Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall (2008)

Big, contented SIGH.  If The Penderwicks was a perfect little book, then The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a perfect little sequel.  I'm still reminded of Little Women  - with four sisters, one of who is a tomboy, one a caretaker, one a writer, one the baby of the family - I don't see how you can't be reminded of them.  The Penderwick sisters still aren't the March sisters; they are related like zebras and horses are related, not the same animals, but similar, and each delightful in their own ways.

There is an old fashioned feel to the Penderwicks as well.  It's both obviously set in the very near past, and also makes a reader - at least this adult reader - long for simpler times.  Birdsall's description of Halloween, for example, nearly brought tears to my eyes, with memories of my own Halloweens of long ago:

"Halloween was for candy and being out later than you usually were allowed, and for showing your new dinosaur costume to the neighbors... she liked being all wrapped up up inside this costume, for it was warm and safe in here, even if she still couldn't see very well.  She tipped the dinosaur head this way and that, catching peeks of carved pumpkins lit with flickering candles, dry leaves blowing in the wind, and -- oh! what was that? -- spooky figures flitting up and down Gardam Street.  Batty shuddered happily.  This was a scary night, just as Halloween should be."

At one house, Batty and her sisters were given "homemade butterscotch brownies" and I thought of the cookies and popcorn balls I got for Halloween when I was six.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street also, perhaps more than The Penderwicks, has the flavor of a sitcom. Not in a bad or negative way (perhaps there is a literary term for this type of book, but I don't know what it is nor can I find it anywhere).  But I found a definition on The Free Dictionary online that described a sitcom as "a humorous drama based on situations that might arise in day-to-day life" and another definition says the words "light" and "humorous."  All of these words - including drama in the sense of an emotional effect rather than a play or screen play - describe The Penderwicks on Gardam Street to a t.

I once again listened to this novel rather than read it, and the reader Susan Denaker is again magnificent.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (The Penderwicks, #2)The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The streaming audio of The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a homey, pleasant experience, read and performed superbly by Susan Dunaker. The Penderwicks (I've now listened to books 1 and 2 in this series) feel very old fashioned, and I kept thinking how "they just don't write books like this anymore" which makes me feel and sound like "old man yells at cloud" but I think it's true statement. The other thing I kept thinking about The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is how much it felt like a sitcom. I don't mean that in a negative way - it's like a definition I found -- Sitcom: a humorous drama based on situations that might arise in day-to-day life; another definition included the words "light" and "humorous." The Penderwicks, particularly this second book in the series, is dipped in this definition, seeped in it, until it drips humor and light, and day-to-day life. It's like that perfect, comfortable sitcom you remember from childhood, the kind you watched and loved, that made you feel safe and warm and good about the world. Nothing ever happens on Gardam Street and everything that matters in life happens on Gardam Street. The drama is light, the humor is light, and Birdsall's characters are captured perfectly, especially the four sisters from Massachusetts who resemble so closely another set of famous sisters from the same general area, only 150 years before. The first Penderwick book had a bit of madcap comedy to it; this is more about family, friends, and warm love.

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