Monday, April 6, 2015

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall is the fourth volume in one of my favorite series for young readers.

Just like that, the three older Penderwick sisters are teenagers, and the focus shifts to Batty, Ben, and Lydia, the younger Penderwicks -- but mostly Batty. No longer a charming toddler wearing butterfly wings, Batty is now a fifth grader, with increasingly complex problems of her own. Six months after the death of Hound Penderwick, the best dog ever, Batty still grieves and still believes that it was somehow her fault, despite the reassurances of her family and the vet. And despite the reassurances of her parents, Batty can't help but worry over the family finances, strained by supporting the grocery habits of Jane and Skye's friends, not to mention Rosalind's college tuition. Batty knows it's a bad time to ask for anything expensive, but she has a wonderful secret: her voice has suddenly developed a smooth, mature tone, and the new music teacher at school is encouraging her to get voice lessons. Maybe she can find a way to earn some money on her own? She'd love to talk the matter over with Jeffrey, an honorary Penderwick himself and Batty's mentor in all things musical (since the rest of the family can't carry a tune in a bucket), but Jeffrey's relationship with Skye has gone all prickly and difficult, so he's not likely to be found around the Penderwick household very much any more. And then, just when things seem to be going extraordinarily well, with a visit from both Rosalind and Jeffrey in the offing, Batty learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her emotional stability. Who can she talk to about this dreadful thing?

I can easily wax rhapsodic over the Penderwicks series, which manages to feel both modern and nostalgic. I was a little sad to learn that this book skipped forward several years, but the charms of the younger Penderwicks soon dispelled my melancholy. And one of the benefits of the fast-forward is that this book stands well on its own -- readers who have not yet enjoyed the first three books in the series can start here and not feel like they are missing too much, I think. Of course, why would you want to do so, when the whole series is such a treat? This fourth book achieves more depth than its predecessors, while still managing to be funny and delightful and sweet but not cloying. This may be the best book in an already excellent series. I'll be crossing my fingers for it when awards season rolls around.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system -- but I immediately went and bought a copy for myself. It's that good.)

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