cover image The Children’s Crusade

The Children’s Crusade

Ann Packer. Scribner, $26.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4767-1045-7

Packer (The Dive from Clausen’s Pier) begins her well-crafted family saga from the ground up with pediatrician Bill Blair’s Portola Valley, Calif., land purchased in 1954. Bill marries Penny, a young woman eager to have children—but she didn’t count on four kids, which forges her identity as a mother instead of the artist she yearns to become. Her children are intuitively aware of her distance and poignantly try to find a way to bring her closer to them. Their stories unfold through distinctive narrative styles, including both first- and third-person sections, suited to the characters: stressed internist Robert, brilliant psychiatrist Rebecca, dreamy teacher Ryan, and reckless drifter James. The multiple perspectives help render the complicated family fully. Of the siblings, James is the only one to relocate, and he periodically returns over the years. The impetus for his current visit stems from an idea that shocks his siblings, prompting them to examine their childhood to find the answer. “Or rather, I remembered my memory of the moment, because after so long that’s what memory is: the replaying of the filmstrip that’s slightly warped from having gone through the projector so many times,” Rebecca thinks. Packer is an accomplished storyteller whose characters are as real as those you might find around your dinner table. Readers will be taken with this vibrant novel. (Apr.)