A young girl in Appalachia during the Great Depression copes with her family’s move to a new farm in Koehler’s (The Complete K-5 Writing Workshop, 2013, etc.) novel.
Dahlia Harrell is an 8-year-old girl in a family of tenant farmers in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the 1930s, and though Dahlia is in a loving family, not everything is quite right. She has recently recovered from a case of diphtheria. Money is tight. The family can eat what they grow and rely on the chickens and cow, Ol’ Rosie, but having cash in hand is rare. Dahlia thinks: “With enough money, a person could buy away any reason they ever had to feel afraid.” Though Dahlia’s world is small, her life on Harrell Mountain is full of wonder, mystery, and big dreams. Her brother Charlie believes there is buried treasure on the property that will make them as rich as the Rockefellers. Grandpa talks of the family’s history in the area as he and Dahlia lie on the ground gazing at stars. But her father breaks the news that the family will be moving to a new farm, one owned by another family. He hopes it will improve their circumstances, but to Charlie, it means giving up on the buried treasure, and Dahlia can’t imagine living far away from her grandfather. But they do move—the girls in flour-sack dresses with cornhusk dolls—and a relief society steps in to give the kids new clothes for school. Nervous about her skills and fighting with her sister, Dahlia worries about her grandfather and wonders if she’ll ever be able to return to Harrell Mountain. Koehler’s Depression-era novel is concise but effective and weighty. In a time of great change for Dahlia, Koehler paints a clear portrait of this family and their circumstances with writing that is subtle and strong. Dahlia’s world has just gotten much bigger, and her increasing awareness of herself as compared with others is thoughtfully described. Rich details abound on everything from meals to economics to a precious missing doll, but it’s the author’s gift for making a specific story so universal that stands out.
A well-crafted, beautiful novel about a fraught childhood moment.