The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick, 237 pp RL 4

The Mother-Daughter Book Club (The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series #1)
Heather Vogel Frederick has written a series of books that hit my sweet spot so perfectly that reading them feels like a guilty pleasure. But, the pleasures of reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club and the sequels Much Ado About Anne and Dear Pen Pal are entirely guilt free. As I have mentioned in the past, especially when writing about Jeanne Birdsall's magnificent book for girls, The Penderwicks, I love it when one kid's book refers to another, hopefully sparking interest in the reader that will lead her to seek out that book next. With The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Heather Vogel Frederick has found an ingenious way to write a whole book around this idea while also inventing some of the most endearing, absorbing and sometimes annoying characters in young adult literature!

As a mother (of a daughter), children's bookseller and lover of books, there was almost no way I could have not loved The Mother-Daughter Book Club. Fortunately, Heather Vogel Frederick is such a great writer that she manages to imbue an already engrossing plot - mothers and daughters reading and discussing Louisa May Alcott's Little Women over the course of a school year - with so many other absorbing aspects that I could not put this book down. In addition to a great cast of characters, some of whom are almost over the top sometimes, Frederick manages to add many touches of historical and literary interest. The book is set in the literary and historical gold mine of Concord, Massachusetts, home of the Alcotts, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne as well as the site of the Battle of Concord, the first battle in the Revolutionary War and Walden Pond. Frederick works these aspects of life in Concord into her story seamlessly and completely, her characters even commenting at times on what it feels like to live with the physical remnants of history all around them.

Frederick brings together a diverse group of girls and mothers in Mother-Daughter Book Club. Emma, Jess, Cassidy and Megan take turns narrating the chapters. Every chapter, as well as each of the four seasonal sections of the book, begins with a quote from Little Women that perfectly sets off the action. The book begins with Emma Hawthorne, who's mom is a librarian at the Concord Public Library and who's dad is a freelance writer, ensuring, as Emma says, that "books are a frequent topic of discussion around our house." Emma, along with her older brother Darcy, have been named for characters from a Jane Austen book by their bibliophile mother. Jess lives on Half Moon Farm, which dates back to the Revolutionary War period, with her father and younger twin brothers. Her mother has recently returned to New York City to resume her acting career in a soap opera after a very long hiatus. Every afternoon when she gets home from school, Jess turns on her TV and talks to her mother as she watches Heartbeats. Cassidy is new in town, having moved from Southern California after losing her father in a car accident. She is a burping, hockey playing tomboy who is making her mother, a former fashion model with a kind of smile named after her, increasingly distressed. Megan is sort of the odd girl out in the group. She had been best friends with Emma since kindergarten, but when her father invents something that earns the family millions, they build themselves a shinning new house and Megan gets herself a new set of friends, becoming part of the catty "Fab Four." This new group of girls is headed by Becca Chadwick, a Queen Bee who makes it her business to loudly insult the other girls whenever possible. Calliope Chadwick, Becca's mother, is the kind of interfering, snobbish person who make the perfect villain, along with her daughter. Megan's shift to a new group of friends and her mother pulling her back into her old group of friends makes for some very interesting plot developments as the story unfolds over the course of the sixth grade year.

The mothers in this book don't get as much page time as the girls, and rightly so, but, I found them and their interactions every bit as interesting as those of the girls. Emma's mom, Phoebe, is the one who comes up with the idea for the mother-daughter book group and organizes it as well as picks the book. She is the calm, proper guiding force for the group. Jess's mom, Shannon, is largely absent, sending gifts to the girls that are delivered at each meeting. Her prolonged absence causes the shy, quiet Jess to gradually learn to speak up for herself. Cassidy's mom, Clementine, gets a bit more page time. As well as coping with the loss of her husband, she is desperately worried that Cassidy's sports related interests will land her in the hospital or worse, and she will suffer another loss. Despite having been a fashion model and the fact that Cassidy looks nothing like her, the conflict between mother and daughter comes not from Clementine wanting Cassidy to be something that she is not but from her wanting to protect her daughter from her passions. Megan's mom, Lily, cracks me up. She is a very well meaning person, but on a little bit of a high horse when it comes to her causes. After becoming wealthy, Lily good-heartedly begins supporting various charities and causes as well as touting her healthy, organic, sometimes vegan lifestyle. She also ramps up the pressure on Megan to be the "studious Chinese-American girl who's a whiz at math and science," as Megan sees it, and go to MIT like her father did then change the world for the better. Unfortunately, what Megan loves is the frivolous (to her mother, anyway) world of fashion and design. What I liked most about the mothers is that they didn't always get along and they had to resolves their conflicts, much as the girls found themselves doing over the course of the book.
The final chapter of the book, narrated by Jess, begins with the quote from Little Women, "Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in he delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is." Of course there is a visit to Orchard House, the home of the Alcotts that is now a museum, in the course of Mother-Daughter Book Club. Coming at the end of the book after the group has finished reading Little Women, it is the setting for the storybook ending that the chapter quote promises. As the girls get a private tour through the house, Jess thinks to herself, "I've been through Orchard House a zillion times before - with my mother, with my school, with my Brownie troop, plus Emma and I ride our bikes over almost every summer - but somehow it's different this time." I think that quote perfectly sums up the experiences of the girls and the mothers in the book as well. They have all participated in doing something they have done "a zillion times before" - read a book - but by doing it together, as a group, they have made the experience new, different and profound.

I recently reviewed Book by Book: The Complete Guide to CreatingMother-DaughterBook Clubs by Cindy Hudson, in which Mother-Daughter Book Club receives several mentions. Heather Vogel Frederick appears on a list of authors who enjoy talking to book groups, especially mother-daughter groups. Frederick's website also includes a "Special Invitation from the Author" to book groups as well. In her book Hudson shares a story from a mom who read Mother-Daughter Book Club while her daughter was at swimming lessons one summer, decided to start her own group and had the good fortune to get in touch with Vogel while she was visiting this mom's hometown. For their first ever meeting, the group read The Mother-Daughter Book Club and got to discuss the book with the author! How cool is that??? Book two in the series is titled, Much Ado About Anne and the mother-daughter book group spends the year reading Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. In book three, Dear Pen Pal, the group reads Jean Webster's classic, Daddy-Long-Legs. I have heard of Webster's book but never read it. I am definitely bumping it up to the top of my "To Be Read"pile. When she was 11 year old, Heather Vogel Frederick lived in England for a time. Her family's home was a 300 year old cottage with a pink kitchen (like the Hawthorne's!) As an enthusiast for all things British, I had to write to Heather when I learned of this and ask her if there was any chance that the book group would find their way to England? With news right from the author's keyboard, I am happy to report that book four in the series will be titled Pies and Prejudice in which the mother-daughter book group tackles Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

The Concord Public Library, where Phoebe Hawthorne works and Calliope Chadwick makes a fuss, on the right. One of my favorite chapters in the book is narrated by Emma and takes place on April 19th, Patriot's Day (and a school holiday) in Concord. The battle re-enactments and festivites take place at Minute Man National Historical Park, , where the Old North Bridge is located. Male townsfolk participate in the action and the parade that follows. As a fourteen year old, Darcy, Emma's older brother, gets to participate in the battle for the first time. As Mr Hawthorne says, after he and Darcy are fitted out in their minutemen costumes, this is the Patriot's Day is the father-son version of the mother-daughter book club.

In Book 2, the club reads ANN OF GREEN GABLES by Lucy Maude Montgomery. In Book 3 they read DADDY-LONG-LEGS by Jean Webster. In Book 4 they read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. In Book 5 they tackle the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace and in Book 6 they read JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte.

 Much Ado About Anne (The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series #2)Dear Pen Pal (The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series #3)
Pies and Prejudice (The Mother-Daughter Book Club Series #4)Home for the Holidays (Mother-Daughter Book Club Series #5)
Wish You Were Eyre

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