From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—The early 1960s might be pretty turbulent everywhere else, but for 10-year-old orphan Carolina and the self-sufficient mountain woman she calls Auntie Shen, life in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is homegrown, hand-preserved, and intrusion-free. After Carolina is orphaned, Auntie Shen takes her in, knowing full well that things are changing even in their remote piece of the world. Meddling do-gooders and social services overpower informal, off-the-grid arrangements like theirs with increasing ardor. But Auntie Shen and Carolina manage just fine—until Auntie Shen suffers a stroke. The situation is quickly declared unacceptable, and Carolina is forced away from her home. Desperate with worry for Auntie Shen, and indignant at being handed around against her will, the child flees two foster situations. She seeks refuge anywhere she can before finally stumbling onto Harmony Farm. There, Miss Latah, Mr. Ray, and Lucas gently help Carolina rebuild her trust. She isn't sure why or even whether the Harmony family wants her. But in the end, her happiness—and her beloved makeshift family—are finally made whole. McDowell's prose reads easily and creates a wonderful sense of place. The author occasionally jolts readers awake with jarring reminders that Carolina lives in a particular time, as well. Odd references to the civil rights struggle and the war in Vietnam are strangely, startlingly incongruous with the rest of Carolina's surroundings. Or perhaps they're a fitting complement to the startling strangeness of the child's entire world.—Catherine Threadgill, formerly at Charleston County Public Library, SC
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*Starred Review* After Carolina’s beloved Auntie Shen suffers a stroke, Carolina escapes from an unpleasant foster placement. The orphaned 10-year-old finds love at Harmony Farm, but the web of lies she spins almost leads to losing that home, too. The summer of 1964 stretches out as only a child’s summer can, filled with defining moments: swimming, star-gazing, square dancing, learning to milk a cow and gather eggs, and hopping a train. This third-person narrative unwinds leisurely, with plenty of backtracking to fill in details of Carolina’s life and the glories of her world in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The reader aches for the red-headed child, who copes with far more than her share of trouble; she is reflective, resilient, and certainly deserving of the helping hand she gets from strangers and friends alike. McDowell offers a range of secondary characters that represent the peoples of western North Carolina—descendants of Scottish-Irish immigrants, slaves, and the Cherokees—and explores their frictions and reactions to the Civil Rights Act signed that summer. In her first novel for children, McDowell reveals her love for this part of the world, savoring the language, the environment, and the traditions of mountain culture. Thoughtful readers will come to love it, and Carolina, too. Grades 4-7. --Kathleen Isaacs