Gr 5-7-Eleven-year-old Penny is an exuberant would-be thespian caught between the Victorian prudery that rules the San Francisco household of the elegant aunt and uncle with whom she lives and the adventuresome spirit that has sent her parents to do botanical research in the exotic Hawaiian Islands. Aunt Phyllis fawns over her snobbish daughters but clearly disapproves of her niece. The child finds refuge in encounters with Mr. Prenderwinkel, a Shakespearean actor; her beloved teacher, Miss Adelaide; and her friend Isabelle Grey, a free spirit. Frustrated by her aunt's refusal to allow her to spread her dramatic wings, Penny forges the woman's permission and auditions for the part of Juliet in the class play. When a cousin betrays her, she can't bear her punishment-banishment not only from the play, but also from Miss Adelaide's class-and she runs away. When she is restored to her relatives, she maneuvers her way back into the production so that her unsuspecting aunt can see her perform. Of course, her debut is a success. The lively writing is filled with realistic dialogue. Details paint a vivid picture of place, time, and contemporary mores. Penny is a well-developed protagonist, but the other characters tend to be two-dimensional stereotypes, and the language of both Mr. Prenderwinkel and Isabelle is at times overly dramatic. While the first half of the book is filled with interesting situations, the last part is predictable, and the ending a bit too neat. Nevertheless, wannabe actresses are sure to enjoy this fast-paced, fun story.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
In 1889, 11-years-old Penny Bailey of Berkeley, Calif. is determined to become an actress. Her dreams are put on hold, however, when she must spend several months with her very Victorian and theater-hating aunt in San Francisco. She has various adventures, many of them unpleasant thanks to her humorless aunt, Phyllis, and her two snobbish daughters. On the few occasions when she escapes from them, she does meet exciting people involved in theater. One group, obviously based on young Isadora Duncan's family, shows her what freedom and artistry are despite their genteel poverty. When they are on the scene, the book is lively and proceeds apace; when they are not, it drags with intrusive details that the author inserts, perhaps to expand the setting. Characterization is lifeless and the snobby and mean actions of her cousins are annoying, as is the meanness of her aunt. Would close out of town. (author's note, sources) (Fiction. 9-12)