July 26 2014

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


Blurb: Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones.With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century. Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.

About the author: Jacqueline Kelly was born in New Zealand and moved with her parents to western Canada at an early age. She grew up in the dense rain forests of Vancouver Island, so you can imagine her shock some years later when her family moved to the desert of El Paso, Texas. She attended university in El Paso and medical school in Galveston (lovingly known as “Galvatraz” among the inmates). She practiced medicine for many years and then attended the University of Texas School of Law. She practiced law for several more years before realizing that what would really make her happy is to write fiction. Her first published short story appeared in 2001 in the Mississippi Review (one of her proudest accomplishments). Her debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, was released by Henry Holt on May 12, 2009.

Review:  Reading this book as an adult, did not become any life-changing book for me, may be if I had read it as a youngster it would have been different. This book is not a high-adventure story. It is historical fiction, and focuses primarily on Calpurnia and her relationships with her family. There are many amusing, anecdotal situations sprinkled throughout, but the most memorable situations are the teaching moments between Calpurnia and her grandfather. It is a very touching, tender, coming-of-age story that embodies the genteelness of a by-gone era. I read Jacqueline Kelly for the first time and Iam super impressed by her writing. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a portrait of a girl growing up in Texas and the challenges she faces with her her to be a housewife-in-training. Each chapter is a bit of a different time of year, from spring time and the summer fair to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and finally the new year. While other girls are learning how to sew, cook, mend, and excel in other domestic arts, Callie would rather read Dickens and spend time with her hobby scientist grandfather. There are lovely relationships in the book, Calpurnia with her brothers, with her best friend. There’s also a comical chapter on her elder brother’s interest in a young lady, an interest that Calpurnia is highly jealous of. The discussion of the law that says one must kiss one’s husband or wife, Cally and her friend discuss that it must be nice or people wouldn’t do it, but neither of them like the sound of it. There’s not a great deal of character development, and generally I found the story quaint and interesting, but a little lacking in heart. It is recommended for young, avid readers who love learning new things.

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