Jessica's Reviews > Summer of the Gypsy Moths

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
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's review
Jun 13, 2012

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bookshelves: fiction, middle-grade, children
Read from May 31 to June 06, 2012

If all you had to go off of Summer of the Gypsy Moths was the cover and the title, you'd have no way of knowing just how weird and dark this book is. It looks like your typical summer at the beach coming-of-age middle-grade novel, and what are gypsy moths, anyway, and what does a summer of them entail? This strikes me as the kind of book you'd have to booktalk to kids, because it just looks and sounds too generic for a kid to really pick up off a display.

Stella is living with her great-aunt Louise because after her grandmother died, she can't count on her careless mother. In fact, Stella is the one who called Family Services on her mother, because her mother left her alone for a few days. Like a lot of kids with neglectful parents, Stella feels some guilt about her actions, and thinks that maybe it was her fault that her mother is out on her own, not being responsible and not being with her. Louise is the caretaker of the Linger Longer Cottage Colony, where families go to vacation at the beach. She's not super affectionate with Stella, but she takes in a foster child, Angel, to be friends with Stella. Turns out that Angel and Stella are "like oil and water"--they just don't get along. But they're forced to at least cooperate with each other when Louise suddenly dies, and neither of them want to get sent to another foster home. They decide to bury the body in the garden and take over Louise's caretaker duties for the summer, to buy them some time until Angel's aunt and Stella's mom get places to live and jobs. (See what I meant by weird and dark?)

There are a lot of believability issues floating around the premise of this book, and I was surprised to see that Sara Pennypacker addresses many of them. For example, there's some discussion of how much the body smells, which I wasn't expecting to see. Then there's the issue of how Angel and Stella are going to survive on their own--how are they going to pay bills, for example, or get to the store that's three miles away? It was nice to see Pennypacker tackling the realism of a story that's not exactly everyday. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler famously depicted the fantasy of what happens when kids are alone and taking care of themselves. Summer of the Gypsy Moths shows what that might really be like.

Ages 11 and up

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06/01/2012 page 88
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