Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate


There is something quaint and interesting about the cover and the title of this book. Even though I knew that this read was not going to be a favorite of mine, I have been drawn to it. So, when I saw it available at our local library, I decided to check it out.

As I was reading it, I did find myself a little carried away by the plot. I am not a science girl--Not at all, but I am interested in Charles Darwin and I liked that the book focused on Calpurnia's early interest in reading and exploration because of his Origin of the Species. This book takes place at the turn of the century in Texas. Calpurnia's interest in science and reading Darwin is not encouraged by most of the adults in in her life, but her grandfather sees her passion and takes her seriously.

Another interesting subtext to this plot is the societal and familial expectations placed on Calpurnia because she is a girl. Girdles, classes on deportment and the focus on Calpurnia's eventual future as a housewife adds to a sort of sinking feeling that there were all kinds of girls who couldn't realize their dreams because of their gender. In some ways, this book reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird. They take place in different time periods, but the main characters have quite a bit in common. What Calpurnia lacks is a father like Atticus Finch who allowed Scout the freedom to be a tomboy and use her brain for more than planning dinner parties. Calpurnia does have a supportive grandfather, but he will obviously not be enough to prevent Calpurnia from being sidelined as a housewife and mother.

This is definitely a middle grade read, but I don't know that it would hold the attention of too many middle schoolers. To me, it felt more appropriate for a sentimental (older) reader. I can't imagine that it would be popular enough to compete on a middle school book shelf against more racy, currant titles. But, it is a satisfying read and an interesting look back at the late 1800's.

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