Summer of the Gypsy Moths
By Sara Pennypacker
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
In my need to draw pop culture comparisons whenever possible, I’m tempted to call Summer of the Gypsy Moths “Weekend at Bernie’s as a coming-of-age drama for kids”. But, really, other than the fact that both are about covering up someone’s death, that comparison (thankfully) falls flat. Let’s just call it coming of age with a twist that will keep pages turning.
When Stella’s unstable mother is deemed unfit to care for her, she is sent to Cape Cod to live with her great aunt Louise and her foster child (and Stella’s polar opposite) Angel. Louise suddenly kicks the bucket, but Angel and Stella fear entering the chaos that comes with being wards of the state. The pair decide to cover the whole thing up, and lay Louise to rest in the garden out back. As the summer progresses, Angel and Stella take over Louise’s duties managing a group of summer cottages and begin to form a friendship. Eventually, their secret is uncovered and the girls must face the thing they were so desperately trying to prevent – what comes next.
If a book that includes secretly burying a dead body can retain some sort of innocence, this book does it. In fact, it’s surprising how un-creepy Pennypacker manages to keep the mood. While Stella and Angel may not reek of authenticity, their interactions almost always do. The pair don’t arrive at their decisions all at once – their desperate situations slowly, naturally lead them there. While the idea of covering up a death for weeks may seem like a stretch, and it feels that way at times, Pennypacker succeeds at coaxing readers to go along for the ride.
Yes, this is about at far from that previously mentioned 80s comedy as can be. Unexpected and ultimately satisfying, Summer of the Gypsy Moths stands out.
Digital review copy from library.