It’s Tween and Teen Tuesday where we review either a juvenile (J) or young adult (YA) book.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Jacqueline Kelly (Young Adult Fiction)
Calpurnia Tate is 11 years old (almost 12!) and having quite the summer. It’s 1899 in Fentress, Texas and her sole objective at the moment is staying cool…which is proving to be quite impossible. Priorities soon shift when her brother Harry gives her a small, red notebook and tells her she can use it to record her daily observations. You see, Calpurnia loves to watch things, and after she watches things, she has questions—lots and lots of questions. One of those questions brings her to her grandfather who presents her with a copy of Darwin’s The Origin of Species. This singular gesture not only marks the beginning of their relationship, but it also sets Calpurnia’s life in a direction that’s very different from the one her mother has planned for her.
I really enjoyed Calpurnia’s character—a girl ahead of her time who dismisses the notion that women can only be teachers, nurses, or wives. Instead, she is eager to trade her knitting needles for a microscope and her cookbook for a science book. Kelly gives us a strong and feisty heroine who loves, angers, disappoints, and surprises yet through it all, never loses her sense of self or what is most important to her. I also loved seeing her relationship with her grandfather deepen as their shared love of nature and science draws them closer. The author does leave a few unanswered questions at the end of the book which may frustrate some readers, but these loose ends are not enough to detract from a likeable main character and a charming, witty story.
Grandfather Tate once told Calpurnia, “It’s amazing what you can see when you just sit quietly and look.” I hope The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate encourages all of us to disconnect from our devices long enough to reconnect with the beauty and majesty that surrounds us in the natural world. All we have to do is sit quietly and look.