The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall is the fifth and final installment of the series that began with The Penderwicks: The Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy back in 2005. I awaited its release with equal parts excitement and trepidation. It's always hard to face the end of a favorite series, especially when one has developed Opinions about the characters and their destinies. I'm happy to report I was quite satisfied with the way Birdsall wrapped everything up. It is not anywhere close to my favorite book in the series, but it fulfills its purpose as a final volume well and is still quite excellent.
Most of the Penderwick children are grown and out of the house. Rosy and Jane both have apartments in their hometown. Skye is in Californian working on her post graduate degree. Batty is finishing up her first year at college in Boston. Honorary Penderwick Jeffrey has spent the last few years in Germany working on his music. Ben and Lydia are the only ones left at home. Ben is a teenager who want to be the next great Hollywood director. Lydia is a born dancer, moving through life to her own rhythm and the choreography in her head. The family is coming together again at Arundel where everything began to celebrate Rosie's wedding to her childhood sweetheart. Lydia and Batty are the first two Penderwicks. to travel down to begin preparations. Lydia is filled with wonder and excitement at the prospect of exploring and experiencing the place she has heard of only through stories. Her adventures start with meeting Alice whose parents are part time care takers of Arundel. Her father is the famous Cagney who owned the rabbits famous in the stories Lydia has heard. Things only get more exciting as the dreaded Mrs. Tifton appears unexpectedly, Batty's ex-boyfriend gets stranded while delivering gifts, and the Penderwicks are in for a last minute wedding surprise they hadn't planned for.
It was a brilliant idea to end the story where it began and to bring Cagney and Mrs. Tifton back into it after so many years of their absence. Arundel works really well for the setting and it is delightful to discover it through Lydia's fresh eyes. Lydia is open and compassionate. The family jokes that she has never met a person she doesn't like. Lydia steadfastly likes to bring up the two times that wasn't true. The family is proven correct though when Lydia shockingly becomes the one Penderwick Mrs. Tifton not only stands but actually seeks out and seems to enjoy. Alice is a perfect foil for Lydia. More prickly and capable of holding grudges, she is in a competition with her older brother who is visiting Canada to prove who is having a better time during their summer. Arundel is just as chaotic. Cagney has traded rabbits for chickens named for historical Egyptians. There are more dogs present in this story. And as soon as the Penderwicks plus Jeffrey are reunited the regress and begin acting like children again. Soccer balls everywhere, music constantly performed, and everyone trying to out talk the others.
Birdsall finds ways of bringing out the characteristics w'eve come to love and appreciate in all the siblings over the years while aging them (mostly) well. Fans of the series will know what happens to all of their favorites. Many will be happy to know that Jeffrey has matured quite a lot and it shows. He is calm and patient, dealing with his mother firmly but lovingly. Batty shines with all of the realized promise of the previous book. Rosy is deliriously happy. Jane is working hard but hasn't stopped dreaming. Skye has done everything she set out to do with her life so far and managed to surprise even herself by ending up neck deep in love. (Skye in love is a delightful revelation.)
I think fans of the series will be pleased with this final installment. Birdsall wrapped things up while also leaving aspects of the future open to the imagination and wondering.