20 November 2006

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Callahan Cousins: Together Again

Well, I might as well review the fourth Callahan Cousins book here, since I've hit all the others.

We've been through Hillary being insecure about her parents' divorce (The Summer Begins), Neeve being insecure about a family secret (Home Sweet Home), and Kate being insecure about not being cool (Keeping Cool). Now it's bookworm Phoebe's turn to be insecure—about Christmas celebrations and faith.

In this fourth book summer is over, but the girls have once again gathered at Grandmother Gee's big house on Gull Island to celebrate the holidays. Phoebe, who's from Florida and the voracious reader in the bunch, has one big wish: to celebrate the kind of Christmas she's always read about in her beloved books. Not a snowless, cheerless (at least to Phoebe) Christmas where her dad and sisters decorate with tacky garish plastic ornaments and sing kareoke carols, but one full of sleigh rides, and home-made gifts, ornaments, and treats, and snow, snow, snow. She comes to Gull Island complete with her own "wish book" (a notebook of magazine and newspaper clippings) about just how "it should be" and ends up roping her cousins into helping her achieve this goal through helping her with the things they do best (creative Kate will help them do crafts and baking, sporty Hillary will arrange sledding and other winter athletics, friendly Neeve will be social director for parties).

Of course Phoebe goes overboard—it's a lietmotif of the series—but her desire is so charming that I really enjoyed the story. Come on, who among you that is a Christmas lover has not wished for the grand and glorious holiday you've read about in books and seen in the movies? Who hasn't wanted to have a grand party with friends gathered around a magnificent old-fashioned tree (perhaps with candles, however dangerous) and then go out caroling house to house, filled with the spirit of bonhomie? To celebrate a deep, meaningful Christmas like the Ingalls family or Anne Shirley or the March girls and eschewing the canned music, buy-buy-buy commercials and adverts, and the plastic sentiments? I know the idea appeals to me tremendously (although not the tree with the candles!); I spent my childhood wishing I could go to one of those parties like on Petticoat Junction where everyone ends the night singing old songs—or Christmas carols!—around the piano.

The generosity of her cousins (except for Neeve's occasional protests) and finally her grandmother enables Phoebe to have the Christmas she wants, but there are a few bobbles along that way including a warm front—Phoebe, for all her reading, seems to have missed the fact that shorelines and islands don't usually get the type of Vermont-like snow she's pining for and it melts faster when it does snow—and interference from snotty Sloan Bicket. There is a more serious thread woven through this outing: Phoebe's reluctance to show emotion and also her need for something spiritual to believe in for the future (hence the heavily angel-centric theme that comes into play soon after the book begins).

It's a fun Christmas outing with some thought behind it and a good way to finish out the tetralogy.

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