Book Review : The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Calpurnia Virginia Tate, or Callie Vee is the only daughter in a house overrun with boys and noise in the hot summer of 1899 in Texas. After observing the yellow and green grasshoppers she shares her findings with her aloof Granddaddy, and much to her surprise becomes his special companion. He too is a naturalist!
Callie Vee is plagued by a piano teacher, the possible loss of her favorite brother and the woes of knitting.
And the worst is yet to come, Callie Vee’s mother intends to turn her into a woman to be married off or to be a cook. Callie Vee harbors a secret that she would like to go to the University and learn science, but the world seems set upon her being a girl.
Adult Point of View
I was enchanted within the first chapter by Callie Vee. There are a lot of novels with spunky young women who defy the role that has been determined by their sex, however, the thing that sets The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate apart is the poetic writing. The descriptions melt in your mouth and you realize you have just received a rare literary delicacy. Callie Vee’s world is innocent, and though there are signs that adults may have their own troubles, Callie remains blissfully ignorant and has the chance to be a child.
I immediately identified with the taciturn granddaddy because he reminded me of my own grandfather who had a gruff exterior, but I was his own special girl. I also easily identified with Callie Vee because I was curious as a child and felt stifled at the restrictions imposed upon me as being a girl as times. I’m guessing many readers will identify well with Callie Vee. I love it when I can identify with the characters.
Each chapter opens with a quote from Darwin’s The Origin of Species giving insight into the coming events. Sometimes I like to reread the quote after the chapter to pull out further significance. For example the heading for the chapter, Home Economies, pontificates on the struggle for existence. That each species is in direct conflict with other species, and Callie Vee is struggling for her own existence against the species of women who love to cook, clean and sew.
Callie Vee’s brothers are Harry (17) who is her favorite, Sam Houston (14) and Lamar (13) who have a crush on her friend Lula Gates. Callie Vee (11 3/4) is sandwiched between the older boys and the younger. Travis (10) also is sweet on Lula and he has a soft spot for animals, and always has his favorite cat with him, Sul Ross or Sully (7) always made himself sick on cake and Jim Bowie or JB (5) as the baby always wants Callie to play with him. Granddaddy Walter was successful in the cotton business, but has left it all to his son as he takes the time to pursue is personal interests in being a naturalist. Callie Vee’s father, Alfred, is mostly absent from her life and her mother, Margaret, has sick headaches and has resorted to taking doses of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. Viola is the cook and can be depended upon to always tell Callie Vee the truth.
I have two small complaints. One, the chapters often end abruptly and I am left wishing I knew more. For example, did anyone find out she hired her brother to babysit for her, did the babies fare well and did her brother end up resenting the babysitting? Two, the book ended. This seems like a logical complaint when one is enjoying a book.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate ends rather ambiguously. If I were to take any single slice of my own life I would have to say there is never really a resolution because there is tomorrow. In books we often like to have an ending, but Calpurnia’s story is really going to continue and so I liked the ending because I felt like there was hope for Calpurnia because snow was on her list of goals.
4 out of 5 stars
– the Mother
Readers who enjoyed this book might like Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith and Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.
Teen Point of View
I am still hoping she will read this book and share her thoughts on the matter.