The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - Jacqueline Kelly Calpurnia Virginia Tate aka Callie Vee is a precocious “almost” 12 year old from a well to do family. The only daughter out of 7 children she is naturally expected to learn the domestic side of life to make herself more marriageable. Much to the consternation of her mother Callie is more of the tomboy variety. As a girl living in 1899 this is a huge drawback. Women are valued based on their ability to run a house, cook a proper meal, knit even stitches, etc. Not being able to do so is deemed a travesty against womanhood. Unfortunately, for Callie she is not interested in any of these things. However, thanks to her cantankerous grandfather Callie is shown other options in life.

Now retired Callie’s grandfather is able to indulge his passion for nature and scientific study out in his shed-turned-laboratory. In one brave moment, Callie asks him a question and from there she strikes an unlikely relationship with this elusive grumpy man that everyone else stays away from. Callie being so naturally observant and inquisitive is the only one that could really relate to him. Their relationship leads to questions, observations and discoveries. It was a joy to read the development of their relationship.

When I finished this book I wanted to scream from the rooftops to tell people how much I loved it. Callie is witty, spunky and funny without being contrived. I thought Kelly captured the mind of a 12 year old girl perfectly. The narrative goes from one topic to another quite quickly in a stream of consciousness. I felt much like I do when talking to my 11 year old cousin. He can relate 3-4 stories in less than a minute.

What I loved the most about this book was the character development. The title captures what this book is about perfectly. Callie is sort of ahead of her time being that she is subjected to topics other girls with not so many brothers would be. She’s smart enough to realize that because she’s a girl there are different expectations that lead to unfairness. For example, she notices that Henry and she are the only ones that must learn to play the piano. Henry is the brother who mother hopes will go to university so of course he would be cultivated. Through her grandfather’s encouragement and education as a naturalist Callie realizes that she wants more from life than being able to make a proper meal and darning socks. With the world progressing around them Callie’s hopes are not so far fetch, but the people around her still need time to catch up to her.

I guess what struck a chord with me is that although women have progressed since Callie’s time we still are in a perpetual struggle with gender roles. There are moms still out there pushing their little girls to be more ladylike and little boys who are encouraged to play rough in an effort to make them more masculine. There are working mothers who look down upon stay at home mothers and sahm who look down on working mothers. There is always a never ending cycle of judgment when people go outside of their respective gender roles.
It’s nearly 2013 and it took a 13-year old girl petitioning Hasbro for a gender neutral color Easy Bake oven for her 4-year old brother. So obviously we have come far, but we still have a ways to go.

I read some reviews that took offense to how Callie perceives her mother’s role as unsatisfying because of the never ending domestic chores. At one point Callie points out that her mom hasn’t achieved much because once she’s through she has to start over again. I remember feeling like Callie when I observed my own stay at home mom, so I understood where Callie was coming from. I don’t think this observation sends a bad message to young girls. It’s just a different viewpoint from someone who is unsatisfied in their own life and from someone who is being pushed in a direction that is not for them. Callie’s mother may find satisfaction in raising her family, but from the viewpoint of Callie who hates doing these domestic chores that type of life would be seen as monotonous. I think Kelly is realistic in her portrayal.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this charming and witty book. :)

"I took the sandwich and Great Expectations and sank into my bed with the utmost feeling of luxuriousness. Ahh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really." (p. 60) - Preach on Callie! Preach on!