Growing up, I was an avid (even rabid) fan of Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. My sister and I read the four books in that seriesGrowing up, I was an avid (even rabid) fan of Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. My sister and I read the four books in that series probably more times than I can count. I was in the mood for some light hearted fiction so I decided to grab some more of Wrede’s books that were written after my YA days. I have to say, this book was a good diversion but didn’t quite live up to my high expectations of this author.
The book’s heroine is Eff, a twin born to an almost Duggar sized magical family living in a parallel United States in the late nineteenth century. She had the bad luck to be the thirteenth child and her extended family’s harassment of her for this unlucky fact is matched only in their pride and encouragement of her twin, Lan, the doubly good fortunate seventh son of a seventh son. Eff’s parents decide to move the family out west to the east banks of the Mammoth River (Mississippi in our universe) when her father gets the opportunity to teach at a newly founded land grant college. The town they settle in is pretty much the last outpost in civilization. Although some brave pioneers have eked out a living west of the Mammoth, it is a perilous life as prehistoric beasts and magical creatures roam free. Eff grows into her adolescence in this new land anxious that her secret status as an unlucky thirteenth child will be revealed.
Eff annoyed me through most of the book. She is so insecure and wishy-washy, unlike the awesome female characters in The Enchanted Forest Chronicless. Eff’s angst at the prospect of being discovered as a thirteenth child is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of many girls who feel abnormal for a variety of reasons (trivial or not), but it didn’t make for exciting reading. The slow buildup in this plot makes it obvious it was planned to be the first installation in a series, which I guess is reasonable for an author who writes mainly series. However, I think the character development was so muted, it didn’t make me want to run out and immediately read the next book in the series.
I loved the parallel magical universe set up. But there was one disturbing parallel missing in this book; the hard work of frontier life is the same, the land grant system is awesomely and accurately described, the Civil War’s aftermath and resulting racial tension loam large, but there’s no mention of Indians or any other indigenous human population. The land west of the Mammoth is as conveniently unpopulated as Andrew Jackson’s wet dreams. To me, it seems more conceivable in Wrede’s alter-United States that slavery never existed in a world where all individuals have access to magic. Not including Native Americans in this book seems like a cop out on her part; it would have been difficult but not impossible. There are other books in this series that I expect I will eventually read and I hope that Wrede has a plan for incorporating Indians into her otherwise engaging and enjoyable narrative. ...more
I decided to enter the Goodreads giveaway for the newest juvenile book by beloved author Ann M. Martin somewhat on a whim. I was pleasantly surprisedI decided to enter the Goodreads giveaway for the newest juvenile book by beloved author Ann M. Martin somewhat on a whim. I was pleasantly surprised to win although I also felt some trepidation at the prospect of writing a review on it. I’m not really one of those adults who read juvenile and YA books so I always feel a bit unsure rating and reviewing books for young readers as someone not in the intended audience for these books. However, Ann M. Martin holds a special place in my heart, partially for her iconic Babysitter Club series (even the cool kids read those in the 1990s when I grew up), but my first Martin love was Ten Kids, No Pets. In that book about a huge, quirky alphabetically named family, Martin’s characters seem so much more vivid than the somewhat formulaic pre-teens and teens of the Babysitters Club. I read the Babysitters Club because they were popular but Ten Kids, No Pets was a meatier reading experience for my young self; Martin delved into the imperfections and joy of being a kid in a family unit in a way that really resonated with me, even though I grew up in a Three Kids, Two Cats family. I found that Ten Rules for Living with My Sister managed to incorporate a lot of the charms I remember as a young reader of Martin’s novels.
Our heroine is Pearl, a young for her age girl who doesn’t quite fit in at school or with her older sister Lexie. Despite Pearl’s best intentions at interacting with her sister, she always manages to play the Ramona to Lexie’s Beezus. Pearl’s attempts to gain access to her sister’s alluring junior high world are given a boost when the girls are forced to temporarily share a bedroom in the family’s New York City apartment. The sisters’ grandfather, Daddy Bo, is no longer able to care for himself and moves in with the family while he awaits an opening at a senior living facility. The shared living situation turns out to help ease the girls’ relationship as both learn better how their sister acts and reacts to the other. Pearl’s new relationship with her older sister helps her blossom in the fourth grade while Lexie learns to think less of the almighty popular opinion at her middle school.
This book was charming and readable even as an adult. I also tried to keep in mind how I would feel if I read this book when I was a child myself. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 12(although she’d begun the descent before formal diagnosis) and to this day, watching my grandmother suffer that disease remains one of the most hellish experiences of my life. Papa Bo’s forgetfulness stroke a painful chord for me and I wonder how I would react to this book if I had read it when I was also a kid dealing with scary grownup things (even though I was somewhat older than Pearl). Martin dealt with the uncertainty of watching a beloved and capable adult struggle with losing their independence in a somewhat tame and digestible way for a young reader, proving that Martin still has the ability to bring to life the most ordinary of family situations and make it compelling and readable. ...more