I turned twelve on July 18, 1933, the day we left Missouri. Mama said there’d be no cake this year. She said I was getting a whole new life for my birthday instead.
Twelve-year-old Sadie Wynn narrates this first novel, a sentimental, Depression-era tale about the meaning of home. After the Wynns lose their house to the bank in drought-stricken Missouri, they move to a tar-paper shack near the Gulf Coast of Texas. Worse still, Sadie's pal, Wilma, moves in the opposite direction, to California, but not before the two promise to be best friends forever. That vow prompts Sadie to reject the hand offered by new neighbor Dollie, and the heroine's incessant pining for Wilma, whom readers never get to know, feels a bit akin to viewing photos of someone else's vacation. Sadie's three siblings also remain sketchily drawn, but the narrative devotes ample attention to her parents, both of whom are heroically portrayed. Despite "infantile paralysis" that left Sadie's father crippled, the man makes do ("if there were no way around a muddy place in the road, he'd just lean forward on his palms,... and walk on his hands"). He builds a boat from scrap in just a few days, and saintly Mama sews a sail from rags in even less time. The title alludes to a homeless man Sadie encounters fleetingly, but whose impoverishment helps her recognize her own blessings, and the ending is a three-hankie affair that ties things up neatly. Abundant with period details, this story may be best suited to dedicated fans of historical fiction. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.