cover image TADPOLE


Ruth White, . . FSG, $16 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31002-8

White (Belle Prater's Boy; Memories of Summer) transports readers to 1955 in tiny Polly's Fork, Ky., for another memorable view of individuals who transmute their pain and suffering into compassion and even art. Carolina Collins, the 10-year-old narrator, feels ordinary beside her three older sisters: Kentucky is the popular one, Virginia the pretty one and Georgia the smart one. Even though she hasn't yet found her place, Carol feels lucky compared with her orphaned cousin, 13-year-old Tadpole. Carol's father may have deserted the family, but Carol's mother, Serilda, works hard to care for her girls. The story takes off when Tadpole shows up at the Collinses, having run away from the abusive uncle who is his legal guardian. Serilda, known for her lack of "spunk," surprises everyone with the fierceness of her efforts to protect Tad. Serilda is not the only one for whom Tad's presence prompts a discovery of hidden resources: Tad's intelligence and musical talent help Carol locate gifts of her own. Involving as the plot is, the power of White's work derives from her seemingly easy evocation of ordinary people as they stumble into enduring truths about human strength and vulnerability. Embedded in the homespun language (Carol, for example, describes preparations for a neighborhood picnic: "The Pughs, who owned a grocery store up the holler a piece from us, come by in their pickup.... They had closed up shop for the day, and brung pokes full of goodies"), are insights both finely honed and enriching. Ages 8-12. (Mar.)