From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8-Katy is a doctor's daughter in the early 20th century, and her curiosity is tolerated, even encouraged. This explains her relationship with the 14-year-old brother of her family's hired girl, Peggy. Jacob is "the silent boy" of the book's title who somehow communicates with animals, but only makes humming and clicking sounds when he is with people. Nevertheless, Katy and Jacob develop an unusual and treasured friendship. As befits a child growing up at this time, Katy is a true innocent and is puzzled by some of the things that happen around her, such as the seemingly sudden appearance of a new baby in her family. The most dramatic incident occurs almost at the end of the book on the night of Katy's 10th birthday, when Jacob disappears along with his sister Nellie's unwanted and unnamed baby. Although Katy intuits that Jacob has brought the child to her own baby sister's nursery to ensure its proper care, Jacob is nevertheless arrested when the infant is found dead. The courts place him in the town's asylum for the rest of his life. The now-retired Docky (the nickname that Katy's young patients gave her) narrates the story as she looks back from 1987 to these main events. Lowry excels in developing strong and unique characters and in showing Katy's life in a small town that changes around her as the first telephones and automobiles arrive. Family photographs, along with some that the author found in a New Hampshire antique store or borrowed from friends, enliven and encourage a deeper response to this very special historical novel.Ellen Fader, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Gr. 6-10. Antique photographs, printed at the head of each chapter, form the framework of this nostalgic family story set in the early twentieth century. Precocious eight-year-old Katy Thatcher already knows that she wants to be a doctor like her father. She lives in a large, comfortable house in a New England town with her loving, smart parents and Peggy Stoltz, a farm girl who helps with housework. Katy loves Peggy, and she's intrigued by Jacob, Peggy's brother, a gentle, silent 13-year-old with a fondness for animals, who is "touched in the head." During a happy year, Katy plays with her friends, accompanies her father on house calls, welcomes a new baby sister, and visits Peggy's family farm, where she learns some of the harsher realities of country life--including the fact that kittens are drowned to control their numbers. She also develops a fragile companionship with Jacob, who she often finds visiting her family's horses. It's in the Thatcher barn that Katy stumbles across a secret that, when later revealed, shakes several families and ends tragically; a baby dies and Jacob is at fault. The photographs of characters and scenes add an interesting, if sometimes contrived, touch, and Lowry's graceful, lively prose is dense with historical details that, although atmospheric, sometimes focus more on Katy's lifestyle than her story. Katy's first-person voice also occasionally seems too mature. But Lowry still manages to create an appealing character in the curious, unusually compassionate girl, layering her story with questions about how families shape lives and the misunderstandings that can lead to heartbreak. Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved