Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The Peterkin Papers is a hilarious account of life in the mid-nineteenth century. From the opening story of Mrs. Peterkin accidentally putting salt in her coffee to the last page when she explains that it was not their luggage that was lost, “But we, as a family,” the reader laughs at the adventures of the Peterkins. The novel is an important example of humor in young adult fiction. Set in Boston in the 1870’s, the novel gives readers a satirical view of genteel family life. Lucretia Hale portrays the Peterkins as extremely unwise, but few young adults would argue that they or their families have never behaved as foolishly as the Peterkins.

Each chapter in the book is a complete story in itself. The plots are neither difficult nor complex. The members of the Peterkin family find the most mundane daily decisions to be incomprehensible. In the first episode, and one of the most famous, Mrs. Peterkin accidentally puts salt in her morning coffee, which is considered a tragedy. The entire family gives advice, and they seek a solution from a chemist and an herbalist, but neither can rectify the situation. Finally, the lady from Philadelphia is consulted. She suggests that Mrs. Peterkin simply be given a fresh cup of coffee, to which Elizabeth Eliza exclaims, “Why didn’t we think of that?”

Throughout the novel, readers are reminded of Elizabeth Eliza’s question. In another episode, Mrs. Peterkin decides to go for a ride in the...

(The entire section is 498 words.)