Now is the time of year when I look at the seven pages of notes on books waiting to be reviewed, and think ahead to next week (*gulp*) when approximately 150 more will be added to my TBR. How much of my review queue can I clear out to prep for the reading feast ahead? Not much if my attempts at writing short reviews keep coming out like this!
The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall. Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.
The beloved Penderwicks story closes out 13 years after we first met them (but a little longer than that in book time) with a return to Arundel, the vacation home where the first novel was set. Lydia, born partway through the series, is now 11 and our point of view character. She and Jane are going to Arundel ahead of the rest of the family, who will be joining them later for Rosalind and Tommy’s wedding. Lydia makes friends with returning character Cagney’s same-aged daughter Alice, and they have fun making movies with Ben, sending hopefully jealousy-inducing photos to Alice’s older brother, who’s spending the summer in Canada, and playing with the sheep.
All of the older sisters have romance or romantic issues of one type or another. Jane is struggling with heartache after deciding to break up with a sweet but unreliable boyfriend with a dog, Hitch, that everyone in the family adores. Skye is in a long-term relationship with fellow scientist Dushek , from the Czech Republic (the closest to any kind of diversity in the book.) Even Batty, 11 in the last book, is now an adult and old enough for a romance of her own, though as this develops through the book, I won’t spoil it here.
There are so many things to love about these books. Let’s start with Lydia, who really comes into her own as a character here. She’s passionate about dancing while working through some big thoughts – the role of destiny, trying to come up with a motto for herself (which her father, the Latin professor, will be able to translate for her), and deciding if she still fits the role her family has cast her in, the one who likes everyone. Will this be good or bad when Jeffrey’s mother Mrs. Tifton, the villain of book 1, turns up again? It was a relief that while Lydia’s going through these classic middle grade struggles, the book avoids the extreme depression levels of The Penderwicks in Spring. I also appreciated that while technology was clearly part of life, it was used to enhance and create adventure in the real world, not to substitute for it.
My one point of discomfort probably stems from the makeup of my own social circle as well as my more recent focus on reading diverse books, making this book about all white, cis-gendered people feel artificial to me – four sisters old enough for romance, and all of them straight? Not one friend or neighbor of color to bring home? This world will feel more or less comfortable to the reader depending on their individual viewpoints.
The story is rambling and episodic, which may be good or bad, depending on your point of view, only loosely focused around the wedding preparations. There’s time catching up with old familiar characters as well as getting to know Lydia, which is great for fans of the series – though if you’re new to the series, you’ll want to go back and start at the beginning. It’s been long enough since I read the first one that I couldn’t honestly tell you whether I liked this one more or less – but I did like it a lot. It’s only a year or two now until my daughter is old enough to enjoy this series herself. I’m looking forward to it.
Looking for more? There’s a list of classic family fiction at the end of my review of The Penderwicks in Spring, or try the more recent The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy or A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano.