November 29, 2008

The Penderwicks



The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall are delightful little books any lover of Anne of Green Gables would love. I'm sure kids that go for one will eat up the other.

However.

I hate to say it, but I disagree with Betsy Bird and her pronouncement that the second book is better than the first. She doesn't have a problem with the predictability of the story.

"When you judge a book written with a child audience in mind, familiar tropes are standard fare. What's important is how well the author plays with them. J.K. Rowling, after all, was not the first author to write about a kid going off to a school for magic. She just happened to write it best. Likewise, Birdsall isn't the first writer I've seen to come up with a storyline that involves matchmaking and the like, but she writes so bloody well that I doubt any child, no matter how jaded, is going to mind if they suspect where the plot is headed."

Yes, but there's a difference between using familiar tropes and telegraphing a plot so far ahead that you think, no, she must be playing with me? Then you get to the expected ending, hoping for some twist and no, it's just as expected. Nothing new, nothing interesting, just...there.

The characters are great, the writing lovely. There are lighter-than-air moments that
Birdsall is a master at concocting. But the first is definitely meatier than the second. In the first book you actually worry about the girls' young friend. In the second their worrying seems annoyingly silly because you know exactly what's going to happen.

The girls' father is a wise and witty character in the first book. In the second he's such a dream come true as to strain credulity. He gives speeches every daughter probably yearns to hear, but it's so over-the-top perfection that it's not to be believed.

I highly recommend
The Penderwicks. I'm sure, if you enjoy the first one, you'll go on to the sequel. You won't be disappointed exactly, but it's hardly as good as the original.