Set in 1936, this memorable coming-of-age story follows 12-year-old Abilene Tucker's unusual summer in her father's hometown of Manifest, Kans., while he's away on a railroad job. Having had an itinerant upbringing, Abilene is eager to connect to her father's childhood, a goal that proves difficult. The immigrant town has become rundown, but is populated with well-developed, idiosyncratic characters and has a dynamic past involving the KKK, an influenza scare, and a bootlegging operation. Manifest's history emerges in stories recounted by Miss Sadie (a Hungarian medium) and in news columns written in 1917 by Hattie Mae Harper, "Reporter About Town." With new friends Lettie and Ruthanne, Abilene pieces together the past, coming to understand, as Miss Sadie says, that "maybe what you're looking for is not so much the mark your daddy made on this town, but the mark the town made on your daddy." Witty, bold, and curious, Abilene is as unforgettable as the other residents of Manifest, and the variety of voices allows the town's small mysteries to bloom. Replete with historical details and surprises, Vanderpool's debut delights, while giving insight into family and community. Ages 9–12. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
Starred review, BOOKLIST, October 15, 2010:
After a life of riding the rails with her father, 12-year-old Abilene can’t understand why he has sent her away to stay with Pastor Shady Howard in Manifest, Missouri, a town he left years earlier; but over the summer she pieces together his story. In 1936, Manifest is a town worn down by sadness, drought, and the Depression, but it is more welcoming to newcomers than it was in 1918, when it was a conglomeration of coal-mining immigrants who were kept apart by habit, company practice, and prejudice. Abilene quickly finds friends and uncovers a local mystery. Their summerlong “spy hunt” reveals deep-seated secrets and helps restore residents’ faith in the bright future once promised on the town’s sign. Abilene’s first-person narrative is intertwined with newspaper columns from 1917 to 1918 and stories told by a diviner, Miss Sadie, while letters home from a soldier fighting in WWI add yet another narrative layer. Vanderpool weaves humor and sorrow into a complex tale involving murders, orphans, bootlegging, and a mother in hiding. With believable dialogue, vocabulary and imagery appropriate to time and place, and welldeveloped characters, this rich and rewarding first novel is “like sucking on a butterscotch. Smooth and sweet.”
Starred review, KIRKUS REVIEWS, September 15, 2010:
“Readers will cherish every word up to the heartbreaking yet hopeful and deeply gratifying ending.”
Starred review, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, September 27, 2010:
"Replete with historical details and surprises, Vanderpool's debut delights,
while giving insight into family and community.”
Review, THE BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS, November 2010:
"Ingeniously plotted and gracefully told."
Children's Literature - Heather N. Kolich
Like the rocking of the train twelve-year-old Abilene Tucker rides into town, the motion of this story never stops. Uncoupling her from his vagabond life on the road, Abilene's father has sent her to spend the summer of 1936 in Manifest, Kansas, a place she knows only from his descriptions, with a shady character from his past. Through the hot, dry days, Abilene searches for traces of her father in the town's history, some old letters, and a stack of newspapers from 1917. At the same time, she and her two new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, search for clues to the identity of a spy from World War I dayswhenever Abilene is not working off a debt to the mysterious and reclusive town diviner, Miss Sadie. As the days spin out, so do Miss Sadie's stories of the past, bringing Abilene closer to knowing her father, even as her suspicions grow that he does not plan to come fetch her at the end of the summer. Abilene works some magic on the townspeople, bringing them together as they try to embrace her and convince her to stay on. But Abilene desperately wants to be with her father. Can she work a little magicor pull off enough of a conto convince him to come to Manifest? The story weaves easily from present to past and back again, gripping the reader in both stories. Alternately set between World War I and The Great Depression, the story is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes poignantly sad, but page after page, it is hard to put down. Reviewer: Heather N. Kolich
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—History and fiction marry beautifully in this lively debut novel. It's as if readers jump off the train in Manifest, KS, in 1936 with Abilene Tucker, 12, the feisty, likable, and perceptive narrator. She is there to live with Pastor Shady Howard, her father's friend, while her father works on the railroad back in Iowa. An equally important story set during World War I is artfully intertwined. Since her mother went off on her own 10 years earlier, Abilene and Gideon have been alone. Though their life together is unsettled, their bond is strong. Shady's place is shabby, but he is welcoming. The mystery about Manifest and Gideon unfolds after Abilene finds a box filled with intriguing keepsakes. It includes a letter dated 1917 to someone named Jinx from Ned Gillen that has a warning, "THE RATTLER is watching." This starts Abilene, with the help of new friends Ruthanne and Lettie, on a search to learn the identity of the pair. The story cleverly shifts back and forth between the two eras. Abilene becomes connected to Miss Sadie, a "diviner" who slowly leads her through the story of Ned and Jinx. Though the girl is lonely, she adjusts to her new life, feeling sure that her father will come for her at summer's end. The Ku Klux Klan and its campaign against the many immigrants working in the coal mines and the deplorable conditions and exploitation of these men provide important background. This thoroughly enjoyable, unique page-turner is a definite winner.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
When 12-year-old Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kan., in 1936 to stay with her father's boyhood friend, little does she know her sojourn will take her back, via mesmerizing tales, newspaper clippings, curious mementoes and World War I letters, to Manifest as it was in 1918—and into the life of the mysterious boy nicknamed Jinx. This young con man effected extraordinary change in the lives of the mostly immigrant residents and the fortunes of the mining town in that year. Abilene and readers get so caught up in the past in this richly detailed, splendidly written novel that they easily make the transition between the Depression and WWI eras and long to learn more about the town that once was. Readers will love guessing how Abilene's dad fits into all the stories and townspeople's memories. The absolute necessity of story as a way to redemption and healing past wounds is at the heart of this beautiful debut, and readers will cherish every word up to the heartbreaking yet hopeful and deeply gratifying ending. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
Santa Fe Railway
MAY 27, 1936
The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories. The one just outside of town with big blue letters: manifest: a town with a rich past and a bright future.
I thought about my daddy, Gideon Tucker. He does his best talking in stories, but in recent weeks, those had become few and far between. So on the occasion when he'd say to me, "Abilene, did I ever tell you 'bout the time . . .?" I'd get all quiet and listen real hard. Mostly he'd tell stories about Manifest, the town where he'd lived once upon a time. His words drew pictures of brightly painted storefronts and bustling townsfolk. Hearing Gideon tell about it was like sucking on butterscotch. Smooth and sweet. And when he'd go back to not saying much, I'd try recalling what it tasted like. Maybe that was how I found comfort just then, even with him being so far away. By remembering the flavor of his words. But mostly, I could taste the sadness in his voice when he told me I couldn't stay with him for the summer while he worked a railroad job back in Iowa. Something had changed in him. It started the day I got a cut on my knee. It got bad and I got real sick with infection. The doctors said I was lucky to come out of it. But it was like Gideon had gotten a wound in him too. Only he didn't come out of it. Andit was painful enough to make him send me away. I reached into my satchel for the flour sack that held my few special things. A blue dress, two shiny dimes I'd earned collecting pop bottles, a letter from Gideon telling folks that I would be received by Pastor Howard at the Manifest depot, and my most special something, kept in a box lined with an old 1917 Manifest Herald newspaper: my daddy's compass.
In a gold case, it wore like a pocket watch, but inside was a compass showing every direction. Only problem was, a working compass always points north. This one, the arrow dangled and jiggled every which way. It wasn't even that old. It had the compass maker's name and the date it was made on the inside. St. Dizier, October 8, 1918. Gideon had always planned to get it fixed, but when I was leaving, he said he didn't need it anyway, what with train tracks to guide him. Still, I liked imagining that the chain of that broken compass was long enough to stretch all the way back into his pocket, with him at one end and me at the other.
Smoothing out the yellowed newspaper for the thousandth time, I scanned the page, hoping to find some bit of news about or insight into my daddy. But there was only the same old "Hogs and Cattle" report on one side and a "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary: Charter Edition" on the other, plus a couple of advertisements for Liberty Bonds and Billy Bump's Hair Tonic. I didn't know anything about Hattie Mae Harper, except what she wrote in her article, but I figured her newspaper column had protected Gideon's compass for some time, and for that I felt a sense of gratitude. I carefully placed the newspaper back in the box and stored the box in the satchel, but held on to the compass. I guess I just needed to hold on to something.
The conductor came into the car. "Manifest, next stop."
The seven-forty-five evening train was going to be right on time. Conductors only gave a few minutes' notice, so I had to hurry. I shoved the compass into a side pocket of the satchel, then made my way to the back of the last car. Being a paying customer this time, with a full-fledged ticket, I didn't have to jump off, and I knew that the preacher would be waiting for me. But as anyone worth his salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you. I'd worn my overalls just for the occasion. Besides, it wouldn't be dark for another hour, so I'd have time to find my way around.
At the last car, I waited, listening the way I'd been taughtwait till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat. The trouble is my heart speeds up when I'm looking at the ground rushing by. Finally, I saw a grassy spot and jumped. The ground came quick and hard, but I landed and rolled as the train lumbered on without a thank-you or goodbye.