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In this picaresque novel, a teen-age girl--who happens to be a dwarf with a humpback--refuses to see herself as a freak or to allow others to treat her as one. Gabriella Wheeler is orphaned at 13 (losing parents who had never allowed her to leave the house) and is taken in by Tante Eloise, who makes her live in the basement and leaves a shredded-wheat biscuit and a cup of milk at the top of the stairs for her breakfast. At school she is a fine student, though tormented by the other girls. Then Tante Eloise says she is too poor to keep her, and Gabriella is accepted, sight unseen, as a chore girl on the Montana farm of the Shevala family. She falls in love with a young minister, whom she thinks loves her too, but finds that he wants her only as a false example of a miracle healing. She becomes a teacher in a one-room school, overcoming the children's taunts, and eventually has a genuine admirer of her own. The scenes of Gabriella's childhood, however Dickensian in feeling, are unclear in tone and not always convincing, and the didactic moments (""Everyone is handicapped in some way. . ."") interfere with the book's intensity--though when the story moves to Montana, there are stunning descriptions of family, fistfights, illness, and, especially, horses, a nighttime sleigh-ride, and snow. Gabriella is hard to love unreservedly--she is too driven--but she inspires unlimited admiration as she protects her humanness. An unusual book.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Page count: 207pp
Publisher: Atheneum