by Clare Vanderpool
*Newbery Medal winner for 2011*
Abilene Tucker arrives in Manifest, Kansas, by jumping out of her train a little outside of town, because “it’s best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you.” She is staying with Shady, the town bootlegger (alcohol supplier) and stand-in preacher, among other things, in the same house her father once lived in for a while when he was a boy. It’s 1936, the depression is in full swing, Kansas is a “bone dry” state, and the town of Manifest has seen better days. Somehow Abilene manages to have a quite a few adventures right away in this tiny, dusty town. She meets the local newspaper gossip columnist, Hattie Mae, and encounters some girls at school who insist on being her friend for the summer. She accidentally breaks a flower pot at the mysterious Miss Sadie’s Divining Parlor and has to work off her debt by showing up each day to work the garden and listen to stories of long ago. She even discovers treasure under the floor board in her little room above Shady’s shop – mementos of someone who stayed there before and letters from a soldier written to a boy a named Jinx.
Threads of all these stories intertwine until you’re not quite sure if this story is about Abilene, or Jinx, or perhaps the idea of “manifest” itself. I found myself completely wrapped up in this wonderfully written tale, and was thrilled when it won this year’s prestigious Newbery Medal for “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” The author grew up and lives in Wichita, Kansas, and she created the fictional Manifest based on the small town of Frontenac, Kansas, where her maternal grandparents lived, along with many other immigrants in the early 1900′s. This was a story that I couldn’t wait to finish, and yet was sad when it was done because I wanted to keep reading about these fascinating characters.