Penny Dreadful

by Laurel Snyder
ages: 10+
First sentence: “Penelope Grey knew she was lucky.”
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I really don’t know if I was expecting anything different from this. It’s got the look of something that would be charming. And from the very first sentence, I knew I was going to like Penny.

Penelope Grey is the only daughter of The Greys: rich, well-connected, busy (you know the type: Dad always gone to work, Mom always gone to some society event or another). She’s home alone with the staff, schooled by tutors. Her friends are social climbers. The only thing Penelope really has in her life are her books. And her life is nothing like those in her books. One day, she decides, almost on a whim, that what she needs is a Big Change, like those in books. So, she wishes. And her dad quits his job. Unfortunately, that makes life worse, not better. So, Penelope wishes again, and her family inherits a house in the country. They move there, and while there are still challenges, Penelope — now Penny, because it seems to fit better — finds that happily ever after doesn’t necessarily mean perfect. And that’s just fine.

See? Charming.

It has much of the same feel as The Penderwicks: old-fashioned and modern all at the same time. It espouses many of the same ideals: that kids need a place to run, that living in a small town, knowing all of ones neighbors, and having friends and exploring with them is so much better than having money and all the stuff that comes along with it. It’s a humble little book: there isn’t much of a plot (just enough to carry the story), and while there’s conflict, it’s really a character-driven book. But it works, and it works well because Penny is so earnest, so sweet and so winning. And because Snyder’s writing is that perfect balance between elegant and accessible. It flows effortlessly off the page, engaging the reader, and making us want to get to know Penny and experience things with her. However, it is also a bookish book: Penny finds questions and answers and hope in the pages of her books, which helped endear her to me, particularly. Of course.

Wonderfully, perfectly charming.

(And as for all the “controversy” surrounding the gay characters that are married in the book… yes, I can see where you’re coming from, but on the other hand, I feel that it’s a bit silly. Use it as a discussion point, people. Don’t get all up in arms about it. And I really don’t see a need to ban the book. Please.)

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

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