The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Due to a last minute change of plans, Cat and her younger brother Chicken must spend 3 weeks of their summer vacation with grandparents whom they have never met. They live on an island in North Carolina, which is at once an idyllic setting, but also presents challenges to Cat who must manage Chicken special needs, including his tendency to run off. As Cat struggles with her brother’s behavior, she draws closer to her grandparents and to other children on the island. Through these relationships, she discovers new things about herself, but also wounds that hopefully her time on the island can help heal.
My Take: This is a strong first novel by Gillian McDunn and makes a respectable entry into the canon of realistic juvenile literature. The central story of the book is Cat’s growth and change over the summer and her struggle to understand the things that have pulled her family apart in the past. McDunn makes a strong argument that the youngest members are sometimes the best ones to offer an opportunity for a family’s fresh start. The author is adept at exploring several heavy themes — such as the inherent loneliness in care taking, the way that bullies themselves are victimized, the need to control, etc. — without making this into an ‘issues book.’ I would happily recommend this to any reader around 11 years who is ready to consider some heavy themes.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The book Caterpillar Summer is in part inspired by McDunn’s relationship with her brother who multiple disabilities.