Thursday, July 21, 2011

Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I was finally able to finish this novel, and I must admit that it took me longer than I expected. I am not sure what the hang-up was, because this novel had all my favorites: historical fiction, girl protaganist, great setting...but for whatever reason, I really struggled with it. And it was Newberry, so this was sort of shocking since generally I tend to like their historical fiction picks!

Book Summary: (from Goodreads)

The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia Virginia Tate's sleepy Texas town, and there aren't a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine from town, but Callie might just have to resort to stealthily cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She also spends a lot time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. It turns out that every drop of river water is teeming with life - all you have to do is look through a microscope!

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

My Thoughts:

Like I mentioned before, I am completely shocked that I struggled with this book so much - judging by the cover, which I loved, it was going to be a quick read because it was about a time period that I really love reading about, and it seemed very similar to another novel that I read earlier this year, Deadly by Julie Chibbaro - and I LOVED that book! The only real difference between the two novels is the setting and the age of the main character.

The back of the novel says "this will be the most exciting summer of Calpurnia's life." Well, I don't know how she felt about it, but I just didn't jive with that assessment. This was no cliff-hanger, no on the edge of your seat suspense, and really not much to want to keep reading for (except to find out whether or not they actually had discovered a new plant species.) Let me also say that I am an avid reader of nonfiction, so I don't expect EVERY novel to be a cliffhanger, but I do need something to make me want to keep reading. It just drug on too long, and there wasn't enough there to keep me from getting tired of reading.

There was a lot of science in this book, and that much I enjoyed. I also liked the Grandfather, and found his character to be the most interesting part of this novel. I always enjoy when literature includes new inventions that would have been introduced during the time the novel was set, and this one was no exception. Kelly did do a great job establishing the "norms" of society in the later 1800s.

I am interested in reading more by this author to see if it was just this book that was hard for me - I always want to allow myself a second opinion :)

Favorite Passages:

"So I devised a plan: Every week I would cut off an inch of hair - just one stealthy inch - so that Mother wouldn't notice. She wouldn't notice because I would camouflage myself with good manners."

"One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let my hair down, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home."

"Granddaddy, nobody calls me Calpurnia except Mother, and then only when I am in lots of trouble." "Why on earth not? It's a lovely name. Pliny the Younger's fourth wife, the one he married for love, was named Calpurnia, and we have been left by him some of the great love letters of all time. There's also the natal acacia tree, genus Calpurnia, a useful laburnum mainly confined to the African continent. Then there's Julius Caesar's wife, mentioned in Shakespeare. I could go on."

"Seedlings from the same fruit, and the young of the same litter, sometimes differ considerably from each other, though both the young and the parent...have apparently been exposed to exactly the same conditions of life..."

"The use of slang is an indicator of a weak intellect and an impoverished vocabulary."

"Neither do I. We have to learn sewing and knitting and smocking. In Deportment, they make us walk around the room with a book on our heads." Grandaddy said, "I find that actually reading the book is a much more effective way of absorbing it."

"The lesson for today is this: It is better to travel with hope in one's heart than to arrive in safety."

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