I think I am the only one who read this? No Matter!!! Next DCIB book club is going to be Bridgerton 2, and I will refuse to re-read that one, so we will be even.
Just Jennifer Plot Summary:
In 1942, the career army officer father of 9 is sent overseas. There is a possibility of the kids being scattered, but instead the oldest child, 16 year old Jennifer, decides to drop out of school and be the head of the family. They survive with the help of the nice grocery store owner and his daughter/the high school teacher, and a nice young army officer. And Jennifer helps out a visiting teenage British boy who lost most of his family in the blitz and feels guilty. All the 9 kids have their own little emotional issues that Jennifer slowly fixes and helps them with. She has her own occasional regrets about things she is missing in her life but pulls herself up and only gives herself limited time to feel bad. In the background, the high school teacher and young soldier fall in love.
That sounds like a lot of plot, but it doesn’t read like a lot of plot. It’s just a series of things that happen and get solved one by one. That’s what I like about Lambert’s books in general, they feel very sort of female in how they look at life? The “male” version would be a problem, a solution, and that’s the whole book. But the “female” version is a constant series of tiny little challenges that have to just keep being dealt with and you can’t breath long enough to think about the big picture. Life as the emotional caregiver, especially of children, moves way WAY too fast for it to be a problem that lasts a whole book, most of the time it’s problems that barely last an hour.
This book is a bit unusual in the Lambert world because there are no parents. But I think that’s what she wanted to play with. In her earlier books, there was Mom in the background and the occasional references to how she has to create things out of nothing to deal with family drama (sandwiches for a last minute party, repairing a doll, whatever). And on the other hand, there is the protagonist who is a teenage girl having fun. This book combines the two things, a teenage girl having fun and romances and future in front of her, and also dealing with being the head of a family.
The other thing Lambert plays with is the difference between micro and macro stories in a family. This book has these little stories that build to an ending of the romantic gesture to Jennifer of taking away some of her kids. That is, that she would never give up responsibility or feel like she was letting them down, but to have someone she trusts force her to give up a little control and responsibility is the best thing. For her British boyfriend to offer to take 3 of the kids for the next few months so she can breath a bit is the resolution to the central conflict of the story.
But, that’s just this one book. Lambert keeps coming back to this family for the next 20 years. Things like the conflict between the two young sisters Alice and Gwen goes all the way through the teen years and into adulthood. Peter feeling the responsibility of being the second oldest goes all the way through to 20 years later when he and his wife take in a foster child. I just find it fascinating! These very light empty books that, when you put them all together, add up to something.
And again, that’s life. It’s not the big important scenes, it’s every day little tiny decisions that add up to something a lot bigger.
These is about the female world of tiny decisions and family, but it isn’t limiting women to that place. You have to read all of Lambert’s books to really see that. Lambert herself, I believe, was happiest and most fulfilled when running a household. So she finds herself writing about that kind of life and the details of that kind of life. And yet she also has heroines who enjoy working and flourish while outside of the home. Before the whole “can a woman have it all” question came up, decades before, Lambert in her Penny Parrish series dealt with the pull between a career that is successful and fulfilling and a wish to be home with her children. And in the Tippy series, she deals with a young woman struggling with the intellectual boredom of being a housewife, adjusting to how to make friends, find causes, the things that she needs to fulfill other parts of her life.
Bringing it back to this book, Jennifer makes the decision in the moment to give up high school and potentially college because her family needs her. But that’s not, like, an empty sacrifice? I guess what I find intriguing in these books, and which is also kind of present in many of the “girls novels” of the past, is that most of the time the happy ending is getting married to the perfect guy and having kids and a house and stuff, but it’s not a simple ending. Our heroine still has yearnings towards independence, towards her dreams, towards the other options for her life. This is a choice she has made, not the inevitable ending for every woman always.