Monday, May 6, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Bright Island by Mabel L. Robinson with decorations by Lynd Ward-- Children's Classic/Historical Fiction

In 1937, Bright Island off the coast of Maine is uninhabited by anyone except the Curtis family. Thankful Curtis would have it no other way. With her older brothers grown and off the island, she can swim and sail to her heart's content. A tomboy, Thankful resists her sisters-in-law attempts to civilize her. Then, Thankful's parents decide she must attend school on the mainland. Thankful tries to rebel, insisting her place is on the island, but she learns it was her beloved grandfather's wish that she go. So off to school she goes, to Blair Academy where her roommate Selina is a rich snob, the boys are mysterious (especially the handsome Robert) and the classes are tough.  Though she longs for home and the open sea, Thankful is determined to succeed to show everyone she can do it. On vacations, there's her beautiful island home she desires to share with her new classmates and her good friend Dave, always there despite his rapid promotion in the Coast Guard. Thankful experiences extreme joy and heartache before the year is done. Through it all, she remains true to herself and her island. This Newbury Honor classic from 1938 is similar to the Anne of Green Gables series in that Thankful and Anne both love and long for their island homes while away at school. Sadly, this book lacks the charm and warmth of the Anne series. I was rooting for Thankful to stay true to herself and her island, but at the same time, I found her a bit too obsessed for my liking. She's stubborn, proud and resistant to change. If I were here, I wouldn't want to be suddenly told I had to go away to school either but I think I would long for higher education and a place off the island. Thankful is a bit prickly and difficult to like due to her single-mindedness. She doesn't develop any outside interests or anything to make her a well-rounded character. Her schoolmates are more interesting because they're not the stereotypical boarding school snobs. Her teachers too are more than stock characters. I quite like Orrin Fletcher and wanted to know more about him. The plot is slow and episodic. A lot of events are summarized and told in passing which I didn't like. There's way too much technical description about sailing that I didn't understand or care for. Some of the story is repetitive, especially the adjectives describing Thankful. The descriptions of the island are the real stand-outs and I could easily see it in my mind's eye. The island is the most developed and important character in the whole novel. The drawings are nice but are a bit difficult to really tell what they're supposed to be, at least in the paperback version. Overall, this isn't my favorite classic novel. It didn't leave me with any warm, fuzzy feelings or shouting huzzah or anything like that.

Henrietta's War: News from the Homefront 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys -- Historical Fiction

World War II consumes the thoughts of the residents of a small village in Devon. Henrietta chronicles the daily lives of her family and neighbors as she writes to a childhood friend serving on the Western front. She relates their eagerness to be a part of the war effort, something she is really too busy to do supporting her busy doctor husband. The ladies are also eager for Hitler to invade so they can give him "what for. Henrietta's stories are charming, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes more poignant. This story reminded me of an update of Cranford. I could easily see Miss Mattie and co. behaving the same way as Henrietta and friends. I loved this English village novels and this is no exception.  First published as magazine stories during the war and then in book form in 1985, this story is fresh and fun. The characters are so well developed that I am positive they must be real, though the author insisted they were made up. Each letter is illustrated with Henrietta's drawings (done by the author) which add to the comic adventures. I fully intend to read the sequel because this was way too short. 

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