The Wonder of Charlie AnneFall 2010 Fiction
Charlie Anne lives in difficult times. The book, Kimberly Newton Fusco's latest, is set during the Great Depression. Charlie Anne's mother has recently died in childbirth, and her father and older brother, like most of the men in town, move north to find work. Charlie Anne and her three siblings are left to the care of their mother's mean cousin Mirabel. Mirabel assigns a never-ending string of awful chores - making vinegar pies, shoveling muck from the outhouse - and nags tomboy Charlie Anne to be a proper lady.
Things seem pretty bad, until a stranger comes to town. Mr. Jolly, who lives across the road from Mirabel, marries. His new wife brings a girl the same age as Charlie Anne. The girls form a quick friendship. The new girl sings like an angel, reads Dickens, and wears "trousers", but she is ostracized by the neighbors of Charlie Anne's small town and church for being black. Charlie Anne is a feisty and gutsy heroine, though, and she makes a bold show of solidarity. Slowly, the rest of the town comes around.
This is a heartwarming story about human nature, survival and forgiveness. Fusco does a wonderful job pointing out treasures in even the hardest of times, and she has a lovely touch with language. Charlie Anne describes her dyslexia, for instance, as letters popping all over the page. Strong period details bolster the historical setting, and Charlie Anne's resilient spirit triumphs over everything. As poor as her family is, she still has old Anna May the milk cow, hen races with her siblings, and a tree swing that flies to the sky. She also has a good friend, and that's priceless.