Good morning! Today’s review is about HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA by Hazel Prior. I don’t typically read general fiction or women’s fiction, but I wanted to see what the hype about this book was. It’s a sweet tale about found family after personal hardship and learning to let others in.
Author: Hazel Prior
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publish Date: June 16, 2020
Print Length: 368
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A curmudgeonly but charming old woman, her estranged grandson, and a colony of penguins proves it’s never too late to be the person you want to be in this rich, heartwarming story from the acclaimed author of Ellie and the Harpmaker.
Eighty-five-year-old Veronica McCreedy is estranged from her family and wants to find a worthwhile cause to leave her fortune to. When she sees a documentary about penguins being studied in Antarctica, she tells the scientists she’s coming to visit–and won’t take no for an answer. Shortly after arriving, she convinces the reluctant team to rescue an orphaned baby penguin. He becomes part of life at the base, and Veronica’s closed heart starts to open.
Her grandson, Patrick, comes to Antarctica to make one last attempt to get to know his grandmother. Together, Veronica, Patrick, and even the scientists learn what family, love, and connection are all about.
I don’t often read general fiction or women’s fiction or whatever category you might sort this book into. However, I saw HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA making its rounds last year to overwhelmingly positive reactions. And, I must say, I agree with the praise.
Though it might not initially seem like it at the start, the theme of this book is about family. Veronica, believing she has no living family left, sets out to find a cause worthy of donating her fortune to. But, in a turn of events, Veronica discovers she has a grandson and, upon meeting him, deems him a lost cause. She therefore turns her full attention to penguins and forces her presence on a research team, much to the reader’s humor and the scientists’ disgruntlement. The new, but rather basic and primitive environment prompts Veronica to take a trip down memory lane–one she’s avoided for most of her life.
I really enjoyed the author’s characterization of Veronica. Frankly, she reminded me a little bit of me, though I’m not one for an established routine. When Veronica sets her mind on something she won’t take no for an answer. Though elderly (which I’m not) and stubborn (which I am), she knows when to ask or accept help, begrudgingly, which is to say she enjoys being self sufficient.
At 85, though, she realizes despite having small hobbies (drinking tea, picking up trash, gardening), she never developed a passion. And she wants to put her money where her devotion lies. Cue penguins. As Veronica observes the penguins in their natural habitat, she feels that spark of meaning. Experiencing nature, specifically penguins, is a semi-religious experience for her, prompting her to open up about her past to one of the researchers. My heart went out to her and I was amazed at her mental strength once she reveals the hardships she endured. This highlights another theme present in the book–that of healing as well as trusting in others to facilitate that healing process.
Lastly, I particularly appreciated the author’s writing style to show Veronica’s firecracker personality. Albeit, she has the decency to keep her observations to herself. But I found myself chuckling on more than a few occasions.
HOW THE PENGUINS SAVED VERONICA is a solid novel about the wonders nature can do for the soul. To a lesser degree, it’s also about the ripple effects trauma can have across generations of family. I recommend this to those seeking an ultimately uplifting story about found family and healing old wounds.
Content warnings: drug use, SPOILER (teenage pregnancy, forced adoption)
Reading format: Paperback