Author: Heather Vogel Frederick
Description: I actually finished Dear Pen Pal, the third instalment of Heather Vogel Frederick’s The Mother-Daughter Book Club series (and where the club is discussing Jean Webster and especially her novels Daddy Longlegs and its sequel Dear Enemy) a couple of years ago, and then promptly forgot to review it (perhaps because while definitely to a small extent enjoyable, the novel is also and once more rather too stereotypical in many ways, with especially Lily Wong again being presented as a very intensely one-dimensional stock and cardboard like eponymous vegan “activist” character, although I do have to admit that she does become just a trifle more developed, nuanced and human by the end of Dear Pen Pal). But I guess my main reading appreciation challenges with this particular story, with Dear Pen Pal and, to be fair, with the entire The Mother-Daughter Book Club series so far, are for all intents and purposes that the plot lines do seem to simply and mostly move and meander from one potential and often standardly overused issue of young adult, of school-time concern and disaster to another, always framed with and by classic and conventional bully and bullying worries. And yes indeed, even the main underlying thematics of Dear Pen Pal, the newly mandated school uniforms and the students’ rejection of and their fight against this dress code is really almost laughably standard and thus massively run-of-the-mill for me (as it is a much too commonly used theme in school-based children’s literature).
However, I would likely have considered a low three star (and not a one star) rating for Dear Pen Pal if the voices of the narrators had matured a bit from the first and second books (and they really have NOT and in fact, I almost think they are sounding LESS mature and LESS developed than especially in book two of the series where the club was reading and discussing L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, and where particularly Megan and Cassidy were developing strong independent points of view), and more importantly, if the book club’s sojourn in Wyoming had been a little less woefully and frustratingly massively predictable. For personally, I knew almost right at the beginning of the trail ride “chapter” that there would be a serious weather related issue endangering some of the riders and that Savannah (whose very presence in Wyoming also feels more than a bit contrived and artificial) would of course end up being the one rescuing Jess and the others, or rather that she would be the one person to take the rooster along to find the lost riders, as this is such a standard and ridiculously overused scenario in stories involving riding camps and the like to be groan worthy (not Savannah using Lefty the rooster to find the riders, bien sûr, but the entire scenario of the riders out in the storm and the one usually unheroic and under appreciated person showing his or her true colours and heroism by locating them, by figuring out how and where to find them).
Now my criticisms notwithstanding, I have actually mildly and to a certain level enjoyed much of Dear Pen Pal (and I do appreciate the added historical information on author Jean Webster and the fact that Heather Vogel Frederick has decided to include the fact that the latter died in childbirth). But I am just not really at all wowed by Dear Pen Pal in and of itself on a personal reading joy and even on an academic and logistic level (and because the multiple points of view and narration really do still feel not all that strongly conceptualised, not individual enough and the storylines themselves even with their attractive theme of a mother-daughter book club often tend to seem rather standardly and mundanely teen girls issue heavy, I kind of am not even all that keen continuing on with the series and am only actually still considering it because I happen to own the entire set and perfectionist I want to finish what I have started).
And finally, I guess what has been chafing more and more with regard to The Mother-Daughter Book Club series as a whole, as an entity (and is the real reason, why upon reflection, I am ranking Dear Pen Pal with one and not with two stars) is that ALL of the books chosen as club reads (and generally, usually by the mothers, the parents) have been standard girls’ literature classics. And while I personally actually and totally love the titles selected so far (and would have equally adored them as a teenager, when I was the same age as Meghan, Cassidy, Emma and Jess), I cannot help but wonder why there has not been at least ONE novel chosen that would appeal to Cassidy and her love of and for sports (if she is supposed to read and appreciate standard and classic girls’ reading fare, which she does, in fact, end up doing, there should also be somewhat of a compromise presented and at least one book chosen that has sports as a main theme, as that would be the fair and the just way to proceed). Sorry, but I just cannot help but think that especially Cassidy often and continuously appears to get shafted and ignored with regard to her personal wants and desires, and this sorry fact really is beginning to massively and totally infuriate me as the series progresses (for there really is no sense of compromise with regard to the book choices, and what the mothers collectively choose, is seemingly read, with not much if any debate allowed).
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