Book Review: What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

You can probably down this book in one sitting and be the better for it. It is formulaic, and follows the same tropes as similar children classics: The Secret Garden, Heidi, Railway Children, Anne of the Green Gables — kids getting into trouble, seeing the light to mend their ways and the family rejoicing happily at the end of the book.

Out of all the children book that I’ve read, Heidi was the most pleasantly surprising. I couldn’t exactly put my finger to exactly what it was — maybe I was enamoured with the grandfather who was a broken man, and for some reason I believe in Heidi’s innocence. In my review for Heidi, I want to believe in the character’s existence. But I cannot say the same for “Katy” because I find the characters flat. We’ve seen these characters before, we’ve seen how the story plays out, we’ve seen someone with some sort of handicap which propels the story and the values it tries to preach, we’ve heard the recycled moral.

I’m not even going to justify why I read this book. After reading the heady “Vindication” by Wollstonecraft, my brain needed some fluff. This book succeeded in that. However, after reading “Vindication”, it almost felt like “Katy” (1872) was an earlier text than “Vindication” (1792) which shows how ahead of her time Wollstonecraft was.

The girls, while receiving an education, still dream about dresses and being beautiful, it was only Katy who had any ambitions to do something great, although she knows not what. In the end her success (as great as it was due to her tragic circumstances) was to be able to manage her father’s house successfully. Clover, the second eldest daughter was praised as being a “born housewife”. I guess there is a zest in me wanting children back in the 1870s to be able to think outside of pruning themselves for coquetry and instead towards rationality and independence.

Yet Coolidge (Or if you’d prefer, Woolsey) led her life as an independent woman, and did not rely on a husband to support her. I guess in some ways, she wrote what was expected of her. The publishers wanted another “Little Women” after seeing the success, and in some ways “Katy” also resembles this. I think personally, she should’ve done better and do more justice to her characters.

A full time project manager who loves to read on the side. Connect with me to chat anything tech and lit.