It has taken me approximately fourteen forevers to finish this book, not because it’s a slow read, really, but because I’ve been distracted by a lot of other things. My original intention was to finish it in time for July’s Children’s Classics Award Winners challenge at 5 Minutes for Books, but we see how that turned out. 🙂 I’ll just link it up next month.
Obviously, since The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was awarded a Newbery honor this year, it has already garnered a lot of praise. I have to say that while I enjoyed it, it didn’t completely wow me like I would’ve expected. Sometimes I just wasn’t sure if it was meant to be funny. . . or not. Early in the story, I was reminded of Richard Peck. Kelly’s style and his are similar. However, Calpurnia Tate always seemed to fall a little short to me, whereas the voices of the characters in Peck’s works are nearly perfect and his plots are delivered with perfect comedic timing. (I wish I had my initial reactions to A Year Down Yonder or A Long Way from Chicago to link you to, but I read them before I began blogging. However, this is a link to my review of his Here Lies the Librarian, which isn’t quite as funny as his Newbery winners, but it will do.) In other words, I almost think the Kelly took Calpurnia Tate a little too seriously or she didn’t quite deliver in terms of tone and voice so that her reader understands that it is supposed to be funny. Maybe I was already a little prejudiced against it, too, because I think it’s a little heavy-handed on the “oh, woe is me because I’m a girl and can’t do anything with my life except become a housewife” bit. I also don’t particularly like Calpurnia’s grandfather, even though he quickly becomes her hero and confidante in the story. I don’t like how uninvolved he is with the family–it seems like he has all but forgotten that he has one. It’s hard to really love this book since I don’t particularly care for one of the main characters.
To be fair, though, there are delightful and poignant places in this story. Most of the parts I marked are the ones where Callie is out in nature or contemplating nature. For example, I think this description is just about perfect:
A white-tailed doe came by, making no sound. I could almost reach out and touch her. How could such a large creature move so silently through the snapping underbrush? She turned her long neck and looked right at me, and for the first time I understood the expression “doe-eyed.” Her deep brown eyes were huge, her gaze gentle and melting. Her large ears flicked in all directions, independent of each other. A shaft of sunlight caught the blood-rich ears and turned them a brilliant pink. I thought she was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen, until a few seconds later her spotted fawn meandered into view. Oh, the fawn broke my heart with its sweet, dished face, its absurdly fragile legs, its still-fuzzy coat. I wanted to scoop it into my arms and protect it from its inevitable future of coyotes, starvation, hunters. How could anybody shoot such a beauty? And then the fawn did a miraculous thing: It folded up its front legs, then its hind legs, and sank to the ground where it. . . disappeared. (32)
This story is the consummate coming-of-age novel, too, and I typically enjoy those. Calpurnia is simply trying to find her place in the world, and I think her internal struggles are realistic and accurate no matter what century one lives in.