summer of the gypsy moths

Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker

Stella lives with her great-aunt Louise on Cape Cod, where the house is always tidy, and even though Louise is not very demonstrative, Stella feels right at home.  Angel, a foster child, lives with them too, but Stella and Angel don’t get along at all.  Then one day, the girls return home to find Louise dead in her chair.  The two girls know that if anyone finds out, they will be put back into the child welfare system.  So they work together to create a plan that will let them stay in the tidy little house near the sea.  It would take a lot of work, because they would have to cover for Louise at her job of caring for four cottages on the property, and they would have to take care of the dead body too!  It’s a challenge for two girls who never got along in the first place and are headed in different directions when the summer is done.  This hope-filled book starts with a death and strangers and ends with hope and family. 

Pennypacker writes the sort of book that Stella would like to read.  It’s filled with all of the between-times, the moments of cleaning up afterwards, the small details, the real parts of life.  And it is through those moments that we get to know both girls, and Louise too.  The two girls are very different, and yet not so different after all, as readers get to know them.  They are both suffering from disappointments and loss, from being left behind, from not having families.  Stella holds onto her Hints from Heloise, determined to have a life of order and neatness that makes sense.  Angel listens to the music her mother played, hiding behind her earbuds and blocking everything out. 

One might think this would be a macabre book, and it does have those moments.  But it is much more a book about people and life, not death.  It is a book that celebrates summer, the days that stretch and lengthen, days shortened by working hard at times.  It is a story about secrets, opening up and revealing things.  It is a story about truth and lies, enemies and friendship.  Throughout the entire book, the story works naturally.  Things happen in their own good time, friendships blossom in a believable way.

This book does have a very neat ending with all of the storylines nicely fitting together.  I can only believe that Stella would approve of that being the way her story ended.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.