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Saturday, June 15, 2013

One Came Home, written by Amy Timberlake. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"There is nothing as final as turning around. Billy and I were back in Dog Hollow. It was noon. We were eating lunch on the banks of the Smoke River. I watched a train pull into the station and thought for the first time, I am going home. We hadn't spoken the words outright. They didn't need saying. It was a foregone conclusion. There was no new evidence. Our search near the nowhere place hadn't netted a thing:"

When the sheriff returns to town with a body, and her mother identifies it as Georgie's older sister, Georgie refuses to accept it as fact. Her sister Agatha is gone, she knows that; but, she will not believe she is dead. She will prove it.

Despite the evidence and without permission, Georgie is determined to find out what really happened to Agatha. She arranges with Billy to get her a horse, and makes preparations for following her instincts, rather than the evidence presented. Turns out that Billy is going to be her companion, and his mount for her is a long-eared, stubborn mule. The pairing seems appropriate. As they travel, they talk with people who have seen Agatha and learn that she was last seen with a group of shady characters called pigeoners.

It's 1871 and Wisconsin has just seen  “the largest pigeon nesting within recorded memory.” It brings out the worst in some people as they are only concerned with the money-making opportunities afforded. Georgie and Billy have a trail to follow...where it leads is mysterious and surprising. As they search, they deal with cougars, counterfeiters and caves. Each new encounter adds a needed clue to Agatha's trail. There is danger, gunplay, retribution and murder. Now, that should interest a number of readers.

Told with humor and suspense, this is a book that kept me reading through the night. I truly could not bear to stop reading it once started. Georgie can be irritable and bad-tempered, but she is forthright and funny as well. Billy is a perfect foil for her barbed assumptions. He shares awe at the natural beauty of the world they are travelling, while also doing his best to keep a rein on this determined, loyal young woman who will not believe her sister is dead until the trail runs completely dry. Even then, she's not really willing to give up.

This is historical fiction that packs a punch. There's a mystery which is not easy to solve, there's a quest concerning sisterly love and loyalty, and there is a part of the story grounded in historical fact. Georgie is a girl who will stick in your memory and whose story you will want to share. Her voice is singular and offers up many quotes for my reading journal. What a writer Amy Timberlake is!

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