Monday, April 6, 2015

The Children's Crusade; Ann Packer

Scribner - 2015

The Children's Crusade is a character driven novel that follows the Blair family for a period of about 50 years.

Bill Blair was a young man without a wife or kids, who had a dream for the future.  He buys a remote piece of land in what would later be known as the Silicon Valley area of California.

Fast forward and Bill, a pediatrician, along with his wife Penny would have four children. Three of the Blair children would become successful.  Robert, an internist, Rebecca a psychiatrist for terminally ill children and their families, Ryan, a teacher, and their 4th, youngest and unplanned child, James, would become what some might call the wild child or the bad seed. Troubled from childhood, he would later drop out of college, become estranged from his family. In his late 30's he works at Costco. Can James totally be responsible for the way his life turned out, or should his neglectful mother shoulder some of that blame?

Penny, was never totally happy with her role as wife and mother. Finding out about her 4th pregnancy, with James, nearly sent her over the edge. More artsy than domestic, bit by bit Penny removes herself from the family unit as wife and mother in pursuit of her own interests, despite her children trying their hardest to please her and draw her back in. Their attempts seemed to have the reverse effect.

The story of the Blair family dynamics is told in alternating chapters from the past and then the present, nearly 4 years after Bill's death, when James resurfaces after not even attending his father's funeral. James has a personal agenda item to present to the others upon his return.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this novel. Many readers will find at least several of the characters unlikeable, but each holds a mighty branch on the Blair family tree. In some ways, I felt like I could sympathise with even the unlikeable characters. Although the story seemed to move very slow at times, I do think that the author did a great job creating some very different personalities within the family unit. Each person's story and their issues felt compelling and realistic. In the end it's all about making peace with the past, even though the anger an unhappiness never fully disappears.

Readers who enjoy stories about dysfunctional families, family sagas, and stories told from multiple POVs should try this one. 

4/5 stars


  1. I fell in love with Ann Packer's The Dive From Clausen Pier- I am always anxiously waiting for her next book to be published. I've had this one from Net Galley for a while, but I have been saving it for just the right time. It sounds like one I will love.

  2. This sounds like an engaging read! Excellent review, Diane!

  3. Tina and Suko, thanks for the comments. I see this one as being a book that will appeal to many readers, no too too dark.

    I also enjoyed the previous books by this author.

  4. I do like stories of dysfunction but prefer plot driven novels so I'll have to think about this one.

  5. I loved Clausen's Pier, but didn't love this one (I liked it ok, but no more than that). It was definitely slow and I thought she spent way too much time on the mundane family happenings when they were young...and not enough time on the adult psychological issues, which were much more interesting. I did think the characters were interesting...particularly James. But, overall, a disappointment for me.

  6. Just reading your last sentence tells me to put this on my list :). I love a complicated family/life story.

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  7. I have this one and your last line about dysfunctional families sealed the deal for me. Maybe now that I am done with my chunkster I can move on to other books.

  8. I tried this one, but after 75 pages I felt I just wasn't able to get into it. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  9. This sounds like my kind of book. I have heard of Ann Packer's books but haven't really tried any of them, I will have to check this out.

  10. I see you liked this more than I did. It seemed to me that it fell a bit flat. You can read my review here


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