Review posted February 16, 2010.
Scholastic, 1994. 280 pages.
1995 Newbery Medal Winner Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #2 Other Children's Fiction
I read this book as part of a class on the Newbery Medal, and I got to participate in a discussion with the author.
The book begins:
Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true. I have lived most of my thirteen years in Bybanks, Kentucky, which is not much more than a caboodle of houses roosting in a green spot alongside the Ohio River. Just over a year ago, my father plucked me up like a weed and took me and all our belongings (no, that is not true -- he did not bring the chestnut tree, the willow, the maple, the hayloft, or the swimming hole, which all belonged to me) and we drove three hundred miles straight north and stopped in front of a house in Euclid, Ohio.
Now Sal is driving across the country with her grandparents, from Ohio to the last place where they heard from Sal's mother, in Idaho. While they are driving, Sal tells the story of a girl she met in Ohio, Phoebe Winterbottom.
Phoebe has a vivid imagination, and is convinced the boy hanging around their house is a lunatic. Then they discover mysterious messages, and then Phoebe's mother goes away.
The power of this book is that there's a story within a story. When Sal tells about Phoebe's story, she gets insights into her own story and her own mother's disappearance. And with the story within the story, if you have your own story of loss, you will hear echoes of it in this book.
The book is funny and entertaining, but also poignant and powerful. I found myself taken by surprise by how hard I was sobbing at the end. A beautiful book.