The Unsigned Valentine: And Other Events in the Life of Emma Meade
Johanna Hurwitz, , illus. by Mary Azarian. . HarperCollins, $15.99 (167pp) ISBN 978-0-06-056053-9
Hurwitz's (the Riverside Kids series) authentic if occasionally sleepy portrait of life in early 20th-century Vermont compiles the thoughtful journal entries of 15-year-old Emma, who finds writing easier than speaking aloud ("I'm happier observing life around me than discussing it with another person"). She candidly shares her emotions as she recounts significant changes in her life. Her parents ask her to quit school to help out on the family dairy farm, since her recently married older brother has moved away, and her mother is expecting a baby. The amenable girl seems perfectly happy with this turn of events, musing, "So I'll read when I want, and knit when I want, and milk the cows when they want." Emma is increasingly smitten by kind and handsome 19-year-old Cole, whose attempts at courting her are firmly quashed by her father. Hurwitz keeps the focus on human nature but also nimbly integrates into her story the dramatic effects of nature's ravages on farm life, such as a summer and fall drought, severe winter blizzards and heavy spring rains that cause devastating flooding. (In the novel's only credibility-straining scene, during a deluge, Emma tumbles into a river when the bridge she is crossing collapses, uses her scarf to tie herself to a log in the rushing water and is rescued by Cole.) A heartwarming, if expected, conclusion caps this engaging period fiction. Ages 10-up.
Reviewed on: 12/05/2005