I bought this book for the library quite a while ago, but didn’t read it myself because, based on the title and cover (I know, I know!), I thought it was mind candy, a sort of literary junk food. And I’m a believer in the feel-good value of junk food, both for the body and the mind, but I’m too busy trying to keep up with other reading to have much time to indulge.
I’m so glad I did get around to reading Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks. I highly recommend this story of sisterhood and friendship, of religion (and religious hypocrisy), and of romantic relationships.
The narrator, Carly, lives in a very affluent neighborhood (Buckhead) in Atlanta, Georgia. When she comes home from a summer of outdoor volunteer work, she is thin and has hairy legs. But Carly is her own person—or so she believes—and she thinks she just might buck the girly trend of her private Christian school classmates, those that Carly derides as Holy Rollers. Although Carly is also a believer, she has a fine sense of when classmates are doing good in order to be perceived as the right kind of people (and to pad their college-entrance applications). One particularly poignant example of this is when a group of students is delivering Christmas stockings to poor children. Carly goes along because she wants to hang out with the guy she has a crush on. When she questions whether they should have given the stockings to the adults, privately, so that they in turn could give them to the children later as a surprise from Santa, one of the more devout girls says, ‘But we are Santa’—with the implication that they need to take credit for that. Details like this throughout the novel indicate that Myracle is having fun with the old idea that going to church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.
So Carly is an oddball at school, but she has always had a deep and loving connection with her younger sister Anna. But Anna is changing, and Carly notes when she arrives home from her summer volunteer experience that Anna has blossomed physically. Yes, Anna has curves and big breasts, a figure type nothing like Carly’s. When the two go back to school at the end of summer vacation, Anna is perceived as a hottie and people ask Carly what it’s like to have a sister who is so gorgeous. And, despite herself, Carly is jealous.
This is where the story could break down into cliché, but Myracle treats the changes in the girls with depth. Other students—especially boys—and teachers—especially males—objectify Anna. She is Anna’s breasts more than she is Anna. And she’s uncomfortable with this. Even her own mother is quietly reprimanding her for gaining too much weight until Carly has the guts to come to Anna’s rescue, telling their mom that ‘they are breasts,’ not fat and to get over it.
Carly—deemed the confident child, the individual, the nonconformist—is used to coming to Anna’s rescue since Anna is a year younger. So it’s pretty rough on her when Anna seems to have more in common with Carly’s lifelong best friend than Carly does. Carly’s great hope for connection is with the new guy at school, Cole, who has ‘soulful eyes’ and loves classic rock music, just as Carly does. But, sadly for Carly, she is going to learn a hard lesson about what soulfulness is.
As the sisters’ relationship shifts, they are, at times, truly vicious to each other. Their ‘fashionista’ mom and social climbing dad aren’t much help. (In fact, if there’s a weakness in the book, it’s that these detached, one-dimensional parents could have raised such great kids.) But the lessons learned and the feel-good ending are rewards.
I think you’re going to like this one.