During my latest trip to the county library, armed with a list of current Newbery winners, I checked out a short stack of books to go read and review. I don't go out of my way to find the honor books, but One Came Home by Amy Timberlake, was available and right before me, and with a jacket leader like "A sister lost, a body found, the truth buried," I was hooked.
The book was immediately interesting and intriguing with Georgie's opening words being, "...it was the day of my sister's first funeral, and I knew it wasn't her last, which is why I left." Georgie is a 13 year-old girl who lives with her small family in south-central Wisconsin, and the year is 1871. Her beautiful older sister disappears, and parts of a mangled body are found a couple weeks later which is identified as being the sister. But Georgie does not believe it is her, and since no one else is willing to consider she might still be alive, Georgie decides to slip away on her own to find out what she can.
This is not a fanciful, unbelievable quest. It is realistic and gritty. Georgie is no helpless little girl. She has a dead aim with her Springfield single shot rifle, but dismisses her skill with the comment, "I practiced. Anyone can if they practice enough." She describes the remains of the body they buried as, "Not the weight of two cats, and no face," Which is one reason why, even though it was clothed in her sister's dress, she holds out hope.
The fascinating setting to the tale is the arrival of a huge nesting flock of passenger pigeons. This is a boon for the town, that they have settled so near. Pigeoners come from everywhere to harvest them, relying on supplies and goods from the town. While I have heard the historical stories of the massive flocks of passenger pigeons, I have never been able to visualize what that meant on a local level. The author does a great job of using that backdrop without letting the descriptions compete with the story.
I really liked this book, and would highly recommend it. It had a bit of the flavor of the book True Grit, by Charles Portis. I like that it kept close the mysteries of what really happened, and indeed, made you wonder if you would even find that out by the end of the book.