I just love this gorgeous family. Birdsall has given each of the Penderwick sisters a unique and loveable personality, and a story that has the perfect combination of innocent and old fashioned charm and an endearing friendliness that makes you feel right at home.
I love how much the siblings love each other, a realistic and healthy sisterly love that accommodates (sometimes gigantic) differences and works to forgive mistakes and accept the others as they are. And I love how they take their responsibilities so seriously, one of their refreshingly old-fashioned characteristics.
I love each character’s unique personality, they exude more life than many people I know. And there are so many natural acts of generosity that make the story beautiful in little ways, like when several of the girls are making wishes around a bonfire and Skye doesn’t know what to wish for, so she just wishes that all of the others’ wishes come true. There are many moments when the girls hold back things they were about to say out of consideration for the other person, and so many little acts of love to make things easier for the others. And they have such a healthy ability to laugh at themselves and at the endearing antics of the others.
There were just a couple of things in this instalment that need to be noted by parents of young readers. There was a little joking about kinds of revenge the sisters could have on their friend’s nasty mother who wouldn’t permit him join them for the holiday, including references to voodoo dolls and snails entrails. It appears again near the end as a similarly joking remark. But even though it’s not serious, why mention it in what is otherwise such a great book for 10 year olds?
There’s also a humorous reference to the many ‘love and first sight’ experiences of their Aunt who has never managed to settle down with a family of her own. In general their Aunt is not much of a guide or mentor, more like an indulgent and slightly simple older sister. The responsibility really does rest upon the OAP – ‘Oldest Available Penderwick’, who usually does a much better job than the Aunt.
And there’s Jane’s comical love woes with the boy down the road, climaxing in his asking to kiss her – he’s 11 and she’s all of about 10. Little does she know that it’s only part of a dare his older brothers have set him for the summer. Before the two weeks are up she discovers what he really is and dramatically banishes all thoughts of that ’empty shell of a boy’.
Then there’s the complicated scenario of Jeffrey discovering the identity of his father – who hadn’t known his wife was pregnant when she left him just a few months after their marriage. It is handled well, acknowledging the difficulty it involves for Jeffrey and showing him taking his time to come to terms with it, but it’s yet another complicated situation to take young readers through.
I can’t deny that I loved the third instalment of the Penderwicks because the characters keep getting better all the time, and good characters are so hard to find in newer books. Still, parents may have to think twice before giving it to a young reader, and for mature readers it would be important to talk through the themes to put them in perspective.