Sunday, June 15, 2014
The long way
Another 2014 Newbery Honor book, Amy Timberlake's One Came Home also recently won the Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. Call me cranky today (and I am), but I was unimpressed with both book and audio. The novel takes place in 1871 in the fictional town of Placid, Wisconsin and begins with the return home of an unrecognizable corpse to Georgie Burkhardt and her mother. Because the body is wearing her older sister Agatha's shimmering blue-green ball gown, it is assumed by all to be Agatha. All except 13-year-old Georgie. Since Georgie's the reason that Agatha left home -- blurting out to Agatha's wealthy fiance that Georgie had seen her kissing someone else -- she takes it upon herself to follow Agatha's trail to find out for certain whose body they've buried.
Agatha was last seen in the company of some "pigeoners," people who follow the migration of passenger pigeons in order to harvest the plentiful meat. An enormous nesting (estimated at over 100,000,000 birds) occurred in south-central Wisconsin (containing fictional Placid) just prior to the beginning of the novel. Georgie has an indelible picture of Agatha twirling outside under a parasol during a part of the flyover as the birds covered the sky. (You wouldn't want to be outside during one of these unless you have a particular affinity for bird poop.)
Georgie is a somewhat engaging character, although I found her pugnacious gumption and convenient dead-eye shooting skills to be disingenuous and tiresome. The book takes a long time to get her on that journey, and then it's over pretty quickly. I'm not sure what the passenger pigeons are doing in the story, although the book did send me on a fun bit of curiosity-slaking research about their biology and their extinction (according to Timberlake, there's talk of resurrecting the bird from its DNA). Not content with the pigeons, Timberlake also tosses in a (true) devastating fire that affected Georgie's friends and neighbors (that occurred on the same night as Chicago's Great Fire). Again, interesting history, but it felt like one more thing hanging on the very thin shoulders of this novel.
The audiobook is narrated by Tara Sands. Although Sands channels young girls pretty well -- with a liveliness and seesawing emotion appropriate to the story -- she has a strange drawl that sounds like Georgie is from the southern side of the Mason-Dixon line. She also interprets Georgie's independent streak with a choppy and overly emphatic delivery that was hard to listen to for almost seven hours. Sands reads the author's note (happily included) with the same punchiness, so maybe it's just her narrative style. Odd that it hasn't bothered me until now.
Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books were big faves of mine when I was an elementary school reader, so I probably would have loved this book as a nine-year-old. As a grumpy 50-something, it just didn't send me. I keep meaning to revisit a Little House book on audio; maybe I'm scared I'll feel the same way about them. (Although I see that the great actress Cherry Jones is the reader ... tempting.)
[I do like it when books give me all sorts of illustration options, so I've got both here. The photograph of the plaque commemorating the Peshtigo fire is from Wikimedia Commons.
["Martha, last of her species, died at 1 p.m., 1 September 1914, aged 29, in the Cincinnati Zoological Gardens. EXTINCT." This photograph is from the Smithsonian Institution Archives (where Martha now resides) and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Narrated by Tara Sands
Listening Library, 2013. 6:45