I finished National Book Award Winner The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall last night. I heard a lot of buzz around this book at the time of its release, but I'm just now getting around to reading it. And I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. I wanted to be captivated by these characters. I wanted the story to transport me. I wanted to love it. And I did not.
I think part of the problem is that the whole book feels like merely a setup for books to come. J.K. Rowling was able to see each of the books in her Harry Potter series as chapters in the longer "book" that was the series, and each links beautifully to the other without wasting time and energy reminding us of what has come and who is whom. The characters are richly drawn and engaged in action right from the start. This book, by contrast, feels like a prolonged introduction to rather thin characters - not exactly one-dimensional, but awfully close. Skye is the tomboy rebel; Jane is the dreamy writer, Rosalind is the responsible preteen, Batty is the baby. They don't cross those lines, and though there is quite a bit of action, it is so scattered as to cause the reader to lose focus. None of the sequences really leads to anything; they are vignettes. Like Curious George, whose far-fetched adventures are linked merely by the thinnest circumstances, these girls get into "trouble" that doesn't really amount to any developing action. Plus, with the dead mother, absent father, and multiple siblings thing, it feels formulaic. It's been done. And since we're enjoying the Boxcar children so much right now, it becomes extraneous.
There wasn't anything wrong with the book, and I don't think I'll mind if the kids find it on the shelf, but I won't necessarily insist that they read it.