© Jeanne Birdsall, jacket art © David Frankland.
I am far from the target audience for this recent series, of which this is the third book. That would most likely be girls of all ages, but especially young girls and their mothers, I would guess. It’s a family story of a type one rarely sees now, but popular when I was a child in such series as Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy Family books, my favorite of this type. The Penderwick family is upper middle class, and each of the four girls in it has some particular strength or talent, though all seem intelligent and full of personality. In the first book, simply The Penderwicks, they had a summer vacation adventure where they befriended Jeffrey, a lonely boy in the adjoining estate who adds a new interest to their group: music.
This time three of the sisters are again going away on summer vacation to Maine with their favorite Aunt Claire, while the oldest sister gets her own separate vacation with a friend, and is largely out of the story. Their parents will also be away in England, so that puts a heavy burden on next-oldest sister Skye, making her the OAP, or Oldest Available Penderwick. The sisters and aunt are soon in a lovely seaside cottage in Maine, and are joined by Jeffrey, making everyone happy, but before long things get complicated. Aunt Claire falls and sprains an ankle, taking her out of much of the activity. Jeffrey and youngest sister Batty become friends with a man in the next house who is a musician, right up Jeffrey’s alley, while the other sister, Jane, gets into the most trouble, falling down a rocky bank and nearly breaking her nose while trying to wave at a cute boy. Jane is exploring the idea of love, and has a crush on Dominic, the skateboarding wiz of the town, but that soon leads to more trouble for her, as she experiences both the highs and lows of young romance.
The adventures of the family are entertaining, but what makes the series great reading is the interactions between the children, each with a unique voice and approach to life. And while much of the plot is fairly lightweight, toward the end it gets serious for one of them. The big plot development for Jeffrey leans heavily on coincidence, but in a way that’s been a standard ploy in fiction forever, at least since classical Greek times, so I didn’t have a hard time forgiving that. I didn’t find a lot of things here that young boys might be attracted to, but I liked this story as much as the others, and found it good summer reading. And much more fun than what’s often the plot mover in family stories these days: tragedy or injustice of one sort or another.