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The Children's Crusade


The Children's Crusade

A children’s crusade tugs at the heartstrings of those who are witness to it. Youngsters desperately attempting to change or make claim to something bigger than themselves --- something they feel the need to have in their lives to make them better, complete, important --- have spent thousands of years trying to exact change in a world not of their own making. The children in THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, the latest novel from the author of the highly moving THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER, spend most of their lives trying to make a change in their own lives through their personal “crusade,” a situation that will do nothing more than bring their mother back to them --- which they all feel would make their own lives as complete as they could become.

When Bill Blair bought land in 1954, in the Northern California utopia that would eventually become Silicon Valley outside of San Francisco, he had plans. He intended to invest in this land with a life well-lived --- as a doctor, with a loving and faithful wife by his side, and his offspring running in the placid natural haven he would create. When he met the shy Penny Greenway, he thought he had found the perfect partner for this adventure towards domestic bliss. But, as the years passed by, and the demands of work and parenting wore the couple down, Penny’s artistic dreams became more important than Bill’s domestic ones, and her children began a “crusade” to bring her back into their fold, where they felt she rightfully belonged.

"Coming from a large family myself, I was fascinated by the family dynamics of the Blairs. However, you need only be a lover of insightful and emotional writing to enjoy the talent that put together THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE."

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE takes a particularly novel approach to the idea of tired women who wish to throw aside the strictures of domestic drudgery and child rearing in order to realize their own dreams and find fulfillment well outside of their home. Penny’s journey speaks to the burgeoning women’s movement and the feminist ideals that started to become part of the national conversation as her large brood was growing up. When she has a fourth and unplanned child, all hell breaks loose (at least in her mind), and she sets into action a furtive and fertile trajectory of life choices that continue to enslave her children to her as she is and as they wish her to be, even when they are old enough to have their own homes and kids. Baby James, the unplanned, manages to bypass the daily domestic security that his siblings engage in and thus is the straw that stirs the drink of dissatisfaction in all of them, even as they attempt to musketeer it out. They stay loyal to each other against all odds and try desperately to bring their mother back into the fold in one way or another.

The novel tells the story from the perspective of the children and Bill, as opposed to letting Penny have the floor and reveal her own story. It is an effective narrative decision, but ultimately keeps us from feeling as if we know enough about Penny not to blame her for James’ lack of direction in his adult life. As the siblings tell their version of the story, there is always the underlying sense that Penny is to blame, no matter how hard they try not to do so. I would have liked to have heard Ann Packer, who beautifully portrays each of the children in his or her own glorious individuality, give voice to Penny after all is said and done. But this is a small wish given the glorious scope and lovely honed writing in this compelling story.

Coming from a large family myself, I was fascinated by the family dynamics of the Blairs. However, you need only be a lover of insightful and emotional writing to enjoy the talent that put together THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE. Packer's latest novel is a very American and human portrayal of a family as it grows long past cute, aging together in a modern and changing world.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on April 10, 2015

The Children's Crusade
by Ann Packer

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1476710465
  • ISBN-13: 9781476710464