September 01, 2016

Thursday Review: THE CURIOUS WORLD OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly

I really like the cutout-look images on
the cover, with the hidden animals...
Synopsis: We don't necessarily review a ton of realistic MG fiction here (not as much Wonderland in the real world, I suppose) but it doesn't mean we aren't reading or enjoying it. Quite some time back, I wrote up a quick review of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which was a Newbery Honor Book and historical fiction story that I ended up really liking. So I was pretty eager to pick up the sequel when I saw it at my library.

The first book introduced us to the intrepid Calpurnia Virginia Tate, aka Callie Vee, a budding naturalist and scientist and the only girl in her family—she has legions of brothers, older and younger, none of whom understand her desire to make more of herself and constantly LEARN. The only one in her family who really does understand is her grandfather, a fellow scientist, but that's not quite enough when you're a girl around the turn of the previous century. Her grandfather takes her seriously, but by the rest of her family she's mostly just…indulged. Or not, as the case may be.

In the first book, Callie Vee was eleven; this time, she's about to turn thirteen, which means there will be a bit of real confrontation between her desires for her life and what's expected of her by her family and society. As in the first book, these confrontations end in quite a bit of frustration and/or hilarity. Yep—I laughed, I cried, then I laughed again. But in this installment, Callie Vee has to deal with other people's secrets, too, not just her own. Specifically, there's her older cousin Aggie, nasty and nice by turns and hiding a whole host of teenage secrets, and her younger brother Travis, who insists on bringing home stray animals, even if it's a rather stinky and ornery armadillo. Through it all, Callie Vee somehow manages to mostly keep the peace, help her brother and cousin, and (to her continuing delight) learn more than she ever imagined, all while continuing her observations of the natural world…and, of course, the human world, too.

Observations: Callie Vee's joy in learning is infectious. She is constantly questioning the world around her—not just the hows and whys of animals and plants and weather, but also of the people around her and why THEY do the things they do. One of the big questions she has in this book has to do with finding her place in the world (and time period) she happens to inhabit. It isn't a society that even considers lady scientists to be a Thing, and Callie Vee is constantly running up against the very good question of WHY she, as a girl, is held to different standards, whether it's the allowance she earns (less than her brothers) or the career she might want.

Having the older female character of Aggie in her midst allows for a different but related set of questions to come up, because of course Aggie, while in many ways a typical girl of her time, is just as determined and has just as definite plans for her life as Callie Vee. And she is of an age that she not only can achieve her desires, she is desperate to achieve them. It makes for an interesting dynamic, a push-and-pull that Callie Vee—with all of her brothers—has nevertheless not had to contend with.

Back to the idea of learning, though…learning and knowledge are empowering, and Callie Vee empowers herself in a whole host of interesting new ways in this book. I love it that other characters often cannot resist her, once faced with her undeniable competence. She is determined, brave, and quite wily to boot. An all-around enjoyable character, set against a backdrop of intriguing historical events like Darwin's voyages and the Galveston hurricane.

Conclusion: Adventures and hijinks abound in Callie Vee's world, and if you enjoyed the first book you'll no doubt enjoy this sequel—and, like me, you might find yourself wanting more of her adventures in the future…

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Stanislaus County Library. You can find THE CURIOUS WORLD OF CALPURNIA TATE by Jacqueline Kelly at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

No comments: