by Joan W. Blos
Interests: history, American history, single parent families, farm life, country life, ethical questions, death
Also by this author: Letters from the Corrugated Castle: A Novel of Gold Rush California 1850-1852; Brothers of the Heart: A Story of the Old Northwest 1837-1838; Brooklyn Doesn’t Rhyme; The Grandpa Days
Entries from a diary of a New England girl recount daily events, struggles and dilemmas. Catherine Cabot Hall, 13, writes about life on the farm, events at school, a mysterious stranger in the woods, the remarriage of her widower father, and the death of her best friend. She is particularly concerned about moral problems, primarily how to be good and how best to practice charity and forgiveness.
It is a common fault of historical fiction, particularly with female protagonists, for the author to transplant a girl with a very modern mind into the distant past, the better to appeal to modern readers. This book does not fall into that trap, but presents a narrator who speaks, writes and thinks as a child of her time would have done. (Some words and turns of speech may not be so familiar to us now, but give the book added authenticity.) Catherine is not “spunky” or defiant; she doesn’t rebel from her household duties but strives to work even harder and be a better help to her father. Her preoccupation with inspirational quotes and Bible lessons, and her sincere desire to be a good person are convincing and true to the period. Which makes it even more interesting when she does act secretly, bringing a quilt and food to a runaway slave hiding in the woods near the school.
The short daily entries make for an easy read, and it is a slim volume, but be aware it is rather a quiet, meditative book. Though the changes for Catherine in this pivotal period are great, the main drama exists in her thoughts and opinions of herself and others. One review called it “low-key, intense and reflective.”