Primrose Squarp refuses to believe her parents are dead. Nearly everyone in Coal Harbour thinks her mother was irresponsible when she went out in a skiff to find her fisherman husband in a typhoon. When they first disappeared, Primrose stayed with a Miss Perfidy. Now that the town council has decided that the Squarp estate can no longer afford a babysitter, they have called in the girl’s long lost Uncle Jack to take custody of her. As far as Primrose is concerned, her parents will return soon, so any arrangement is only temporary.
Uncle Jack, despite his sketchy past, makes a compassionate custodian. He manages to sidestep the advances of Miss Honeycut, school guidance counselor, and the poorly masked resentment of Miss Bowzer, local restaurateur. As the only person in Coal Harbour who respects Primrose’s conviction that her parents are still alive, Miss Bowzer becomes the child’s confidante and mentor. Primrose loves to cook, and Miss Bowzer teaches her to cook while giving her advice about dealing with the bullying at school and the meddling of Miss Honeycut. She also serves Primrose just about anything she likes, but always on a waffle.
Polly Horvath’s book implies an amusing, light-hearted story that only surfaces at the end. While Primrose’s narration reveals an advanced level of maturity for an eleven-year-old, her detachment from her own tragic situation gives the impression she is mocking her neighbors. Nearly all the adults in the story are unreliable. Uncle Jack is too consumed with his real estate deals to properly supervise his niece. Miss Perfidy, who suffers from Alzheimer’s, is portrayed as rude and witless. Only Miss Bowzer, a chain smoker with an attitude, understands Primrose and the devotion of the girl’s mother to her husband. The highlight of the book’s dialogue is Miss Bowzer’s explanation of how everyone, deep down, desires a love for which he would be willing to die. Unfortunately, her depth may be lost as the content and cover of the book will probably attract readers younger than its intended audience.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.