November 10, 2013

Four Seasons of Patrick

by Susan Hughes
Red Deer Press
80 pp.
Ages 7-10
October, 2013

Hard to believe that, in a spare 80 pages, author Susan Hughes efficiently and thoroughly takes the reader through a significant year of growth and tumbles in the life of Patrick McAllister, a young boy whose life revolves around his best friend Harry and his family, Dad and older brother Trevor.

Four Seasons of Patrick begins in winter with Patrick enjoying the familiar routines of first snow days with Harry and late night walks with his family to pick out "Mom's star" in the dark sky.  While Patrick cherishes the comfort of these traditions, he notes that his dad's new "friend" Linda and her pesky seven-year-old daughter may change things.  Sure enough, spring brings Dad's announcement that he and Linda are getting married and that Linda and Claire would be moving in at the end of August.  Patrick is overwhelmed by this, thinking of little else, including his friend, as he tries to find a way to cope.  After some drastic notions, Patrick comes up with the idea of a tree house for himself and Harry.

So, with the start of summer, Dad begins renovations on the house and Patrick and Harry start looking for the perfect tree for their hideaway.  The search seems futile until their neighbour Mr. Mutter points them in the right direction, and Patrick realizes that,
"...perfect doesn't always end up matching the picture in your mind." (pg. 48)
But the joy of building their tree house is tempered by Patrick's dad's delays in visiting it, though he does insist the boys take a somewhat-withdrawn Claire to see it. And, with the beginning of autumn and the school year, Patrick is asked to take on even more responsibilities for Claire who has become further withdrawn. 

Readers will empathize with Patrick's situation, as the youngest boy whose discomfort is discounted by Trevor's eager acceptance and by Claire's trumping them all as the youngest and the only girl.  Four Seasons of Patrick indicates that Patrick spends much time on introspection and consideration of his new family situation, and is able to finds the means to accept it and ultimately support Claire as she needs.  Without making him into a self-deprecating victim of family turmoil, Susan Hughes creates Patrick as any child in such a situation: he works at figuring out what's happening and how he can find a place to fit in, because there certainly is at least one.  He plays neither the victim nor the aggressor, and consequently will be that character to whom many children of blended families will relate.

It seems to me that when blending families, all participants must be on their toes, paying attention to any awkwardness, hesitancy, or aggression that may reveal itself.  And while I don't expect that children be allowed to direct the family dynamics or be mean and nasty, I would expect that their feelings not be negated or relegated to less-important status because of their age or gender.  Yes, Patrick is having issues with Linda and Claire coming into their family, but Dad certainly doesn't give Patrick more than lip-service.  Regardless, Patrick is able to find the supports he needs and ascend to an even better version of himself.  Isn't that what growing up is all about?

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