Rambly First Thoughts on The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

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To call this a book review would be sadly inaccurate because I have too many feelings to form coherent thoughts right now. So what you’re going to get is rambly, somewhat incoherent gushing and thoughts that might not even make sense to people who have also read this series. But I have to talk about it! After all, this was probably my most anticipated finale since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I even went to the trouble to buy the e-book since amazon notified me that my pre-ordered copy won’t get here until May 30th. What the heck, amazon? I debated waiting, but then again, why not support one of my favorite authors by buying something that costs less than a week’s worth of meals at university? I can easily skip some of those to make up for it…

Anyway, needless to say, I loved this book. It’s probably my least favorite of the series, but that doesn’t change the fact that I adored it. So here are some of my first thoughts: beware of spoilers, obviously…

1) I thoroughly enjoyed Lydia as the focalizer of this story. She has grown so much since The Penderwicks in Spring, yet her personality still reminded me of the little girl who loved tiaras and spoke of herself in the third person. I love how she loves dancing, but hates dance classes, how she keeps trying to convince people that she does not, in fact, like everybody, and how she complains to Alice about Ben making her die in all his movies. I loved her interactions with her sisters: how she was worried that Skye would ask her about math during their phone call (which, of course, Skye did 🙂 ), how Ben doesn’t want her to spend the night with him but can be bribed into doing it with recording equipment, how she tries to stay neutral so that she doesn’t hurt Batty by allowing Wesley to stay, and of course, how she bosses her family around to learn the wedding choreography. The spider incident was hilarious. Lydia is just so fun, but shows all the indignation of being treated as the youngest sibling. Iantha keeps asking if she’s homesick away at Arundel, Jane won’t let her listen to her conversation with Ms. Tifton… I guess that’s the annoying burden of being the youngest. Lydia had such a unique, but Penderwicky personality that I can’t help but admire how Jeanne Birdsall does it. Her characters are so real, so wonderful, it’s just always a joy to read these books. As does the excellent writing that just conveys so well how the world looks to a child.

2) Lydia’s and Alice’s friendship is GOALS. I loved how they tried to convince each other that it would be okay not to like each other and that they weren’t really that nice because they didn’t want their families forcing them to be friends. It’s so great that Cagney was brought back into the story by introducing his family, it brings everything to such a full circle (also – Lydia bumping into Jack when she leaves the tunnel is just such a beautiful mirror scene to when Skye first meets Jeffrey…). Plus, reading Alice in Wonderland to a sheep doesn’t sound half bad. Maybe I should try it sometime… And I’d love a secret hideout in a Bobolink Meadow. The picture wars with Jack were hilarious – I can definitely relate to sending my siblings pictures to try to make them jealous 😉 (I did think, however, that there was a huge jump in the use of technology between books – I kind of wish there had been less of an emphasis). I also completely related to Alice not having any nice dresses or shoes for the wedding and hating having to go shopping instead of meeting Lydia’s cousins. Finally someone who gets how terrible shopping for clothes is! I do not understand why some people list it as a hobby… I also thoroughly enjoyed all the scenes in which Ben, Alice, and Lydia were making their alien movie.

3) Before I read this, one of my biggest fears was that Skye wouldn’t end up with Jeffrey. I loved them together (even though part of my brain always said that Batty and Jeffrey had much more in common and would fit the Little Women scheme) and Skye is my absolute favorite Penderwick. I mean, she is a blond tomboy who loves math. She is one of the book characters I see myself in the most. And I still think that Skye and Jeffrey would also have made a good couple. But Dušek! Even though we didn’t see that much of him, I absolutely adore him! The line “He’d come to the United States to study marine biology and found Skye studying the stars, and they’d been together ever since” (Birdsall 16) already made me fall in love. He’s a scientist! And marine biology at that (I was absolutely obsessed with it during middle school…) And he loves Skye for all her nerdiness. He called her his “morning star” (Yes, I translated the Czech bits…)! Skye learnt Czech for him. The Penderwick family clearly loves him. And Skye and Jeffrey are still great friends. I loved that Jeffrey and Jane immediately challenged Skye to a soccer battle when she arrived at Arundel. The old times! (I also love how Rosalind’s comment on that was “Instant regression” (Birdsall 189)). And I really love how Skye is just happy and has become a lot less hard on herself. It’s also fascinating to see the way Lydia describes Skye now in comparison to how her sisters described her in the earlier books.

4) Jane is on her third full-length novel! Honestly, I would read that. A detective hunting a time-traveling art forger – that sounds exciting! Though honestly, I love Jane so much I would also read every single Sabrina Starr book… Also – does anyone else think Wesley’s comment at the end might be a hint that Jane wrote the Penderwicks series?

5) The Oliver references were hilarious! Thank God he’s become a Penderwick legend. It must be a high honor to be one of only two people ever that Lydia didn’t like. Though, honestly, I would love to know more about Deborah. It’s sounds like there’s still such an interesting story behind this.

6) This is the first book that I actually related to Ms. Tifton. Who would have thought? She just seemed so sad. I think she’s come to realize what she had with Alec, which is why she doesn’t want to run into him. She’s too ashamed of what happened and probably the opportunities she’s lost. Maybe that’s why she wants to arrange everything for Jeffrey – if everything’s planned out, she can spare him the heartbreak she had to go through (at least, that’s what she thinks). She must be devastated about all her unhappy marriages, which is why she does try to do something to make the Penderwicks’ nice. I feel almost bad that Rosalind and Skye didn’t wear the veils. It’s so sad how she hints at the fact that she’s sad about not being invited to the wedding. I kind of wanted Jane to invite her right then and there… I also love the relationship between Ms. Tifton and Lydia. It’s funny how the older Penderwicks were always so scared of Ms. Tifton and somehow that stuck, but Lydia just doesn’t find her frightening. I think Lydia is starting to see how sad Ms. Tifton really is and I was kind of disappointed that we didn’t see more of this storyline. And I would have loved to see her and Alec meet!

7) I really like Jeffrey and Batty together. I always loved the mentor-mentee relationship they had and their shared love for music. I just never really wanted them to like each other romantically because I was always rooting for Jeffrey and Skye. But with Dušek in the picture and Skye clearly happy, I really like this relationship (although I think that scene when Jeffrey saw Batty in a dress and thought she was Rosalind bordered on being too cheesy). I just kind of wish this hadn’t been left at the open ending and we really got confirmation. Like a flash-forward to another wedding, where Ms. Tifton is in the picture and Batty is wearing one of the veils? Maybe that would have been over-the-top. But still. Is there really not going to be another book? Maybe? There was so much unresolved stuff… But no, I guess I’d better not say that – look what happened the last time I wished for another book in a favorite series of mine…

8) All the families were great! So many favorites now have families (like Nick, for example) and I also liked finally getting to see Marty and Enam, even if briefly. I was intrigued ever since Mr. Penderwick threatened to buy them drum sets in The Penderwicks in Spring. Who knows? Maybe Turron isn’t the only influence on them being in a band…

9) I feel bad for Wesley, though. He seems like such a nice guy. That story on how he rescued Hitch? Him making all those personalized mobiles and figures for the Penderwicks and Alice? He was just so adorable. And how he knew what would ultimately make Batty happy? But still, he probably got the outcome that was ultimately the right one for him, too. I hope he has an amazing life in Oregon.

10) Natalie is such a cool mom. The alien costume was such a hit!

11) There was one thing that I missed a little in this book, which is probably why it’s not my favorite of the series: I wish there had been more of the family aspect in it. We barely got to see any of Mr. Penderwick and Iantha and not much of the older three sisters, either. I do see the point in giving Lydia her voice, since she hasn’t had the chance to be a central character yet. And I do see that some of the private scenes between her older sisters wouldn’t be witnessed by or pondered about by Lydia. But I wish we could have gotten to see more of the family dynamics between all the siblings and parents – I think those are the main reason I love these books so much. Since this was the final book, I really wish some of my other favorite characters had been in it more.

12) There also wasn’t as much drama in this book as in the other ones. Especially Skye and Jane always had a real knack for getting into problems (rescuing Jeffrey, the Aztecs, the firegod,…). Lydia didn’t get into any scrapes like that, which made for a bit less excitement than in the other ones.

13) The MOPS at the end was great! That had to happen one last time, even if it wasn’t as secret as the Penderwicks might have hoped. And I loved the argument that the siblings had about whether Jeffrey had ever attended a MOPS before. Especially how interested the sisters were when they learned that Jeffrey and Ben had a boy MOPS once.

14) Why didn’t we see the actual wedding? I would have loved to – this was distancing me from the Penderwicks much too fast. I still need this family in my life! I don’t know how I’m going to survive the fact that this is really the last one in the series…

Anyway, these are a few of my first thoughts. Who knows – maybe when my physical copy gets here and I’ve done a thorough re-read, I’ll write a proper review. But for now you’re stuck with this all this rambling 😉

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