Judged by Brandy • Find her on Goodreads
The curse of being a Round Three judge is choosing is never easy. At least it hasn’t been for me yet. Every year you wonderful judges in the first two rounds have left me deciding between two books I love. This remains true this year. Even as I’m typing this introduction, I have NO IDEA which book I’m advancing. That is a first. (The previous two years, while loving both, there was a clear winner from the moment Beth emailed me.)
Sorcery and Cecelia is everything I love rolled up into one book: fantasy, Regency romance, epistolary. It is a comfort read for me in so many ways. The first time I picked it up it felt familiar, like coming home when I didn’t know I’d been away.
I am always on the look out for YA books that do friendships between girls well. I appreciate it myself, but my female students feel this lack in their reading and are always asking me for more books that handle it like this one does. Loyalty, devotion, and a shared history make the letters Cecelia and Kate exchange so real. The way they commiserate with each other, cheer each other, and give advice brings both of their characters to vibrant life. There’s just as much to read in what is not said between them as what is. Reading their letters feels like I’ve stumbled on an actual correspondence between two very real people.
I do love a good romance as well. It helps that this book has two. And one of them involves a fake betrothal. I have no ability to resist that trope. It is made even more fun here in that the poor boy doesn’t even know he is fake betrothed. The path that romance takes is one of my favorite things about this book. As greatly entertained as I am by Cecelia and James, Kate and Thomas are what made this book for me on the romantic level.
Add to that this book is so much fun. It is laugh out loud funny in some places, but quietly amusing and subversive in others. The crazy plots and schemes the characters come up with make for quite a ride while reading, and I adore how the women are the ones who sort out everything in the end for the boys who get themselves tied up with their overthinking and schemes sometimes.
This book means a lot to me, but so does The Penderwicks.
I have been there with the Penderwick family since the first book came out. I eagerly anticipate each new book and have spent time debating with people in kidlit land exactly how the Jeffrey question should be handled. (Birdsall is using Little Women as her frame. If Jeffrey is the Laurie to the Penderwick girls March sisters, should he get the same ending Laurie does? Should it go down the same way? And I have a lot of THOUGHTS on this.) The Penderwicks in Spring definitely upped my love for this series by a factor of a million.
Batty was never as annoying to me as she was a lot of other Penderwick fans, but she was my least favorite of the sisters because she was just the little cute one. This book changed that dramatically, shooting Batty to the number one spot in my heart. Birdsall handled her story so beautifully. I love how she took this fragile, introverted, talented, sensitive girl and let her shine in different ways than her vivacious older sisters. Showing Batty’s slow unraveling and sinking into sadness and depression was so well done. Hound’s death taking place off page was a brilliant move as was allowing Batty to deal with the fallout months later and its connection to the deep sadness her mother’s death left in her that she didn’t even know she was carrying around. This book was as cathartic for me as a reader who has journeyed through the years with these characters as it was for the characters themselves. The confrontation between Batty and Skye was inevitable. I think it was also inevitable given their personalities that it be an indirect confrontation. The way it resolved is so realistic too. Batty and Skye are very different people, and even with this no longer between them, there will always be a certain amount of tension in their relationship.
Birdsall did an excellent job of breaking up the hard themes and character pain with humor too. Ben and Lydia add a fabulous dynamic to the Penderwick family. Rosalind’s bad dating choice and the family’s varied reactions were perfect comedic moments.
And then there was my favorite person other than Batty in this book. When I wrote my original review for this, I said I found it interesting that my two favorite books in the series take place on Gardam Street and how much that has to do with the presence of the Geiger brothers. In this case, Nick, who is the best thing given to the world of children’s literature in quite some time. I always appreciate when MG writers include adults who aren’t caricatures or stereotypes. Writing nuanced adult characters seen through the eyes of a child is difficult, because you really have get into a child’s mind and remember how you viewed adults as a child. Birdsall is good at this, but with Nick she hit new levels of good. His relationship with the little Penderwicks makes my heart smile. I liked how this showed the importance of community too. Martin and Iantha are good parents, but even good parents miss things and need help.
I do have one major quibble with the book that I missed on my first read, but I can’t disregard after a reread. That is how things were handled with Jeffrey. Don’t get me wrong, I found Jeffrey obnoxious on my first read, but rereading it I found everyone’s attitudes about that situation troubling. Skye has told him no and to back off repeatedly. His trapping her in a dark hallway and interrogating her is not cool. Everyone acting like she was the one in the wrong rubs me the wrong way. I get he is the Laurie to her Jo, but someone needs to sit the boy down and tell him it’s not the 19th century anymore and a girl doesn’t owe him anything she doesn’t want to give including an explanation. I feel like her family should respect that more and be understanding of her boundaries. Obviously she can’t ban him from interaction with her entire family, but no one seems to be concerned with him forcing his attentions on her over and over when she’s clearly said she’s not interested and how uncomfortable that is making her.
So which to choose? I typed all of that and still couldn’t make a decision. I’ve changed my mind a dozen times all for different reasons. I’ve seriously contemplated flipping a coin. (I never thought I would sink to that, but here we are.) Except I can’t bring myself to do that either. I have to do the hard thing.
Because I’ve journeyed with them for so many years and they’ve made me feel so many emotions culminating in this penultimate book in the series, I’m choosing The Penderwicks in Spring.