Laughing Last

August 6, 2014

I’ve been feeling lately like I’m having a hard time being enthusiastic about the books I’m reading. That happens every once in a while, and it’s always hard to tell whether it’s the books, or me suffering from a general deficiency of enthusiasm, or just my poor memory of how much I enjoyed things.

Looking back at recent posts, I don’t think it’s that third thing. I ended up mostly liking Dwell Deep, and Up the Hill and Over was fascinating, but neither of them comes anywhere near being my new favorite book. Although actually, The Turned-About Girls was great. And I guess Laughing Last, by Jane Abbott, isn’t my new favorite book either, but I love it enough to that I feel like I can safely blame any lack of enthusiasm on my recent reading material. I mean, I don’t feel like gushing about it or anything, but basically it was delightful and I have no complaints.

Jane Abbott is just so good, you know? Very few authors are as good at writing girls of a pre-romance age. And Laughing Last is very Jane Abbott-y, but it’s also got elements of L.T. Meade and Augusta Huiell Seaman and most of it is set in a kind of Joseph Crosby Lincoln milieu, and it’s just delightful in all sorts of ways. I might have to take back what I said about gushing.

The beginning of the book is perhaps the Meade-iest part. It introduces us to the four Romley girls, who range in age from 26 to 15. They’re the daughters of famous poet Joseph Romley, and while they do technically have a pair of guardians or trustees, in effect they’re under the thumb of the local chapter of the League of American Poets, which paid off the mortgage on their house, and consequently feels that it’s okay to bring tours through on Saturdays and keep the girls at their beck and call.

Isolde, the eldest, usually handles the tours, mostly because she’s the one who best fits everyone’s notions of how a poet’s daughter ought to look and act. Then there’s Trude, the practical, motherly one; Victoria, the prettiest and least responsible; and Sidney, the dreamy, stifled fifteen year old.

In search of adventure, Sidney invites herself to spend the summer with a totally unknown relative on Cape Cod. Elderly Achsa Green and her “different” nephew, Lavender, aren’t what Sidney expects, and nor is their home. Sidney’s kind of appalled at first, but with the help of the Green’s summer boarder, she learns to appreciate them. Then she meets Martie Calkins, a girl about her age, and learns a bunch of practical skills, like digging clams. And then, finally, she has a pretty exciting adventure. Jane Abbott’s good at adventures, too–this is, in a way, the most over the top adventure I’ve read in one of her books, but she keeps it grounded.

But mostly you just get to watch Sidney grow up a little, and see things turn out well for her, and it’s great. Sidney’s a little ridiculous sometimes, because she’s a fifteen year old girl with an imagination, but that’s actually an awesome thing to be, and Abbott doesn’t suggest otherwise or condescend.

Again: Jane Abbott is so good. I don’t know why I don’t read her more often.




  1. Yes, why don’t you read her more often?

    • Probably because Gutenberg doesn’t have many of her books, and other sites aren’t as convenient for me. But that’s a bad answer.

  2. I get into those moods too. Usually it’s a sign I need to read to read something completely different.

    • That’s probably the smart thing to do, but I always end up wanting to read the same things over and over again instead.

  3. I’ve started it and think I will like it quite well once Sidney gets to Cape Cod.

  4. I treated myself to this book and Juliet at 20 (which hasn’t arrived yet) and I enjoyed it immensely. I knew from the minute Sidney got the letter from her relatives that they wouldn’t be what she thought they were, and prepared myself to be delighted.

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