Then There Were Five is written by Elizabeth Enright. It was first published in1944 by Henry Holt; as usual, I read the 1997 Puffin edition. It is the third book in the Melendy family quartet. Learn more about Enright here.
“Mark Herron is an orphan, forced to work on his brutal guardian’s farm. He’s had no hope and no friends—until he meets the Melendys. Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver become almost like family to him, but even they can’t change Mark’s life. Or can they?”
What I Liked:
This is probably the darkest of Enright’s Melendy series due to Mark’s situation, but it still has tons of happy feelings, lightheartedness, and fun amid the seriousness. The dark material is dealt with quite well and carefully for a children’s book, and things that may be treated with more detail in YA and adult novels are glossed over or implied rather than directly stated. It’s a good way to show different family situations without either ruining or romanticizing the Melendy family dynamic.
My favorite part of the book is Mona and Randy’s canning adventure and the fair the children (the children! Not the adults) put on. As I’ve mentioned before, I love reading about children actively doing creative things like fairs and plays and so on. I also love, once again, the adventures and the exploring that goes on. These children could roam the woods and go to strangers’ houses by themselves. Nowadays, you can’t even send your nine-year-old to the playground without getting arrested.
What I Didn’t Like:
The book seems to go on forever when you hit the last three chapters or so. I found myself wondering when it was going to end. The last chapter could have probably been completely cut without much detriment, especially since the previous two chapters already explored the theme of the last (Mark’s obtaining a family).
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Genre: Children’s, Realistic
Warnings: A small amount of dark themes implied (child abuse, mostly, but Orrin’s death is also fairly dark).
“Hello,” said Randy. It came out in a sort of a croak; she couldn’t tell whether he was going to be fierce or friendly, but risked the greeting anyhow.
“H’lo,” said the boy, and to her astonishment and gratification smiled a shy, radiant smile.
“Your father’s just chased us off your place,” Rush said, as Lorna Doone lowered her head to the roadside weeds. “We wondered if he had any scrap for us, but he didn’t seem to feel like giving any.”
“Aw, he’s means as a rattlesnake,” said the boy carelessly, and seeing the shocked faces bedore him, added, “He’s not my father. He’s m’ second cousin. Took me to live with him when I was orphaned.”
In the midst of all this, of course, Rush, Mark, Oliver and Willy came in, hungry for lunch. Observing the sea of glass and spilt tomatoes Rush assumed a murderous leer, and prowled to and fro growling, “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!” Then he stood up straight, frowned importantly, and turned to Willy Sloper. “Call Scotland Yard at once, Carstairs. Something extremely fishy has been going on here. A clear case of vegetable homicide!”
“Oh, Rush, it can’t be noon,” wailed Mona. ‘We’ve only started. We haven’t even thought about lunch.”
“They could have some cornflakes,” said Randy helpfully. “And there are some cold noodles in the icebox.”
“Cornflakes. Cold noodles,” commented Rush. Then he crouched again. “BL-OOD! BL-OOD!”
Then There Were Five is probably my least favorite Melendy book, which is to say that I like it the least of the four. It drags a little bit at the end, but the rest of it is the same old Melendy shenanigans. The additional, slightly dark material that Enright introduces also makes it a much more mature novel than the others.
You can buy this book here: Then There Were Five (Melendy Quartet)