The four Penderwick sisters befriend Jeffrey when staying in a cottage in the grounds of his mother’s house. Skye jeopardises their friendship with her tactlessness; Rosalind finds herself with a crush on Cagney the gardener; Jane wraps herself up in the imaginary world of her fictional heroine; and Batty disgraces the family by letting out Cagney’s rabbits just at the wrong time.
If a Norman Rockwell picture were translated into text, I think it would look something like this story of four motherless daughters, their gentle botanist father, their new boy friend and his unsympathetic mother. Throw into the mix a first teenage crush, a new boyfriend for the unsympathetic mother, a plot to ship the boy friend off to a military academy and a garden competition which goes horribly wrong. The result is a charming story with amusing moments, heartwarming moments, embarrassing moments and just family moments.
If you’re looking for grittiness or the more sordid side of reality, then look elsewhere. If you’re happy with a set of believable girls, each with her own character, and a simple set of overlapping stories, then stay and read. It’s not for everyone; without being sickly sweet it does have wholesomeness oozing from its pores. There’s a built-in sentimental cue as the girls have no mother and Jeffrey’s father walked out on them years before.
There are minor characters in the other departments too including Jeffrey’s ever-cheerful housekeeper, Harry the tomato salesman, and the sour-faced visitors for the garden competition. Jeffrey’s mother has a little substance to her, as does her new partner although they’re painted black at first. Jeffrey tries to run away from them and their plans to send him to a military academy, but realises ultimately that it’s not the thing to do and they’re prepared to listen to his plans for a musically-oriented education.
There are many nice little family touches: Skye loses the draw for bedroom picks but the others leave her the best one anyway; the duty of the OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick) who must look after Batty; the girls’ sense of responsibility which sends Jane round with a prepared speech to apologise for Skye’s rudeness; Mr Penderwick’s gentle questioning of Rosalind after her unfortunate nocturnal encounter with Cagney the good-looking gardener.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.