1980: A Gathering of Days (Long, Long Days)

VERDICT: Trash

Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5

As a kid, I LOVED the Dear America series, “diaries” of girls from various time periods, as well as the Royal Diaries books. You would think, then, that a historical fiction narrative in a diary style would be of great interest to me. Perhaps, if the writing was engaging and the narrator’s voice interesting, it would have been. However, neither of those descriptors apply to the 1980 Newbery Medal Winner, A Gathering of Days.

A Gathering of Days is set in 1830’s New Hampshire. Catherine, a 14-year-old, narrates via her diary entries. There isn’t much of a plot; instead, the entries focus on her daily life. There’s also a lot of pious sayings, bits of poems about hard work, and moralizing related to every.single.action any character takes. Though a fairly short book, it was exceedingly tedious.

A few things that did interest me: there’s some debate over Nat Turner’s slave rebellion and, more generally, what people should do about runaway slaves. The community is split on their reasoning behind it, but almost nobody actually favors ending slavery. In an illustrative example, Catherine, in conjunction with her best friends Cassie and Asa, sneaks an old quilt out of the house when she receives a note from someone saying that they’re so cold. That person is a runaway slave, although Catherine didn’t know that at the time. When the story of their action finally comes out, the adults roundly chastise Catherine and decide that she must make a replacement quilt. Against the rest of the book’s excessive focus on “virtues” like helping others, this felt very dissonant, although it shouldn’t have surprised me that thriftiness trumped actually assisting a stranger.

Beyond that incident, the author fails to capture my attention. Catherine’s dad remarries? Fine. Cassie dies? Eh. Clearly inevitably since she was sickly and the doctor loved leeches. So on and so forth. While the book touches on a lot of contentious issues (factory labor for girls, rising abolitionist sentiment, educational opportunities available, etc.) of that time period, it doesn’t make me care.

Give this book a miss. While it has occasional moments of insight, the overall storytelling is weak, with neither an engrossing plot nor winsome characters to pull it along.

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