Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“Families are about love overcoming emotional torture.”

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Understood Betsy were both resourceful, clever, funny, smart girls with minds of their own but also with a huge capacity for love and family. I read the books over and over again, I treasure them as an adult, and I still think I would have been great friends with each girl. I wanted Aunt Miranda to come round and decide to love me, I wanted Uncle Henry to make me maple syrup candy on fresh-fallen Vermont snow, and I wanted Cousin Ann to help me discover my inner strength and courage.

Elizabeth Enright's Melendy books (The Four-Story Mistake; The Saturdays; Then There Were Five; Spiderweb for Two) entranced me. The Melendy family is delightful. They fight with each other just like a REAL family, but they also adore each other and have the most awesomely fun adventures ever. Their affection expands to include their dog, their housekeeper Cuffy, the handyman Willie, and the stately, elderly Mrs Oliphant. I figured if they could adopt Mark, they could certainly adopt me – after all, Randy and I were practically the same age! I grew up with two brothers, one younger, one older. I never actively longed for a sister - but then I met Randy and wanted HER as my sister.

Despite the fact that, unlike the above books, Hilary McKay’s novels (Saffy’s Angel; Caddy Ever After; Indigo’s Star; Permanent Rose (and there’s a new one coming out this spring, Forever Rose)) are set firmly in modern day England, complete with modern-day ills – the Casson family’s mother is a thoroughly distracted artist, their father lives away and eventually shows up with a girlfriend - the flavor is much the same. The children are charming and scrappy and funny and fiercely loyal to each other, and to their wingnut parents. As so many of their friends did, I could have slipped right into the warm, messy, friendly chaos of the Casson household.

Janine Boissard’s lovely (and hard to find!) novels chronicle the lives of the Moreau sisters, growing up in France with a nurturing mother and a fiercely protective father. I remember noting that French teenagers are much more sophisticated than American teenagers.

I adored Trixie Belden and her friendly parents, rambling, comfy house, and propensity for solving scary-but-not-dangerous mysteries. Why could I never find any mysteries to solve in my safe little suburb? Hmmm?

My favorite Anne of Green Gables book is Anne of Ingleside, the one in which Anne has a gajillion children tumbling happily around a big old house. I’d fit right in, of course I would, Anne (and Susan) would love me as she did Rilla and Nan and Walter and the rest.
And sometimes I even dreamed of finding out I was Rose’s long-lost girl cousin - Uncle Alec would adopt me, too, and I could live in the Aunt-Hill, and he could make me eat porridge and brown bread and ride ponies and throw away my corsets. (I had a bit of a crush on Uncle Alec.)

Even though I had a family and a home of my own, something in each of these books made me long to be embraced by these characters, to become their friend, and to be welcomed to their homes and into their family. I wanted to be a real part of each of these families.

Last night I read Jeanne Birdsall’s second Penderwick book, The Penderwicks of Gardam Street. The first, simply titled The Penderwicks, didn’t do a lot for me, truth be told. The plot was ridiculous, the book's events absurd, and the ending completely unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I liked the girls. A lot. I loved Rosalind’s devotion to her family, Skye’s stubbornness, Jane’s creativity, and Batty’s resourcefulness. (Do we ever find out what Batty is short for??) I loved the way they functioned as a unit, and the way they helped each other and their dad.

I did not immediately read the second book when it was published but when I stumbled upon it at the library last week, I picked it up. Birdsall doesn’t do it *again* – actually, this second book is far and away BETTER than the first. Yes, the plot is predictable, but the girls are charming, inventive, silly, and downright delightful, each trying to figure out her place in the family and the world at large. Yet again, I’ve found a family I want to adopt me.

*Matt Groening


Jess said...

We are of one mind on the Penderwicks - and if you find out what Batty is short for, I'm curious, too.

Forever Rose is already out - 2008 copyright.

Uncle Alec - oh yeah. I'd never put it in so many words, but I have vivid memories of the comfortable clothes and bread pills.

I would add the All-of-a-Kind family (I don't remember the actual name) and L'Engles' Murray and/or Austin families, although they might be more intimidating to join.

Sinda said...

Batty's name is Elizabeth - she's named after their mother.

Thanks for the news about the 2nd book - I've had it for awhile, but never started it, probably for the same reasons.

I never read these books as a child - well, I did read all of L'Engle, but not and ohers - but I'm loving them now with my daughters, so thanks for some new names - Hilary McKay sounds perfect for me.

Have you finished the Niffenegger yet? What about The Children's Book?

Anonymous said...

You know, I really wanted to be a Murray (the Austins were a little too good for me), but I also really, really wanted to be the girl in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Even as a kid, I wanted to be alone.