(I have seriously gone back and forth on whether or not to post this… I don’t like to be negative on my blog. I originally wrote this back in July. And since you’re seeing it, I guess I decided it needed to be posted.)
Oh, where to start?
I really wanted to like this book. I went in with NO expectations, other than my experiences with the other four books. I expected more of the same. (And no, my disappointment has nothing to do with Skye. I will explain later, as that does involve spoilers, and I am determined not to have spoilers at this point in the blog post.)
I kind of feel obligated to review this book since I love the other books in the series. Seriously, if you like The Penderwicks, feel free to NOT read this book. You may save yourself some heartache and headache.
The Penderwicks at Last // by Jeanne Birdsall
Genre: MG, Contemporary
**Warning: There will be SPOILERS for this book below.**
First, let’s be positive. I love the cover for this book! It’s beautiful. It has fireflies. It has a dog. And it has two girls and a hawk and a moon. (I’m trying to pad the positives here.)
Also, I was looking forward to Lydia as a character, because I figured it had to be Lydia’s book. She’s the fifth Penderwick daughter. It’s the fifth book. And her introduction IS delightful. She dances through life. So, yes, Lydia is fine. And so is the other girl in the book (Alice). I like their friendship. These are all good things.
But, I’m sad to say, that’s where it stops…
The books up to this point have all been about a group of four sisters. By this book, all four sisters have grown up, even Batty. They’ve joined the ranks of Mr. Penderwick, and Iantha, and Aunt Claire. They don’t do funny things anymore. (Well, not really. Jane’s still a little zany.) They don’t swap homework. Or hide in the back of Dad’s car with Hound. Or kick soccer balls into forbidden gardens. Or sneak into fields inhabited by bulls. Yes, I missed the four girls!
Lydia and Alice are fine as characters, but they don’t quite measure up to those who have gone before. They are not super-interesting. And to top it all, there’s no real conflict between the two. Everybody just assumes they’re going to be friends and then they are. I would love to have seen them as “enemies” for a few chapters that turn into friends. Instead, they seem to just play a lot. I believe this is where Birdsall missed a great opportunity to save this book.
Let’s talk about Mrs. Tifton. Okay, I will say the one thing I DID like was that Mrs. Tifton actually likes Lydia and that Lydia is not afraid of her. However, I was expecting some cathartic moment where between Mrs. T and the Penderwick girls. All we got was veils. (And I don’t understand their dislike for veils? That was not properly set up.) And a little closure between Mrs. T and Alec would have been nice. I would have loved to have Lydia discover the human being inside this woman, who also happens to be Jeffrey’s mother. I felt there was a lost opportunity to redeem this character. I wanted Mrs. Tifton redeemed! (Or as least as much as she could be redeemed.)
The “opening secret” of the book is not really a secret. Apparently the marketing department didn’t get the memo, because the secret isn’t so secret; it’s inside on the jacket flap. And by secret, I mean that Rosalind wants to have her wedding at Arundel. It gets such a build-up in the first chapter that I was expecting a bomb to be dropped. Nope. If you can’t have secrets that aren’t real secrets, then why bother?
There are too many characters in this book. This whole book seemed like a curtain call. We bring out every character that has been in the books before. (Except Harry the Tomato Man. I don’t think he was in the book, was he?) Basically every character gets a moment to take a bow and that’s it.
And there were too many dogs. Way too many dogs. I like the idea of the three-legged dog, but by the time I met him, I didn’t care. I couldn’t tell him from the other dogs in the books. And believe me when I say that none of these dogs were Hound. Although, Birdsall could have done that with Hitch. The problem was that Hitch just got lost in the crowd.
The boyfriends/fiancés were duds.
Okay, let’s start with Fiancé #1: Tommy Geiger. So I’ve never been a huge fan of Tommy Geiger. And in fact, I’m okay with the fact that we don’t really get to see him in this book. On the other hand, I have always liked Nick Geiger (because we actually get to know Nick in the books), and I was super sad when he’s thrown away as just another character in this book. (Oh, and he’s already married with a couple of kids.) Result: Tommy’s okay. I’m glad he is marrying Rosalind. But still, Fiancé #1 was a bit of a dud.
Fiancé #2: Some Czec student named Dusek. And yes, that pretty much sums him up. We haven’t ever met him before. We hardly even meet him in this book. And we’re supposed to suddenly feel happy when Skye announces that there’s going to be a double wedding? (Believe me, I just about threw the book in the trash at this point. But it’s a library book, and I would never do that to a library book.)
Now, don’t get me wrong. My dislike has nothing to do with Jeffrey. I went in to this book with the expectation that Skye and Jeffrey would never get together. (I realized this when I did my recent re-read of the series. Everything points to Batty ending up with Jeffrey. Don’t believe me? Read the books. The hints are there.) So, Dusek, that’s not why I don’t like you. I don’t like you because you don’t belong in this book. Seriously. Go back to California and study. I actually would have been happier if Skye had suddenly realized that she was in love with Nick Geiger or even Cagney (assuming that neither were already married off.) Or, leave Skye single at this point. Fiancé #2 was a literary disaster.
And then there’s Jeffrey. For some reason he doesn’t recognize Batty when he sees her. What? Isn’t he her mentore? Even this love story doesn’t work.
Maybe there’s just too many love stories going on that have nothing to do with our two main characters: Lydia and Alice. Remember them?
What’s with the goats in this book? Or is it sheep? I can’t remember. Actually, goats would have been a good choice as they like to headbutt people. That could have worked into the plot.
And then we had the parts where the girls are reading to the goat. Frankly, this was a little boring.
(Remember in the first book when Skye and Jane have to escape Mrs. Tifton by climbing out a window down a rope ladder? Remember when Jeffrey rescues Batty from the bull? Remember when Batty runs into the woods and gets lost? Where are these events in this book?)
I feel that Alice’s brother, Jack, was another missed-opportunity. He wasn’t physically at Arundel so we don’t really get to know him. What we do know is that he has a Canadian cousin and he likes eating pancakes and waffles. Why didn’t Birdsall have Jack and his Canadian cousin at Arundel? Let there be a war between the girls (Lydia and Alice) and boys (Jack and Cousin)! That would have given us some CONFLICT. Or Jack could have been staying with a friend in a nearby town. Which means they could have sneaked over to play tricks on the girls.
Okay, so Jack does make an appearance. In the hedge with Lydia. This is obviously supposed to be a call-back to the first book, but it happens in the wrong place in the book, to the wrong people in the book. Because we hardly know Jack!
The MOPS. When I got to the chapter about the MOPS, I was happy. Finally, something I know about these books. Except, it wasn’t a real MOPS. There was no dire situation that they had to figure out. They’re all adults now. Having a MOPS didn’t make sense. Even the parents know they’re having a MOPS (although they’re not invited). Sorry, the MOPS fell completely flat and had lost all its charm.
My rating is 2 Stars (out of 5) – I really wish this review was different. It kind of makes me furious that they would even publish this book. The more I think about this book, the more I shake my head. Why did this thing (yes, thing) get published? How in the world did Jeanne Birdsall’s editor NOT see that this wasn’t a good book? How?!
Have you read this book? Do you agree with me? And if not, let me know what you did like about it. (Yes, I am aware that there are people who are giving this book five stars on Goodreads.)