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Our Only May Amelia (Harper Trophy Books) Paperback – April 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Twelve-year-old May Amelia is too busy chasing sheep, fishing for salmon, and keeping pace with the antics of her seven Finnish brothers to bother wearing a dress or scrubbing behind her ears. Unfortunately, she's being pressured to clean up her act. "It seems like everyone is conspiring to make me a Proper Young Lady," she observes in frustration. "I do not think being a proper Young Lady sounds like any fun at all."

The old-fashioned language in this historical novel seems strained at times, and the quirky use of capital letters is an unnecessary distraction, but this book is still a lot of fun. Why? For one thing, the story is set in the far, untamed reaches of the West at the turn of the 20th century, and offers encounters with Chinook Indians, dark forests, and the twists and turns of the Nasel River. And then there is May Amelia--as headstrong as rushing water, and the only female born on this stretch of the river since her family can remember. She is known (when she's not deep into trouble) as the Miracle. Will this feisty female ever settle down and become the little lady everyone expects her to be? Will her pregnant mother give birth to another girl so May Amelia can finally have a sister? You'll have to read the whole story to find out. (Ages 10 and older) --Maria Dolan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

An unforgettable heroine narrates Holm's extraordinary debut novel set in Washington State in 1899. Twelve-year-old tomboy May Amelia Jackson, the youngest of seven children and the only girl in a Finnish immigrant family, lives in the wilderness along the Nasel River: "I have so many brothers, more than any girl should have. My secret birthday wish is to get a sister." Holm's uncanny ability to give each of the siblingsAand a wide range of adultsAa distinctive character while maintaining May Amelia's spunky narrative voice, gives the novel its immediacy and potency. Through May Amelia's travels, readers witness the diverse ways of life in the expanding West: peaceful relations with the Chinook Indians, the plight of a widow barmaid, the taboos around her brother's interest in an Irish girl, the dangers posed by the neighboring logging camp, her aunt's life in the nearby boomtown of Astoria, Ore., as well as the rhythms of the seasons. The sometimes gruesome realities of the Jacksons' lives are tempered by May's strength of character and her bond to her favorite brother, Wilbert. Readers will fall in love with May Amelia's spirited nature; when she saves her brothers from a cougar, she tells them, "I reckon it's a Darn Good Thing I'm not a Proper Young Lady or you'd be a cougar's supper right about now." This novel is not to be missed. Ages 9-up. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Series: Harper Trophy Books
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Reprint edition (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0064408566
  • ISBN-13: 978-0064408561
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jennifer L. Holm is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling children's author of THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH. She is the recipient of three Newbery Honors for her novels OUR ONLY MAY AMELIA, PENNY FROM HEAVEN, and TURTLE IN PARADISE.

Jennifer collaborates with her brother, Matthew Holm, on two graphic novel series -- the Eisner Award-winning Babymouse series which has more than 2.3 million books in print and the bestselling Squish series. SQUISH is being developed into a television series with Cottonwood Media and Gulli. Jenni and Matt's newest graphic novel, SUNNY SIDE UP, was published by Graphix/Scholastic in August.

For more information, visit her website at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan Hamel on February 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I know this book won a Newbery and is supposed to be for kids, but I have to say I loved it too, and I'm a grown-up. May Amelia is drawn with such a clear vision that she leaps off the page and into your heart from the very beginning. She's sharp and witty and likeable and won't stand for any guff from anyone who wants her to be something she's not.
Now I have to strongly disagree with the reviewer who didn't like the format: I loved the format for two reasons 1) it conveyed an immediacy and directness which is what May the character is all about, and 2) it helped remind me, as I was reading, that May is the child of immigrants and thinks in Finnish. It's so rare to find a writer who can tell a great yarn and can be a real artist with form too. Faulkner could do it; and I predict a bright future for this author too.
By the way, this book is not just for girls either -- I was really moved by May Amelia's struggles to find her place in the world. Anybody (boy or girl, young or old) who has ever felt that everyone around them wants them to be something they are not will be deeply moved. I can't wait for the author's next book!
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Esme R. Codell on April 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read this book on an airplane and I cried openly. I felt so lucky to have a chance to look across time and space into this imtimate view of a girl growing up at the turn of the century, based on a real person. I found the use of capitalization absolutely perfect in conveying the not only the meaning of the text but the emotional impact and the way May Amelia was internalizing what is being said to her. The present tense only made the perceptions more immediate, and I think all together the author's choices were extremely effective in successfully creating a true time travel experience for the reader. There were many characters, boys and girls, and they all were very distinctive. I would hate to think any girl coming of age would miss out on the chance to know May Amelia just because some people are sticklers for more traditional format, since this book really lights up the shelves of children's literature and I can't wait to read it out loud to as many kids as will listen. To the other reviewer: yes, Zachary Beaver is terrific, and I do agree that the National Book Award has promoted some sensational children's literature that surely rivals the Newbery, but there's no need to read one instead of the other. Let's be glad there are more forums to recognize the best of the best! I'll wager time will prove that Our Only May Amelia is among the more enduring and beloved female protagonists from the turn of OUR century! P.S. if you like this book, try The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, you'll like it, too!
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By D. Griffin on July 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
I'm so glad I read this book before giving it to my voracious, but sensitive readers ages 8 and 10. May Amelia is a well developed character, and my daughters would definitely relate to her and be interested in her story. But, the sweet baby sister she has always longed for dies while in May Amelia's care. May Amelia wakes up feeling relieved to have such a good night sleep without the baby crying, and then realizes that she's dead. It has haunted me ever since I've read it, and I have adult skills for coping with all the suffering in this world.

It's one thing to read about infant deaths in pioneer times in a history book, but in this case, an empathetic reader is going to feel the shock and grief that the character is feeling, and the guilt also. The baby's death and it's aftermath are the central events of the book.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This a very touching story. It is so realistic and interesting. It takes place in the Nasel river area in South west Washington and in Astoria Oregon. You see what life was like for another 12 year old a hundred years ago. Have a box of kleenex handy.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By N. S. VINE VOICE on September 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm a guy who lives in a farmhouse on a hillside amidst four women of various ages. If I count in all the warm-blooded critters on the farm, there are sixteen of "them" and three of "us"--a goofy male retriever named Samwise, a young and excitable male Nubian dairy goat, Cool Hunter (named for a character in the book, SO YESTERDAY), and me.

I serve on the Best Books for Young Adults committee which consists of fourteen female librarians and myself. I am represented by a female member of Congress, two female members of the US Senate, and a female member of the State Assembly. Often a Saturday afternoon will find another six to eight female schoolmates--friends of our girls--giggling and screaming around the farm.

Thus I kind of know what it feels like to be May Amelia.

"There's no accounting for luck, especially luck in getting brothers."

May Amelia is a twelve year old girl living in Washington State in 1899 with her parents and her seven brothers. There is not another girl in her neck of the woods with whom to play or commiserate. There are Indians, bears, cougars, logging camps, a school you reach by boat, and one more baby on the way.

Will this baby turn out to (finally) be another girl?

Jennifer Holm does a superb job of characterizing each of May Amelia's seven brothers. (One, Kaarlo, is technically a blood cousin--and a rather grumpy and rude one at that--who lives with them.)

I really like Isahiah who is in charge of the family herd of sheep. Having quietly named each of the sheep after one of their human neighbors--based upon the sheeps' visages and those of the neighbors'--there is a hysterical scene that follows Isahiah's opening a door and yelling, "Hurry! Mrs.
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