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by Debbie Dadey

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-58234-789-1
Publisher: Bloomsbury

After the death of her mother, an emotionally shell-shocked girl is packed off by her icy aunt to live with relatives she’s never met: a nurturing older couple who raised her missing and presumed dead father. Setting her story in rural Kentucky after WWI, Dadey uses her keen eye for detail and gift for atmosphere to pull the reader in by developing a series of provocative mysteries: What’s wrong with protagonist Lillie Mae’s sickly Aunt Esther? Why does her neighbor and classmate Paul hate her and why has he set the other kids against her, making her an outcast at her new school? What’s the strange and terrible smell that emanates from the forbidden attic at night, and finally, what happened to Lillie Mae’s father? Although Dadey does a great job initially of creating intrigue, her carry through and resolution are not as satisfying and in fact, some of the answers to these questions are hazy or out of sync with the rest of the material, which in turn undercuts its emotional power. In particular, the father’s fate comes out of left field; it’s hard to reconcile his last telegram with everything previously learned about him. Like a good sketch artist, Dadey is able to sum up her characters in a few short strokes, and her beleaguered 11-year-old heroine is highly empathetic and understandable. Readers should have no problem identifying with her most universal desire, which is to be connected to people she can love and be loved by in return. (Fiction. 9-12)