As in Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach
, Polly Horvath tells the story of an abandoned child who is sent to live with two distant relatives in a big, lonely house. The magic in Horvath's story, however, lies not in talking bugs but in the hearts and minds of its characters. Thirteen-year-old Ratchet Clark, a girl with a deformity on her shoulder blade her breezily cruel, self-absorbed mother calls "That Thing," is unceremoniously kicked out for the summer while her mom attends to important things, like how to gain entry into the prestigious Pensacola country club. Mom drops Ratchet off at her great second-cousins' enormous, turreted house in Maine, a remote seaside estate surrounded by oily blueberry bogs and bears.
What starts out as a fairly grim proposition transforms as Ratchet befriends the endearing, downright hilarious 91-year-old twins Aunt Tilly and Aunt Penpen who are "as different as chalk and cheese" and learns the ways of rural Maine. When another unwanted teenage girl named Harper ("obnoxious, but strangely compelling") enters the scene, the household dynamic changes yet again. Though fairytale-like in its setting and its charm, do not be fooled. Suicide, decapitation, wretched mothers, and a sprinkling of profanity pepper this poignant, philosophical, darkly humorous novel that dips into subjects from technology to love to death. In Horvath's capable hands, readers are left believing in the best of human nature as she switches effortlessly from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again. Wild stories, brilliant dialogue, and vats of compassion distinguish Newbery Honor author Horvath's latest offering. (Ages 12 and older) --Karin Snelson
From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9-Horvath outdoes herself in this tale of lonely, friendless Ratchet Clark, who lives with her uncaring mother in Pensacola, FL. One night, out of the blue, Henriette packs her daughter onto the train to spend the summer with two elderly relatives, twins Tilly and Penpen, who live in an area of Maine so remote that servant-eating bears are a constant menace. Here, with her outlandishly eccentric great-aunts, Ratchet hears gruesome yet darkly humorous stories of family lore while experiencing, for the first time, some love and care. Harper, another parentless girl, soon joins Ratchet. The approaching canning season becomes not only a metaphor for that moment in each life when everything is ripe, but also provides Ratchet with the self-confidence found in working with others and with a means to support herself. Offbeat, slapstick humor is mitigated by poignancy in Horvath's distinctive rollicking style. There is occasional use of strong language, and the family stories are woven with death, often gruesomely described. Parents take a big hit in this novel, leaving Ratchet and readers with the message that one finds happiness and peace in oneself. The Canning Season, like Horvath's Everything on a Waffle (Farrar, 2001), reads like a tall tale with fantastic and realistic elements interwoven. And, as in a tall tale, Ratchet, Tilly, and Penpen become larger than life and unforgettable. Readers are in for a wise and wacky ride when they open this novel.Connie Tyrrell Burns, Mahoney Middle School, South Portland, ME
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