The opening line of this middle-grade novel is in the engaging voice of May Amelia Jackson, the only sister to seven brothers on a farm near the Nasel River in Washington state in 1900. May Amelia is believable as a girl growing up in a boy’s world. She says: “My brother Wilbert tells me that I’m like the grain of sand in an oyster. Someday I will be a Pearl, but I will nag and irritate the poor oyster and everyone else up until then.”
May Amelia’s brothers and the boys at school are pranksters and she’s always on the wrong end of their jokes. But the boys are not her biggest obstacle. May Amelia’s relationship with her father is a much bigger struggle: “Pappa says I’m Just Plain Stupid because I Never Pay Attention and that he would rather have one boy than a dozen May Amelia’s because Girls Are Useless.”
The struggles in the story are balanced with wonderful, wry humor. A neighbor, Old Man Weilen, continually asks May Amelia whose boy she is no matter how many times she’s tells him she ain’t no boy. A bull named Friendly terrorizes the children at school, and May Amelia helps her favorite Uncle come up with new ways to die whenever she sees him. The story is a kind of romp through silliness and hardship.
The unusual first person narrative doesn’t have a single quotation mark in the entire book, and yet I was never lost as to who was speaking, and the narrative moves at a nice clip. The author capitalizes words in the middle of sentences for emphasis, which some may see as a device but which I feel strengthens her characterization.
The book is full of surprising tragedy which gives the book weight to balance the twang of the dialogue. It’s not a “cute” story. It has heart, spirit, and endearing characters.
—Kari Baumbach, children’s literature enthusiast
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