Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Jacqueline Kelly's debut young adult novel, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, accomplished a remarkable became a Newberry Honor Book in 2010, the year following its release.  Not bad for a first novel, right?  We probably shouldn't be surprised.  Jacqueline Kelly is the poster-child for overachievement.  Not only did she attend medical school and work in that field for many years, she then decided to try her hand at law and attended law school, as well.  After working as a lawyer for some time, she decided that writing novels would be an interesting change and (of course) her debut wins a Newberry.

It's tempting to hate her, isn't it?

But after reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, A Reader's Respite simply can't hate her.  The book is too well-written.  Set in a small Texas town in 1899, Calpurnia Tate is our eleven year old protagonist who, as the only daughter amidst six brothers in her well-to-do family, struggles daily to find a sense of self in her world.

It's only natural with six brothers that Calpurnia would, much to her hassled mother's dismay, grow up with tomboy tendencies.  But now that her teen years are quickly approaching, Calpurnia's mother has decided the time has  arrived to turn her daughter into a proper, turn-of-the-century young woman.  This, you can imagine, wreaks havoc with our young heroine's plans to become a celebrated naturalist in honor of her personal hero,  Mr. Charles Darwin.

Callie's only real ally is her reclusive Grandfather, a man everyone else in the family goes to great lengths to avoid, but a man who has taken a shine to his only granddaughter, recognizing and encouraging her curiosity in the world around her.  Callie is full of amusing observations and opinions about life as a young girl in rural Texas.  Thankfully, the author has taken care to ensure that Callie, as an eleven year old, remains true to an eleven year old.  No adult voice coming from a child here.  Thank goodness.

It should be noted that the similarities to Alan Bradley's heroine Flavia de Luce are startling.  Both are eleven years old.  Both have a charming interest in science (Flavia is obsessed with chemistry, Calpurnia a naturalist).  Both are largely misunderstood by their families who largely ignore them.  Both books were published within a year of each other and both of authors have Canadian roots, which just goes to show how much talent comes from north of the border.

Unlike Bradley's books, Calpurnia isn't part of a series.  It's a charming, solo novel that is aimed towards young adults, but like most really good novels of the genre, provide much more enjoyment for the not-so-young-adult audience.  At 350 pages and too-large margins, this is a quick read and the perfect book to pick up from the library on a winter day.  (That's where we picked up our copy!)


  1. I can not say that startling similarities are a good thing when it comes to books.

  2. This sounds wonderful .. but I must admit it would be tempting to dislike the author due to her myriad accomplishments. Show off overachiever!!!

  3. I'd pick it up for the cover alone - I love it! I also enjoy Alan Bradley's books, but I'd be worried about similarities too. I don't think I'll be rushing out to read this one.

  4. Thank the lord for a book that stands alone. It seems that every book I pick up is a trilogy, series, prequel, you name it. I love Flavia, and it's odd to see those similarities.

  5. I haven't read this or Alan Bradley's series, but they do sound very similar and I'm pretty sure I've been mixing them up in my head for a while (because I've seen a lot of reviews for both). The cover is beautiful though, and it's great to see that you liked the book so much.

  6. It is odd the way similar books come out close to each other. This one sounds charming to me.

  7. I've heard such good things about this one. I think I need to buckle down and finally read it!


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