Friday, July 2, 2010

Book Review - Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Published by: Henry Holt & Company
Publication Date: May 12th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 340 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

It's 1899 in the town of Fentress Texas. While the world is evolving and changing, things seem the same for Calpurnia Tate, the only girl amongst a gaggle of boys. She's supposed to concentrate on the home crafts and the fact that one day, in the not too distant future, this twelve year old girl will have to raise a family of her own. But one day things start to change. She decides to brave her Grandfather's laboratory and she starts to see that the future laid out before her might not be the future that she wants. What develops is a constant battle of the wills, what her family wants from her and what she wants from the wonders her Grandfather has shown her: the natural world and Darwin and science. Things she never knew anything about are all around her if she could only skip one piano lesson or knit one less sock. From the fields surrounding her house to piano recitals to the telephone being brought to town, we follow the progress of life in this sleepy town, this progress that can hopefully mean that there are bigger things for Calpurnia than the life her mother led. And maybe, just maybe, she can make a name for herself in the history books.

From Flavia De Luce to the Moffats, I have read my fair share of precocious period pieces. While I really wanted to love it, I ended up just liking it. The vignettes from Calpurnia's life seemed to be strung along randomly, so you didn't have so much a story as a series of snap shots. While what usually ends up defining us are certain events, I find that I like a little more narrative structure in a book of this kind. But I think, had I read this book back when I was younger, I'd hold it in the same loving regard I hold the Moffats. The female empowerment and the awakening of the mind to possibilities outside what one would expect of their lives is the wonderful themes that underlie this book. But for me, it just needed a little more.


I needed more, too. I wanted it to be like To Kill a Mockingbird. Not necessarily with the conflict and such, but with a little more coherence and purpose. Like you, I liked it, but did not love it.

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