Birdsall takes her show on the road this go-round, and she shakes things up a bit while she's at it, sending the ever-so-capable Rosalind off on a summer vacation with her friends and appointing Skye as OAP or "oldest available Penderwick"—meaning the sibling in charge, particularly of lively five-year-old Batty. Only Skye's notes on the care and keeping of Batty get wet, so she can barely read them. Why on earth would she need to blow something up?
The degree of angst Skye brings to her new responsibilities is a hoot, building to a point where good friend Jeffrey must intervene and relieve her of her office, at least for one night.
Also funny is writer sister Jane's determination to study Love, leading her into the depths (and heights) of a crush on a laconic, bewildered, and unintentionally heartless skateboarder named Dominic. Jane tries to make him into one of her literary crushes, say, Peter Pevensie from the Narnia books, but it's hard going. Take a look at their towering romance, which mostly consists of Jane sitting on a bench at the park watching Dominic ride his skateboard:
...they weren't really walking together, because Dominic wasn't walking at all, really—he was on his skateboard, either ahead of her or behind, or making large circles around her. She didn't care, not really, trying to thrust away the suspicion that Peter Pevensie would never make circles around a maiden. You're being disloyal, she scolded herself, and anyway, there weren't any skateboards in Narnia. Besides, soon they reached French Park, and Jane was able to sit down on the bench, and although Dominic continued to ride in circles for a while, she could now close her eyes to better picture him as a noble presence worthy of her love, and by the time he sat down beside her, she was feeling steadier.
"I have many things to tell you, Dominic," she said.
"Yeah." Dominic shuffled his feet. "Me too. I mean, I have something to ask you."
"You do?" This was a surprise. Until now, asking personal questions had not been one of Dominic's skills. "You go first, then."
"No, that's okay."
"Okay, here's my question." Dominic shuffled his feet again, then cleared his throat. "Can I kiss you?"
"Excuse me?" Jane was so surprised, she jumped off the bench. Did he love her, too? She hadn't hoped for as much.
"It will be a short, little kiss." He looked sternly out to sea. "Hardly a kiss at all."
She sat down again. "Oh, Dominic, love has no measure."
"I mean, yes, please kiss me."
A quick kiss, and Dominic takes off on his skateboard, leaving Jane dizzy and blissful, as well as filled with determination to write a truly marvelous love poem for her swain...
Yep, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is that funny, so funny that I forgive Birdsall for reminding me I don't speak French and therefore don't know how to pronounce Mouette—or is it one of those Americanized pronunciations, the way people have bowdlerized half the Spanish names in Los Angeles? (I just checked: the French would be moo-ET, or almost mwET. It means "seagull." And I am not kidding when I say I started writing this paragraph thinking, "Why couldn't she just have named it Seagull Point or something?")
Another nice story strand is that Jeffrey and Batty start hanging out with Alec, a musician who has a house just up the beach. Jeffrey is a musical protégée and loves spending time with Alec's piano, but the real surprise is Batty, who turns out to be musically gifted. Except—her sisters simply refuse to acknowledge this. Their reasoning is that there's no such thing as a musically inclined Penderwick, so they brush off Batty's music talk.
More dramatic, at least early in the book, is when Aunt Claire hurts her ankle and gets a brace on it. Skye doesn't want Rosalind or her parents to worry, so she downplays the situation. But her own worry ratchets higher and higher as she tries to fill her role of OAP under difficult circumstances and pretty much loses it.
We also get moose watching, a golf ball collection, a concert played for seals, and a storm or two, not to mention a secret revealed, one that changes more than one life.
A couple of key plot points rely heavily on coincidence, but I found I didn't care a bit because they're such great coincidences. Which just goes to show that you can break the rules of literature with abandon as long as you can sell it!
I am crazy about Hilary McKay's Casson family, but I have to admit: the Penderwicks are just as lovable. They are also a bit less edgy, and therefore perhaps better suited to younger middle grade readers. No wonder they've been compared to the Melendys.
If you haven't read the three Penderwick books, you've been missing out on a deeply satisfying experience!
Note: Here's Jeanne Birdsall talking about her new book.