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Monday, April 16, 2012

ARC Review: Summer of the Gypsy Moths

TITLE: Summer of the Gypsy Moths 
AUTHOR: Sara Pennypacker                           
PUB: Balzer + Bray           
PUB DATE: 4/24/12                                           FORMAT: ARC
SOURCE: from pub inexchange for honest review

Desperate times call for desperate measures indeed when, one summer afternoon on Cape Cod, 11-year-old Stella finds her sole caretaker, her great-aunt Louise, dead in her chair. Stella, who's been abandoned by her mom, and Louise's 12-year-old foster child Angel know the second they call 911 they'll be hauled off by the authorities... and the thought of having to leave a good home for who knows where is too much to bear. So they bury Louise in the garden. The suspense escalates. How long will Stella and Angel be able to keep Louise's death a secret in a small community? Will dogs dig up the body? Will the girls be able to pull off the task of assuming Louise's duties as manager of the Linger Longer Cottage Colony? How long can they survive eating relish, stale croutons and "Froot Loop dust"? The unfolding story is both deliciously intense and entertaining. Stella, an order-seeking girl whose oracle is Heloise (of hint fame), not only knows how to keep a corpse from smelling (Febreze), she employs old pantyhose and Crisco to keep the gypsy moths off Louise's beloved blueberry bushes. Stella's poetic, philosophical observations of the world are often genuinely moving, and tough-on-the-outside Angel is her perfect foil. 

THREE WORDS: A Stunning Surprise

MY REVIEW: Sara Pennypacker’s Summer of the Gypsy Moths surprised me in the most delicious way! Surprised me with its poignancy, humor, beauty and, most of all, with the way its story gripped my heart and still hasn’t let go.

Eleven year old Stella, armed with her collected household hints from infamous Heloise, loves order and rules, which is why she likes living with her great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod. After Stella’s grandmother dies, her flighty mother abandoned her in order to “find” herself, so Stella must stay with Louse until her mother can prove to the authorities that she’s a responsible parent. Louise also takes in twelve year old Angel, a foster child and she and Stella could not be more different and the two girls avoid each other as much as possible. But when Louise dies the two girls must work together to keep her death a secret so they won’t be taken away and sent to another foster home. The girls bury Louise in the garden and set out to take over her responsibilities as caretaker of four summer cottages and as they band together to keep their secret, the two girls find that maybe they aren’t so different.

That’s a heck of a book description (both the official one in the blue box and mine) right?! But honestly, neither summary can really do this book justice because Summer of the Gypsy Moths is such a wonderfully layered, written and entertaining MG book that one must simply read to fully appreciate…BUT I’ll do my best to explain why I loved this book and why you really must read it.

Sara Pennypacker has crafted a stunning and startling story of heartache and hope, and has done so with bone-deep and heart-touching honesty, tenderness, beauty and thought-provoking situations. For some readers, the idea of two young girls burying their dead caretaker may make them wary and raise some eyebrows, but trust me when I say that the story couldn’t unfold in any other way and Pennypacker handles this unusual situation with the utmost care and sensitivity. The story is told from the vulnerable, yet captivating point of view of young Stella, and Pennypacker has captured the voice of an eleven year old girl, who has been forced to grow up far too fast, flawlessly.

In fact, the entire story is pitch-perfect and Pennypacker’s writing is simply lovely. The emotional tangibility in Summer of the Gypsy Moths is exquisite and impressive in its complexity; I felt every ounce of Stella and Angel’s grief, anger, confusion and hope. Both Stella and Angel are superbly crafted characters and I connected intrinsically with both girls (and I really miss them now that I’ve finished the book).  Optimistic Stella relies on her handy Heloise hints and her love of order to keep her grounded and focused on the task of taking care of the summer cottages and Louise’s beloved garden, while hot headed Angel rather get lost in her music than clean and worry about finances. Such different personalities, yet these two girls are connected, not just by the secret they share, but by their longing to belong. I found myself completely captivated with their story and enjoyed every moment of rooting for these two characters through every struggle, obstacle and pain.

The vividly described Cape Cod setting makes for a fun and rich backdrop to the story.  
Pennypacker takes her characters and her readers on a powerful and moving journey in Summer of the Gypsy Moths. I really loved the way the story ended, but I must share how the story begins because Pennypacker’s first paragraph is breathtaking:

       The earth spins at a thousand miles an hour. Sometimes when I remember this, it’s all I can do to stay upright—the urge to flatten myself to the ground and clutch hold is that strong. Because gravity? Oh, gravity is no match for a force that equals ten simultaneous hurricanes. No, if we aren’t all flung off the earth like so many water droplets off a cartoon dog’s back, it must be because people are connected somehow. I like to imagine the ties between us as strands of spider silk: practically invisible, maybe, but strong as steel. I figure the trick is to spin out enough of them to weave ourselves into a net. (taken from ARC, final paragraph may differ).

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: I’m very much in love with Summer of the Gypsy Moths and I'm in awe of Sara Pennypacker’s ability to craft such a beautifully poignant story and two genuinely realistic and fascinating characters. This is an absolute MUST read MG novel!

5/5 Cupcakes

Find the author: Website / Goodreads / Twitter 
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository
Sara Pennypacker, born in Massachusetts, is an author of children's literature who was awarded the Golden Kite Award for Pierre In Love. She has written thirteen children's books, including the those in the Clementine and Stuart' series.

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