Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Summer of the Gypsy Moths, written by Sara Pennypacker. Harper, 2012. $17.99 ages 9 and up
What are Stella and Angel to do when they come home from school to find that their caregiver, Stella's great aunt Louise, has died? Both girls have had miserable experiences with real and foster families. Stella's Mom is fragile and has proved herself to be incapable of caring for her child, often leaving her alone for days at a time. Once, after being on her own for too long, Stella calls family services and is given into the care of Louise, a crusty older woman who lives on Cape Cod and runs a summer vacation cottage rental company. Angel's parents have died, she has been in other foster homes and comes to Louise at the same time. Louise is hopeful that the two be friends. The girls are polar opposites and have a most difficult time finding, or wanting to find, any common ground.
When Louise dies, they are terrified that they will go back into the system. Stella fears that her mother will never find her. She is always hopeful and optimistic that they will once more be a family. Angel is waiting for her Portuguese aunt to make a home for her. Their terror leads them to lie, to hide Louise in the house (keeping the smell in check with liberal spraying of Febreeze). Finally, they decide that they will bury her in the garden and take care of the cottages and themselves until someone shows up to provide guidance and a home.
If you know and love Clementine you will know what a great storyteller Sara Pennypacker is. Here she proves it once again with a story that is charming, humorous and emotionally gripping. The two girls struggle to work together, and to remain in the home they have come to love. It takes time, patience (which is not easy for either of them) and a secret bond to help them understand the true meaning of family. There is suspense and an uncomfortable acceptance of the choice they make in dealing with Louise...but the love they come to share is strong and enduring.
I love Stella's orderliness and her dependence of Heloise (and her many useful hints) to help her deal with problems as they arise. She has a wonderful spirit and her first person narrative is observant, strong and genuine. Angel is a force to be reckoned with, and she is a feisty match for Stella...in all things. Stella remains optimistic despite the many setbacks and constant worry over the discovery of what they have done. Angel is tough, pessimistic about life and family. Together they make a great team, and a pair of unforgettable characters.