We made it to the 80s! This is the decade in which Sara and i spent a lot of our childhood, so we’re excited. We’re kicking the decade off with A Gathering of Days by Joan W. Blos.
Sara’s Review: The 1980s started off with a difficult read: a journal of a young girl, Catherine, growing up in New Hampshire during the 1830s. The language was very stilted and old-fashioned; as an English major, I adjusted to it easily, but I can’t imagine any of my students or my own children persevering. In addition to the language, the book is quite boring at first. Events like losing one’s lesson book are not going to entice today’s young readers to continue with the book.
Fortunately for Benji and myself, some exciting things eventually happen to Catherine. She encounters a runaway slave, whom she chooses to assist by giving him a quilt. Her father decides to remarry so she finds herself with a new stepmother and stepbrother. Tragically, she loses her best friend Cassie due to illness. However, since the beginning of the book feels like watching paint dry, most readers will likely abandon the book before the more exciting events occur.
I give A Gathering of Days 2 out of 5 pies.
Benji’s Review: I agree with Sara on this one. It was pretty boring. It would be really hard to write a good novel in journal format, I think, especially one that’s supposed to be written by a girl in her tweens. I feel like a journal like that would have to be full of random facts about her boring day to be believable at all. The one excellent thing this novel did, in my opinion, was portray the days as kind of random, but still brought them all together into the bigger story in the end. I always felt like I was reading the journal of a young girl from the 1930s, but there wasn’t a whole lot thrown in there that got wasted in painting the big picture. That’s kind of remarkable to me.
That being said, I didn’t really enjoy reading it. By the time that Cassie died, I didn’t really have any kind of connection with any of the characters. Then Blos goes out and kills off one of the characters that I didn’t really care about. It kind of felt like the author was trying to manipulate me into caring. Kind of like a last second hail mary to try to save the novel.
This could have been published in the 20s or 30s, and I might have question that it was really the most distinguished book of the year. But the 80’s? Come on Newbery committee. Let’s hope that the rest of the decade is better.
I also give it two out of five Newbery Pies.