cover image The Ornament Tree

The Ornament Tree

Jean Thesman. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-395-74278-5

Graduates of the American Girls series who are looking for a slightly more sophisticated read may find what they seek in this period novel about a recently orphaned 14-year-old. There are plenty of surprises in store for Bonnie when, in the year 1918, she moves into her elderly cousins' boardinghouse in Seattle. The clashing personalities of roomers plus numerous household crises-cooks quitting on the spur of the moment, estranged spouses popping up unexpectedly, debts accruing at an alarming rate-create a series of conflicts nobly endured by gracious Cousin Audra and feminist Cousin Winnie, who are both frustratingly helpless at running a business. Although themes remain somewhat unfocused, the backdrop of labor strikes and flu epidemics offer a dramatic portrayal of American life just after WWI. Bonnie's personal dilemmas tend to get lost in the flurry of activity around her, yet the events that she witnesses provide some food for thought. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)