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AN ORPHAN FOR NEBRASKA by Charlene Joy Talbot



Pub Date: March 9th, 1979
Publisher: Atheneum

An orphan, true, but no helpless mite. Kevin O'Rourke is eleven, undersize but willing and able to read, when he lands in New York from Ireland (in 1872, says the jacket copy); and though hotheaded Uncle Michael O'Rourke turns out to be in jail (for hitting a foreman who called him ""paddy"" once too often), Kevin soon makes his way in the tight, fighting world of the newsboy--claiming a good beat, hanging out at the Bowery Theater, bedding down in a newspaper pressroom. Then the trespassers are thrown out one night and find their way to the Newsboys' Lodging House--which, despite its comforts, never seems to fill up; orphans are regularly shipped West, the boys discover, to work in exchange for their schooling and keep. With Uncle Michael's okay, Kevin joins the next westbound group--a ragtag assortment of boys and girls whose cranky, wide-eyed crosscountry train ride is the book's second true-to-real-life episode. (""All these foreigners,"" complains scruffy Elizabeth of their fellow-passengers. ""They can't even speak English."") Cottonwood City, Nebraska, is no proper city either: ""They're hoping lots of people will move her and make it one,"" Kevin is told. But, in a scene less agonizing than it must have been in reality, all the children are chosen by one or another decent family--until only Kevin, ""too slight to hold down a plow,"" is left unclaimed. Enter snappy Euclid Smith, editor of the Cottonwood Clarion; doesn't he need a printer's boy? On Kevin's proof that he can indeed read, he's taken on--and the reader begins, with him, an apprenticeship in putting out a prairie weekly and in ""hatching it,"" frontier style. As a winter of blizzards, spelling bees, and growing competence shades into spring, the only cloud on the horizon is the impending arrival of Yuke's fianc‚e from the East--but she backs down at the last moment just when Uncle Michael, out of jail, briefly turns up: Kevin and Yuke will follow him West for a breather--a prospect all the more pleasing because ""there was some place to come back to."" An energetic and generally unsentimental affair, with not only lots of authentic Americana but also some genuine, built-in values.