Becoming the Butlers by Penny Jackson
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Length: Short Story (142 pages)
Age Recommendation: 12+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Quince
When Rachel Harris’s mother runs off to Spain with the super of their New York City apartment building, Rachel’s life takes a bizarre turn. Her eccentric father becomes obsessed with George Vasquez, the man who stole his wife: He wears George’s clothes, he shaves with his razor, and, to top it off, he moves George’s family into their apartment. The poignant and often funny journey Rachel and her father take to Madrid to hunt down her mother further cements her desire to shake her more than unusual family situation and find a new identity.
And who has a more perfect life than Olivio and Edwin Butler? So gorgeous and popular, they don’t really have friends, just hangers-on. And though Rachel doesn’t remember ever having spoken a word to them, her resolve becomes clear. She must find a way into the Butlers’ home and into their family.
In this marvelously compassionate first novel, Penny Jackson deftly depicts a young girl’s search for family – and her discovery that family is a state of mind.
Can a destroyed family be replaced with a new, perfect one? If wrecked car can, then a family surely can as well. Following this idea, author Penny Jackson showed that the other people also have their problems. And that even if they seem perfect, their life may not be.
I really like to read straight contemporary YA novels in which the author is dealing with the serious issues (e.g. dysfunctional families, bullying, being different, etc.). I also like the books that have strong and intelligent heroine. Becoming the Butlers had all of the above mentioned. The main character is fourteen-year-old Rachel Harris with whom I empathize through the story. Her parents were always a little bit eccentric and not very happy with their lives. Because of the wrong decisions they made in the past Rachel suddenly found herself in the situation where she was the one who was acting mature, while her parents continued to act like selfish and spoiled little kids. I really liked her proactive approach in trying to resolve the problems and the conclusions that she reached in the end.
Unfortunately Becoming the Butlers, also has a few problems. The author raised a lot of issues, but some of them were not resolved while, on the other hand those resolved ones were resolved too easily. In both cases what was missing is the process, which left the story with a few loose ends and made the happy end a bit unrealistic.
Regardless of these shortcomings, the author succeeded to follow the main idea of the book. The characters grew and changed, and in the end they became better versions of themselves. Although the issues raised here were difficult ones (alcoholism, dysfunctional family, child negligence) this is not a dark book and the story flows nicely. All in all, Becoming the Butlers was a satisfying read that I would recommend to all of you who like straight contemporary YA books.
Final Note: the first edition of this book was published in 1990, this is not a revised version, and because of that contain some scenes that some readers may find unbelievable, like for example, smoking on the plane.