A Southern girl learns a troubling truth about her past.
It’s 1921. For two years white 12-year-old Chestnut Hill, along with her 7-year-old triplet siblings, has been living and traveling through the South in a repurposed circus wagon with their snake-oil–salesman father. Resentful, hardened Chestnut just knows Daddy kidnapped her and the triplets and that Mama is frantic. Chestnut draws and mounts posters for the traveling shows that feature the names of towns the family will be visiting next, thus creating a paper trail she hopes Mama will follow. Along the way, the Hills meet up with Daddy’s old “Negro” friend Abraham, who joins them on their travels. He explains that Daddy’s a much better man than Chestnut ever believed—and, tantalizingly, seems to know exactly why Daddy took off with the children; he’s just not telling. Chestnut narrates, giving her story immediacy; her and other characters’ speech are rife with colorful regionalisms and overloaded with similes that may try readers’ patience. Chestnut’s a well-realized, realistically conflicted character, but readers may tire of her unrelenting belief in her father’s villainy and hold on the kidnapping scenario. More troubling are Abraham’s highly stereotyped speech patterns and a pandering characterization. While racism typical of the time and place are acknowledged, it’s unrealistic that prejudice touches these itinerants comparatively little. Other lapses in logic intrude as well.
Atmospheric and ultimately heartwarming but clichéd. (Historical fiction. 9-12)