A novel in verse, weaving together the lives of two families in Michigan at the beginning of World War I, this narrative is told from the point of view of three teenagers, Muriel and Ollie (brother and sister) and Emma. Their families live across the stream from one another; crossing stones link their families together in almost everything they do. The primary viewpoint is Muriel is told in free verse and visually displayed as a winding stream. Ollie and Emma’s perspectives are written in “cupped-hand sonnets” representing the stones in the stream. Dialog is indicated by italics, while expertly woven into the poetry. Rhymes and ideas connect each poem into a captivating reflection on their lives at home, in the face of war at a turbulent time of change.
Muriel, having recently graduated from high school, has strong opinions about the impending war and the rights of women. When her good friend Frank (Emma’s older brother) enlists in the army, and asks for a kiss, Muriel refuses, but promises to write. Her feelings are contradictory; not ready for romance, disagreeing with his choice, yet missing Frank terribly. Ollie subsequently enlists, falsifying records because he is underage. Both families keenly feel the absence of both brothers in terms of the burden of physical work and the longing for their presence. Despite the fact that they are censored by the government, beautifully written letters connect the boys with their families back home. When Frank is killed, and Ollie comes home wounded, everyone must, once again, make adjustments. Emma feels caught in the middle, losing her brother, and falling in love with Ollie. Both families feel acute pain, but for the first time they not able to cross the stones to support one another.
Meanwhile, the work and the war go on, while women (including Muriel and Ollie’s Aunt Vera) march in support of the right to vote. When Vera is arrested and goes on a hunger strike, Muriel must go to Washington D.C. to help bring her home when released. She becomes directly involved in the women’s rights movement seeing for the first time the suffering of the poor and the injustices of the political system. When Muriel returns home, she finds her younger sister Grace, critically ill with influenza. Muriel stands vigil at her bedside faithfully reading to Grace and never giving up hope. It is in this darkest hour that the two families reunite in their support to support one another.
Prinz award-winning author, Helen Frost, has once again created an extraordinary historical novel capturing the time, place and sentiment of the people with a sense of immediacy and intimacy unique in young adult literature. Her concise style and precise wording produces vivid images in the reader’s mind. The breathtaking jacket art by Richard Tuschman captures the feeling loneliness of the families left behind when the men go to war. The characters show no pretense or sterotype; all are fully developed and intriguing. The unique form of the novel allows the reader to enter each character’s thoughts for a deeper understanding and connection to their world. The strength of the characters holds throughout the novel with each person following his/her inner voices of love, acceptance and independence. Highly recommended for grades 7 and above.
Author: Helen Frost
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
Reviewed by: Kristine Wildner, Holy Apostles School, New Berlin, Wis.