1980: A Gathering of Days (Dear Diary…Life is bleak)

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-32 by Joan W. Blos won the Newbery Medal in 1980. Written entirely in diary format, it chronicles the year in the life of a 13-year-old girl as she goes about her daily tasks in New Hampshire.

For those interested in rural life, this book offers some interesting insights into what it was like to live in the time leading up to the Civil War. Catherine documents her daily tasks, from quilting and knitting to learning her letters in the rural schoolhouse. It’s intriguing to read how the changing of seasons affected her lifestyle with the cold New England winters making life miserable and the beautiful spring days being a cause for celebration.

While the facts of her life are interesting to read about, the diary format made it difficult for the characters to come alive. I only felt like I got to know Catherine and her father; everyone else seemed rather flat and similar to one another. She has a couple of friends from school that she hangs out with, but they aren’t particularly memorable.

Additionally, there is no great plot arc to compel you to keep the pages turning. The novel focuses on three main events in Catherine’s life: helping a runaway slave survive the winter in the woods, adjusting to her father remarrying, and coping with the death of her best friend. Nothing feels connected and much of the book reads as you expect – like a very boring diary with an uninteresting writer that has nothing particularly exciting happening in her life that is worthy enough to write about.

Despite the low rating, many young girls may enjoy reading this book if they like historical fiction. The book feels like an authentic diary of the times, but I think I would prefer to read a historical diary over a made up one. If one enjoys reading about the mundane minutiae that made up a pre-Civil War lifestyle, A Gathering of Days may be the perfect book for you.

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