cover image Village Without Mirrors

Village Without Mirrors

Susan Lowell, Timothy Francisco. Milkweed Editions, $14.95 (198pp) ISBN 978-0-915943-39-5

This ambitious first title in the Milkweed for Young Readers line introduces Lavina Cumming of the Bosque Ranch, Arizona Territory. At the turn of the century, the 10-year-old heroine must, at her father's insistence, leave her motherless home to travel alone to her aunt in Santa Cruz, Calif., where she will learn to become a lady. Although she misses her family and the wild freedom of their ranch, Lavina gradually comes to value the new experiences afforded by her aunt's household--even though that household includes ``awful Aggie,'' a self- proclaimed precocious fourth grader. Lavina is both likable and believable, her credibility enhanced by the author's skillful use of period details, and her story is ripe with dramatic opportunities. Lowell ( The Three Little Javelinas ) weaves in tales passed down through Lavina's family, but these remain tangential, sometimes detracting from the main focus. Lavina learns that her father was married to someone else before meeting her mother, and although it rattles Lavina's trust in her father, the issue is dropped. Aside from these troubles, Lowell's work is hardy, graceful and certainly authentic: the real-life Lavina Cumming, whose journals, letters and diaries provided the story's foundation, is Lowell's grandmother. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)