My favorite childhood book begins with the line, “It was winter in New York City and the days were short.” This simple yet eloquent line sets the tone for the entire novel.
“Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters” follows the story of Cornelia Street Engleheart, the introverted child of a famous pianist, as she learns more about her mysterious new neighbor, Virginia.
My favorite part of this book is the characters.
When I was younger, I resonated with the young bookworm, Cornelia. She is inquisitive and intelligent. She is also witty, as shown by her interactions with her mother’s irritating friend and her stodgy doorman.
Now that I’m older, I dream of being like Cornelia’s mysterious new neighbor, Virginia. Virginia traveled the world with her three sisters, visiting faraway places like Morocco and India. She is also a published and well-known novelist. When she returns to New York, Virginia creates rooms based on each of her travels. I would love to spend an afternoon reading in Virginia’s English library or eating pastries in her French sitting room.
Even the side characters in this novel are lifelike and notable. Madame Desjardins, Cornelia’s French housekeeper, is one of my favorites. The mental image of a brash, nosy French housekeeper traipsing around the apartment in her standard white apron is fun and creative.
Even Virginia’s dog, Mister Kinyatta, is full of personality and life. Readers are first introduced to the energetic black bulldog when he attempts to escape the apartment. Cornelia prevents a catastrophe when she lures him back to the apartment with cupcakes. He continues to be an adorable presence throughout the novel.
I also love how Cornelia grows throughout the novel. In the beginning, she uses books to deflect attention and distract herself from the outside world. Under Virginia’s guidance, Cornelia uses books to forge new connections and make friends.
My favorite part of Cornelia’s growth is that she doesn’t just magically become extroverted. She struggles with being more involved and social. In novels and television, being introverted is often seen as a bad trait that a character must shed to grow. I despise this trope because being introverted is not a flaw and does not need to be fixed. Although Cornelia makes new friends and becomes more comfortable around people, she is still naturally introverted.
I also love the setting of the novel. New York City’s Greenwich Village is beautiful and the perfect place to tell Cornelia and Virginia’s story.
“Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters” was a defining novel of my childhood. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a whimsical and fun story.