It is 1899. At a time when the turn of the century is just one year away, Calpurnia Tate, popularly known as Callie Vee, is a 11-year-old in Texas. With six brothers, Callie is the only daughter her parents have, and they have huge expectations of her – that she will learn to sew, embroider, knit, cook and make lace, be a perfect lady who will uphold the family name and get married into another family of good social standing, like their own. There’s a bit of a catch, though – Callie hates sewing and knitting and cooking, and everything that her mother wants to teach her to become a dainty, prim and proper lady. She loves nature and observing the world around her, and wonders about things like ‘Why do dogs don’t have eyebrows?’ Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate is the story of Callie and of the life of girls like her in those times.
One fine day, Callie decides to approach her grandfather with her questions on nature, and learns that the man is not as formidable as he looks, after all. Callie’s grandfather is of a reclusive nature, given to scientific pursuits, who likes to keep to the shed at the back of the house, which he calls his ‘laboratory’. Being the eldest in the family, no one questions Grandpa’s lack of interest in convention and his being cooped up in the shed, but Callie’s parents do find him an embarrassment. None of the family members really know him, and Callie amazes everyone by becoming good friends with him and beginning to accompany him on his scientific expeditions.
Her interactions with Grandpa fuel Callie’s curiosity, and she begins to jot down her observations on nature in a big, leather-bound notebook. She thinks she would like to become a naturalist, but a woman scientist is something unheard of in those days. A woman’s only role in the society is to be a good daughter, sister, wife and mother. She is not supposed to dream beyond her embroidery designs, the recipes she will use and the husband she will land.
How will Callie’s parents react when her disinterest in all things lady-like and her interest in science becomes apparent? Will Callie’s discussions and expeditions with her grandfather continue? Will Callie be able to challenge the social structure and work towards developing her interest? What will the turn of the century bring for Callie and her family? The Evolution Of Calpurnia Tate goes on to answer these questions.
I must say I loved this book. I loved the author’s writing style – she has a mature way of writing, that of a seasoned author, and it is hardly apparent that this is the author’s first book. I loved the storyline, and the way it has been dealt with. I loved the issues the book raises. I loved the characters, especially the spunky, irreverent, fire-brand Callie Vee. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading this book.
My only grouse with the book is that it seemed to end abruptly. I would have loved to know a little bit more about where Callie’s life was headed further, but was disappointed on that count. It would be great to have a sequel so that we can have more Callie Vee!
I wouldn’t say this was a life-changing book for me or anything of that sort. Maybe if I had read the book earlier in life, I might have felt like that. I would, however, say that this book is different, it is interesting, it is funny, it is thought-provoking, it has its heart in the right place. It deserves a read, for sure. Though the book mentions the age group of its readers as 8+, I think it is a book for everyone. It is a book that I highly recommend, especially if you have ever questioned status quo and tried not to conform in your life.
This review has been cross-posted at Indian Moms Connect (IMC), here.