THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE – ANN PACKER

 

From the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, a sweeping, masterful new novel that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades.

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family’s future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story–Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn’t settled down-their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.Goodreads

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First things first, let’s just take a moment to admire that cover, shall we? Okay, now, on to my thoughts. 

This book begins with Bill Blair. Fresh from military service, he is looking for a new start at life in California. He finds a tract of land where he can picture a house under the shade of a huge oak tree. He falls in love with the land, and with the life he can imagine there. His imagined life soon comes to include Penny, a young woman he meets by chance. 

Cut to several years and four children later. The house is built, Bill is a pediatrician with a thriving practice and Penny is struggling to handle four children and still find time for her artistic passions. Our first real introduction to the Blairs is when the children are still quite young. Robert is the oldest, serious and prone to nervous stomachaches. Then comes Rebecca, observant and smart as a whip. Next is Ryan, a soft-hearted, affectionate boy – and the only of the four children to attend an alternative school. The youngest, James, is a ball of energy. He’s the most demanding of attention, often causing mischief and upsetting Penny. 

It’s hard to describe this family without giving away any of the details of the adults they will become. Because the details are the entire point of this story. I found it fascinating to see how the personalities and characteristics each had as children translated into the life choices they made as adults – often leading them to their careers and partners. Each sibling is unique, yet their communal upbringing has shaped each life and created a shared history that affects every interaction the siblings have.

I loved how this book was structured. The perspective of the book shifts seamlessly between family members, and shows us the inner workings of each. This allows us to really get to know and care for every character. None of them are perfect – nor is their family (but what family is?), and yet they balance one another well, and each has one aspect of their personality that sets them apart from the others. 

As an only child, I found this insider’s view of a lively brood of siblings riveting. The ways their roles reflect their relationships with one another, and how they can never quite manage to change them – no matter how many years or life changes intervene. 

This was undeniably a great read. I’m not big on family sagas – I don’t know what it is, but they often lose me. Something about the pacing and focus that can drag for me, even when it’s well done. That said, this was one of the best I’ve read, and I found that I was more drawn into the story and more attached to the characters than I expected to be. If you are a fan of family sagas (or if you haven’t been in the past but want to try again), this is one you will definitely want to pick up ASAP. 

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**Thanks to Scribner on Netgalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: The Children’s Crusade
Author: Ann Packer
Series: No
Edition: Electronic
Published By: Scribner
Released: April 7, 2015
Genre: Fiction, Family, Character-Driven
Pages: 448

Date Read: April 6-May 4, 2015
Rating: 8/10

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13 thoughts on “THE SUNDAY REVIEW | THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE – ANN PACKER

  1. Pingback: MONTHLY WRAP-UP | MAY 2015 | RAIN CITY READS

  2. M.

    Thanks! I wasn't entirely sure before I read it either, but it exceeded my expectations and was definitely worth the time – assuming you enjoy character-driven stories, of course!

    Reply
  3. M.

    Thanks! I wasn't entirely sure before I read it either, but it exceeded my expectations and was definitely worth the time – assuming you enjoy character-driven stories, of course!

    Reply
  4. M.

    Thanks! I try my best to avoid spoilers (or to hide them so readers can click on them) because I hate when I accidentally have a book completely ruined! Heading over to check out your blog now – and looking forward to hearing what you think!

    Reply
  5. M.

    Thanks! I try my best to avoid spoilers (or to hide them so readers can click on them) because I hate when I accidentally have a book completely ruined! Heading over to check out your blog now – and looking forward to hearing what you think!

    Reply
  6. M.

    I did think it was really well done. It's not my normal kind of book, but I tried to assess it based on how good it was rather than how I feel about the genre. I felt like James was the most fleshed out – the others were more static in their personalities, and in showing less character development, weren't as interesting. That said, I do think that the characters were all so different from one another that each reader will connect to different ones. James wasn't my favourite, but then again, none of them really were. I was rooting for him to figure things out, but also found him a bit frustrating at times. And yeah, Penny wasn't great. But I also thought she was an interesting example of women in that time period. I don't think she was naturally suited to motherhood, and the fourth kid really was too much for her (particularly given his personality). As much as I feel like she was a terrible mother, I also feel like it was pretty terrible for her to be a mother to four kids. It was a no-win situation. And while Bill was a great father, he wasn't really the best at making his marriage (or his wife) a priority. It was fascinating to see how their personalities and choices shaped everyone!

    Reply
  7. M.

    I did think it was really well done. It's not my normal kind of book, but I tried to assess it based on how good it was rather than how I feel about the genre. I felt like James was the most fleshed out – the others were more static in their personalities, and in showing less character development, weren't as interesting. That said, I do think that the characters were all so different from one another that each reader will connect to different ones. James wasn't my favourite, but then again, none of them really were. I was rooting for him to figure things out, but also found him a bit frustrating at times. And yeah, Penny wasn't great. But I also thought she was an interesting example of women in that time period. I don't think she was naturally suited to motherhood, and the fourth kid really was too much for her (particularly given his personality). As much as I feel like she was a terrible mother, I also feel like it was pretty terrible for her to be a mother to four kids. It was a no-win situation. And while Bill was a great father, he wasn't really the best at making his marriage (or his wife) a priority. It was fascinating to see how their personalities and choices shaped everyone!

    Reply
  8. Katie McD

    So glad you liked it, as I really did too! I just felt so much for James (most of all), and found Penny pretty despicable, actually. I loved the way this story was told, and how the passage of time was sort of flexible, if that makes sense. Excellent review! 🙂

    Reply
  9. Katie McD

    So glad you liked it, as I really did too! I just felt so much for James (most of all), and found Penny pretty despicable, actually. I loved the way this story was told, and how the passage of time was sort of flexible, if that makes sense. Excellent review! 🙂

    Reply

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