I was both utterly delighted and totally bummed when One Came Home by Amy Timberlake was named a Newbery Honor book this past January. Delighted because I love the book and told a few people (including other librarians) about it. Bummed because I have had “Blog One Came Home” on my Things to Do List since March 2013. And now everyone was going to know about it before I blogged.
One Came Home excites me because it’s lyrical, it has an outstanding brave and human heroine, and it’s a quest novel. And it’s a quest novel that is not fantasy or science fiction! In fact, it’s historical fiction set in 1871 Wisconsin. Our heroine Georgie Burkhardt (13 years old) begins the novel by telling us she is attending the funeral of her older sister Agatha (18), but that she knows that Agatha hasn’t died (there wasn’t enough left of the body found on the side of the road for a proper ID), she’s just run away to attend the University of Wisconsin at Madison. So, there’s Georgie’s call to action. If no one else will go look for Agatha, she will. Georgie gets supernatural aid in the form of Billy McCabe (19), a young man in love with Agatha. Billy loans Georgie a mule (she asked for a horse) and then goes along with her.
The road of trials Georgie travels on includes pigeon-nesting sites, a cougar, more insects and bugs than she is comfortable with, a mini-betrayal by Billy, and counterfeiters. Georgie even develops a slight crush on Billy (a calling of the flesh). When they reach the place where the body was found, Georgie seems to have an apotheosis – at first, she seems ready to accept that her sister has died, but then she gets a brainstorm about what might have happened.
The rest of the novel is chaotic (in a good way) and thrilling (and a quest novel to the end). Georgie is a treasure. I love how she – a town girl who has never ridden a mule before, let alone the horse she asked for – deals with the great outdoors and uses the skills she picked up by working in the family store to track down Agatha. She also is a crack shot, which comes in very handy in the third part of the novel. I also love the language of this book, especially one scene in which Georgie is describing how her sister went out among a huge flock of pigeons and twirled with them. Or this passage where Georgie is relishing the moment:
Pause a moment. Feel the air surround the moment. Push against it, and find it truly exists. Blow on it, and see how the tiny barbs snag the wind and lift. Watch it fly.
Amy Timberlake has set this story against the backdrop of a huge passenger pigeon migration. Sadly, as Timberlake states in her author’s note, passenger pigeons are now extinct. They once numbered in the billions, she writes, but the last one died in 1914. (Even Timberlake’s author’s note is beautifully written, by the way.)