E. L. Konigsburg – Father’s Arcane Daughter
14. Father’s Arcane Daughter by E. L. Konigsburg (1976)
Length: 118 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Started / Finished: 27 January 2011
Where did it come from? The library booksale. (Unmistakably so. It looks like a children’s librarian brought her toddler in to work and left them alone with an inkpad and variety of stamps. I count 14 various “Public Library Children’s Department” address stamps, one with the date of acquisition, and one marking it as a discard.)
Why do I have it? I read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler over and over as a kid, so when I found out that E. L. Kongisburg had other books, I bought as many as I could find.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 December 2006.
When Winston’s sister
comes home at last, his family
will change forever.
Summary: Winston Carmichael has not had a normal childhood – his father is one of the most wealthy men in Pittsburgh, he constantly has to take care of his developmentally delayed sister Heidi, and because since his half-sister Caroline was killed in a kidnapping before Winston was born, his overprotective parents keep him isolated from other children. All of that changes, however, when a young woman claiming to be Caroline shows up at their front door. Although she seems to be telling the truth, Winston’s not sure if they’re even actually related. But the truth is that it doesn’t really matter – even if she’s not their long-lost daughter, Caroline might just be what this family needs.
Review: Meh. While I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as a kid, I never sought out any of her other books until recently. Father’s Arcane Daughter marks the second of Konigsburg’s novels that I’ve read as an adult, and while maybe I’ve just been picking the wrong books, I’m beginning to understand why Mixed-Up Files was the only one pushed on my by the librarians of my childhood.
Part of this book's problem was that it couldn't decide what it wanted to be. For such a short book, it's a jumble of a lot of ideas: it starts out like the brother-of-a-disabled-sibling book (a la Al Capone Does My Shirts), but then strangely morphs into family mystery conspiracy, and part of the way back again. As a result, it’s not really effective at either of the genres it attempts. Kongisburg does capture Winston’s voice – hyper-educated but under-socialized – really effectively, however, and there are some nice poignant moments tossed in the mix.
I often wondered what kind of a brother I would be if I didn’t have to be the kind I was. –p. 27
My biggest problem with the book, though, was its plot, especially its ending. The whole thing lacked believable motivations, and the ending was just so facile and disappointing that it lets the rest of the book down and really turned me off. I can’t even recommend this to families of disabled children, since it sort of makes it seem like disabilities are just the result of not trying hard enough to believe the child is not disabled, and can be completely cured/reversed if you’d just bother to put the effort in. Ugh. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Pass. It’s a short and fast read, but there are other books out there that are much better at accomplishing what this book was aiming for.
Other Reviews: Framed and Booked
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: Later – much, much later – when we both knew what we had bought and what it had cost, she said that I should tell it.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 6: “I watched Heidi smile that warm, wet, creature smile of hers, and then she larrupped away.” – to beat or thrash.
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