The Ballad of Lucy Whipple
by Karen Cushman
Thanks again to my good friend Heather, who spends her winters north of the Arctic Circle (but I dont dare call her crazy because I spend every summer in the hottest place in the U.S.), for sending me three of the four Karen Cushman books I recently read, including this one.
Unlike the other three, which take place in Medieval England, this historical novel zooms in on the place of women and children in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the years that followed. Among those seeking a new life on the new frontier is Arvella Whipple, a young widow accompanied by her surviving children, Sierra, Prairie, Butte, and California Morning. The oldest, California, hates her name and soon decides she wants to be called Lucy instead, and so our story begins.
Lucy resents being dragged away from her Massachusetts home, where she has wonderful memories, and beloved grandparents, and the grave of her father and two younger siblings to remember. She immediately begins planning to get back to Massachusetts, while her mother and brother Butte and the two younger sisters simply settle into their new life in a tiny, ramshackle, but growing mining town.
The years that follow are marked by tragedy. You may, in fact, be surprised by the seriousness of this book. Like the other books of this author, it is narrated with a wry sense of humor...but it is not the lighthearted, goofy romp through the Old West you might expect. You can learn a lot about the hardships of living on the edge of civilization in an age when cholera, itinerant preachers, outlaws, Indians, mules, and mail that took a month to deliver were only a few of the hazards of every-day life. And you get a glimpse into the early stages of an American institution...I wont tell you which...but Ill give you a hint: you might be able to find this book there.
Enjoy this story for its collection of colorful characters, its bittersweet chronicle of a girl growing up, and the perilous adventures that include a murder trial, a major fire, a near drowning, and a horrible moment.
Recommended Age: 12+
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