cover image Counting on Grace

Counting on Grace

Elizabeth Winthrop, . . Random/Lamb, $15.95 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-385-74644-1

The feisty heroine of Winthrop's (The Castle in the Attic ) novel set in a 1910 Vermont mill town brings child labor issues into sharp focus. Twelve-year-old Grace, who narrates, chafes against her teacher Miss Lesley's rules: "Seems she cares more about sitting still than learning." But when Grace must leave school to doff her mother's looms as an underage worker, she yearns for her former challenges. Winthrop effectively lays out the mill town's subsistence economy. Readers will understand why Grace's mother saved her deceased infant's papers in order to fake Grace's age (the child would have been 14, the age requirement for mill workers). One uplifting subplot follows Grace and classroom rival Arthur who become friends and co-workers in the mill and begin secret lessons with Miss Lesley. But the most compelling thread of the novel chronicles the mounting tension between Grace and her demanding mother, who dominates the other workers ("Only thing bigger and bossier than my mother in the spinning room is the frames"). The scene in which Arthur and Miss Lesley write the Child Labor Bureau may be rather forced, but a visit from Lewis Hine, who photographs the underage mill workers, feeding Grace's sense of connection to the world, seems believable. This enlightening novel explores the perils of mill work for children and adults alike. Readers will cheer when Grace uses her smarts to triumph over the mill store's corrupt bookkeeper, and the implication that she could well find a calling outside this mill town. Ages 8-14. (Mar.)