By Frances O'Roark Dowell
Expected publication August 26, 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Arie Mae just knows that her cousin in Raleigh is destined to be her own true friend - now she just has to convince cousin Caroline of that truth. So, she sets out on a letter-writing campaign, filling Caroline in on all the goings-on of her small Appalachian town. But what is Caroline never writes back? And what of the group of children just arrived from Baltimore - might Arie Mae find a true friend among them?
This book caught my eye for two reasons - it's told through letters (mostly) and it takes place in 1920s Appalachia. I've a big fan of epistolary novels and I love historical fiction, so I knew I'd be giving this one a try.
While for the most part I enjoyed this book, I'm a bit confused about it. My first point of confusion is with the way it's told - each chapter begins and ends with snippets from the letters that Arie Mae is writing to her cousin Caroline. However, the middles of the chapters don't really feel like they couldn't be part of the letters as well, so it just seemed confusing to write it this way. The only difference between the letters and the parts that aren't letters is the font - at least, this is the only difference I really noticed.
My next point of confusion is Arie Mae's persistence in writing to someone she's never met and who never writes back. Maybe she's just a much more determined child than I (my penpals never lasted more than a few letters, despite my strong desire to have friends from all over the world), but it just didn't make sense to me. It almost seems like a strange fixation for Arie Mae to write Caroline. I realize that the author is probably trying to show the power of words to heal familial wounds or something along those lines, but it just didn't sit right with me.
Lastly, my confusion about the book as a whole - nothing much really happens. I mean, yes, there is a bit about a boy Arie Mae meets who becomes ill after an adventure they take together, and there's another little bit about a potential ghost, but really this is more of a quiet, character-driven novel. I'm not sure how much of a call there is for those kinds of novels for the middle-grade set - I'm sure there are kids interested in reading simple stories of other children's lives, but those don't seem to be the kinds of books flying off our shelves. Historical fiction is often a harder sell, as well, so I struggle with finding an audience for this book. For the right reader, it's definitely a sweet little read, but it will take some work to find that reader.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.