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Book Review: The Canning Season

Last week, I bough a couple of books to add to my reading list. I collect Newbery Medal winners, Neil Gaiman books, and other titles that interest me. Recently, I also decided to add National Book Awards medalists to my collection, and this is how I got The Canning Season, by Polly Horvath, in my hands.

The Canning SeasonThe Canning Season

The Canning Season is a story about Ratchet Clark, a shy thirteen-year-old who lives with her gallivanting, self-centered mother, Henriette, in a basement room in Pensacola, Florida. They live off on Cheerios and the benefits of the Hunt Club (“Thank God for the Hunt Club”). One night, Henriette decides to send Ratchet backpacking to Maine for summer – except Henriette forgot to take Ratchet’s suitcase to the car before driving her daughter to the train station.

Ratchet’s unusual summer starts when her 91-year-old Aunts Tilly and Penpen Menuto brings her in an old Daimler to their old mansion, named Glen Rosa, in a remote area in Maine, complete with bogs, bears, and blueberries.

The plot of the story is rather simple, it’s basically a teenager who was sent away to her aunts one summer. What makes the story non-linear are the characters and their stories, specifically how everything converges to the two Menuto ladies. I was deeply fascinated with the Menuto sisters’ stories about their younger years. While the idea of their mom cutting her head off was a little morbid as a starting point, the Menutos’ wacky personalities make the event funny with their outlandish comments (“…she stained her own sheet.”) and complementing tempers – Tilly is irascible and straightforward while Penpen is gentle and guarded with words.

Another funny chapter for me was when Tilly narrated her wedding story. I don’t want to spoil the fun, so I’ll just say she and her husband weren’t married for long. In fact they parted ways right after their wedding exit. From organizing the best wedding in town to choosing her marriage vows from her father’s books in the library, Tilly’s wit and brawns – yes, you can feel brawns in her words – made me snort and smile the whole time.

As if Tilly and Penpen are not enough, a bunch of other characters add fun to Ratchet’s summer, one of which is Harper, a  disrespectful and demanding orphan brought to Glen Rosa by her fickle-minded adoptive mother when they turned right too early.

Bottomline. It was a fun read. Polly Horvath’s narration is magical and compelling, making her not-so-normal characters endearing. I will not deny being a fan of Polly Horvath, I instantly loved her after reading Everything On A Waffle. She has this ability to give her characters different facets despite the simplicity of the plot and setting. If you love slapstick humor and lovable poignancy, The Canning Season is must read.

The Canning Season won the National Book Awards medal in 2003.

Other awards: American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults ; Chicago Tribune Best Books of the Year; Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library; Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List; Kirkus Reviews Editor’s Choice; Publishers Weekly Best Children’s Books of the Year; School Library Journal Best Books of the Year


About klacenklai

Klarizza Jose is a landscape architect by day, dreamer and digital artist by night, and is in an on-again off-again relationship with coffee.


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All illustrations, drawings, photos and content are © Klarizza Jose unless otherwise stated. Please do not download, copy, alter, distort, and use without permission. For inquiries please send me an email at klacenklai@gmail.com.
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