Across the Pond by Joy McCullough

Across the Pond

Information

Goodreads: Across the Pond
Series: None
Source: ARC received from publisher
Published: March 16, 2020

Official Summary

From the author of A Field Guide to Getting Lost comes a heartwarming story about new beginnings, burgeoning friendships, and finding your flock.

Callie can’t wait for her new life to start. After a major friendship breakup in San Diego, moving overseas to Scotland gives her the perfect chance to reinvent herself. On top of that, she’s going to live in a real-life castle!

But as romantic as life in a castle sounds, the reality is a little less comfortable: it’s run-down, freezing, and crawling with critters. Plus, starting off on the wrong foot with the gardener’s granddaughter doesn’t help her nerves about making new friends. So she comes up with the perfect solution: she’ll be homeschooled. Her parents agree, on one condition: she has to participate in a social activity.

Inspired by a journal that she finds hidden in her bedroom, Callie decides to join a birding club. Sure, it sounds unusual, but at least it’s not sports or performing. But when she clashes with the club leader, she risks losing a set of friends all over again. Will she ever be able to find her flock and make this strange new place feel like home?

Star Divider

Review

Across the Pond is a delightful travel novel sure to please readers who enjoy vicariously exploring other countries. Callie and her family move to Scotland when her parents decide to renovate an old castle left to them by a deceased friend. Callie is initially excited to be leaving her old life behind–her friends were mean and she now has some anxiety about attending school and fitting in. But Scotland does not turn out to be quite the new start Callie hoped, and she soon realizes that she will have new problems to confront. Across the Pond is a fairly conventional middle-grade novel about growing up, making friends, and finding one’s place in the community. But the Scottish setting and Callie’s somewhat unusual new hobby–birding–will initially hook readers and then keep them engaged.

The setting will likely be one of the first things to attract readers to Across the Pond, and Joy McCullough makes sure to give Scotland a starring role. Callie wonderfully gets to live in a castle, complete with locked trunks to spark the imagination and old diaries to give her (and readers) a glimpse of growing up in the 1940s. McCullough also spends time describing the small town life (slowing giving way to modernity as the family-owned stores of the past go out of business and chain stores move in) and playing up the comedic differences between American English and the words Callie learns from her new friends. All this gives readers a sense of being able to explore a new place and a new culture with Callie.

Also notable is Callie’s new hobby, twitching (or birding, as most readers would probably call it). The book goes to great lengths to connect birding to Callie’s difficulties with making friends, but, ultimately, comparing people to specific types of birds does not add much to the story. More relevant is that birding gives the homeschooled Callie (homeschooled because she’s afraid to meet the kids at the local school) an opportunity to connect with her peers while learning a new skill she really enjoys. Sexism in birding also receives a lot of attention, with Callie having to deal with a prejudiced birding leader–something she does in part by learning more about the activity and the women and girls who have worked hard to make it more welcoming and equitable. Readers will enjoy getting to learn more about birding, and may even be inspired to try it out for themselves.

Across the Pond is not exactly a standout novel, but it is a solid book, one that will appeal to readers who enjoy books set in different countries or books about unusual hobbies. The sympathetic characters also add a certain charm to the story. Joy McCullough is definitely an author I want to read more of.

3 Stars