The Three Sides of Paradise GreenMay 5, 2011
First, here’s where we are with the poll results:
- 10 votes — Top 10 underappreciated children’s books. I am working on this. It’s going to take a little while, but I do have my list of ten books finalized.
- 5 votes — Pollyanna. This is going to be part of that list. I figure when you stack up all the people who hate it agains the ones who like it, it counts as underappreciated.
- 4 votes — The Dragon’s Secret. This is definitely going to happen. For now, here’s another Augusta Huiell Seaman book.
- 3 votes — Lady Audley’s Secret. This will happen…someday. But if you can’t wait, I recommend The Tragedy of Chain Pier. It’s practically the same thing.
- 2 votes — Two Little Women and Treasure House. I’m hoping to do all three Two Little Women books at some point. It’s been too long since I’ve written about Carolyn Wells.
- 1 vote — The Hidden Hand, Mary Jane Holmes, Trustee from the Toolrom. Respectively: someday, hopefully soon, and next time I reread it.
- 0 votes — The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay. :D :D :D
Anyway. The Three Sides of Paradise Green is another Augusta Huiell Seaman book, published a few years after The Boarded-up House, and with kind of a similar setup: Two girls, best friends their entire lives, and a house next door with some kind of history-related secret. Except it’s kind of better.
This time the girls are named Susan and Carol, and they’ve just been asked by their English teacher to keep journals for the coming year. The book mostly consists of Susan’s journal entries, although there are a few third-person-narrated scenes. I’m not sure why. They don’t really add anything. Also, you know who else doesn’t add anything? Carol. She’s kind of a drip. Fortunately, very little of the burden of the story falls on Carol’s shoulders. The main mystery-solver here is Sue’s younger sister Helen Roberta, apparently named after Seaman’s own daughter, and variously referred to as Mademoiselle Héléne, Bobs, and the Imp. The Imp is hands down the coolest person in this book, but she’s also — you know how younger siblings can sometimes be more infuriating than anything else in the world? Yeah, that.
Carol, Susan, and the Imp live on two of the three sides of the titular — and triangular — Paradise Green. The third side is occupied by a colonial farmhouse, home to Louis Charles Durant — seventeen, a good friend of the girls, patriotic, an amateur mechanic — and his guardians, Jean and Yvonne Meadows — French, elderly, really named Mettot. As Sue begins to write her journal, she finds herself noticing a lot of odd things about the house and its occupants, like the fact that no one has any idea what relation the Mettots bear to Louis, and the way they kind of defer to him. Things get stranger with the arrival of the Monsieur, another elderly Frenchman. He has some very fixed ideas about the way Louis should behave, but he’s oddly deferent too.
While Sue and Carol have been noting down these odd circumstances, the Imp has made friends with the Monsieur, thanks to the French she’s picked up from listening to the Mettots. For the rest of the book, she’s about three steps ahead of the other girls at any given moment, and she alternately taunts Sue and Carol with what she knows and generously shares her information. The mystery itself is not difficult to solve — hint: it involves the Dauphin, which means it’s about what all mysteries involving the Dauphin are about — but there is kind of a cool twist at the end.
That twist was one of the things that made me really, really like this book. The other was the relationships between the characters. I loved how Sue was annoyed with her older brother Dave for acting superior and not wanting to have anything to do with her and Carol, not realizing that she was doing the exact same thing to the Imp. And while I couldn’t find anything to like about Carol, Susan’s growing appreciation for the Imp — and vice versa — made up for that.
I am also, for some reason, always really impressed when a children’s book has an unexpectedly gruesome bit. So there’s that, too. All in all, The Three Sides of Paradise Green was in incredibly satisfying book. I just wish there had been some explanation for this one ridiculous dream Louis had. It makes little sense if you think what Seaman wants you to think, and even less once you learn the truth.