The year Lizzie Hawkins turns 12, she loses her father, her treasured locket and her position as best student in her class—but narrowly avoids losing a friend.
Times are hard in Bittersweet, Ala., in 1932. Lizzie’s out-of-work father has vanished. Her mother has become silent and unresponsive. Determined not to ask for help, the sixth-grader struggles to cook, wash, keep house and garden, as well as doing the outside mending her mother used to take in to pay the mortgage. Worse, a bullying classmate, determined to steal Lizzie’s academic standing as well as her friend, threatens to reveal her circumstances. Caught up in her own troubles, Lizzie fails to notice that her best friend Ben’s life is even more difficult. As Lizzie tells her story, interspersing it with occasional long journal entries, readers will become more and more impatient with her stubbornness. But, as one of the chapter-heading proverbs preaches, “The greatest conqueror is he who conquers himself,” and providentially, she does. There is a clear, pleasing sense of time and place in this debut novel, created through solid details of a difficult daily life. Lizzie’s voice isn’t always convincing, especially when she writes. But her determination is commendable.
Inspired by the writer’s grandparents’ experiences, this Depression-era story should resonate with modern middle-grade readers. (Historical fiction. 10-13)