Calpurnia Tate is a reincarnation of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, except she wants to be scientist like her granddaddy instead of a lawyer like her father. The writing in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is beautiful, full of rich metaphor. You can feel the sticky Texas heat and sting of mosquitoes. What the book lacks is story. For 340 pages, you hang out with Callie Vee. You’re fairly entertained by her anecdotes but at the end of the book nothing much has happened. Other than showing what life in Texas was like for an affluent tomboy at the turn of the century (1899), I’m not sure what the point of the book was.
THEOLOGY: Darwin v. God
Calpurnia’s grandfather is a naturalist and he teaches her how to observe the world around her and think scientifically. Popular around that time, and spun throughout the novel, is Charles Darwin’s work on Evolution of the Species (part of where this book gets its name). There is passing reference to whether Genesis could be true because of the archaeological record, and in light of Darwin’s theories, but there’s no real substance to the argument.
The book is squeaky clean with little to cause alarm except the phrase “cat piss.” If you don’t like books about people imbibing, then you might want to steer clear of this one. Grandaddy is trying to distill his own spirits from pecans (wherein the cat piss comes in), and Calpurnia’s mother takes a tonic that’s alcohol in disguise to help her cope when things get difficult.
Calpurnia is a girl who doesn’t fit the mold. She doesn’t like to sew or cook or do girly things. In fact, she’s bad at girly things. She longs to be an independent woman when she grows up, instead of someboy’s wife. But she’s only eleven in the novel and after 240 pages, she still doesn’t know what her future holds. Just what she would like for it to be.
If you read for characters, setting, and language you will probably enjoy this Newberry Honor Book. If you read because you’re a story junkie and like a good plot, move on to the next book on your to-be-read shelf.