Since my daughter and I and our book club just finished Heather Vogel Frederick’s Home for the Holidays, it seemed like a good time to review this series that we have been enjoying for more than four years now.
I stumbled across Much Ado about Anne (book two in the series) while looking up L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books at the library. We quickly fell in love with Frederick’s highly relatable characters and situations and their Concord, Massachusetts, setting. Not unlike the Harry Potter series, the books begin with the main characters in sixth grade, covering one year per book (with a couple of exceptions) and seeing them through high school. Since my daughter was a fourth grader at the time, we took a couple of breaks to let her catch up with age of the book characters.
The variety of personalities and interests Frederick represents contributes to the relatability of the characters. There’s hockey-playing Cassadie, daughter of a super model-cum-cooking show host, who has recently lost her father in a car accident and balks when a potential step-father appears on the scene. There’s Asian-American Megan, whose goals of a being a fashion designer put her out of step with her environmentally conscious, activist, vegan mother. And Emma and Jess, who represent the writer/daughter-of-a-librarian and studious farm girl you might expect to find in a book club. And then there’s cheerleader Becca, who starts out as the arch villain in book one and eventually becomes an accepted–if sometimes problematic–member of the group.
Frederick manages to imbue all of these–as well as their assorted mothers–with sympathetic characteristics. She nurtures and develops them through common teen struggles with parental expectations, family financial hardship, friendship, jealousy, rivalry, and romance. At the same time, she represents realistic, positive examples of mutual respect and conflict resolution in relationships between husbands and wives, best friends, and girlfriends/boyfriends.
The series inspired my daughter and me to launch our own mother-daughter book club almost three years ago. We started with A Wrinkle in Time when the movie of was about to be released. Since then we’ve interwoven Frederick’s books with modern classics and recent works. Interestingly, when we mothers hesitated to push ahead with the nineteenth-century literature read by Frederick’s fictional book club (Austen, Bronte), our middle school daughters were the loudest proponents. Some, in the end, opted for the Pride and Prejudice movie over the book, but that too yielded worthwhile discussion. Reading Jane Austen aloud with my seventh-grader required a lot of explaining of social mores and convoluted sentences, but we both enjoyed it.
As with all social gatherings, the pandemic has put an extra strain on the group. We’ve met outside and over Zoom when necessary. But the continuity and friendships have been a blessing to all of us during these months when normalcy has been elusive. If you’ve read this far, I probably don’t need to enumerate the many benefits for young people (as well as adults) of reading and discussing literature, but I will take the liberty of citing a few. Noting the parallels between our lives and those we read about, as mentioned above, helps us appreciate our differences while recognizing what we have in common. Learning to formulate and express ideas, share and respect differing opinions, listen patiently, take turns, and speak up are all valuable skills that have challenged and grown our adolescents over the past three years.
I can also recommend Frederick’s Patience Goodspeed books, her Pumpkin Falls mystery series, and, especially for younger brothers, the Spy Mice series. Pumpkin Falls makes great winter reading, with its snowy Vermont setting and charming blend of cozy mystery, adolescent friendship, small-town connections, and family relationships. Learn more about the author and all her books here: Heather Vogel Frederick.