Thursday, February 13, 2014

Back in '71: One Came Home by Amy Timberlake

So it comes to this, I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. It was the day of my sister's first funeral, and I knew it wasn't her last--which is why I left. That's the long and short of it.

It all began with the passenger pigeons.

They came in unnatural hordes in the spring of 1871, darkening the sky in a sudden avian twilight. People just went crazy. Some huddled gasping in the doorways, dodging the rain of bird droppings that fell, as tens of thousands of birds flew by, five feet above the ground,. Some people grabbed their shotguns and fired wildly into the flock, dropping dozens with one shot. Even Georgie fired her single shot rifle into the mass without even needing her dead-eye aim.

But her sister raised her parasol above her head and ran out into the bird storm, and laughed wildly as the bird stream parted and flowed around her. Laughed and twirled under her parasol, and the next day she went off with the pigeoneers down to road toward Dog Hollow, and a few days after, the Sheriff came back with an unrecognizable, dismembered body, but with red hair like Agatha's, wrapped in what was surely her silk gown sewn with her mother's own stitches.

Georgie is sure that it's not Agatha who is dead. She knows that Agatha left because of her telling Agatha's intended, Mr. Olmstead, that she, Georgie, had seen Agatha kissing Billy McCabe in the twilight, right in front of their house. She'd seen Billy smiling and whistling as he left, and Georgie felt it her duty to tell, but now she feels she's the reason her sister left, and she knows it's her duty to find her sister alive.

But despite her sharpshooting skills, thirteen-year-old Georgie needs help--in particular a mount to carry her on her search--and for that she turns to the only person who has one to spare. Georgie swallows her pride and her dislike for Billy McCabe, who teased and always called her "Fry," short for "Small Fry," and reluctantly accepts Billy's offer of a mule. Arrogantly Billy insists that he has to go along with her for her own good, and since he knows her plan, Georgie has no other choice.

The two set out near midnight, heading for the small railroad town of Dog Hollow, where no one but a taciturn railway ticket seller admits to having seen a red-haired girl, but despite the stubborn mule, a scary encounter with a cougar, and discovering a counterfeiting cache in a cave along the way, Georgie and Billy become grudging comrades, and when the outlaws suspect what they know, it's Georgie who figures out who the counterfeiters really are and rescues the captured Billy with her sharpshooting skills.

I knew what I had to do. I put my right eye to the sight of the gun and aimed the barrel at Mr. Garrow's chest. My index finger wrapped around the trigger.

There's no forward or backward from dead. My own thoughts.

May I remind you that Billy was tied to that tree? Suddenly I saw what Mr. Garrow saw. Bowler Hat swung the butt end of the Springfield rifle into his palm. He walked to Billy and raised the butt end over Billy's head.

I found my mark.

It's not every thirteen-year-old who can shoot the thumb off an outlaw at 300 yards, but Georgie Burkhardt is not your average heroine.  Opening to raves and starred reviews all around, Amy Timberlake's One Came Home (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), went on to take a 2014 Newbery Honor Award. Her Georgie is a funny, smart, and outrageously self-possessed girl who manages to round up the outlaws, locate her sister (enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, studying ornithology all along), sleuths out the identity of the red-haired girl, and help sort out the romantic confusion, including her brief crush on Billy McCabe. History, mystery, wit, danger, a romantic triangle (and even a touch of middle-aged love), and an irresistibly plucky heroine who figures out her own way, all combine to make thisbook a real rip-roaring winner and more than deserving of its silver Newbery Medal.

As Kirkus Reviews says, “Georgie's story will capture readers' imaginations with the very first sentences and then hold them hostage until the final page is turned.”

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