Our Only May Amelia

by Jennifer L. Holm
ages: 10+
First sentence: “My brother Wilbert tells me that I was the first ever girl born in Nasel, that I was A Miracle.”
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This one has been on my radar for years, but was never quite enough to push me to read it. However, with the buzz about the sequel — The Trouble With May Amelia — I got curious enough to pick up both of them at the library a couple weeks back.

It helps, too, that I’ve been in the mood for middle grade fiction.

May Amelia is the only girl on the Nasel river, in the middle of rural Washington, 1899. She’s twelve, has seven older brothers, and always seems to be Getting Into Trouble. She’s both A Miracle to her family and That Troublesome Girl, something which she finds terribly conflicting. All she wants to do is have adventure: go fishing, maybe hunting, and run around like her brothers, but with her Mama pregnant for the first time in a long while, much of the household work falls to May Amelia. It’s not an easy life but it’s a good one, or at least May Amelia will come to think so.

It’s not a book with a lot of plot — there is some, but to tell you what happens will spoil much of the charm of the book — but it’s one that holds your attention. It’s a grand example of voice: May Amelia’s personality comes through loud and clear, and she’s an interesting, amazing girl to get to know. She feels deeply, and lives fully, wanting to be treated the same as her brothers. Holm’s affection for the stories and the Finnish immigrants is plain in the storytelling; there’s a delightful homeyness to the book that just makes one smile, even through the tough times.

For there are tough times: Holm doesn’t sugarcoat the past at all. It’s gritty, but never so much that it’s not accessible to the middle grade audience it’s intended for. Instead, it gives an honest, yet loving, look at a homesteader’s fate, and life for a girl around the turn of the century. Both of which makes this book priceless.

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