Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.

NY: Knopf, 2011.

The first two books in what seems likely to become a classic series were first-rate and it would have been easy for the author, now that she has gotten the attention of her adolescent market, to just crank out another half-dozen according to formula. Happily, she appears to be more interested in growing her characters and telling her readers things they need to hear.

The four Penderwick sisters of Massachusetts display an interesting array of personality types, from Rosalind, the (usually) calm one who supplies the leadership and focus for her sisters (their mother having died five years earlier), and Skye, who is very smart but also very hot-tempered and not especially “feminine” in the classic sense, to Jane, the dreamy romantic and writer of novels who is also a talented athlete, and Batty, the youngest by several years, who worships Rosalind — but who also has her own latent talents, as everyone discovers this time out. The difference in the set-up for this summer vacation, though, is that Rosalind is escaping her responsibilities for two weeks to go off with her best friend to the Jersey shore. She’s agonizing about whether the other three will survive without her (if you’ve read the first two books, you may agree with her), but she’s thirteen now and she really, really needs a break. Their widowed and recently remarried botanist father has gone off to England with his bride (the widowed astrophysicist from next door) and the other three girls — plus Jeffrey, their honorary brother from the first book — are headed for a cabin in Maine on the ocean with their Aunt Claire. Skye, next oldest after Rosalind, will, for the first time, be the OAP — “Oldest Available Penderwick” — and while she reluctantly accepts the responsibility, it also frightens her. She knows perfectly well her older sibling, on whom they have always depended, is far better at this sort of thing than she is. It’s going to be a period of growth for Skye, as she tries to keep everyone safe and busy. It’s also going to be a time of shocking discovery for Jeffrey, whom the girls all adore. And Jane, now eleven, will be experiencing developing emotions of her own when she meets a young skateboarder.

Birdsall has a lot to say about the nature of family, and the nature of responsibility, and the process of maturity, and she does it with humor and style. Admittedly, seen from an adult perspective, there are a couple of weak points. For instance, it’s hard to imagine so many adults who are not longstanding friends of the family taking such an interest in the kids and their preoccupations — but adolescents, even nice ones, are self-centered and probably would not consider such tolerance unnatural. I’ll be waiting with great interest for the next book in the series.

Published in: on 9 February 2012 at 4:03 am  Leave a Comment  
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