Sunday, March 9, 2014

Book Review: Anastasia On Her Own by Lois Lowry (1985)

When her mother goes to a conference for a few days, Anastasia is convinced it will be a piece of cake to take over the housekeeping and look after her brother, Sam. As soon as her mom is safely out the door, however, Anastasia discovers that having a plan does not guarantee success. As the week without Mrs. Krupnik progresses, Anastasia, Sam, and their dad must contend with constant telemarketing phone calls, a case of the chicken pox, and a Friday dinner date involving Mr. Krupnik’s old flame and Anastasia’s first boyfriend.

Though I am enjoying the series as a whole, this is my favorite Anastasia book so far. I love the way Lowry takes a common family occurrence - a parent going out of town - and turns it into a hilarious roller coaster ride of a story. Readers are already so sympathetic to Anastasia after witnessing her trials in the first four books of the series that it is very easy to imagine themselves in her shoes right from the start of her housekeeping stint. Everything that goes wrong for Anastasia is perfectly in character and perfectly believable - funny, but not too over the top or too slapstick.

As in the first book, where Anastasia keeps her list of likes and dislikes, and the previous book, where she charts the progress of her science project, this book, too, features an ever-changing document that helps the reader keep track of how things are going during Mrs. Krupnik’s absence. The housekeeping schedule that looks so neat and manageable at the start of the week becomes a panicked bulletin by the time the dinner party rolls around. This adds to the story’s humor and also helps paint the picture of the mood in the entire household, even when we don’t see every character in every scene. (And when we do see the other members of the household, they are as delightful as ever. Even Sam’s strangeness seems normal to me now, as does his desire to connect his chicken pox spots with magic marker.)

This book, more than any other in this series, is a great family read-aloud which invites parents and kids to think about the responsibilities of each member of the family and to have respect for the jobs each one does to manage the home. I appreciate that the book is by no means preachy; rather, the situations in which Anastasia finds herself speak for themselves and connect with the reader using humor rather than didacticism. This would be an ideal selection for a Mother-Daughter Book Club and a fun wake-up call for any tween girl who imagines she could easily do the work of an adult.

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