My One Hundred Adventures by Polly Horvath, 160 pp RL 5
I am so excited that this book is finally in paperback! Please read it and share it! It is an amazing book and the sequel, Northward to the Moon , is just on the shelves and will be reviewed here on Friday!
Reading My 100 Adventures is sometimes like reading a poem, which is appropriate since the narrator, twelve year old Jane is the daughter of the Pulitzer award winning poet, Felicity Fielding. As she did with the Newbery Honor winner Everything on a Waffle, Polly Horvath creates a beautiful, sometimes cozy, sometimes dangerous, but nevertheless complete world populated with eccentric, self-absorbed adults who aren't always doing their best to look out for the children in their care. Whereas Primrose Squarp, narrator in Everything on a Waffle is unwavering in her belief that her parents are not lost at sea forever, resigned to her merry-go-round foster care in their absence and frequently humorous, intentionally or otherwise, Jane Fielding is more mature in her tone and seemingly has more to lose, thus making her story somehow more harrowing, despite the fact that she never loses a parent and even ends up gaining one. While Primrose's innocence is never in question, Jane's often is. Yet, she manages to emerge from her summer of almost one hundred adventures (thirteen, to be exact) with the loving and appreciative outlook that she entered it with.
As Jane says in the first chapter, "As if itchy and outgrown, my soul is twisting about my body, wanting something more to do this summer than the usual...I want something I know not what, which is what adventures are about." So, with her newly learned ability to pray, Jane prays for one hundred adventures. She gets adventures, but, more than anything, she gets taken advantage of by self-absorbed adults, who themselves are often being taken advantage of or ill-used. At first, this was disturbing to me. My initial reaction was to compare these adults to the horrible grown-ups that litter the pages of all of Roald Dahl's works for children. However, as I read on and thought more about the events and characters of the book and recalled an incident from my own childhood that involved a self-centered adult, I was overwhelmed with admiration for Polly Horvath's skill at writing a virtual minefield of spirit crushing adults for her main character to navigate, coming out scathed, but whole and, in Jane's case, with a budding sense of compassion, acceptance and appreciation for the world around her.
Jane's mother has created a haven for herself and her four children on the beach in a coastal Massachusetts town where she is raising them alone on her limited poet's salary, living well off the land. It is clear that Jane deeply loves her mother and siblings and the life that they have, but, she is ready for something new to come her way. She is looking for signs. Perhaps this is why she is drawn in by the first of many selfish, manipulative adults to cross her path. As in Everything on a Waffle, there is a strange, funny, sometimes bizarre chain of events winding its way through this book. From the energy obsessed, new age-y preacher Nellie Phipps who sends Jane off in a high jacked hot air balloon to deliver bibles to the countryside, to the sour, slow witted Mrs. Gourd who tricks Jane into believing that one of those bibles hit her baby on the head and left him damaged and frightens her into providing free baby sitting service for her five unruly children lest she sue Ms Fielding and they lose their beloved beach house, Jane is never at a loss for adventures, if you could call it that. There is also the appearance of several possible fathers to Jane and her siblings, one of whom might have been capsized by a whale after saving Jane's brothers at sea, and the disruption to the Fielding's quiet life that they bring with them.
While Jane worries, plans, experiences her first disillusionment and disappointment with and adult she admires and discusses everything with her best friend Ginny, who's mother is actually quite like a Roald Dahl character, she is somehow always positive. As the awfulness and frightening nature of her adventures escalates, you know, like you know with Primrose, that Jane will come out on top in the end. Not only does she come out on top in the end, she realizes that it not what happens to you, but what you learn about yourself that matters. While unconventionality is a constant aspect of Horvath's writing, making her stories entertaining and compelling, the strength and clarity of her main characters that make her books complex and memorable. Jane Fielding, with her child's way of thinking and seeing the world, is a believable girl your daughter might want to be friends with, as well as one you would want to be friends with your daughter.
There are similarities and differences between My One Hundred Adventures and Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks that are worth noting, as they illustrate two different types of reality based novels for young adults. While The Penderwicks is slightly more than one hundred pages longer than My One Hundred Adventures, it is a more playful book with life lessons that are gently learned and only one or two truly ugly adult characters who are outnumbered by the raft of children characters, three of whom are the main characters of the book. Horvath's novel packs more vivid imagery and profound plot elements into its 160 pages and has a cast of adults that are intimately drawn and largely outnumbering the children in the story, which has only one main character. Although a shorter book, I think that My One Hundred Adventures has a more complex plot and assembly of characters and because of this I wouldn't recommend it to an eight, nine or ten year old, necessarily. The lighthearted nature of The Penderwicks, despite its length, makes it a much better candidate for younger readers, especially those who are reading well above their grade level. I enjoyed both books enthusiastically and equally, although for different reasons. The Penderwicks might appeal to a larger audience, but My One Hundred Adventures will leave you thinking long after you finish it and it should not be allowed to slip through the cracks. I wouldn't be surprised if it wins a Newbery Award next year.
If your reader liked My One Hundred Adventures and has read everything else by Polly Horvath, try:
Savvy by Ingrid Law
The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by EL Konigsburg
Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter
Secret Letters From 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern