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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly Review

Title: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Author: Jacqueline Kelly

First published January 1, 2009

344 pages, Hardcover

ISBN: 9780805088410 (ISBN10: 0805088415)

Rating: 3.99


In Jacqueline Kelly’s novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, readers are transported to the year 1899, where eleven-year-old Calpurnia becomes fascinated with the natural world around her. She questions why certain insects are bigger than others, and with the help of her grandfather, a well-known naturalist, she discovers the answer.

As she spends more time with her grandfather, Calpurnia learns about the intricacies of life and develops a close bond with him. However, living with six brothers can be challenging, and Calpurnia finds herself navigating the ups and downs of life as a girl in the early 1900s.

With her sharp wit and keen observations, Kelly expertly brings Calpurnia’s story to life, capturing the essence of growing up in a time of change and discovery.

About the Author

Jacqueline Kelly was born in New Zealand and spent her early childhood in western Canada, surrounded by lush rainforests on Vancouver Island. However, her family later relocated to El Paso, Texas, which was a stark contrast to her previous environment.

Despite the change, she pursued her education in El Paso and Galveston, Texas, where she attended medical school at a school humorously nicknamed “Galvatraz.” After working as a physician for many years and practicing law for several more, Jacqueline realized that writing fiction would bring her the most joy. Her first published work was a short story that appeared in the Mississippi Review in 2001, which was a moment of immense pride for her.

In 2009, her debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, was published by Henry Holt, which was another significant accomplishment in her eyes.

Editoral Review

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is a charming coming-of-age story that captures the essence of life in 1899 Texas. The author skillfully weaves together historical and cultural elements with a heartwarming portrayal of a young girl’s journey of self-discovery.

Jacqueline Kelly is a Texas native who worked as a pediatrician before turning to writing. Her debut novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, won the Newbery Honor Award in 2010 and has become a beloved classic for young readers.

The book is set in the small town of Fentress, Texas, in the late 19th century, where we meet Calpurnia Tate, a curious and intelligent 11-year-old girl who struggles to find her place in a world dominated by men. Calpurnia forms an unlikely bond with her granddaddy, a naturalist who introduces her to the wonders of the natural world and the joys of scientific inquiry.

Together, they embark on a journey to study the flora and fauna of the local landscape, challenging local customs and gender norms in the process. The themes of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate are universal and timeless: the search for identity, passion, and purpose.

One of the book’s major strengths is its beautifully drawn characters, who are fully realized and engaging. Calpurnia is a relatable protagonist, a bright and inquisitive young girl grappling with the expectations of her time while trying to follow her passions.

Other characters, too, are masterfully and sympathetically rendered, from Calpurnia’s six brothers to the eccentric town matriarch, Miss Mariam Roger. Kelly’s writing style is elegant and evocative, capturing the beauty and wonder of nature with lush, sensory descriptions.

She brings the town of Fentress to life, with its dusty roads, heat, and humidity, and captures the sights and sounds of a bygone era with precision. The book’s historical and cultural significance is undeniable.

Kelly’s portrayal of life in Fentress at the turn of the century offers a glimpse into a society that was still grappling with issues of race, gender, and class. The author doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life at that time, but she tells the story with warmth and humor.

The only potential weakness of the book is its pacing, which at times can be slow. However, this is a minor criticism and does not detract from the overall quality of the writing.

In summary, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a delightfully engaging novel that will appeal to readers of all ages. Jacqueline Kelly’s masterful storytelling and beautiful prose make for a rich and rewarding reading experience.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a heartwarming, thought-provoking story about the joys and challenges of growing up. Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars