Ren (short for Renata) spends her summer after sixth grade in a long-abandoned town near her Midwest home not far from the Mississippi River.
Though the sign for Fortune shows the population as 12, down from 128, Ren has never seen anyone in the dusty streets of the old town. It’s only when a temporary falling out with her mother leads Ren to try to rent a room at the old Fortune Consolidated School, recently turned boardinghouse, that she discovers both the lively past and present of the town. The boardinghouse’s owner, spry but elderly Hildy, plans to create a museum in what was once the school gymnasium. The museum will be filled with memorabilia from the town’s heyday making buttons from clam and mussel shells pulled from the Mississippi. There’s a fortune hidden somewhere in the school—left for Hildy by a brother who never returned from the Korean War. The discovery of its hiding place is left to Ren’s sleuthing with the help of newfound friends. Ren as narrator is appealing: pragmatic, smart, and candid. Ray’s narrative is rich and diverting, full of real history and a complex story for each character, and she adroitly gathers all the threads together. An author’s note explains the novel’s back story in the true history of the Mississippi’s button towns, now faded away.
Like its protagonist, full of heart. (Fiction. 9-12)