Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm was recommended to me by my niece when she was in seventh grade. This book shows how wonderful middle reader/young adult historical fiction can be.
Many young girls have read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and through those books developed a romantic vision of pioneer life. In contrast, Holm presents a tougher picture and sets her story a little later in Washington State.
In 1899, May Amelia is the only girl in her small settlement on the banks of the Nasel River. The twelve-year-old has seven older brothers and prides herself on being able to fish and run and work as well as any boy. Nevertheless, now that her mother is pregnant, May Amelia wishes for a sister.
When her grandmother comes to help out the family, May Amelia's world is turned upside down. In desperation and grief, the girl makes a startling and brave choice to change her life.
The novel's authenticity stems from the real-life diaries of one of Holm's great-aunts. The story is moving and emotionally deep. May Amelia and her bothers are so well developed that it is easy to forget that the book is mostly fiction. The novel takes a frank and matter-of-fact look at some of the true hardships of pioneer life: contact with Indians, the roughness of the logging camps, the reality of kept women, early death, and unhappiness.
It is no surprise that Our Only May Amelia was the recipient of several awards and honors: Notable Children's Trade Books in the Field of Social Studies 2000; National Council for Social Sciences and Children's Book Council; 2000 Newbery Honor Book; and 2000 Notable Children's Books (ALA). I recommend this for readers of all ages who like a strong female character, who enjoy historical fiction, and who would like to learn more about pioneer life in the Pacific Northwest.
I listened to the unabridged audio edition read by Emmy Rossum. Rossum did a great job characterizing the young May Amelia and conveying a wide range of emotions.
The cover is from the original 1999 HarperCollins edition. (Source: Borrowed; see review policy)
Our Own May Amelia at Amazon
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