Skip to main content

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Review

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Jeanne Birdsall's first novel about the raucous, loving, honorable Penderwick family was an instant success, a favorite of booksellers and the winner of the National Book Award. Now Birdsall returns with a second book featuring four very different sisters and their widowed father. This time, the girls are back at home and school after a very eventful summer (chronicled in THE PENDERWICKS).

Just when they think they're off to the start of a fairly normal school year, though, a wrench is thrown into their family routine, in the form of a letter to their father from their late mother. Before her death after a long illness, she gave her sister-in-law a letter to be given to her husband three or four years after her death. In the letter, she instructs him to date again, to find someone new with whom to share his family's life. Mr. Penderwick's sister is determined to get him back on the market, much to his daughters' dismay.

Responsible eldest sister Rosalind, in particular, is distraught over the possibility of her father finding a replacement for her beloved mother. She and her sisters embark on the "Save-Daddy Plan," a scheme to set their father up on the worst possible blind dates so that he'll swear off dating forever. But could Mr. Penderwick have a few tricks up his own sleeve? Or could it be that the answer to all their problems is right next door?

Meanwhile, the sisters have troubles of their own. Rosalind's love-hate relationship with neighborhood boy Tommy Geiger has reached crisis mode. Rational-minded Skye and dreamy writer Jane switch homework assignments --- with near-disastrous results. And youngest sister Batty, with her loyal companion Hound, sets off on her own top-secret spy mission, one that might have unexpected results.

THE PENDERWICKS was well-received by reviewers and readers alike. However, with its sprawling structure and numerous characters, it was very much a promising first novel. With its follow-up, Birdsall comes into her own as an accomplished writer of family comedies. Despite its many subplots, THE PENDERWICKS ON GARDAM STREET maintains an overall plot unity that its predecessor lacked and continues to develop its individual characters --- as well as the overall character of the Penderwick family --- in new ways.

THE PENDERWICKS ON GARDAM STREET is a rare treat --- the family novel that the entire family, from relatively young children to adults, will enjoy reading aloud together. It is old-fashioned without seeming nostalgic, optimistic without seeming naive, big-hearted and happy without seeming saccharine. The Penderwicks are a modern literary family that families can feel good about inviting into their own homes. And, since this latest novel is but the second in a projected five-book cycle, readers can anticipate having the Penderwicks in their lives for many years to come.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 23, 2010

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street
(The Penderwicks #2)
by Jeanne Birdsall