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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Leaving the Bellweathers by Kristin Clark Venuti

The humor in this goofy story derives from the absurd situations and eccentric characters. Benway , the Bellweather family’s butler, doesn’t find the antics of the crazy family he serves amusing.

The Bellweather's inventor-father hates to be disturbed and throws things from the window at guests who interrupt him. The mother is an artist… sort of. She likes paint. She spends her days re-painting the rooms of their lighthouse. Ninda is obsessed with workers’ rights: a family of immigrant circus workers gives her a grand distraction as she hides them in her room. Spider collects dangerous animals. And who else but the Bellweather triplets would show their affection for Benway by giving him the original Mona Lisa to hang on his wall?

He hasn’t yet walked away from the idiosyncrasies of the family members because he has 8 weeks left of the 200 year’s of service promised to the Bellweather descendants by Benway’s ancestor. Two hundred years ago, Benway’s ancestor was saved from a sure drowning by a Bellweather. In gratitude, he signed over his life and his descendants for 200 years to the service of Bellweathers. Of course, it is not a legal contract, but while Benway may find the family utterly chaotic and unappreciative of his travails in serving them, he is too honorable to walk away before the term of service is up.

Which is not to say that he is not counting down. In fact, his journal, found at the end of each chapter, chronicles his planned escape to peace and quiet and a tell-all book that he plans to write the very day, down to the second, when the 200 year old oath will be complete.

His journal hints that he might be a bit more attached to the Bellweathers than he realizes.

My older tween commented, accurately I think, that this book must be British (not true) because it has that surreal tone to it.

The family’s behavior technically poses a number of moral problem: the father’s temper, the triplets' intentional flooding of the basement of the church (to create a habitat for their endangered albino alligator), for example. Other examples: they try to steal the Mona Lisa. Ninda keeps an oppressed family captive in her room because she wants to teach them to unionize and liberate themselves. However, the absurdity of the situations render the situations harmless enough because it's using hyperbole for comic effect. Tweens are at an age to understand this.

It is entertaining for the age group and amusing reading. I prefer Cheaper by the Dozen (not the movie; the original book), which this book reminds me of; they are both humorous, but the humor in Cheaper by the Dozen is more my style. But plenty of tweens might prefer The Bellweathers. The family antics in Cheaper by The Dozen don't pose any moral problems, hyperbolically or not.



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