2010-12-23 / Opinions

The Season of Gifts By RICHARD PECK

Book Review
In time for the season of Good Cheer, A Season of Gifts will lift your spirits. Richard Peck has created many delightful characters and suspenseful situations in his 30 novels for young adults, as well as in his other books. Grandma Dowdel has appeared in two others of his books, but in none is she more formidable -- or lovable, once you get to know her.

Twelve-year-old Bob and his family have just moved to town, where his father is to be preacher in the almost defunct Methodist Church. Bob has a 14-year-old sister Phyllis, who is in love with Elvis Presley, and a six-year-old sister, Ruth Ann, who has only one doll and doesn’t believe they are not going back to Terre Haute where Santa Claus can find her.

Next door lives the very large Mrs. Dowdel. She claims not to be neighborly, but she rescues Bob when the bad boys in town mistreat him. She says of one of his attackers, “That’d be Roscoe Burdick . . . At his age, most Burdicks in on the chain gang.” She and Ruth Ann soon discover each other, to the benefit of both.

Bob figures out gradually that when Phyllis sneaks out at night, it is not the committee meetings she pretends to be attending that are the attraction. Although high school sororities are illegal, and Phyllis as a new girl with only two skirts will certainly not be invited to join, the Iota Nu Beta girls enter Bob’s world when they hold an initiation in Mrs. Dowdel’s melon patch.

In an effort to protect her property, Mrs. Dowdel convinces everyone that her garden is haunted by the ghosts of Indians who used to occupy her land, she says. The Reverend Barnhart’s church takes an unexpected turn when Mrs. Dowdel persuades him to hold a funeral for a body which she claims is the Princess Kickapoo.

Bob makes new friends, Ruth Ann shadows Mrs. Dowdel, and Phyllis follow her adolescent dreams. Homecoming and Thanksgiving come and go. As Christmas approaches, Mrs. Dowdel gives Bob an unexpected gift, and Ruth Ann reveals an understanding of true gift giving.

A present from this reviewer is not to tell more about Phyllis and Roscoe, so that the reader can find out for himself. A Season of Gifts is available at the Mary Willis Library.

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