** spoiler alert **
My seven-year-old recommended this book to me, and as a testament to her maturing taste in literature (as well as her knowledge of her mother!), I LOVED it. In the genre of magical realism, which is a great genre for children's literature, especially, because it helps us remember how much of the world still IS magical for them, even the scientific stuff, Polly Peabody lives on a magical farm, the best place in the world, exactly the place that you'd want to live if you were a kid, the most perfect, fantastic, home you could ever imagine.
Until it isn't. Sure, a few years back Polly's doting grandmother died, and that was a terrible loss, but then her aunt moved back home, giving up her high-powered career path, and, if anything, she dotes on Polly even more than her grandmother did. Polly still mourns her grandmother, of course, but she models a healthy grief. What's happening now is scarier, in that it's affecting the magical place that Polly calls home. The magical, regular rain that keeps the magical plants healthy and thriving just ceases, subjecting the Peabody farm to the same drought conditions that plague the rest of the midwest. The magical plants seem to be revolting, and Polly, who can somewhat speak to them, doesn't understand what they're trying to tell her. Polly's 17-year-old brother is growing ill. And scariest of all, Polly's doting aunt suddenly announces that she wants to sell this beloved farm so that she can get rich, go back to her great career, and force Polly to get out into the wider world.
What follows is Polly's journey to solve the mystery of the rain, to solve the mystery of her brother's illness, to solve the mystery of her aunt's changed affections and her cruel intentions, and to solve the more mundane, but no less important mysteries of how to get along with her schoolmates and deal with a bully. She struggles so hard with no adults to help her, and when she finally prevails, you can't help but be so proud of her.
As well as an homage to the beauty of rural life, Drizzle is, at heart, a morality tale for the modern feminist. Polly's grandmother was the matriarch of the farm, a decided housewife in a rural landscape, who, we learn, attempted in vain to make Polly's aunt be the same type of woman, and refused to accept her differences. Polly's aunt had to work extremely hard in the world to become the leader that she is, removing herself from her disapproving family, struggling alone over all the usual obstacles, and is so clearly happy and finally content in her success that she is also attempting (in vain) to make Polly be the same type of woman. Her efforts are manipulative and underhanded, endanger lives, and show that she doesn't understand this child that she claims to love any better than her own mother apparently understood her.
Polly, however, is the culmination of feminism, in that she understands both sides. She's been raised, you see, by both her housewife grandmother and her career-minded aunt, and she's empowered enough to clearly see that her choices are absolutely her own. She refuses to acknowledge the compartments that make women feel compartmentalized if they choose home or career, or make them feel torn if they choose both. Polly simply chooses what she wants to do, and is empowered to work to achieve whatever that desire is. Yes, her choice is life on her magical farm, for now, but for Polly it remains a conscious choice, not a definition.
My one disappointment with this otherwise wonderful book is its secondary emphasis on secrecy. The legacy that allows Polly to eventually save her farm is a deep family secret, known only to one woman in a generation. This means that when her aunt, the secret-holder, begins to work purposefully AGAINST the farm, no one knows what is going on, or why, or how to fix it. Polly must first struggle to learn that there is a secret, then must struggle to learn all the various components of the secret, then must struggle to learn the powers that she holds, as the chosen one of her generation. Surprisingly, in a child who has so far been notable in NOT accepting the given knowledge of her family, she simply accepts at the end of the book that she, too, must keep everything that she has learned a secret, preserving the mystery, keeping her entire family in the dark about the true workings of the farm, and continuing to do her own important work completely alone. This is a terrible blow at the end of the book, because this DOES compartmentalize Polly onto a very narrow path. If she can't share the secret, she can't share the labor, and the labor MUST be done to ensure the health of the farm. Polly can't go to college at this rate. Heck, she can't even go on vacation or it won't rain! Not only is this development troubling in that, in my personal opinion, it is unethical to present a conclusion in which a child chooses to keep a major secret from a loving family, but it also serves to eliminate the powerful feminist choices that Polly could have made. People should cooperate with each other, help each other. If Polly's aunt hadn't had to keep the secret, she could have taught Polly her powers long ago--she could have gone back to work! If Polly and her aunt weren't now estranged, the aunt could help Polly in the future--Polly could go to college! If Polly could share her secret with her very loving family, they could help her with much of the infrastructure surrounding her duties--she's a child, after all, and has to do schoolwork! It was a deep disappointment, after reading this wonderful book and getting to discuss the power of Polly's choices and her work with my daughter, to also have to discuss with her the importance of not keeping secrets from her family. Together, my daughter and I spun an epilogue, in which Polly realizes this crucial fact, shares with her family, gives her aunt the opportunity to reconcile with her, and then proceeds to live the powerful life that she is capable of, without any silly authoritative boundaries.