I haven't read something as dense as The Children's Crusade in a long time. Dense in a good way, of course, the type of pages that are filled with content and hard work. Ann Packer surely put a lot into her novel and it most definitely paid off.
The Children's Crusade is about a family over time: the Blairs. Bill, the father, is a pediatrician--an ideal father and role model to his children. If Bill has any faults whatsoever, Packer doesn't write them into her novel. His wife, Penny, on the other hand is another story.
Penny is very focused on her artwork: that which she has given most if not all of her attention after having four children. She even goes as far as to first move from the family house to a converted shed down the hill (that she makes a studio,) and then, once her children are all grown, move away completely to Taos, where there are likeminded individuals.
Robert is the eldest. He tries his hardest to follow in his father's footsteps: he goes to his alma mater and becomes a doctor.
Rebecca, the only daughter, is the most intelligent. She becomes a psychiatrist, focusing on her work (a trait acquired from Penny,) and only settling down in her forties.
Ryan is the compassionate one. He was his mother's favourite. His biggest fault is being too empathetic: perhaps the kindest character in any novel.
And then there's James.
James--the only child whose name does not start with the letter R. The wild child, the accident, for lack of a better term, the fuck-up. James, living away from the rest of his family, comes home several years after Bill's death. He has fallen in love with a married woman and needs the money from the family home to start a new life with her. Bill had written a clause into his will: if Penny had wanted to sell the house, she needed the consent of at least one of her kids. Up until this point, James would do anything to thwart his mother's wishes--it was a relationship filled with hatred and vitriol. But now, James is desperate and is forced to join "The Dark Side" as he puts it.
The character development was thorough and it's hard to pick a favourite. Broken down, each child has their own redeeming traits although none are quite as complex as James.
This novel is a commitment. It isn't something you can just breeze through in a couple of days (unless that's all you're doing.) I'm certain that Packer put everything she had into it and I truly appreciated it.
It is a very good book and I recommend it to anyone that likes reading about families.