Set in 1932 in small-town Alabama, Golden’s folksy debut details the struggles and injustices facing 11-year-old Lizzie Hawkins after her father loses his job and leaves town. Stuck with an overdue mortgage and a mother paralyzed by depression, Lizzie believes she just has to hold it together until her father returns, as she is sure he will. Her best friend Ben is supportive but in a similar situation, and he grows tired of Lizzie’s single-minded focus on her own problems. Between the pressures of working, keeping up her grades, staying one step ahead of her nemesis at school, and hiding the truth about her home life (Lizzie fears her mother will be sent to an institution and she herself to an orphanage), Lizzie is too busy to see that she may need to reach out for help. The novel’s Southern dialect and Depression-era setting are solidly evoked—debut author Golden pulled from her own family’s history to create Lizzie’s story. If the characters sometimes come across as one-note, Lizzie’s innate resilience and determination are memorable and inspiring. Ages 9–12. (June)
Jennifer Holm's fans will root for Lizzie Hawkins. RUTA SEPETYS, New York Times bestselling author of BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY, says: "A beautiful story of acceptance and determination. Lizzie Hawkins reminds us that in the mids of losing something precious we may find something equally important: ourselves."
It's been two months since Lizzie's daddy disappeared due to the awful Depression. Lizzie's praying he'll return to Bittersweet, Alabama, for her birthday. It won't feel special without him, what with Lizzie's Mama being so sad she won't even talk and the bank nipping at their heels for a mortgage payment.
Daddy expected her to be the best at any cost. But Lizzie claims "that cost me my top grades and my best friend. It's dumped 'em both square into Erin's hands. She's gone batty if she thinks she's gonna get me carted off to the orphanage."
While Lizzie waits, she gets comfort writing in her journal. As time passes, she can only picture her daddy's face by opening her locket. If others can get by, why did her daddy leave? If he doesn't return, how can she overcome the same obstacles that drove him away?
Gr 5–7—Lizzie and Ben have a lot in common. Eleven years old, they were born days apart, their mothers were once best friends, and they recently lost their fathers, although Ben's died, while Lizzie's left Alabama for parts unknown. Lizzie's father left her a gold locket that once belonged to her paternal grandmother; the slingshot his dad made becomes Ben's constant companion. These talismans figure in the resolution of the story. Scratching out a living in a small town during the Depression becomes even harder when Lizzie's mother's sadness stops her from functioning. The girl is left to struggle to keep her grades up, maintain daily chores, and handle a rivalry with a mean-spirited girl, Erin. Making matters worse, it seems that Ben has befriended Erin. He is wise beyond his age and recognizes Lizzie for whom she is. He tolerates her selfishness until it escalates, forcing him away. Lizzie keeps a journal with her innermost thoughts and feelings, providing insight into the behaviors she describes in her narration. Erin and her mother, quite unlikable characters, attempt unsuccessfully to further separate Lizzie's family (an orphanage for her, an institution for her mother). The plot is at times tense, with a contrived albeit satisfying conclusion. The characters are memorable. Lizzie is often self-absorbed, unsympathetic, and highly competitive, but as she matures, she recognizes these traits in herself and tries to grow. Often too gentle, Ben can finally articulate his feelings to Lizzie. Readers will likely see parallels between Lizzie's time and personality and their own.—Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library
The year Lizzie Hawkins turns 12, she loses her father, her treasured locket and her position as best student in her class--but narrowly avoids losing a friend. Times are hard in Bittersweet, Ala., in 1932. Lizzie's out-of-work father has vanished. Her mother has become silent and unresponsive. Determined not to ask for help, the sixth-grader struggles to cook, wash, keep house and garden, as well as doing the outside mending her mother used to take in to pay the mortgage. Worse, a bullying classmate, determined to steal Lizzie's academic standing as well as her friend, threatens to reveal her circumstances. Caught up in her own troubles, Lizzie fails to notice that her best friend Ben's life is even more difficult. As Lizzie tells her story, interspersing it with occasional long journal entries, readers will become more and more impatient with her stubbornness. But, as one of the chapter-heading proverbs preaches, "The greatest conqueror is he who conquers himself," and providentially, she does. There is a clear, pleasing sense of time and place in this debut novel, created through solid details of a difficult daily life. Lizzie's voice isn't always convincing, especially when she writes. But her determination is commendable. Inspired by the writer's grandparents' experiences, this Depression-era story should resonate with modern middle-grade readers. (Historical fiction. 10-13)
|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
Read an Excerpt
I learned a lot from my daddy, but the number one most important thing is this: never, ever, under any circumstances, let something get the best of you. To do this, you gotta work with what you got, play the cards you been dealt, turn lemons into lemonade. Too bad he wasn't around to see me doing just that, because one thing's for sure: when it rains in the South, it pours.
The late-April thunderstorm that had occurred overnight made my walk to school particularly interesting. Plodding a mile through red mud in shoes a size too small with four holes too many ain't the easiest thing to try. With the depression on, I wasn't the only one with this problem, but I might've been the only one who knew how to make the best of it. I'd turn lemons into lemonade by using Mother Nature's mess as an excuse not to worry about Daddy. Or Mama. I'd only worry about the mud, and how to get more of it. Instead of trying to keep it off my shoes, I'd see how much I could pack onto them. At least the cardboard cutouts inside would keep the bottoms of my socks from staining.
About every fifteen yards the mud would reach its highest clumping point and fall off. Maybe lighter steps would help it last longer.
A gruff voice broke my concentration. "Hey, Lizzie, wait up!"
"I was starting to wonder what'd happened to you," I said without turning around so I wouldn't break my mud.
I'd have known that voice anywhere. Ben's voice. I'd known him practically since birth. We were born within days of each other, and our mothers had once been best friends. Ben was my one true friend. I learned that over three years back, at the tail end of third grade. Myra Robinson had dared me to go up to crazy old Mr. Reed's and knock on his door. And that wasn't the worst of it. She expected me to talk to him. Me. Talk to a man older than the hills who probably hadn't said a hundred words since I'd been born. I figured if he'd felt like talking, he'd have talked, and I didn't care to be the one forcing him to do it.
I might not have been so nervous if Mr. Reed had been like any regular man and gone into town a good bit, or if he'd have darkened the doors of the Bittersweet Baptist Church at least on Easter Sundays. But Mr. Reed wasn't any regular man. He never went to church, and he headed into town exactly twice a monthon the first and the fifteenth from one p.m. till three p.m. But Myra had to go and dare me at precisely 3:17 p.m. on the eighth of March in the year 1929. Dang. He'd be home.
Ben had put his hand on my shoulder. "I'll go with you, Lizzie. I ain't scared."
Myra, along with about ten other nosy bystanders, trailed us into town. We turned off Main onto Oak Street, then onto Mr. Reed's rutted dirt drive, which led directly to his house up on the hill behind town. I didn't know about Ben, but I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. We tiptoed over the junk in the front yardcracked mirrors, broken chairs, rusty pitchforks and hoesand onto the sagging front porch. Daddy said Mr. Reed had lived alone for close to fifty years. I knew two things for certain: the house hadn't had a fresh coat of paint in all that time, and anything that broke got thrown out in the yard, not in the trash. Ben and I faced the splintered wooden door. He looked at me and nodded. I knocked. Slowly, the door creaked open, and there stood Mr. Reed, all leathery and wrinkled and thin as a bone.
He looked at us like we were the crazy ones. "What you kids need?" he asked. His voice was as rough as sandpaper. He put a cigarette to his mouth and took a long suck off it. Ben and I stood there blinking. Neither one of us knew what to say. We didn't need anything, except to get the heck out of there.
Ben was the one to find words. "Sorry to trouble ya, Mr. Reed. I don't reckon we need much of anything. We'll just be goin'."
Mr. Reed nodded and closed the door, and Ben and I took off like our tails were on fire.
"Did you do it?" Myra asked at the bottom of the hill. "What'd he say?"
"Yeah, we did it," I said. "And if you want to know, you go ask him yourself."
All the bystanders went abuzz, and Ben and I walked away. I could still hear my heart pounding in my ears. I'd never been gladder to have Ben by my side than I was that day. We'd been extra close ever since.
Now Ben walked beside me, staring down at my mud-covered shoes. "Sorry I'm late. Had to help Ma make the beds and clean the kitchen on top of my regular chores. What in the heck are you doin'?"
"Is she sick?" I asked, ignoring his question.
"Naw, she ain't sick. She's real busy tryin' to get a wedding quilt finished for Mrs. Martin's daughter. Mrs. Martin told Ma she needed it done by this evenin', nearly a week sooner than it was supposed to be due. Said she'd misfigured the time it'd take the postal service to get it out west to her daughter. Put Ma in a real hard spot."
I shook my head and sank into some soft mud. The clumps on my shoes grew. "I guess all those boarders living with her put her mind in a tizzy. The last few times I've gone to pick up some mending, she's either been in a big hurry or snappy. Charlie told me he and John have to share their room with two other boys no more than five years old. If there was that many people crammed into my house, I'd probably have trouble thinking straight too."
Ben pulled a small rock from his pocket and placed it in his slingshot. Huge wads of mud covered my shoes. The weight nearly pulled them right off my feet. It was rather relaxing. Not up there with fishing or anything, but relaxing. Ben snapped his slingshot, and the rock smacked a pine.
"Why don't you teach me how to do that? Then we could have contests." I glanced over at him. "Contests I could win."
Ben pretended not to hear me. "I can't much blame Mrs. Martin either. A bunch of strangers stuffed in my house is the last thing I'd want."
I nudged Ben with my shoulder. "You're the one person who wouldn't wear me thin."
"No, Lizzie, I'm the only person you can't wear thin."