cover image Adaline Falling Star

Adaline Falling Star

Mary Pope Osborne. Hyperion Books for Children, $16.95 (170pp) ISBN 978-0-439-05947-3

Osborne (The Magic Tree) strikes out in a new direction in this assured novel based on a real, though little-known character: the daughter of Kit Carson and his Arapaho wife. As the story opens, 11-year-old narrator Adaline has lost her mother to fever, and her father has deposited her with pious relatives in St. Louis while he heads west on a scouting expedition. ""Hold your tongue, darter, was Pa's last words of advice, and ever since, I been as quiet as a rabbit in the grass,"" notes the normally outspoken girl. Though Adaline knows how to read, her father's cousin assumes she's ignorant and mute and puts her to work instead of enrolling her in his school. Her intolerant Christian relatives tap into historical stereotypes (Cousin Silas introduces Adaline as having a ""devilish mixture of white and Indian blood""; his daughter, Lilly, tells Adaline, ""You must have done some sinning before you were born, or you wouldn't have been born half red""). Readers may well breathe a sigh of relief when the second half of the novel takes a Huck Finn-esque turn, as Adeline heads downriver in search of her father. Vivid historical detail and descriptive prose (""my heart beats like it's filled with bird wings"") fuel the narrative. Adaline possesses a wisdom marked by an often heartbreaking sense of humor. Ages 9-14. (Mar.)