From School Library Journal
Grade 4–6—When Fancy Nelson arrives in a small upstate New York town in the mid-1960s, she is just the friend that lonely Amelia Earhart Rye needs. Unlike most residents, Amelia could care less that the newcomer is African-American. Local bullies insult Fancy by cutting off her braids; she then remarks that even kids in Alabama were not so cruel. Although the incident rattles her, she picks herself up and takes pride in a new, short haircut. Meanwhile, emotionally abused Amelia learns how to be strong from her bold new friend. She practices standing up for herself against teachers, cousins, and, finally, her mean mother who never wanted her. Amelia's most significant rebellion occurs when she defies her mother and walks away from the baptismal font at their strict Protestant church. Shimko cleverly uses this transformative moment in Christian religious life to illustrate how Amelia has been reborn, thanks to Fancy's kindness and friendship. She also gives the fourth grader a loving surrogate mother in the character of Margo LaRue, whom Amelia initially hated for running away with Mr. Rye before Amelia's birth. Like most of the characters, Margo has a depth and complexity that unfold at a leisurely pace. This novel is sure to engage readers in search of character-driven stories about friendship.—Mary Landrum, Lexington Public Library, KY
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*Starred Review* Anger and hurt drive the first-person narrative of Amelia Earhart Rye, who is also laugh-out-loud irreverent as she describes growing up in a train-wreck family in small-town, upstate New York in the early 1960s. Before Amelia was born, Daddy took off with Margo, the town hussy. Now Margo is back (without Daddy), and she is much kinder to Amelia than harsh Mama is. Loving Grandpa, who really raised Amelia, is incapacitated after a stroke, but Amelia finds wonderful support from her best friend, Fancy Nelson, who is tough, smart, and unmoved by the local prejudice directed against her because she is the “colored” granddaughter of the town's white judge. Shimko draws all of her memorable characters, including Amelia's unattractive big sister and jailbird brother, without stereotype or sentimentality, even in the conclusion, which brings a surprising turnaround from Mama. Throughout, the narration remains true to the voice of caring, innocent Amelia. When Margo apologizes for running off with Daddy, Amelia doesn't make it easier for her and say that it was OK, “because it wasn't.” Will Daddy come back and rescue her? The final reconciliation may be a bit too tidy, but the heartfelt, nonpreachy drama of family and friends in hard times makes a great story. Grades 5-8. --Hazel Rochman