A book review on A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

Set in 1958, it is a sequel to the books A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, which also stars Mrs. Dowdel, an eccentric 90-year old woman who doesn’t neighbour but has an enormous heart. A new family has moved into the house next door to Mrs. Dowdel, one that is in as much need of help as they are new. 

Bob Barnhart, a skinny twelve-year-old boy, his fourteen-year-old Elvis-obsessed sister Phyllis, little six-year-old Ruth-Ann who can’t be separated from her doll Grachel and their parents, a young minister and his wife are all in need of Mrs. Dowdel’s help—whether they know it or not. As the year goes by—through Mrs. Dowdel—Bobby and his whole family learn what giving truly is, and realises that Mrs. Dowdel is the rock of the town.

While Phyllis goes through heartbreak, Bobby is bullied and Ruth-Ann’s doll is stolen, Mrs. Dowdel stands, steadfast and forceful throughout. Ruth-Ann, finding a new larger-than-life idol in her looks up to her and follows her around, adopting some of her mannerisms. (Hoo boy, it sure is hot in here!)

Christmas time rolls around and Mrs. Dowdel gives gifts like anyone else. But reflecting on it, the not-so-new family realises that instead of keeping it to Christmas only, her gifts—from corn that she did not grow herself to a large Christmas tree to a marriage to bless a new year—are given all year round.

That was to be Bobby’s first and last Christmas in that small town where everyone knew everyone, but it was one that he was to remember all his life…

By Angel Chew