What’s better than just plain loving a book? How about loving a book written by someone who has other books you’ve not yet read? It’s like having savored a box of yummy chocolate caramels and being told, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from!” I love that. This is how it is for me with Penny Dreadful, by Laurel Snyder. Finally, finally this book came into the library for me and I settled into reading it this snowy weekend and I was charmed, utterly, from beginning to end. First thing I did when I finished (after hugging it… it’s that kind of book), is order all the rest of Laurel’s books from the library. I’m telling you, this book is delicious.
First, allow me to judge book according to cover alone. Easy! Love. It. Sweet, quirky, warm, a little bit off-kilter, slightly old-fashioned looking. Abigail Halpin nailed the cover art because Penny Dreadful is all these things. It’s always satisfying when the cover and what’s inside make a perfect match.
I love the story for all of the reasons I love the cover. Penny is an old-fashioned sort of heroine. She’s bookish. She’s bored. She’s brainy. She’s a little lonely. Her life has a serious lack of adventure. She’s distanced from her parents. And then… (oooh, the delightfulness of “and then…”) Penny makes a wish: “I wish something interesting would happen when I least expect it, just like in a book.” It happens. Her dad quits his job. Financial woes ensue. The Grey family is forced to leave the city and move to a ramshackle home in Thrush Junction Tennessee. That’s when Penny’s world opens up. She meets a host of odd-ball, full-of-heart characters. She gains freedom. She reconnects with her parents. She finds out that wishes, particularly wishes-come-true, have a way of getting complicated.
This is a rags-to-riches story, but I like that the riches aren’t what you’d expect. Penny learns about how friendship feels, how it’s hard and wonderful and a risk. She learns the world is full of all sorts of people, with different pasts, stories, challenges, and talents. The diversity in this book is a wonderful element. It’s not forced. It’s not preachy in any way. It feels true. It’s old-fashioned and modern all at once and it seems like the sort of story that kids will be reading years from now, and loving every bit as much as kids will love it right now.
Finally, I even loved the blurb from Rebecca Stead on the back: “I wanted to climb inside this book and pull it over my head!” Well, that’s what I did this weekend, and I recommend you try it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Penny Dreadful is published by Random House.