Oh, the Penderwicks. Jeanne Birdsall has said that she wrote the sort of book she liked to read when she was a girl, by which I must assume that Jeanne Birdsall and I had vastly similar reading tastes. When I read one of the now three books in the Penderwicks series, it makes me feel like I am about ten years old and back in southern Maine, curled up reading on the attic bed in the little cottage we rented every summer. This, presumably, is exactly what Jeanne Birdsall intended.
The Penderwicks books are about four sisters (I am one of four sisters too!): responsible Rosalind, outspoken Skye, aspiring author Jane (oh how I would have identified with Jane when I was little), and shy little Batty. Their mother died shortly after having Batty, and they have been raised by their kind, clever professor of a father. In the first book, they went on vacation and made friends with a lovely boy called Jeffrey; and in the second they sorted their father’s life out for him; and in this one, poor long-suffering Rosalind gets a break from them all. She goes off to the beach, and the younger girls go vacationing in Maine (in Maine!) with their aunt Claire. I missed Rosalind but it turned out to be just as fun spending time with the younger three girls.
What can I say? Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwicks books are reliably wonderful, and this the third is no exception. I just can’t say enough good things about this author and this series. They are funny and smart and self-aware. They do that thing where the kids have not quite picked up on what’s going on with the adults, but the way the kids view the story is enough to tell the reader what’s going on (I love that thing). They do that thing where the kids figure out everything because the adults aren’t paying attention. The sisters love each other but they don’t always get along and they frequently drive each other crazy. At the climactic moments, this book shines. I cried at the end of The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. My eyes filled all full of tears and I read this one scene like four times.
It is not that Point Mouette (or the foregoing Penderwicks books) are perfect. Some characters are drawn too broadly. Some plot points are telegraphed far, far in advance. I always wonder if I’d have picked up on this as a kid, or if I really was ever young enough not to know that there aren’t that many plots out there to be used and authors consequently use the same ones over and over. But somehow these things don’t seem like flaws. They seem like the way childhood really feels in my memory: some people were caricatures, and the things that happened were things I expected to have happen. And besides, although you can see the plot points coming, they are still paid out in such an incredibly satisfying, non-simplistic way, that you do not mind that you knew what was coming. At least I don’t.
Don’t start with this. Read The Penderwicks first, and then The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, and then, subsequently, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette. You will feel all warm and happy inside when you read them. Promise. They are that kind of book.
Any others? No? No more? This is it?