cover image The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple

Karen Cushman. Clarion Books, $16 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-395-72806-2

In a voice so heartbreakingly bitter that readers can taste her homesickness, California Morning Whipple describes her family's six-year stay in a small mining town during the Gold Rush. Her mother, a restless widow with an acid tongue, has uprooted her children from their home in Massachusetts to make a new life in Lucky Diggins. California rebels by renaming herself Lucy and by hoarding the gold dust and money she earns baking dried apple and vinegar pies, saving up for a journey home. Over years of toil and hardship, Lucy realizes, somewhat predictably, that home is wherever she makes one. As in her previous books, Newbery Award winner Cushman (The Midwife's Apprentice) proves herself a master at establishing atmosphere. Here she also renders serious social issues through sharply etched portraits: a runaway slave who has no name of his own, a preacher with a congregation of one, a raggedy child whose arms are covered in bruises. The writing reflects her expert craftsmanship; for example, Lucy's brother Butte, dead for lack of a doctor, is eulogized thus: ""He was eleven years old, could do his sums, and knew fifty words for liquor."" A coming-of-age story rich with historical flavor. Ages 10-14. (Aug.)