The Goodbye Season by Marian Hale
Released September 2009.
This is Hale’s third historical novel. Set during the 1918 epidemic, it follows young Mercy. The member of a sharecropper’s family, she is so poor that her family is forced to send her away to work for someone ten miles from them just to have her fed. Mercy works hard and soon bonds with the couple she serves and their two hired men. But after one trip to town, one hired man is dead and Mercy is sent away for her own safety. She returns home to her family, finding the house empty and her mother and three siblings buried near the house. Mercy is now alone and penniless. She finds a job taking care of a woman and her two small children. But something is strange about the family and Mercy finds herself drawn to the older stepson who may know the answer to the mystery.
An intricate tale of loss, grief, mystery, and love, this book is well plotted and filled with surprises. Mercy is a heroine who never despairs, works incredibly hard, and makes her own way. She is gentle, sweet and yet strong and resilient. At the same time, she is conflicted and unsure often. She is a character worth spending time with in her complexity. The 1918 epidemic will fascinate teens who are hearing about swine flu around them. The devastation of the epidemic is clearly evoked without becoming graphic or overwhelming.
One quibble I have is with the cover art. Why, why, why is Mercy wearing lipgloss and mascara?! Love the hair, the face, the look, the setting. But the makeup just doesn’t work.
An historical novel that is sure to please, this book while about a 17-year-old character would be appropriate for readers as young as 12.
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
Released September 2009.
Head back to the wonderful character of Grandma Dowdel. In this third novel, it is 1958 and a family has moved in next door to her. They are poor as church mice, appropriate since the father is a Methodist pastor. The children include Bob, who immediately falls prey to the town bullies in remarkable fashion. There is his older sister Phyllis, who is obsessed with Elvis and with one of the bullies who bears a resemblance to The King. And then there is his younger sister, Ruth Ann, who is a little lost until she meet Grandma Dowdel. This delightful novel tells the story of the year the family spends next door to Grandma Dowdel who insists that she is neither neighborly or church going, yet manages to always be both.
Peck’s characterizations are as always clever and revealing. He has such a gentle touch with his characters even as he is showing far more of their psyche and personality than one might realize. Peck’s humor has a vintage feel as is appropriate to the time and place. It is uproariously funny. After reading two werewolf books (and setting both aside) it was a real breath of fresh cold air to read Peck’s novel.
Tightly plotted, humorous and beautifully wrapped up in the end, this book is a real treat. Appropriate for ages 8-12, I can see entire families enjoying this one as a read aloud. Classrooms would also enjoy the escapades and fun while learning a touch of history along the way.
Also reviewed on Sarah Miller’s blog.
This is last week’s news, but it’s important enough to repeat!
Siobhan Dowd has won the Carnegie Medal for children’s literature, making her the first author to win posthumously. She won the medal for Bog Child. Her first novel, A Swift Pure Cry, was also shortlisted for the Carnegie.
Dowd began writing in 2003 and died in 2007. In those four short years, she created four books for young people. Amazing.