From School Library Journal
Grade 6-9-Cornelia Thornhill wears neglect like a pall. She avoids eye contact with others, stutters badly, is presumed to be slow at school, and likens herself to a stone, hard and strong way down inside. Taken out of school during ninth grade by her shiftless mother, she is dropped off at the rural New England home of Great-aunt Agatha while mother and her boyfriend depart for places out west. This lonely, virtually invisible girl both misses and resents her absent parent. The short, image-rich, first-person chapters echo Cornelia's anger and stubbornness as she describes her new living situation with the folksy, forthright Agatha. They argue, stop talking, and Cornelia even packs her bag to run away. What brings these unlikely companions back together is their grudging interdependence and Cornelia's recognition that nature-loving Agatha, locally dubbed the Crow Lady, has been as misunderstood as she. Cornelia begins to see her aunt's kindness through the eyes of Bo, a local girl whose nonjudgmental friendship helps Cornelia to grow. Subtle clues indicate that Agatha has been good at hiding the fact that she's illiterate, much as Cornelia has hidden the fact that she is a voracious reader. Agatha allows her niece to teach her to read using a butterfly handbook as a primer. The depiction of Bo's father as a fearsome, controlling man is the only false note in a novel that poetically portrays the human potential to fly after emerging from a cocoon of neglect.Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT
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*Starred Review* Gr. 7-10. Like Katherine Paterson's classic The Great Gilly Hopkins
(1978) and many other stories of the rejected kid who finds a family with a rough solitary older adult, this quiet, beautiful first novel makes the search for home a searing drama. Cornelia, 14, is dumped by her mother and stuck with elderly Great-aunt Agatha in a backwoods cottage thick with dust, cobwebs, and dirty dishes. There's not even a toilet. An unusual twist on the theme is that Cornelia arrives with a crate of books, including Oliver Twist
and Tom Sawyer
. She knows she's "a bookworm, a bibliophile," and, yes, she finds metaphor in ordinary things. But no one knows how smart she is, because she's ashamed of her stammering and barely speaks. With poetic simplicity, her desperate first-person, present-tense narrative, rooted in the physical facts of her life, reveals how she feels "caught in that lonely place between what I want to say and what I can't." She and Agatha slam doors and scream; they discover secrets and hurt each other deeply. But Cornelia's speech improves, and she no longer looks away when she talks. Readers may guess the secrets, and the ending is predictable, but there's wonderful drama in the relationship, and mixed with all the sorrow is helpless laughter. Hazel RochmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved