Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Lynn Cullen

Age Range: 8 - 12

Pub Date: March 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-06-029133-8
Publisher: HarperCollins

In a story that spans the four seasons of 1821, 12-year-old Nelly and her older brother, Cornelius, see their family devastated by the death of their mother, turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of their young and bookish stepmother, and enlivened by visits from a most peculiar John Chapman, a neighbor fond of planting apple trees. Set on the Indiana frontier, this has all the elements of a Little House wannabe. Here, though, Pa is gruff and non-communicative, disappearing for months and returning only with his pretty new wife Margery. Said wife brings a trunk full of books but can’t cook the simplest foods. Pa and Cornelius spend a good deal of their time hunting and even bring home a catamount baby that Nelly adopts. Pa has killed the mother for her skin and warns Nelly that the adorable creature will grow up to kill. Nelly pays him no mind, to her eventual regret. She even cooks up a rather absurd romance between John Chapman and her stepmother. Needless to say, Nelly grows to appreciate her stepmother’s good points, especially her storytelling and her books. When her baby arrives, it is Nelly who is present and Nelly who promises the dying Margery that she will love and cherish the infant. Cullen works hard to make Nelly an appealing heroine and develops the conflict in Nelly between love for her dead mother and growing respect for the stepmother. There’s also a storyline for brother Cornelius who goes to a nearby abandoned fort ostensibly for schooling but really because of a girl. The father remains a stock, underdeveloped character, and while the hardships and loneliness of frontier life are developed in the story, references to relations with Indians appear thrown in merely for good measure. Pleasant but unsubstantial fare. (Fiction. 8-12)