Did it feel a bit odd to read a book set in Antartica while reading poolside?
Nope, not even a little. You see, How the Penguins Saved Veronica is so utterly absorbing, it doesn’t matter where you read it. Hazel Prior, author of Ellie and the Harpmaker, has once again crafted incredibly nuanced characters and mastered their voices so perfectly that you don’t even have to read the chapter heading to see who is speaking. The character’s voices are so perfectly in line with who the character is, it feels natural to read two first person narrations by an 85 year old feisty woman and a mid-twenties dude.
Veronica McCreedy is our 85 year old protagonist, and it inside her mind where we mostly preside. She lives in a rambling rural house and tries to make the world a tiny bit better by picking up litter along her daily walk near the sea. She is quite set in her ways, and is often depicted as a bit peculiar and possibly even eccentric. All at once she discovers a group of penguins in Antartica whose researchers are low on funds and a disgraceful grandson, and concludes a visit to Antartica is required to decide if she shall leave her wealthy legacy to the penguins.
Her estranged mid-twenties grandson Patrick is having a rough time, and tends to falter at just the worst moments. After making a terrible first impression on Veronica, he stumbles his way through attempting to mend it. He has his own motivations for the relationship. His career struggles and love life failures are completely relatable, and I found myself grateful for his small support system.
As it turns out, finding out who you are and where you belong in the world is not just a young man’s game. Veronica finds many challenges in Antartica, from an orphaned baby penguin to a team of scientists who are less than thrilled she’s descended upon them. But the greatest change must take place within her, for perhaps her hardened heart can be softened by these wild creatures and their scientists.
One of the things that makes Hazel Prior’s books so wonderful is that each character, from the protagonist to the tiniest sub-plot character, is fully formed. While Veronica and Patrick may be our main characters, every character we meet is well developed. From the grumpy scientist to the best friend’s daughter, their personalities are clearly exhibited without any pointless rambling. Dialogue is realistic and relatable amongst likable characters.
The setting is unique and spectacular, from the Scottish vistas and dowdy bedsit to the vast glories of Antartica. Each setting is cleverly described such that the reader feels immersed without feeling overwhelmed.
The journeys taken in this novel are both literal and emotional. As Veronica mentally explores her past, we discover why she is so set in her ways and why she is determined to leave a positive legacy behind.
This book is a gem and a delight, and will be available Tuesday, June 16, 2020.