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The Children's Crusade: Book summary and reviews of The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

The Children's Crusade

by Ann Packer

The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer X
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
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  • Published Apr 2015
    448 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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Book Summary

Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of the family he has yet to create, Bill buys the property on a whim. In Penny Greenway he finds a suitable wife, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life seems compelling and answerable, and they marry and have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, at a time when women chafed at the conventions imposed on them. She finds salvation in art, but the cost is high.

Thirty years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence and all-too-familiar troubles force a reckoning with who they are, separately and together, and set off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, the siblings take turns telling the story - Robert, a doctor like their father; Rebecca, a psychiatrist; Ryan, a schoolteacher; and James, the malcontent, the problem child, the only one who hasn't settled down - their narratives interwoven with portraits of the family at crucial points in their history.

Reviewers have praised Ann Packer's "brilliant ear for character" (The New York Times Book Review), her "naturalist's vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented" (The New Yorker), and the "utterly lifelike quality of her book's everyday detail" (The New York Times). Her talents are on dazzling display in The Children's Crusade, an extraordinary study in character, a rare and wise examination of the legacy of early life on adult children attempting to create successful families and identities of their own. This is Ann Packer's most deeply affecting book yet.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
Anne Packer's latest novel is about the Blair family - Penny, Bill and their four children. It is also about how Penny slowly distances herself from them and how that affects each and all of them. Much of this book centers on James, the youngest son, and his rebellious (or perhaps ADD) spontaneity that both charms and exasperates all of his family. This makes for a compelling basis for this novel, which Packer builds beautifully through her characters development, and with a writing style that is graceful and accessible.

However, while I couldn't stop reading about these people, I also had the feeling that something wasn't all there. It seems to me that Packer didn't totally understand James, and so we never get to understand him either. Furthermore, just when we think we're about to get to the heart of it all, the story pulls back and goes onto something else. This means that we never really empathize with James or any of these people, and are left more puzzled than caring, making for an overall bland feeling to the book, despite the lovely prose. Because of this, I can't give it much more than three out of five stars.

- Davida Chazan, BookBrowse


Other Reviews
"Starred Review. Told in the most elegant prose... extraordinarily compassionate... A masterful portrait of indelible family bonds." - Booklist

"Starred Review. When you read Packer, you'll know you're in the hands of a writer who knows what she's doing. A marvelously absorbing novel." - Kirkus

"Well-crafted… Packer is an accomplished storyteller whose characters are as real as you might find around your dinner table. Readers will be taken with this vibrant novel." - Publishers Weekly

"In The Children's Crusade, Ann Packer flawlessly executes the most daring, difficult and exhilarating feat in the novelist's repertoire: to re-create the history of an era and a place through the history of one family, finding intimacy in the sweep of time and import in the nuance of everyday life, pulling it off with mastery, authority and all the passionate artistry that lovers of her work have come to expect." - Michael Chabon, author of Telegraph Avenue

"Do our childhood experiences determine our destinies? In shimmering prose and with exceptional wisdom, Ann Packer examines the life of a California family, laying bare the relationships between brother and sister, parent and child, while at the same time revealing the ways in which the past casts both shadow and light on the present." - Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train

"Ann Packer's eye for detail, her genius at evoking an era with such faithfulness, and her mastery of story make us identify with and deeply care for her characters." - Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

This information about The Children's Crusade was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Susan J

Difficult and Honest
I picked this book up at the library and checked it out based on the reviews on the back. If authors I like recommend a book, I will usually find it worth reading. The setting is the area of California where I grew up, and that was an additional hook.
The wife and mother is the most interesting character in the book. She begins her adult life according to the conventions of the times, but the responsibilities of children overwhelm her. She is an artist at heart and gradually turns away from her family and retreats into her own world. Her children pay the price, but it is hard to blame the mother who seems to have no other choice.

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Author Information

Ann Packer Author Biography

© Elena Seibert

Ann Packer was born in Stanford, California, in 1959, and grew up near Stanford University, where her parents were professors. She attended Yale University and then, after five years working at a publishing company in New York, she went on to the Iowa Writers Workshop, selling her first short story to The New Yorker a few weeks before receiving her degree. A fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing followed, and she spent two years living in Madison, Wisconsin, which would later become the setting of her first novel, The Dive from Clausen's Pier.

While living in Wisconsin, Packer published short stories in literary magazines and had a story chosen for inclusion in the annual O. Henry Awards prize stories anthology. With support from the Michener-Copernicus Society of ...

... Full Biography
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  • The Dive From Clausen's Pier jacket
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