love, and she feels so left out she turns to poetry as her solace. In the meantime, the Gadsby parents struggle to accept that they are expecting a new baby.

The characters in this series are so well-realized that the plots of the books are almost irrelevant. So many things are going on in Following Flora, to the point that there isn't really one main thread to follow, but it doesn't matter because the chaos is part of the fun of reading about this quirky family. Few family stories for kids are as honest as this one about the way parents and siblings really act with one another. While this book is by no means dark and dreary, it also doesn't pretend that life is an endless parade of sunshine and lollipops. Middle school readers in particular appreciate this type of honesty, and it is perfectly handled by Natasha Farrant.

Often books like this which include transcripts of video make those sections of the book feel like gimmicky filler, but in Following Flora, as in After Iris, they are used perfectly to further the action of the various subplots. The really nice thing about having a camera's eye view of the action is that each member of the Gadsby family is able to assert his or her personality in just a few lines instead of the author spending pages and pages on describing each one. Because the family is so dramatic and chaotic, it only makes sense for them to act out their shenanigans on film, and for Blue, the quietest of the bunch, to be the one behind the lens.

Following Flora reminds me a lot of Anne Fine's The True Story of Christmas, in that it brings family dysfunction to life in a way that is realistic and humorous at the same time. (Why are British authors always so good at that?) The interactions between the siblings also echoes the way the girls talk to each other in The Penderwicks, but the adult characters are much less stereotypically good in the Gadsby books. Readers who enjoy Hilary McKay's Casson family will be enamored of the Gadsbys in the same way, and everyone who reads this book will immediately start counting down to when the next book is out.

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