History, science, adventure and fantasy combine in this tale that carries readers from the plains of Kansas to Antarctica.
In mid-19th-century Tolerone, Kansas, the sparklingly named Hallelujah Wonder is moping: pining for her murdered scientist-explorer father, lonely for her Massachusetts roots and awakening to the moral dilemma of slavery. This last has been brought about by the growing abolitionist movement and her friendship with Eustace, an enslaved boy. Hallelujah narrates in the present tense, interspersing her accounts with asides to readers, making for a tone that is both cozy and bluntly practical (Hallelujah is determined to be scientific): “Looks like you croaked,” she remarks at one point to a dead rattlesnake. The core propulsion of the plot is a mysterious, shrunken Medicine Head that Hallelujah’s father brought back from an expedition and that the evil sea captain Cornelius Greeney now seeks. Charged with its protection, Hallelujah and Eustace set out on an adventure that simultaneously challenges and defends Hallelujah’s scientific worldview. Pulse-quickening exploits and taut descriptions will keep readers riveted. Some moments are too obviously teaching moments, such as when Hallelujah admonishes readers to think about not being wasteful, but they are not particularly distracting.
Set against the growing-pains backdrop of pre–Civil War America, both reflecting and supporting Hallelujah’s coming-of-age story, Helget’s tale celebrates the curiosity and mystery of life. (Adventure. 8-13)