Brilliantly written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Margaret Verble, this is the story of third-grader Kit Crockett. It’s the 1950s, deep in the South, near the Arkansas River. Kit’s father is a descendant of Davy Crockett, and her mother, who died two years earlier, was a Cherokee Indian. Kit and her grieving father live deep in the country. She spends her time reading Nancy Drew mysteries, tending to the garden, and waiting for the Tuesday morning visit from the bookmobile. She and her father are both incredibly lonely and unable to reach out to each other. One day as Kit is going to the bayou to fish for their dinner, she sees that someone has moved into a nearby cabin that was once occupied by her Uncle Joe. That someone turns out to be Bella, a beautiful and mysterious young woman. She and Kit become fast friends. Although Kit is unaware of it, Bella is a prostitute, entertaining two men in her small home. And then one day, Bella is murdered and somehow Kit’s dad is in jail. After living with the local evangelical preacher and his wife, Kit is shipped off—against her will—to a Christian boarding school that feels more like a prison than a school as she is treated with disdain and indoctrinated with Christian instruction she resents. When Kit gets in trouble and is sent to the office, the most horrific thing happens.
Here is the genius of this book: While the summary I wrote above is linear, the book is meant to be Kit’s journal that she writes (now in sixth grade) while confined in the school/prison and the timeline jumps all over the place. Instead of being confusing, it becomes a fascinating and gripping tale told with insight and introspection about the injustice of Kit’s life being stolen from her. As adults, we know things about Kit’s experiences that she is unable to understand as a child, and that is even more heartbreaking.
I only have one criticism: The ending is abrupt, but that is probably the point. It forces the reader to use a bit of imagination to continue the story.
This is excellent storytelling, transporting the reader to another time and place.