THE PENDERWICKS AT POINT MOUETTE got a little introductory discussion here, and crops up on many of your favorites in comments, usually next to the verb “love.”
This is the perfect example of a book that I appreciate despite myself. I don’t love it. I have a hard time with it, in fact. And yet, I also have a hard time disputing its distinguished qualities, and a hard time qualifying my own feelings as anything more than personal taste. And it is true, that while I have a hard time picking it up, and don’t seem to miss it when I put it down, when I’m in it I’m enthralled, and tickled, and moved.
This is because Birdsall is an expert storyteller, and expert in the way that doesn’t show stictches. It’s hard to pull out sentences for admiration in the way I like to do. Kind of like an opera cake, it’s spectacular for the way it’s all stuck together and present.
Someone else pointed to the simplicity of the plot here. It’s actually an amalgalm of the two “only” plots (Penderwicks go on a journey; Stranger “Alec” comes to town). It holds true to them, and is paced accordingly: the climax of the “stranger” plot (the parent revelation) coincides with the “journey” climax (Skye stepping adeptly into her OAPdom when it really counts. That scene with Dexter is one of my favorites). The structure is tame, and solid, but interesting, and Birdsall is able to heap upon it plenty of detail of character (are any of the many undeveloped?) and setting. Jonathan said: “If the Newbery Medal were given for how much I enjoyed a book, or how I much loved the characters, then this could probably top my list.”
So what’s my problem? It’s the too-good-to-be-true factor in regard to the characters. Not the plot. I think the plot is as tight as a freshly painted tugboat, and the coincidence involving Alec is just part of that charm. It’s the fact that the characters are ultimately a little hyper- in their quirks. Jane’s romanticism. Batty’s empathy. Jeffrey’s ability to say exactly the right thing to Batty. And amazingly articulate as well. This is all part of Birdsall’s chanelling of the “classics,”…there’s some Nesbit in the tone of adventure, a little Narnia in the sibling relationships, a lot of Anne of Green Gables embodied as a split personality btwn Skye and Jane… This is I think what either strongly appeals to, or strongly turns off, adults. (I think the same dynamic is present, actually, in the film Hugo, which requires that the tone rings true for the viewer for it to work.) So: I have to remember the child reader who’s looking for that Technicolor feeling, and doesn’t pick up on the alusions because Birdsall has claimed her own territory, rightly and well.