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Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Ballad of Lucy Whipple - Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman writes really excellent young adult historical fiction, where she really gets inside the head of a young person from some past historical period, and does it in such a way that they don’t feel too modern, but still firmly belong in their own time period.   Up until now, what I’d read of hers was set in a more medieval time, but this book is set in America, during the California gold rush.

California Morning Whipple’s parents had always dreamed of going West, so much so that they named all of their children in that theme (California being the oldest, but there’s also Butte, Prairie, and Sierra).    When her father dies of pneumonia, California’s mother channels her grief into living their dream, and the family suddenly finds themselves transplanted from Massachusetts to California, where Mrs. Whipple will run the boarding house in the brand new town of Lucky Diggins.    California hates it. 

The town is so new that most people still live in tents, and there are very few children about.   Plus, there’s no school, or library, which California had loved in her old home.     Desperate to return there, she decides that she no longer wants to be known as California, but decides on Lucy, one of the characters from her favorite book.     But Lucy is still only twelve, and not entirely in control of her own destiny.    So she needs to be make the best of the situation.     And it’s a very interesting situation.

Cushman paints a really vivid portrait of this gold rush town and the inhabitants.      Lucy is also a really great character.    She’s young, but very much capable of trying to decide her own destiny.    I really enjoyed this book.    Cushman picks great subjects, and brings them to really interesting life.

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