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At the Little Brown House

July 17, 2017

I’ve just finished a cute little series by Ruth Alberta Brown. The first book is At the Little Brown House, in which the six Greenfield girls struggle to support themselves and their invalid mother. Gail is the eldest, and takes care of the rest. Faith is next, a little lazy and discontented. Hope and Cherry, the middle girls, are the least distinct, as characters. Then come Peace and Allie, about seven and five, respectively. Peace is our protagonist, well meaning but impulsive, and usually in some kind of trouble. Allie is her faithful shadow.

I kept thinking, as I was reading, that I don’t normally read books about kids this young, but it’s not true–this just has a slightly more sophisticated feel than the others. Things aren’t oversimplified in the way I’d expect. That’s not to say that the narrative doesn’t condescend to its heroine (Peace’s mispronunciations are a major source of humor) and Peace, with all her faults, is very much a type (sunny, outgoing, brightens the lives of those around her). But there’s enough substance to temper the sunniness a little. Peace’s faults are real faults, and the Greenfield family’s poverty feels real, too. And while I wasn’t that into laughing at Peace’s vocabulary, some of her scrapes are genuinely funny — and some are distressing in a way that made me feel for all the characters involved. Maybe that’s the secret to the books success: the highs weren’t very high, and the lows weren’t all that low, but highs and lows were equally convincing, and the book feels balanced emotionally, if not structurally.

I didn’t really like the way At the Little Brown House was resolved. I thought I knew what was coming, but the happy ending is too much and it’s too abrupt. Part of that is because Peace is unaware of a lot of what’s happening around her, but I also I dislike, “hi, we’ve never met but I’m going to be your grandmother now,” even more than I dislike love at first sight. (Love at first sight occasionally doesn’t feel weird. Instant familial relationships always do.) But that wasn’t enough to sour my feelings towards the book, or stop me from reading the next one.

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