An impressive debut that’s both historical fiction and enchanted realism.
The protagonist opens the book by proclaiming: “[t]here wasn’t one soul who knew how I made up things.” Thus begins the story of Violet Blake, accomplished 12-year-old liar and proud of it. Violet is also angry, feeling abandoned by her mother, who left, taking Violet’s beloved younger brother but leaving her daughter behind. However, hope arrives in the form of a hand made of copper that Violet believes can grant wishes. First she finds a friend in Mercy, a girl who summers in Violet’s Lake Michigan–side town. Then she gets a job as an assistant to the (remarkably for 1906) independent-minded photographer Miss Zalzman. But Mercy’s despicable older brother soon steals the hand, and a plan is hatched to retrieve it that has unforeseen consequences. The magic of the hand is presented in such a way that readers have the option of believing in it or not—it’s always a pleasure when an author trusts her readers to come to their own conclusions. Gibson examines race, ethnicity, class and tragedy without didacticism or oversimplification, and while all of the characters are well-crafted, the imperfect protagonist is particularly refreshing. Furthermore, Violet’s poor choices have real-world consequences, and those negatively affected are not blissfully forgiving but instead help Violet feel the depth of her transgressions.
Fresh, subtle, daring: well done indeed. (Historical fiction. 9-13)