Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker is a sweet summertime story -- if you can suspend disbelief about one major plot point.

After Stella's flighty mother abandons her, Stella is sent to live on Cape Cod with Great-Aunt Louise, a stern but loving woman who is determined to do the best she can for Stella. Unfortunately (from Stella's perspective), one of the things she does is take in a foster child, Angel, so Stella will have a companion her own age. Angel and Stella have little in common and do not get along. Stella is looking forward to the end of school, when she plans to have as little to do with Angel as possible. Then, a week before school lets out, Stella comes home to find Great-Aunt Louise dead in her recliner. She knows she should call 911, but a 911 call was what landed her at Great-Aunt Louise's house in the first place, and she dreads the upheaval of being moved on to another new place. Then Angel comes home. When she learns of the situation, she is determined not to be moved to another foster home, and plans to run away. Neither girl really wants to leave . . . so, eventually, they hit upon a temporary solution: they will bury Louise in the vegetable garden and carry on as if she is still alive. Together, they help run the vacation cottages that Louise managed, run interference with concerned neighbor George, and tend to Louise's prized blueberry bushes -- with a little help from Heloise's ever-practical household hints, with which Stella is slightly obsessed. Over the course of the summer, Stella and Angel learn that, though they may not have much in common, they need each other. Together, they are stronger than either of them could be alone.

So, there's one big problem with this book, and I'll bet you've already spotted it. The sheer wackiness of burying the old lady in the backyard is a weird contrast to the sweetness and innocence of the two girls -- which makes it sound like this book should either be slapstick or creepy, and it's not either of those things. They dynamic between Stella and Angel is so well-done, with the two of them arguing and making decisions and having ideas in such a natural way. Stella is truly winsome, without being too good to be true, and her longing for a stable home is palpable. So, I wanted to love this book, but all the time, in the back of my head, a little voice kept saying, but they buried the old lady in the backyard! If you can get beyond that detail, this is a great little book -- and maybe the kids who are its natural audience will have no trouble doing that. As for me, it was a bit of a stretch.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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