It is now 1958, and a new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel: a Methodist minister and his wife and kids. Soon Mrs. Dowdel will work her particular brand of charm—or medicine, depending on who you’re asking—on all of them: ten-year old Bob, who is shy on courage in a town full of bullies; his two fascinating sisters; and even Bob’s two parents, who are amazed to discover that the last house in town might also be the most vital. As Christmas rolls around, the Barnhart family realizes that they’ve found a true home—and a neighbor who gives gifts that will last a lifetime.
When an author writes a drippingly juicy gem, and lets it lie, you rejoice. Those who wring every last drop from a winning creation are not fair to the characters, who, being wrung, protest too much ... which hurts the reader's ears.
Richard Peck is not guiltless when it comes to dishrag novels. I've read more than one of his books that could have been delightful if it weren't so exhausted. For me, A Teacher's Funeral, Here Lies the Librarian, they never really lived up to the name on the cover. When I saw that Peck was writing a companion to his golden Grandma Dowdel books, I sighed. A post script novel published eleven years after the original was sure to be drenched in reminisces. It would reiterate everything that had already been said, and nobody likes hearing the same story twice.
But A Season of Gifts isn't the same story. It is a Richard Peck in its own right. Grandma Dowdel returns, not rehashed, but larger than before, with even more to reveal about herself and the people around her.
A Season of Gifts is worth reading, and it's worth chuckling over--"My motto is, 'Ready, Fire, Aim.' Keep that in mind.'"--it's worth wiping tears away, and it's definitely worth sharing.
One of my favorite books of 2009.
As for the swirls of controversy concerning insensitivity to Indians, Methodist ministers, and the like ... ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.