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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Like the Willow Tree Another Intimate, Fascinating Middle Grade Historical

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It's the Fall of 1918 and 11-year-old Lydia Pierce has plenty to worry about.  War rages in Europe; a vicious strain of Spanish influenza is sweeping across the U.S., leaving death and devastation in its wake; and, because the Portland (Maine) Board of Health has outlawed public gatherings, she doesn't get to go to the moving picture show, even though her parents promised to take her for her birthday.  Lydia is desolate by this disappointing turn of events.

As the flu spreads closer to home, Lydia soon realizes that missing the movies is the least of her problems. When her parents and younger sister are overcome by the disease, she must find a new home.  Eventually, Lydia and her 14-year-old brother Daniel are adopted by the Shakers at Sabbathday Lake.  Although the children are well cared for, they're flummoxed by the Shakers' strange ways.  When Daniel runs away from the community, Lydia wonders if she should follow suit.  If she comes through the epidemic alive and well, what will become of her?  Will she ever be able to leave the Shakers?  Even if she doesn't believe as they do?  And what about her family?  Can she find Daniel, the only blood relative she has left?  Or, is everything she loves really and truly gone?

Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry is another fine middle grade historical in the Dear America series.  The diary entry format makes Lydia's plight personal and real.  Readers can easily relate to her fear, her confusion and her uncertainty about her own future.  With vivid historical detail, as well as an intimate look at the daily lives of the Shaker people, Like the Willow Tree is as interesting as it is compelling.  Like the other novels in this series, this one includes an Epilogue explaining what happens to Lydia after 1918, a historical note and photos depicting the real events on which the story is based, and a note from Lowry in which she talks about her connection to both the novel's setting and the Shaker community.  Overall, it's a fascinating read which I enjoyed very much.

(Readalikes:  Other installments in the Dear America series; also, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier and Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for scary images/situations

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Like the Willow Tree from the generous folks at Scholastic.  Thank you!

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