Top positive review
A Mercurial Girl and the “Inward Eye”
Reviewed in the United States on May 10, 2019
For readers only familiar with Lowry’s sf dystopia Giver Quartet or Number the Stars, her historical WWII novel dealing with a Danish family helping Jews escape to Sweden, her earlier novel Anastasia Krupnick (1979) may come as a surprise. It takes place in contemporary America (the Boston area), is replete with American cultural references like Cosmopolitan, the Red Sox, the Celtics, Lord and Taylor’s, and Snoopy (some of which, like Groucho Marx, most kids today probably wouldn’t get), is mostly humorous in tone (though there is also a deep sadness that surfaces vis-à-vis aging and loss and memory), and has no suspenseful plot. Instead, the novel depicts the daily trials and tribulations and triumphs of a precocious, “mercurial” ten-year-old girl, Anastasia Krupnik, which she writes about in her green notebook, along with her ever-changing lists of “Things I Love!” and “Things I Hate!”
Each chapter is a mostly self-contained mini-story that combines with the others to make a composite novel. They concern things like discovering a new wart, falling in and out of love, working hard on a poem she receives an F for, deciding (briefly) to become a Catholic, coming to terms with her unusual name, spending Thanksgiving with her parents and her 92-year-old grandmother, asking her parents about their past love affairs, learning that she’s going to get a little brother, visiting one of her university professor father’s literature classes, and ultimately having to start coming to terms with life and death, which involves making important memories, which involves cultivating her Wordsworthian “inward eye which is the bliss of solitude,” which involves seriously decreasing the list of things she hates in favor of things she loves, which culminates in her perfect naming of her baby brother.
It is a fast-reading, amusing, moving, concise, and at times potent novel that does more with less. There was one point in the middle that moved me to tears (when Anastasia says she hates that her grandmother has to get old), many points that make me chuckle (like when Anastasia chooses for her Catholic name “Perpetua”), a few points that would probably make kids laugh (like when one of her father’s students says, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” is “a crock of --“ and Anastasia notes that she heard her father say that same (missing) word earlier that day “when he realized that his pen had leaked ink on the pocket of his favorite shirt”), some points that make me think the characters are too articulate and witty (as when her mother mentions having played Monopoly when she was ten with the first boy she loved, so Anastasia asks, “Did Edward Mark get into building hotels?” so her jealous father asks, “If you were going to get involved with a hotel magnate. . . why didn’t you make it Conrad Hilton”), and one point that makes me cringe (like the way the object of Anastasia’s crush, the afro-styled 6th grade African American Washburn Cummings walks around stereotypically “bouncing an imaginary basketball and wiggling his hips,” though it is nice that Lowry depicts the object of her white heroine’s transitory affections as being a person of color).
And I thought the chapter in which Anastasia writes a poem was unconvincing: Her classmates’ grade A poems are too obviously trite, like one boy’s that goes, “I have a dog whose name is Spot./ He likes to eat and drink a lot,” while her poem is too e. e. cummings-esque and accomplished for a ten-year-old (even one who’s the daughter of a professor/poet and a painter!):
hush hush the sea-
soft night is aswim
To them move smooth
n the moistly dark
here in the
But there are more moments that sound like the pure expression of an intelligent and thoughtful ten-year-old girl and make the novel rewarding to read, like this: “’Boy,’ said Anastasia, ‘you know what I wish? I wish that everybody who loved each other would die at exactly the same time. Then nobody would have to miss anyone.’”
Fans of Lowry’s more famous works should read this earlier one.