From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8–Orphaned by the influenza epidemic in British East Africa in 1919, 13-year-old Rachel is sent by conniving neighbors to visit an elderly man in England, passing as their daughter–his granddaughter–to pave the way for their return and the inheritance of his estate. The daughter of a missionary doctor and his wife, Rachel has grown up connected to the African countryside and people. Terrified that to reveal her secret would hasten Grandfather Pritchard's death, and fearing life in an orphanage, she goes along with her new identity as Valerie Pritchard. But she cannot help but get involved with his love for the birds on his land, and she entertains him with stories about what is happening outside his sickroom and what kinds of things her friend Rachel saw in their African world. In the tradition of Frances Hodgson Burnett, this is a satisfying story of an intelligent but unassuming girl who wins the heart of an elderly man who is not such a fool as his wastrel son might think. Woven throughout are descriptions of the natural world and the people of what is now Kenya, as well as the surroundings of an early-20th-century English estate. Rachel's love for her rural African world is convincing, and readers will be gratified by the way she contrives to return and continue her parents' work. An old-fashioned and enjoyable read.–Kathleen Isaacs, Towson University, MD
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*Starred Review* Gr. 6-9. In 1919, in British East Africa, 13-year-old Rachel loses her missionary parents during an influenza epidemic. When she turns to her English neighbors for help, the Pritchards ensnare her in a shocking, ill-intentioned scheme. Disowned by their rich family, they had planned to send their daughter, Valerie, to her grandfather's estate in England, where they hoped she would help to reinstate them in his will. But after Valerie dies of flu, the Pritchards conspire to send Rachel, whose red hair matches their daughter's. Whelan creates deliciously odious villains in the Pritchard parents, who, with shameless cunning, manipulate Rachel into agreeing to the deceit. Once in England, Rachel and the perilously ill grandfather develop a surprisingly strong, affectionate bond, although she continues the ruse, believing that "one more disappointment would be the end of the old man." In a straightforward, sympathetic voice, Rachel tells an involving, episodic story that follows her across continents and through life stages as she grapples with her dishonesty, grief for her lost parents and life in Africa, and looming questions about how to prepare for grown-up life at a time when few choices were allowed to women. Gentle, nostalgic, and fueled with old-fashioned girl power, this involving orphan story will please fans of Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic The Secret Garden
(1912) and Eva Ibbotson's The Star of Kazan
(2004). Gillian EngbergCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved