Dreadful? No. Wonderful? You Better Believe It.

Penny Dreadful by: Laurel Snyder

Boring. Dreary. Dull. These are words the protagonist of Penny DreadfulPenelope Grey, would use to describe her life. She has no true friends, her parents are always busy, and she never goes on adventures like the characters in the books she reads. Penelope wishes something would change so she can have a grand adventure, but what is going to happen in a mansion where everyone is…content?

 The catalyst for Penelope’s world turning upside down involves her father returning home from work one day and announcing that he has quit his job. Penelope can only stare in shock and wonder: Was this because of my wish? Will she finally live an exciting life? Penelope isn’t certain, but what she is sure of is that members of the staff at her mansion are leaving and her mother is looking more worried with each passing day. As things continue to spiral downward, a ray of hope shows up in the form of a telegram which tells of a house in Tennessee that has been bequeathed to Penelope’s mother. Her family decides to move to the house known as The Whippoorwillows and take their chances. That sounds like the makings of an adventure…

At first, I wasn’t sure that I was going to like Penelope. Basically a spoiled rich kid, Penelope’s boredom stems from having everything she needs to live a happy, if safe, life. Then I realized that Penelope’s unhappiness stemmed from her desire to do things outside the norm and to receive more attention from her parents. After reaching the Whippoorwillows, Penelope’s growth as a character begins. When she changes her name to Penny, she allows herself to break out of the shell that had engulfed her when she lived in The City. She disobeys her parents, puts her dignity on the line in an attempt to gain real friends, and tries to solve the increasing financial trouble of her family. The following thought from Penny really shows her growth from someone who has lived vicariously through books to a young woman with strength: “I have inner resources and I will not cry, she thought. Instead, I will do something.” What a great message for when kids face seemingly hopeless situations in their own lives.

I enjoyed that the Whippoorwillows was not simply a new home but instead basically a horizontal apartment complex run by the Greys and filled with a motley group of tenants that cannot be removed or charged rent per the rules of the bequeathed estate. Penny meets this wonderful cast of new characters throughout the story and learns that each person needs something different to be happy. My favorite character was the indomitable Luella, who serves as a good foil to Penny’s original hesitant personality. Luella draws Penny out and helps her discover the type of life that she has only previously read about. The relationship between Penny and the other residents at the Whippoorwillows reminds me of the families in the row-houses in the Main Street series by Ann M. Martin.

I love the following quote from Luella because I think it sums up Laurel Snyder’s views on stories from what I have seen of her novels: “‘Problems don’t always get fixed. Lots of the time things are boring or dumb for no good reason. Or even terrible. And you can’t do anything about it. That’s life.’” And yet these characters persevere and improve not only their own lives but the lives of those around them.

Penny Dreadful is another story in which Laurel Snyder imbues the tale with many common issues kids face: making friends while envying the friendships of others; being caught up in financial problems they have no control over; and moving to a new place to begin a new life. All of this is handled deftly in a novel that leaves the reader wondering if there really is magic in the world or if we make our own magic through our choices.

Check-out or purchase Penny Dreadful today!

(For other great books by Laurel Snyder, please visit my previous September posts.)

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3 responses to “Dreadful? No. Wonderful? You Better Believe It.

  1. Wow! This sounds like a great read. The whole time I was reading the post I was thinking-great character development! I bet that’s partially because I have spent the morning planning lessons to teach my students about characters!
    Question, I have a super duper high reader (think genius style). This seems like a fun book for her, but would you recommend it for a younger audience?

  2. I don’t see a reason why this book would be a problem for your student content-wise (if that is what you are thinking). I would say I could bring a copy of it for you to check out on Monday night but it has been out of my library ever since I book-talked it.

  3. I like that you offer reading experiences to your students with life lessons. I love this quotation about problems in life. I would enjoy visiting your classroom and watching your students in action. 🙂

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