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Thursday, June 7, 2012

'Everything on a Waffle' by Polly Horvath

From the BLURB:

Primrose Squarp simply knows her parents did not perish at sea during a terrible storm, but try convincing the other residents of Coal Harbour on that score. For all practical purposes, at least for the time being, Primrose is an orphan, and there’s no great clamoring of prospective adopters. After realizing the impracticality of continuing to pay Miss Perfidy (a mothball-scented elderly lady) an hourly wage to baby-sit her, the town council is able to locate a relative, Uncle Jack, who reluctantly takes Primrose into his care. Primrose does warm up to living with him and in his home, despite the eerie noises resembling a hockey game that haunt her in the night. But true sanctuary can always be found at a restaurant called The Girl in the Swing, where everything—including lasagna—is served on a waffle, and where the proprietor, Miss Bowzer, offers a willing ear, as well as sage advice. .

Primrose Squarp is busy believing in the unbelievable.

Primrose’s mother and father are lost at sea – and Primrose has been living with her babysitter, Miss Perfidy ever since the wild storm that (supposedly) carried them away. But then her Uncle Jack arrives in the town of Coal Harbour, to become Primrose’s guardian.

Uncle Jack leaves the navy to come and live with Primrose (and start a housing development in the picturesque town) – but Primrose expects the arrangement will only be a temporary one – because she is certain that her parents are alive. Primrose is positively certain that her mother and father are sitting huddled on an island somewhere, deciding how to return to their daughter.

In the mean time, Primrose loses a toe and hangs out at ‘The Girl in the Swing’ and gets cooking tips from Miss Bowzer, who his fending-off Uncle Jack’s offers to buy the place out.

It’s just a matter of time before Primrose’s parents return, and everybody in Coal Harbour who thinks Primrose is in grief-denial will be proven wrong, and showed the power behind positive thinking. . .

‘Everything on a Waffle’ is the Newberry Honour book by Polly Horvath.

I read this book as a part of my Printz/Newberry kick. I loved the title, and thought it had an interesting premise about a girl whose parents recently vanished (suspected dead). But in reading ‘Everything on a Waffle’ I found myself somewhat let-down by Horvath’s avoidance of the heavier topics hinted at in the blurb. . .

Primrose Squarp is a wonderful character (and has a cool name!). She’s very upbeat in the wake of tragedy; a perpetually sunny, optimistic little sweetheart whose faith in her family is unwavering. Throughout the book Primrose gives recipes for the various foods and delicacies that she mentions throughout her adventures in Coal Harbour. It’s partly out of comfort that she recites these recipes for the reader – since many of them are meals her mother made. But the recipes also illustrate Primrose’s deeper perceptions about the goings on around her, like this recipe for Caramel Apple;

Do not muck around with chocolate or nuts or anything else fancy that may tempt you. It will only gum up the works. Sometimes you get tempted to make something wonderful even better but in doing so you lose what was wonderful to begin with.

I really liked reading about the town of Coal Harbour and its residents. From the boastful-boring Ms. Honeycut, to forgetful Miss Perfidy. Horvath does a wonderful job of making the town a character unto itself – and I had no problems in believing that Uncle Jack would be trying to buy up real estate in the area.

What I struggled with in this book, was Horvath’s reluctance to write the tragedy of Primrose’s parents. Her father, a fisherman, was at sea in the middle of a terrible storm – and Primrose’s mother took a little dinghy out to try and save him. Both were lost at sea, suspected dead by everyone (except Primrose). I thought the whole book would be about Primrose coming to terms with the truth of her parent’s death. But Horvath isn’t building up to that at all – instead she wraps things up nicely, and I had a small problem with that.

In reviewing this I’m thinking about the very sad news of Maurice Sendak’s death. I read a great article about the author of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ in The Age. This article discusses how Sendak’s life was affected by the Holocaust; his brother joined the army, and many of Sendak’s European relatives were captured and killed. As a result of encountering death and brutality so early on in life, Sendak said "It forced me to take children to a level that I thought was more honest than most people did." The point of the article being that, although Sendak’s books were magical and beautiful adventures, at the crux of them he wanted to help children grow up – to confront a few realities and leave the “wild rumpus” behind, for truer things. And I like that. I love children’s and young adult authors who don’t ‘talk down’ to their audience – they don’t pull punches and they don’t shy away from the harder, truer side to life. And that’s why I didn’t particularly like the ending of Horvath’s book . . .  it was all wrapped up a little too neatly, a too sickly-sweet, unbelievable happy ending.

So, ultimately, I thought that the neatly-wrapped ending didn’t do this book justice. Sure it was cute and quirky, Primrose was magnificent and the recipes offered an interesting character insight. But I felt like this book was a bit like fairy floss – all temporary tastiness, no real substance.


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