Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.

NY: Knopf, 2008.

This is the second book about the four Penderwick sisters of Cameron, Massachusetts — Rosalind, Skye, Jane, ages twelve, eleven, and ten, and little Batty (short for Elizabeth), age four. It’s only a month since their return from their summer holiday, the story of which was told in the first book, and school is now upon them.

Rosalind is suspicious of her growing feelings about Tommy, the striving junior high football player across the street. Skye and Jane have to deal with the consequences of their exchange of homework assignments — especially the terror of appearing on stage. Batty has to convince everyone that there really is a “Bug Man” wandering the neighborhood. Prof. Penderwick (a botanist who chides his daughters in Latin) has to confront the challenge of the letter written by his late wife (and delivered deliberately four years later by his own sister) telling him why he should begin dating again and why he shouldn’t go on being lonely. That’s a challenge for the startled girls, too, who aren’t crazy about the possibility of a stepmother. But all of them also have to become acquainted with the widowed Prof. Aaronson and her infant son who have moved in next door. You can see where that part of the plot is going, right? The sisters, as the author creates them, aren’t always mature but they’re certainly bright and aware of the world. And when they screw up, they feel guilty about it until they can bring themselves to confess their misdeeds. As for the setting, the vacation at Arundel had a fairytale quality to it that was okay for an introductory volume, but putting the family back on their home street, dealing with everyday life, works at least as well. Any heavy reader knows not to expect too much from a sophomore novel because so much can go wrong, but in Birdsall’s hands the whole thing comes off beautifully.

Published in: on 7 February 2012 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  

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