Novelist Ann Packer writes strong characters. In the family saga THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, an idealistic loner back from the Korean War falls in love with some California land- the homestead for his future family. Married to a woman whose dreams do not match his, he becomes a pediatrician. The couple decides to have three children …and then they are surprised by a fourth pregnancy.
The oldest son is a bright and serious worrier. The daughter is whip-smart and unemotionally practical. The younger son is an artistic and emotional dreamer. By the time the youngest son arrives, the children have become a team of caretakers for their mother, who wishes to escape family responsibilities and concentrate on her art. Her husband seems unperturbed by whatever happens and does not acknowledge her need for emotional support, although his emotional support for the children never wavers.
That fourth child shakes their world. He is a whirling dervish in constant motion (and trouble), challenging every status quo and hungry for love. He is the daily project of the three older children who care for and protect him. He is the daily burden to his mother who tries to avoid him. And he is the beloved and forgiven baby of his patient father.
As the children grow up, the parents grow apart. The characteristics of each child intensify as their adult lives unfold. The homestead- the family house- becomes a focus of contention, with the youngest son and his connections to each member of the family the catalyst for the story. His story is one of missing maternal love – a psychological analysis that works its way into the novel.
“The Children’s Crusade” is a project in which the children try to plan how to make their mother happy. It’s a task beyond their capabilities, yet it colors their childhood years with lasting impact.