Books — The Callahan Cousins

Callahan Cousins live the sweet life in new series

The Callahan Cousins: Summer Begins, by Elizabeth Doyle Carey; Little, Brown and Company, 2005, 246 pages

By Lisa Parsons

Nothing beats a good upbeat kids’ book for escapist fiction. What better place to escape to, after all, than a perfect summer house on a perfect island with the perfect host and the perfect friends and absolutely no responsibilities except to have adventures and gain experience? The Callahan Cousins is that kind of escape.

Hillary and her three cousins, all of them 12 years old, spend the summer at their grandmother’s sprawling home on Gull Island off New England. They are — not that they think about it in these terms, but it’s apparent to us — surrounded by the answers to all their needs. The hired help fixes every meal perfectly, cleans up afterward and loves doing it. All the characters are Disney-perfect: to wit, “a strikingly gorgeous fourteen-year-old named Talbot, who had grown up in Jamaica and recently moved to Gull full-time with his family…. [His] high cheekbones made him seem more like a Gap model than an awkward teenager…. He talked like someone from a teen surfer movie.” (Look at that, she comes right out and tells us to think Hollywood as we read. And look at that, it works.) And they have all the right accessories. Check it out: Hillary “pulled out her iPod, her lucky green bandanna, a tiny digital camera, a portable handheld microscope [which, by the way, I don’t think she used once in the whole story], a high-tech pedometer, and her Skateboard and Snowboard magazines.” Hillary also has a laptop computer “thin as a slice of bread and totally sleek” which she is “proud of,” because when you are 12 in the U.S., you are your stuff.

I could go on, but you know what kind of book I’m talking about by now. You either want to read such a book or you don’t, and in case you do, The Callahan Cousins is an excellent new entry to the category. Its plot brings in just enough risk and uncertainty and a, yes, perfect variety of settings (ice cream parlor, sailboat shop, mini island, old musty library). Its voice nicely inhabits that space between younger readers’ books, which beat the budding reader over the head with the point (“’ha ha ha ha!’ she laughed gleefully”), and older readers’ books, which don’t. Its entire mood is just like the crisp-clean-warm-cozy (you can too have everything!) smell of the old island home it is set in: “familiar and promising, both.”

The back of the book contains a sneak peek at a sequel due in September, and the last chapter oh-so-subtly acquaints us with a passel of younger cousins who will be ripe for their own summer adventures in a few years.

Author Elizabeth Carey, by the way, was once a children’s book editor and, according to the jacket copy, has 25 first cousins of her own.

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH