Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Abigail Halpin [SPOILERS]

I really wanted to like this book. I liked Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains and Baxter the pig who wanted to be kosher. I really, really loved Any Which Wall. I even asked for a review copy of Penny, which I almost never do.

But it just didn't work. *sniff*

Penelope Grey is bored. She doesn't want to tell anyone because...well, she doesn't want to be a spoiled rich girl and she knows she has so much she shouldn't be bored but...she is. She has no friends, her parents work or socialize constantly, and she doesn't go to school, but has a tutor. So one day she puts a wish in the wishing well in the garden...and her dad quits his job. At first, Penelope thinks this might be, at least interesting, if not exactly what she was hoping for. But everything goes wrong. Pretty soon there's no money, no servants, her parents aren't talking to each other, and Penelope knows it's all her fault. Maybe another wish can set things right?

Suddenly, the whole family is moving to the country, to the tiny town of Thrush Junction where her mother has inherited a house...and, it turns out, a large group of rent-free tenants, not to mention some rather sizable debts incurred by rare llamas. Penelope gets a new name - Penny - a new friend, Luella, and a whole new world to explore. Will they be able to stay? Will Penny find the treasure? Will she make more friends?

The problem for me with this story was A. the characters never felt real and B. not enough happened.  "Penelope's" life as a poor little rich girl felt exaggerated and unrealistic. She doesn't seem to ever leave the house, except for a few outings with a couple other girls (who I thought were nannies, until one of them is mentioned as having a sleepover). Why does Penelope have a tutor? Why doesn't she go to a private school? Her parents' sudden and complete helplessness in the face of money and practical issues felt wrong; how did her father run a company (however incompetently) without even the faintest idea of money? How does her family go from wealthy to complete poverty in only a couple weeks? Her mother throughout the book shows that she's had a capable and independent past, yet she seems to completely lose any practical abilities in the face of disaster.

Once we meet "Penny" I started getting drawn into the story. She felt more realistic and her struggles to fit in with kids who had very different backgrounds sounded real. However, I still kept waiting for something to happen. Money problems get worse, Penny and Luella hang about and meet some other kids, and then the treasure hunting expedition is crammed into the last few chapters. I wanted...more concrete action? Fewer side characters and more focus on the main characters, since I never felt like I got a really good handle on them, especially Luella.

Reading as an adult, and having grown up in and out of small towns, the happy happy feeling in Thrush Junction didn't work for me. The small towns I knew and lived in weren't...well, they weren't that happy. And there was a lot more alcohol around. And the acceptance of eccentrics...I guess maybe Ms. Snyder has had much better small town experiences than I have, that's all I can say.

So, those are the things that didn't work for me, the adult librarian reader. What about the intended audience, children? I don't honestly think this would have worked for me as an 8-12 year old either. I never did like eccentric characters and while I really liked small town adventure stories, I would have wanted more adventure, maybe some sneaking around at night at least, and a lot more funny bits. However, I do think there is an audience for this story. It's a good peaceful reading-in-the-summer-sun story. Kids who DO like eccentric characters with just a little hint of mystery will enjoy this story. Kids who want to fantasize about what it would be like to move to the country, who like stories about friendship and family, they will all enjoy this story.

Verdict: This story didn't work for me and I would probably have trouble booktalking it, but I'm still glad I purchased it for my library and it has circulated several times already. Probably those who like When You Reach Me (which didn't work for me either) would enjoy this one and it's a good summer reading story. Recommended for a core juvenile library collection.

ISBN: 9780375861994; Published September 2010 by Random; Review copy provided by author; Purchased for the library

GIVEAWAY: Because I am sure this story is a good story - just not the right story for me - I am giving away the lovely hardback review copy Ms. Snyder was kind enough to send me. Post a comment with your favorite summer reading memory and I'll pick a lucky winner April 25.


Ms. Yingling said...

Felt the same way. Any Which Wall raised the bar, and this one didn't quite reach it.

Stephanie said...

My birthday is in June. The year that I turned seven, my aunt gave me the box set of The Chronicles of Narnia. I went through all seven books in the space of a week, I was so sucked in. I try to reread them every year.

Jennifer said...

There was just too much "quirky characters" and "happy small town" for me. But, we've had it since October and it's gone out four times, which is a good number, so clearly enough of my patrons like it!

DeerOhMyDear said...

wow, look like good story!
are you sending worldwide?
i red the twilight last year on vacation and when i went to pool and the book layed on dackchair, somebody stole it to me... i dont think it was so great story, but someone was twilight addicted maybe... :)

Jennifer said...

Yes, anyone can enter.