Applewhites at Wit's End
By Stephanie S. Tolan
Released: May 8th, 2012
We all have those books that helped define who we were growing up. We tend to remember which picture book we enjoyed the most when we were being tucked into bed at night. We remember the first real chapter book we ever read, over and over praising ourselves for the big step we were taking from books with pictures to book with purely words. And, eventually, we remember those books that helped to shape us into the individuals we are today. Growing up, I read Surviving the Applewhites when I was in the seventh grade – admittedly, a little older than the intended age group. But I fell in love with the eclectic and artistic family nonetheless. As a child who spent most of her time with her nose in a book and a writing tablet at my side, I could relate to the strange family and I found a strange camaraderie in the main character, E.D. Applewhite, who was trying to find her place in the world at the same time I was. I admired the characters, the plot, the book as a whole and especially the theme – that everyone is valuable, no matter what given talents they have. It has a permanent place on my bookshelf. So – ten years later – when I see that Stephanie S. Tolan has written a sequel, I could hardly contain my glee.
Originally, I thought I would be fairly biased when it came to reviewing this book. In fact, I hadn’t even intended to leave a review, but when I finished the book, I felt compelled to share my experience. The plot of the sequel involves the Applewhite family – after having found out that most of their money had been squandered – decided to open an arts camp for gifted children to help pay for the expenses of keeping up with the family home, called Wit’s End. Eventually, six children show up for the camp – all as different from each other as the Applewhite family itself. E.D. helps to coordinate camp activities as the rest of the family engages the campers in artistic workshops. There are several misadventures along the way, and the camp – Called Eureka! – doesn’t remain operating as smoothly as intended for very long. Not but a few weeks after opening, the family starts to receive threatening letters in the mail about camping regulations and threats to shut the camp down. In addition, there is a shady character walking around the sixteen acre grounds. I won’t reveal too much more, as the bulk of the book involves the family dealing with these catastrophes in a way in which only the Applewhites can.
I loved getting the opportunity to be reintroduced to the family. The characters that I had grown to love in the first book are back with their usual spunk and even the bad-boy Jake kept me grinning from the first page to the last. But, as often happens in sequels, I feel the second book doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the first. (And, granted, there were problems with the first book that I chose to overlook, as I had been thirteen when I read it.) Many of the campers that were introduced in this book were cut-out characters that we really didn’t get to know very well. This, of course, is problematic if the bulk of the story is focused on the campers. I felt that if the book were a bit longer – and if the author could have focused some more on these new characters – the book would have been a good deal stronger. Also, the ending of the story felt entirely rushed to me. The first ninety percent of the book led up to the climax, which was resolved within ten pages. I felt that it could have been fleshed out a great deal more. And, in addition to that, we don’t know how the rest of the camp turns out, as she abruptly ends the book after the family decides to put on an end-of-camp production and show detailing all the hard work the campers had done. I do, however, approve of the final scene. But I won’t reveal TOO much about that.
Overall, this book was fun, easy read that I enjoyed. Anyone who has read the first one will love to meet the family again, but don’t expect the story to shine a light to the first.