Thursday, January 3, 2013

Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm

I took three classes last semester while also working full time, so sorry for the delay! But I did listen to a Newbery while I commuted to school, and I'm glad I did!

Our Only May Amelia was a charming book. Based on the diary of a relative of the author, we follow the semi-true adventures of a twelve-year-old girl living in Nasell, Washington in the 1890s. She is the only girl in town, and between that and having 7 brothers, it's hardly surprising that she's a tomboy extraordinaire!

I actually learned a lot from this book. There were some relatively obvious aspects of turn of the century Northwest culture, e.g. logging, and smuggling of Chinese immigrants, but some things I'd never heard about. The absence of roads until well into the 20th century being a prime example - in some parts of the Northwest, there were so many rivers and waterways that everyone traveled everywhere by boat. When the tide was too high and the river too rough, May Amelia and her brothers didn't go to school - the river was the road. Sending four children to Astoria, OR to stay with relatives seems straightforward enough, but I was shocked to hear that they were going by boat, all alone - miles and miles!
While most of the book is light-hearted, reflecting the boisterous and joyful personality of our protagonist, there is also a tragedy, and a clear-eyed view of true grief. This part was hard to listen to, but incredibly well handled and I think very valuable.

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