Title: How the Penguins Saved Veronica
Author: Hazel Prior
Publication date: June 16, 2020
Print length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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.
You guys. This book is so delicious!
Hazel Prior’s debut novel, Ellie and the Harpmaker, was one of my favorite reads of 2019. And now she’s back with a brand new book, and magic strikes again!
Veronica McCreedy is a fussy, unfriendly, skeptical 85-year-old woman, living in her huge house in Scotland. She likes to be left alone, is sure that her memory is perfect (it’s not), and is, in general, fed up with the world, her housekeeper Eileen, and the hand life has dealt her.
While watching a nature program one evening, she stumbles across a documentary series focusing on penguins, and is instantly smitten. At the same time, Veronica’s memories of her ancient past are reawoken when Eileen finds a dusty old padlocked chest in a storage room — reminding Veronica of the secrets she herself has kept locked away for so many years.
High on the list of secrets is the fact that she once had a child, and now decides to find out if she might in fact have any living relatives. With Eileen helping navigate the internet and the outside world, Veronica discovers a 20-something grandson, but meeting Patrick turns into a disappointing experience.
Needing meaning in her life, Veronica turns back to the penguins, becoming especially enamored of Adelie penguins and fascinated by the team of scientists researching these penguins on Locket Island in Antarctica.
Well, what’s a stubborn 85-year-old to do? Veronica sends an email to the research station announcing her imminent arrival, and off she goes! The 3-person research team is dismayed by their unwanted visitor, who flatly refuses to turn around and go home. And when she missed the chance to leave by the same boat that brought her, they have no choice but to adapt to Veronica and keep her comfortable and safe for the three weeks until the next boat arrives.
Meanwhile, Veronica is enthralled by the flock of penguins and insists on rescuing an orphaned penguin chick. While she isn’t a huge fan of the rudimentary living style or the abruptness of one of the scientists, all in all, she’s determined to stay, enjoy, and make a difference.
There’s so much more, but I’ll let you discover the rest on your own! A key piece that I haven’t discussed is that over the course of the novel, Patrick gets the opportunity to read diaries written by Veronica at age 15, which explain so much about her own past as well as his. Through the diaries, and later, through time spent together with the penguins, Patrick and Veronica finally manage to forge a relationship and a possible future as a family.
Ah, this was such a lovely, cheery, delight of a book! Veronica is as crusty and grumbly as you’d expect, and it’s no surprise really that her tough exterior hides a (difficult, quirky, demanding) heart of gold. As we read Veronica’s diaries with Patrick, we learn about the heartbreak and sorrow that she’s lived with all her life, and it’s impossible not to ache for her and the tragic experiences she’s endured.
Of course, one of the delights of the book is the penguins! Through Veronica’s eyes, we get to learn about penguin conservation, the research project, and what mischief baby penguins get up to. Really, they are utterly adorable. I loved the setting so much, and the scientists are sweet and smart, obsessed, and quite adorable too.
How the Penquins Saved Veronica is just the uplifting sort of read I needed this week. It’s sweet and touching — don’t miss it!