In this debut novel for middle school readers, a young girl in 1920s Tennessee begins piecing together memories that seem to be at odds with her isolated backwoods life.
In a harrowing opening, tiny 3-year-old Emma is stolen away from her loving Tennessee family. Flash forward seven years: Emma is now named Clara, and her “Ma,” a reclusive woman named Mattie, doesn’t want her to have contact with outsiders because “[n]o one was to know that Clara wasn’t their biological child.” However, Clara secretly defies Ma’s order and meets Marissa, a young girl her own age. For Clara, the meeting is a revelation, as she has never attended school and has no memory of ever seeing anyone except Ma, Pa and members of one nearby family. She asks Marissa to teach her to read, and Marissa gives her a tantalizing taste of the ABCs. Later, Clara is allowed to accompany Pa on a wagon trip into town, and she encounters a woman who triggers confusing flashes of memory. Soon after, Clara wonders why she starts hearing the name “Emma” in her dreams. Pritchard makes clear that Ma and Pa aren’t evil, explaining in effective, age-appropriate language the dysfunctional situation that led to the kidnapping: A woman whose desperation for a child stemmed from her childhood fears of abandonment, and a reticent husband who, despite his objections, fell in line to appease her. A truly unsavory character does crop up later, but the author handles the threat with care for her target audience. The engaging mystery comes not in puzzling out Clara’s real identity, but in how and when Clara will realize who she really is—or if she will reunite with her real parents. A brief, satisfying epilogue gives readers a glimpse of Emma’s future.
An atmospheric, thoughtfully spun tale by a first-time author.