Hoff’s novel presents the adventures of an impossible little girl.
Seven-year-old Celia Canterberry is already a legend in her little town of Happy Valley, well known for her obstreperous ways and independent mind. She prides herself on her precociousness: “In my mind, precocious was far better than polite. There was no joy in being polite.” When Celia’s long-suffering grandmother Nan packs her off to stay with Old Lady Griggs for an afternoon, she starts to learn more about her own mysterious origin story. She knows that she was abandoned at the hospital, but she’s never been able to get any adult to divulge more details. At first, Old Lady Griggs seems more forthcoming. “After you were born,” she tells Celia, “whole pages were devoted to you and your inauspicious birth.” Over the course of her visits to Old Lady Griggs, and after multiple consultations of a meticulously maintained scrapbook, Celia gradually finds out more about her past, and in the process, Hoff spins a yarn about pre-modern small-town American life that glows with affection. The prose is smooth and consistently funny, and Celia is a delightful character. The author also makes a storytelling decision that will be familiar to the many fans of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series or Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy: She gives Celia a quirky, forceful, and unmistakably adult voice. The narrative, which includes occasional black-and-white line drawings by Froese, is, by turns, touching and uproarious—as when Celia puts her hair in pigtails by using a stapler—and Hoff is always ready with well-executed humor: “[Nan] never wears her teeth when she’s gardening,” Celia tells Old Lady Griggs at one point. “She thinks it’s best not to let the plants know her true intentions.” The combination of warm nostalgia and a sharp, modern sensibility is perfectly managed, and the promise of future volumes will please readers who want to spend more time in Happy Valley.
A well-crafted tale of a precocious child.