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The Children's Crusade

By: Ann Packer

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Trade

Imprint: Scribner

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781476710457

Other Formats:

Electronic | Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 448

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From New York Times bestselling, award-winning author Ann Packer, a "tour de force family drama" (Elle) that explores the secrets and desires, the remnant wounds and saving graces of one California family, over the course of five decades. Bill Blair finds the land by accident, three wooded acres in a rustic community south of San Francisco. The year is 1954, long before anyone will call this area Silicon Valley. Struck by a vision of his future family, Bill buys the property and proposes to Penny Greenway, a woman whose yearning attitude toward life appeals to him. In less than a decade they have four children. Yet Penny is a mercurial housewife, overwhelmed and undersatisfied, chafing at the conventions confining her. Years later, the three oldest Blair children, adults now and still living near the family home, are disrupted by the return of the youngest, whose sudden presence sets off a struggle over the family's future. One by one, they tell their stories, which reveal Packer's "great compassion for her characters, with their ancient injuries, their blundering desires. The way she tangles their perspectives perfectly, painfully captures the tumult of selves within a family" (MORE Magazine). Reviewers have praised Ann Packer's "brilliant ear for character" (The New York Times Book Review) and her "naturalist's vigilance for detail, so that her characters seem observed rather than invented" (The New Yorker). Her talents are on dazzling display in The Children's Crusade, "an absorbing novel that celebrates family even as it catalogs its damages" (People, Book of the Week). This is a "superb storyteller" (San Francisco Chronicle), Ann Packer's most deeply affecting book yet, "tragic and utterly engrossing" (O, The Oprah Magazine).
Ann Packer's fifth work of fiction, “The Children's Crusade,” is a sublime and intelligent exploration of one family and its mythology of sorts, and the rubric of biology, adaptability and circumstance that affects its four children in profound and distinct ways.... Ms. Packer is a wonderful portraitist, allowing childhood moments to unfold in all their riveting innocence (including a breathtakingly perfect, terribly sad music recital scene) and following the family as choices beget choices and lives intertwine or unwind.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Packer (“The Dive From Clausen's Pier”) has made complicated families her specialty, and her engaging writing, sense of place, and above all, the third Blair child, make “The Children's Crusade” a journey worth taking.... Packer is a sure-handed writer. While "The Children's Crusade" meanders on its way, Ryan Blair and his siblings are worth spending time with. And there are worse ways to live one's life than with the gentle certainty that “Children deserve care.”
—Christian Science Monitor
The book's best parts are those about the Blairs as children who navigate with and around each other and the world. They angle for their parents' attention, try to manage emotional currents they can sense but not understand. It's those fully formed heartbreaking portrayals that makes the troubles of the siblings as adults, and James' ultimate fate, so moving.
—USA Today
...graceful, poignant... For all their flaws, each Blair has redeeming qualities and vulnerabilities that make them (mostly) likeable. The author has clearly taken Bill Blair's motto to heart: Characters — and readers — deserve care. With her warm, nuanced portrayal of a family and its foibles, Packer delivers.
—Miami Herald
It's a graceful, moving and often melancholy story, spanning several decades, of a family trying to find its way.... You feel, closing “The Children's Crusade,” that you've been spying on the family down the street and know a few too many of their secrets. The shadow of Penny, though, lingers after the book is done. As a character, she's both familiar (the unhappy, unfulfilled 1960s housewife) and a cipher. We hear her voice only occasionally in the book; we enter her head even more rarely.
—Seattle Times
The family's past gets covered in fine camera mode. Packer expertly follows the actions of one family member before moving on to another, but the joy of her writing lies in what a camera can't do: She fully inhabits the unique interior viewpoints of her characters.... Packer's family saga isn't bleak, though. It reminds us that people can change and that tears in family bonds can be mended — and that way strengthened.
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The whole book is a shapeless post-mortem about the Blairs' family life, mostly as seen from the children's point of view.... The near-nonexistent plot hinges on only one thing: What will become of the house after Bill dies?... Some readers may see Penny as this novel's hero, and the forgiving Blairs as a forward-looking bunch. But Ms. Packer's writing is too traditional to support that perspective, and more consistent with the usual good kids/lousy mother conventions. It's also too tame to make a villain of anyone, or to deny any of these characters some kind of happiness. So the long, aimless slog through “The Children's Crusade” begins with not that fascinating a family. And it ends with not that revelatory a resolution.
—New York Times
Ann Packer's previous novels, including "The Dive From Clausen's Pier," are also written in unremarkable but observant prose. Packer is more interested in a novel's structure than its style, and "The Children's Crusade" is elegantly designed, alternating third-person scenes of family history with the siblings' first-person narratives. Dialogue and action often come to brief, vivid life.... Packer is a novelist whose gifts lie in describing the particular, and you can't get more particular than gluing photos of your psychologically abandoned children's faces to miniature TV screens. That image suggests Packer's occasional wry humor, but also her characteristic, and more frequent, narrative generosity.
—Washington Post
“The Children's Crusade” is beautifully observed but somewhat undermined by the gestures it makes at areas it seems reluctant to fully occupy. Packer never addresses the central question of her novel with much force, and as a whole, the book remains curiously polite. Having covered more traumatic terrain in her previous novels...Packer here restricts herself to the rhythms and landscape of ordinary life, as it is lived by the vast majority. But ordinary life also brings us face to face with the void; therein lies its terror.
—New York Times
Coming from a large family myself, I was fascinated by the family dynamics of the Blairs. However, you need only be a lover of insightful and emotional writing to enjoy the talent that put together THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE. Packer's latest novel is a very American and human portrayal of a family as it grows long past cute, aging together in a modern and changing world.
Penny may be one of the coldest mothers to live inside the pages of a book, and Packer makes her fictional story, told through her children, feel as intimate as a memoir. She provokes readers, rattled by Penny, to consider the unique peculiarities of every family dynamic.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Packer's previous novel, “The Dive From Clausen's Pier,” pitted loyalty against self-fulfillment in a dramatic tale set in New York City and Madison, Wis. In “Crusade,” her canvas, moral concerns and cast of main characters are larger. It's a more ambitious work that succeeds beautifully.... Packer's dissection of domestic life reminds me of her elders in the field Anne Tyler and Louise Erdrich. But I've rarely read a novel so astute about the jumble of love and respect, rivalry and envy, empathy and scorn that makes up family dynamics. Packer is also a superb storyteller. “The Children's Crusade” is as much plot-driven as character-driven. From its opening pages, the book seduces us into a world far from the present era, glides through ensuing decades, and finally drops us off in the 21st century.
—San Francisco Chronicle
A bit of ruthless editing might have resulted in “The Children's Crusade” being not just a very good novel, but a great one.... The last sections of this novel are worth the price of purchase, focused on how James' desire to sell the family homestead jump-starts the characters' development and growth. The renegade mother, Penny, and the prodigal son, James, propel the novel to a heart-tugging ending. This smart, if imperfect, novel explores what makes a family jell or fall apart, and how people choose other, more “intentional,” communities.
—Kansas City Star
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