Saturday, May 4, 2013

One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

You can smell and taste Timberlake's sentences like beef bourguignon drenched in a saporous burgundy wine sauce. That's a mouthful, no? I've never used the word, "saporous." Makes me sound smart, don't you think? Okay, I know you are not fooled by me, but you might be fooled by Georgie. Georgie has a high-kickin' vocabulary too. She uses words like veneration, ornithology,  ablutions, to name a few. She delights in using big words. Listen to her conversation with the young Garrow's girl: "'It's a mule,'" I [Georgie] said irritably. I didn't care for my mount being referred to as a pet. Especially by a girl less than half my size, with not a tenth of my vocabulary." Meet Georgie. She is precise, blunt, strong-headed, and stubborn. Swagger in a bit of Annie Oakley and you have a fun character with a distinct voice. She's the right mix of youthful immaturity, thirteen-year-old sassy attitude, and raw honesty.

Georgie's sister, Agatha, has been found dead. When the body is returned to the family, it is in such an advanced state of decay it can't be properly identified. Georgie refuses to believe it is her sister. Guilt plagues her marrow because Agatha has run off as a result of Georgie interfering with Agatha's relationship with her fiance. Nobody likes a tattler, but imagine if your whistleblowing killed your sister. That's Georgie's quagmire.  A quest to seek redemption and answers regarding what happened to Agatha lead Georgie on a giddyup adventure set in the late 1800's with guns, horses, passenger pigeons, and one hilarious mule.Grab yer spurs with this fun one.

Georgie's character and the gorgeous writing made me devour this story. The beginning uses flashbacks which I have an aversion to because when poorly done they pull the plug on pacing, but that isn't the case here. At least for me. The flashbacks introduce Agatha and also make Georgie's high vocabulary more plausible since Georgie is looking back as an adult on her experiences in 1871. The beginning has more flashbacks and once the mystery starts to get solved by Georgie, they trickle near the end to reflect Georgie's thoughts. I wondered if the pacing would have been served better if the character information on Agatha came through interactions with characters and plot moving forward using tension set in the present versus Georgie thinking about it. I did like how Timberlake transitioned into the flashbacks especially when Georgie is blasting glasses to smithereens with her shotgun. The flashbacks are short so I didn't feel they interfered with the pacing.

My reading notes are a "cornucopia" of great lines. "I was like some old cow on her cud, continually rechewing wilted, partially digested conversations.Billy folded his arms across his chest. He'd been rambling on and on about Agatha, oblivious to the fact that my mind had been elsewhere. (Some people assume your attention. It is annoying.)" Or "But up until that moment, I possessed absolute certainty of the rightness of my cause. I would have said, with confidence, that my sister was seeing Mr. Olmstead for his library. (Beware of such convictions, for they are fraught with peril.)" Or "memories pressed in on me, so I set the pencil down and picked up the Springfield rifle." Eventually my notes tapered to jots of interesting word combinations: "a cornucopia of admirable characteristics," "yelped happily," "chitchat and parlor games," "wrangled my emotions,""cinched up her face," "trampousing about," and more. Then there are the euphymisms: shat for... you got it! Easy to guess that one. Dadgum means goddamn or damn-dumb - just kidding. Not quite as easy to figure out as shat.

Good children's books tend to touch both kids and adults. One thing I got out of this was Georgie's stages of grief. She has to face a tragic death and at first denies it. When she does accept it, the pain of her grief is so primal and violent, she howls. I cried here because it reminded me of dealing with a tragic death in my own life where I listened to a loved one grieving cried like her soul was being ripped from her body. Her anguish was wrenching and, at least for me, Timberlake captures this emotion brilliantly when Georgie goes beserk. Georgie's next stage of grief is blaming herself for her sister's death and seeking redemption. Timberlake mixes humor with the grief so it doesn't become overwhelming. She also shows Georgie grieving over her older sister getting married and leaving home. My younger sister explained to me that she had those same feelings when I got married and said she cried as a teenager. While Georgie grieves that she will not be able to run the store with her sister, I recalled my sister asking me how could I live without her. In hindsight I should have talked about my upcoming marriage. I remember laughing when she said, "Who's going to find your socks for you or let you in the house when you forget your house key?" I always threw rocks at her window to let me in the house. It never dawned on me that she was sad and showing sisterly love.

Timberlake does a great job with the inner landscape of the characters. While the story is a murder mystery and historical novel on passenger pigeons, I felt the steady beat of dealing with the loss of a loved one moreso than solving the crime. The mystery has a few small bullet holes in it, but I'm not going to talk about it because I'll give away the plot. Some obvious questions aren't addressed and Georgie does some incredible feats, but it wasn't enough to derail the story. It might draw a raised brow, but the humor pulls it along. The ending didn't quite work for me. It puts the stress on the pigeons and I thought put the emphasis on guns and the environment - it felt too much like the author's opinions. Georgie's reflecting but it didn't strike the right chord with me. I think the chapter before that ends on the feather would have been stronger because that encompasses not only the birds but Agatha who is compared to a feather that floats in the air throughout the novel, rather than a feather that settles on the ground. I did like how Timberlake kept using the cougar episode to show how Georgie was traumatized by it and thus, reinforcing her youthfulness and inexperience. Billy's raising of four brothers and skills as a caregiver, were another nice detail that were built on in chapters from him cooking to cleaning scrapes. All-in-all this is a book I can ballyhoo to the students about without a problem.

One last line to leave you with, "Have I mentioned my full name? It's Georgina Louise Burkhardt. Now, Georgina doesn't suit me - it's the kind of name that has daisies growing out of it. But Georgie is fine by me and fine by everyone else too."

Reading Level 4.9
4 Smileys

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