Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strolm

Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink
by Stephanie Kate Strolm
May 8, 2012

Received copy from NetGalley
Amazon page
Goodreads page
Grade: B+ (but A for the history details that manage to be accurate without overwhelming)

Synopsis (this is the synopsis in the ARC instead of the one on Goodreads mainly because I like it a lot better):  “It’s not like I’ll actually be LIVING in the eighteenth century.  It just looks like the eighteenth century.  A sanitized, tourist-friendly eighteenth century.  I’ll be like an eighteenth-century Disney princess!  Colonial Cinderella!”

Oh, I could see it now.  I had the perfect shade of lip gloss to pull off that all-natural no-makeup makeup look.

It may not be your idea of the best summer before senior year ever, but to Libby Kelting - historical-romance-reading, Jane Austen-adaption-watching, all-around history nerd - working at Camden Harbor (“In here, it’s always 1791!”) is, like, a dream come true.  Supercute coastal Maine location, a fabulous wardrobe of eighteenth-century fashion, hearth cooking, needlepoint...what’s not to love?  Throw in a summer fling with Cam, the hottest sailor in the harbor, and you’ve got yourself an old-fashioned good time.

But it’s not all sonnets and primroses.  Libby has a majorly annoying roommate situation to deal with, and bunking with rookie newspaper reporter Garrett McCaffrey aboard the Lettie Mae Howell is only a tiny step up.  What could be more awkward than sharing a fo’c’sle with a Star Trek-loving geek?

Oh, right.  Sharing a fo’c’sle with a Star Trek-loving geek and the ghost of a drowned sea captain.

It’s not quite the summer she bargained for, but Libby Kelting is going to make it work.

Oh this book!  It’s probably not a shock by now that I love history, and as a previous interpreter at living history museums, I so totally had to leap at the chance to read the ARC of this book.

First things first, Libby is a fun main character - so longing for a Jane Austen-ified version of the past that she has a hard time both seeing history for all its dirty parts and also living in the present.  She’s more than a little grossed out by the reality of cooking over the open fire (and using lard!), but she dives headfirst into her role as Education and Interpretation Intern (or “just a camp counselor” as the hilariously bitchy fellow intern Ashling points out).  Her utter excitement at getting to live in the 18th century and spend a summer teaching little girls about colonial crafts and cooking is slowly tempered by the realisation that nowhere - not even the oldest living history museum in Maine - is perfect.  Instead of living in a historical romance, Camden Harbor (and maybe even the past itself) is full of other people’s opinions, dirt, politics, and the need for more money.  And maybe, just maybe, there’s a ghost of a ship Captain.

Libby's a little too perfect at times almost the epitome of an accomplished eighteenth century girl - she can sing excellently, cook amazingly, sew, read, and be ever-patient with her group of demanding (but adorable) preteen campers.  However I really enjoyed watching her slowly grow over the course of the summer from a girl who escapes into the romance of history to someone who starts to realise that nothing is perfect and sometimes that even is better.

Her crush is one of the ‘Squaddies,’ the boys who do the demonstrations on the museum’s ships.  Cameron’s basically made for any historical romance loving girl - he quotes Shakespeare, brings flowers, and looks really, really good in a pair of breeches.  He’s also pretty much a complete ass, and it frustratingly takes Libby all summer to figure this out.  I would have liked her to catch onto his lady-killing ways earlier - she seems to miss every obvious clue, and the fact that she doesn’t makes her seem stupider than she really is.

There’s a bit of a ghost story as the plot unfolds which forces Libby to spend much of the summer sharing bunks on one of the ships with boy reporter, Garrett - he who wears Stargate t-shirts and flabbergasts Libby by paying absolutely no attention to fashion and who won my heart by reading Northanger Abbey after Libby said it was her favourite Austen.  It’s a slightly contrived plot point, but it’s hard to argue with something that allows one to read about the fo’c’sle (definition: living quarters consisting of a superstructure in the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed) over and over.  Best word ever.

Libby’s best friend from home, Dev, makes appearances both by phone and in person during the course of the novel, and while I enjoyed his character, it would have been nice if the character was slightly less of a stereotypically sassy gay best friend.  I love seeing LGTBQ representation in YA lit, but we need to move on from the stereotypes into real characterizations.  In contrast, the other interns at Camden Harbor have much more well-rounded characters, and while they admittedly have more 'screen time,' given how well Libby knows Dev, I think he could have been developed beyond the stereotype without much trouble.

In tone (other than a small scene with teen drinking), Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink reads more like a middle grade novel than young adult - Libby’s journey is one of self-discovery and the romance, while present, is mostly very sweet.  The history details and realities of a living history museum are consistently right on the mark.  Much more so than I’d ever expected and that part especially brought me great glee. 

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants a charmingly light read about sweet summer romance and self-discovery.  If one’s not terribly interested in history, I’d still recommend it - the history details, as I said, are accurate but not overwhelming and other than a knowledge of the fact that Jane Austen is a 19th century novelist, I don’t think any specific historical knowledge would be required to enjoy the novel.

Thank you to NetGalley and Graphia/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for allowing me to read and review this ARC!


  1. I think this sounds pretty cute. I'm a history nerd myself so I would've loved to have gone to that camp as a kid. I'll keep this in mind when I feel like some nice fluff.

  2. I think this is so cute! Especially since I would have loved to work as a historical reenactment. Actually take that back, I would STILL love to be able to do it now.

  3. @TG I so would've loved that camp too! I remember going to Greenfield Village (a 19c recreated town near Detroit) as a kid and just wishing I could stay.

    @Shoshanah It seriously was adorable - and it made me miss reenacting! I might have to do something about that...I still have all my 18c clothes in the basement.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I read and adore each one.