Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron

  • THE BOOK
    • A Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron
    • Published March 1971
    • First book in the 5-book Julia Redfern series
    • Other works by author include several children's books including the Mushroom Planet series

  • THE PREMISE
    • Julia Redfern wants to be a writer. She lives in Berkeley, California, with her widowed mother and 14-year-old brother. Julia is 12.
    • The books are semi-autobiographical as the author lived in Berkeley as a child and was born in 1912. This means the story takes place in 1924.
    • Julia's father was a pilot who died during World War I and Julia idolizes him, especially because he had built her a desk knowing she wanted to be a writer like him.
    • The story involves Julia meeting and coming to know the neighborhood recluse, making a new friend, losing an old one and dealing with the possibility of a new step-father.

  • MY THOUGHTS
    • I was very happy to read a series by the author of the Mushroom Planet books that featured a female character as the lead. The Mushroom Planet books are a little too boy-centric but that was typical of science fiction stories written in the 1950s and 1960s.
    • Julia can be a bit of a brat --- the story actually opens in the middle of a small tantrum during an argument with her mother --- but she is ultimately endearing and interesting as she begins her journey to become a writer.
    • There are hints that her father is not the hero Julia thinks he is but the specifics aren't made clear. Perhaps in a future book Julia will be old enough to face the real story.
    • Her brother is an oddball character, always with his head in a book and working on an Egyptian history. Her mother is young, only 35 and thus was widowed in her 20s, but Julia naturally assumes she's old and beyond marrying again.
    • The title refers to the room Julia has at the top of the house the Redferns rent. It only has room for her desk and a cot to sleep on.
    • One plot point features a friend of Julia's who has a younger brother, a cowed mother and a raging alcoholic father. At one point the father grabs Julia's arm and tries to bring her into his room and those of us in the modern day start to assume "bad things" about him. But a book about a girl in 1924 published in 1971 does NOT include child molestation in its framework: the father knows he has alienated his own children and he just wants to show off his books to Julia. Still kind of scary: he's drunk.
      • Meanwhile there's the possible new step-father. Julia thinks he's a creep but this is definitely a case of an unreliable narrator: he is actually a reasonably kind man albeit exasperated by Julia's moods.
        • There's a missing cats episode and a suspicious modern mind (mine) starts to think the step-father-to-be is the culprit! (Spoiler: he's not.)
    • I look forward to watching Julia move through her teen years in the next four books.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy old-fashioned stories about girls who want to be writers (practically a genre at this point). Aimed at middle school readers (ha, I actually typed "middle aged" first! If the genre fits...).

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