Review: The Children’s Crusade

The Children's Crusade
The Children’s Crusade
By Ann Packer
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781476710457, April 7, 2015, 448pp.)

The Short of It:

This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while.

The Rest of It:

The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder that you cannot control everything and for Penny, this proves to be too much. She moves out of the house and into a shed in the backyard. The shed, her “studio” becomes a home for her, a home away from her children and her husband and her responsibility as a mother.

What makes this story so unsettling is how they all react to it. Bill seems to know exactly what is going on but is in denial. The children, old enough to know that things are not right, talk about a crusade to bring her back. But how do you bring back a woman who wants nothing to do with who she is?

I had a really hard time with this one. Mostly, the subject matter is what did me in because the writing itself was really quite good. Penny, is a hard one to understand and Bill, oh man, I was so frustrated with Bill. As large families tend to do, they do come together in times of crisis but everyone seems to dance around James and all of his problems. As a reader, I didn’t feel as if we spent enough time with the children as children. They grow into adults quite quickly and so I was left with a sense of longing… lost childhood and all that. Penny was so elusive and odd and although I did manage to see another side to her towards the end, I felt that it came too late.

I didn’t love this story but this isn’t the kind of story anyone loves. It’s frightening to see a family in this light and Packer does an excellent job of throwing it all under the microscope. No one in this novel stands out as a hero. Everyone is flawed and unflattering in some way. It’s a book full of faults and if Packer intended for it to be that, then she succeeded in a spectacular fashion. How do the events of our childhood shape who we are today? Lots to consider while reading this one.

Overall, I didn’t care for the story or the characters in it but there’s something there that deserves to be pondered a bit more.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

21 thoughts on “Review: The Children’s Crusade”

  1. I loved The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Packer and devour anything she writes. When I tried to read an ARC of this, I ended up quitting pretty early on. I need to give it another chance.

    1. It’s really a lot more complex than it appears to be at first glance. I wanted to give up on it a couple of times but I do think in the end, it’s worth reading. You just have to know that it’s not a book you will love. 

    1. Like and love are not words I’d use when talking about this book. There is this layer of tension present throughout which makes it hard to love. But putting that aside, it’s a thinking book. Complex characters. Would be good for discussion. 

    1. Is this coming from the same Patty who loves dysfunction?? It’s got plenty of that. There is just this subtle undertone that left me feeling a little unsettled. 

  2. Yeah, it does sound rather unnerving. I would have troubles reading it myself… And speaking of troubles, are you having some again with the comments? Poor Ti 🙂

    1. Are you talking about all the extra header code that keeps showing up in comments? It never went away! I’ve been deleting it manually. I need to contact WordPress again. They never got back to me. 

  3. I want to know why she decided to bail on being a mother. Unsettled indeed. Like Kathy, this seems to have book club discussion all over it. 🙂

    1. Not giving anything away but she is one of those artsy moms, more dedicated to her career than her personal life. But as a readerwe are given hints of this early on. No surprise. I didn’t like her at all though because of it. 

  4. This is a great review,Ti! Your “short of it” had me curious and the “rest of it” has me even more intrigued, but it definitely sounds unsettling. Wonder if it can be compared to Everything I Never Told You? It sounds like a good book club selection, too. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier didn’t do much for me and I hadn’t even considered reading this one… until now.

  5. I can see why Penny would be hard to understand. It’s difficult for me to fathom someone giving up on a child like that. And she isn’t gone really, just … in the backyard. So the children would see her rejection of them daily. That’s got to hurt. Anyway, probably not the read for me (but I liked the title!) – I don’t do well with books where I don’t like the main characters, and it sounds like none of the characters are particularly likeable.

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