The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer
The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer was published over a decade ago and is a book we continue to recommend as a great summer read. So, when a new book from Ann Packer, The Children’s Crusade, arrived this spring it went to the top of my “to read” pile – and it did not disappoint.
The story begins in 1954 when Bill Blair is discharged from the navy. Bill is a young doctor and rather at loose ends. He buys a piece of property in the Portola Valley near San Francisco, where he soon takes his new bride, Penny, and builds a house. This house becomes the place that anchors – or traps – them all as the children grow up, leave for university, and return for periods of time as they find their place in the adult world.
Bill and Penny have three children in rapid succession – and then a fourth. We meet them all when Robert is 10, Rebecca 8, Ryan 6 – and the baby James is 3 years old. Happy family. Maybe not so happy. Bill Blair is a nice man, a good doctor, a pediatrician who works hard and cares about his patients and their worried parents. At home he is an exemplary father – but as time goes by there is nothing he can do to make his wife happy.
Penny has become lost in motherhood – James, especially, is more than she can handle and she retreats from the family. In a desperate appeal for her attention, the children attempt to mount a “crusade” to come up with ideas for projects their mother might enjoy doing with them.
We follow this family through the years that follow, to 2006, when the adult children must make a decision about the house that means so much to all of them – but a place none may want, or be able to afford, to live. They will each explore their own thoughts about their home; their parents, their siblings and we see the impact of their mother’s neglect and their experience as children.
There isn’t one of us who has not been fundamentally affected by our parent’s attention or neglect during our years as children – some of us experienced the love and support of a happy well-adjusted family, some did not. We all have to make our way in the world with whatever “baggage” we carry with us, and hope that along the way we can throw it out and carry on with a lighter load.
The Children’s Crusade was a book I stayed awake far too late to read – it is a book about marriage, parenthood, the relationships between siblings, the passage of time and the perspective of maturity that comes to all of us.