This is the sequel to one of my favorite books and mother/daughter read-alouds of all time, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. The first book tells the story of one Calpurnia Virginia (Callie Vee) Tate growing up in Fentress, TX at the turn of the century who strikes up an unexpected friendship with her grandfather that completely changes the course of her life. Callie develops, with her grandfather’s gentle guidance, a passion for scientific inquiry. Everything about that book captivated me – the central Texas setting, the thorough and sensitive characterization, the engaging writing style. That story (**spoiler alert**) ended on a bit of a bittersweet note with Callie yearning for a life that was highly unlikely due to her gender.
Satisfyingly, this novel picks up quite literally where the last one left off with Callie marveling at her first glimpse of snow as the new century begins. As the year 1900 unfolds, Callie continues to explore the natural world with both her grandfather and her favorite (of six!) brothers, Travis. Travis is an ardent animal lover – one of the most memorable moments from the first book is his heartbreaking attachment to the pair of turkeys intended for a holiday supper. In this new novel, Travis continues attaching himself to hopeless animal causes.
As a result, this book has some truly devastating moments. And so, here is my giant warning: This book is absolutely NOT for the faint of heart. I’ve made it through many, many years of reading aloud without ever cracking even once – I got through Charlotte dying for goodness sakes – but there was a moment in this book that completely did me in. Not only do several animals die, but there are surprising moments of brutality (a sack of puppies are callously thrown in the river). There are also several rather detailed descriptions of animal dissections. And, finally, the devastating real-life 1900 Galveston hurricane is a significant plot point.
If you can make it though all of that, however, I promise you will be rewarded with a truly wonderful story with just as many highs as lows. Callie gains even more awareness of the limits her gender places upon her. At one point Callie bitterly realizes that her father has given her half the amount of money he gave her brothers (younger and older). Even so, her drive and dreams aren’t at all diminished. Although nothing is fully resolved, we begin to believe that Callie may be able to break the mold and pursue an education and scientific career.
I don’t know that I feel this was as strong as the first installment, but I still loved it and I still yearn for more sequels so I think it was a success. I think this series is destined for classic status – it’s just that strong.