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The Children's Crusade

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  7,229 ratings  ·  1,028 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 19
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published April 7th 2015 by Scribner
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Elyse  Walters
Oct 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
This is a beautifully written novel, (to be savored), which will linger in your mind and heart.

While deeply engaged with the intimate storytelling of parents Bill and Penny, and their children: Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James, (characters so rich and nuanced), I began to question, "what does it mean to be a good sibling? , a good father? , a good mother"?

There are several themes throughout "The Children's Crusade" which are worthy to examine in discussion. Its an excellent book-club pick!

Diane S ☔
Sep 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Dysfunctional family.
A mother who wants to be a recognized artist and is self involved.
A father who is a pediatrician, and thoroughly involved with the children, but no so much with their mother.
Four children of various ages trying to figure out a way to get their mother involved in their lives.
This is the Children's Crusade.
I think you have to be in the mood for these generational type novels. Plus Ann Packer can really write and tell a story. It is a very slow paced novels but we do get a thor
May 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: best-of-2015
Family drama that starts out very slowly and has an old-fashioned, almost stodgy feel to it at first but then morphs into something rich and compelling. If you had told me during the first third of this book that I was going to give it 4 stars, I would have laughed at you.

The book alternates between chapters that set the “family stage” – snapshots of the Blair family dynamics over the years, starting in the 50’s – with chapters that focus on the individual players, primarily the four Blair child
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

A well-written family drama about a cold, distant mother and a nurturing father, making every effort to compensate for his wife's withdrawal from the family and into her "art". It explores the interrelationships between the four children of the family and between each of the children and their parents. I was reminded (somewhat) of the wonderful novel, "Ordinary People", although that story
Angela M
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars if I could .

We all have our family history and maybe secrets or resentments or loving moments that shape who we are as adults . Ann Packer's family saga introduces us to the Blair family - Bill and Penny and their four children . The book is structured with narratives in third person telling of their childhood days and these are interspersed with narratives from the points of view of all of the children as adults . This alternating between past and present gives us an idea of the thing
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
The writing in this novel was very flat and the story seemed to drag along with no excitement. The Blair characters were not particularly inspiring and were one dimensional. All in all a mundane novel with no redeeming qualities
reading is my hustle
Jul 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book groups
this novel, about this family, made me anxious. the kids were loved well by their father and all but ignored by their mother. it is a complicated story about ordinary lives and explores the degree to which we are influenced by our childhoods. the troubled kids grew into uneasy adults. it was disquieting. i read the last sentence and felt i might burst into tears. the characters are flawed and their experiences and observations are heartbreaking. i found myself thinking about my role as a mom and ...more
Larry H
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I'd rate this 4.5 stars.

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

"Children deserve care."

So is the motto of Bay Area pediatrician Bill Blair. When he finished serving in the Korean War, he left his Michigan home and decided to pursue a degree in pediatric medicine in San Francisco. While on a leisurely drive into the Portola Valley one day, he came upon three acres of wooded land which he was so taken by, he purchased it on a whim
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Thank you the the publisher and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy of The Children's Crusade. This book is set in Palo Alto from the 1960s to the 2000s, and tells the story of Bill and Penny and their four children over a period of four decades. The story is told primarily from the perspective of the four siblings, recounting their childhood and reflecting on how their childhood, relationships with their parents and each other affected them. It took me a while to get into The C ...more
Jul 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Children's Crusade is the story of Bill and Penny Blair and their four children. They'd agreed to have three kids, the 3 R's -- Robert, Rebecca, and Ryan -- but the fourth one came along to Penny's chagrin, and somehow was named James. James was as different from them all as his name implies, and they all know it. He's the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss.

This spans several years from when Bill and Penny are first married to when the children are in their thirties and forties. Ro
Sheryl Sorrentino
Aug 01, 2015 rated it liked it
The Children’s Crusade is a rather murky saga about a rather ordinary family living in pre-and post-Silicon Valley, the “hook” being that the mom, Penny, wasn’t especially “maternal,” and the fourth child, James, wasn’t particularly wanted and hence became the straw that figuratively broke Penny’s parental back. At least that’s my take on it.

Though I enjoyed the familiar California setting, as some reviewers aptly pointed out, nothing of particular note happens in this story. The goings-on are a
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
I loved The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer. It's a book that is satisfying on so many levels. The writing is first rate and the characters and their interactions interesting. Themes are picked up and explored and resolved (if I had any criticism of the book, it would be how neatly things are resolved but it makes for a very happy reading). The crusade of the title has two, complementary, meanings (which I won't reveal since it makes for some very nice moments in context).

The book tells the sto
Oct 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Ann Packer's latest novel is one of those excellent, nuanced character studies that allows readers multiple points of entry when it comes to understanding and relating to the complex people she's created. Your reaction to the novel hinges upon which characters you identify with and which ones you're frustrated by—and I have a feeling those opinions are going to vary widely from reader to reader.

The Children's Crusade is about one family: Bill and Penny Blair and their four children, Robert, Reb
Ann Packer has always been a favorite author so I was thrilled to get an ARC of her new book. It sealed her favorite author status with me.

This is a story about the Blair family and the relationships between Bill and Penny, the husband and wife, their relationships with their four children, and the children's relationships with one another. I have read my share of family stories, but this one is unique because of the unique characters.

For most of the book, I found myself disliking Penny, the wif
Gail Strickland
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Just in case the horrible weather hasn't depressed you enough, here comes another novel to finish you off. Packer has written a novel of a dysfunctional family...every last one of them is self-involved and there's way to much psychotherapy babble that slows down the flow of the plot line. I know happy family stories don't win awards or make the rounds of book clubs, but I've just about had my fill of unhappy family stories for a while-I picked up a new novel today which was blurbed on the back a ...more
The Children's Crusade, by Ann Packer

Imagine, if you will, that Jonathan Franzen's excellent novel, The Corrections, had like able characters. Packer's novel is the story of a family: Bill, a pediatrician, Penny, a distracted, unhappy housewife, and their four children Robert, Rebecca, Ryan, and James. All slightly flawed and realistically rendered, the Blairs children struggle to keep their artistic mother tethered to the family unit.
Highly recommended.
Jan Ellison
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In elegant, unflinching prose, Ann Packer unfolds the emotionally intricate, sometimes harrowing story of a California family over five decades. This is a family saga to be savored and treasured.

Jun 12, 2015 rated it liked it
3 stars - It was good.

A well written family drama that alternates between present day (children are adults) and the 1950's (when the children were still wee little things). Many elements of family dynamics were explored, but what could have perhaps been the most fascinating was completely left out - that of the mother. I would have found the book more interesting if some of the chapters had been written from her point of view.

Favorite Quote: For every c
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Mar 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer is a very highly recommended novel that delves into the complex dynamics of a dysfunctional family.

Pediatrician Bill Blair bought the land for his Portola Valley, California home in 1954, before he was even married, before it was Silicon Valley. When he met Penny, he thought he had found the perfect wife to start his family with and build a home on his land. Four children later, however, Penny is overwhelmed and tired of being a mother. While Bill is devoted
Feb 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Phew! You know all those jokes about having to get drunk or behave in some other such activity after spending too much time with your family? Well, that is how I felt after spending time with the Blair family. This is not to say that this is a bad book--there is actually much to recommend it--but I, personally, did not enjoy it. Admittedly, I'm not a reader who needs to enjoy a book in order to appreciate a book and, for the most part, I did appreciate this one.

The best way I can think of to des
Apr 29, 2015 rated it did not like it
Nope, it didn't work for me. I thought this would be a cool read: a story about a family told over the course of decades in California. Sounds great! It can work really well for me (We Are Not Ourselves) or maybe it won't (Everything I Never Told You), although the second one is really focused on a specific event than many years.
Not so much. I don't like non-linear stories, but it can work for me if an author is skillful in making the characters come alive. While I thought the book started off
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Ann Packer tends to write about very sad people, or at least people who see happiness as outside their own existence. The Blair's of this novel are no exception. Both generations, to varying degrees, are on a crusade to be better people than their parents, or their siblings, or their idealized versions of themselves. It's all kind of pathetic to describe, but Packer handles these characters beautifully.

I connected the the four children as both youngsters and adults, especially Robert and Rebecca
Apr 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
The writing was all telling and no showing. I didn't like any of the characters. The mother, especially, is a vacuum of non-love and selfishness. I didn't find any of the four kids (grown) interesting, either, as they never came alive on the page, and didn't feel real. It's all somewhat petty -- the writing, the characters.

I did love the cover -- such a great cover.

I didn't finish it, so I'm not counting it toward my overall book reading goal. Also, now I feel mean. Blah...

Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review-books, 2015
[4/5 stars]

Our story begins in the 1950s, with Bill, just back from the war and well on his way to becoming a pediatrician. One day, he goes for a drive and comes across this sprawling and majestic piece of land, just outside of the San Francisco area. He is overcome with images of his future family and home, and impulsively purchases the land for later use. The novel continues with his marriage to Penny, and through the lives of their four children as kids up through adulthood.

So I’m going to p
Ahh...this might be one of the few five stars I have stumbled upon yet this year (and it is OCTOBER!). Packer's rendition of the Blair family is top notch. It is not quite up to Franzen's Corrections, but is similar enough in setting and development to get a nod in that direction.

Packer manages to toe the line between showing and telling, her characters are all deep and deeply affecting and all true in so many ways. She develops the aphorism that there is nothing more boring than parenthood in t
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read Diane S's wonderful review of this novel ...more
The Short of It:

This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while.

The Rest of It:

The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder
Sep 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book in so many ways. The novel spans fifty years. A couple marries, they have four children and who they become is a combination of each child's nature and their birth order and the way which their parents and their siblings welcomed them/or didn't. It's an ambitious book, each child gets a chapter in which they are the center of consciousness. Not all of the characters are likable, but they felt three dimensional to me, and understandable in certain ways.

One character's therapist
Amy Rhodes
Mar 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book did not work for me. It's a family story but I didn't care enough about the characters and felt their dramas were neither compelling or convincing. I had been swept up in Packer's earlier book (Dive from Clausen's Pier) but this one left me cold. ...more
With all the hype surrounding this book I truly expected something much more than what it was. First of all, the story moves at a snail's pace. It took quite awhile before the plot went anywhere.

The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other
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Ann Packer is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and three bestselling novels, The Children's Crusade, Songs Without Words, and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anth ...more

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“A broken heart can masquerade as a cold one.” 6 likes
“Bill supposed that for every child there was a defining age, a fixed reference point in relation to which his parents would always view him; whereas the child’s own truest self would always be the present one.” 3 likes
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