I am convinced that if I read any book long enough I will eventually be sucked into the story, the lives of the characters, and the cadence of the writing.
That is what happened with this here book.
the Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm is about a Finnish family, the Jacksons, living in Nasel, Washington in 1900. May Amelia is twelve and the only girl in a family of seven brothers. From the very first page the reader understands that May is a Trouble maker with a capital ‘T’ and a nuisance to all of her brothers, with the exception of her Best Brother Wilbert. A tom-boy through and through, May wears overalls, not dresses, and fights and wrestles with the best of ’em.
In each chapter May Amelia progressively gets into more and more Trouble. The book retains a humorous tone throughout, but is not without its serious moments. The farm is hard work, and the constant rainfall makes everything harder. The parents have a very perceptible cloud of discouragement hanging over them until a traveling salesman shows up on their doorstep. With the help of May Amelia translating the salesman’s English words into Finnish for her Pappa they learn about an investment plan that will leave the Jackson family richer than they ever dreamed possible. Soon, a majority of the community has invested and everyone waits for the riches to come pouring in.
You can guess what happens.
Unfortunately, May Amelia is blamed for the scam and the subsequent loss of the farm, house, and everything else. Pappa is especially hateful towards May, and no one in her family has the sisu, the courage, to defend her. Instead of staying at home where everyone ignores her, May goes to live with her uncle who assures her that she is a good girl and this wasn’t her fault.
Of course, this is not where the story ends. Through struggle and a period of hopelessness the family finally comes back together to start their own logging business and hope and reconciliation end the story.
The good: The setting is extremely well-defined and easily imagined. The farm, the rain-soaked river, and 1900’s Washington are vivid, and it is easy to imagine the chaos and noise of living with seven brothers.
May Amelia’s character is extremely endearing. I loved reading about how innocently she got into trouble and the way she gave as good as she got with all the men in her life. Additionally, I felt my own anger rising up when her father blamed her for the investment scam and was frustrated that no one else stood up to defend her. I also felt May’s jealousy when her sweet little cousin comes to live with them for a while and elicits tenderness and laughter from everyone, including Pappa, when May Amelia only elicits irritation.
The bad: I hate, hate, hate the cover. It actually took me awhile to get over this intense dislike and enjoy the book for what was inside. The cover, to me, looks like a modern-day, middle school novel about boys and drama. It is not consistent with the time period of the book, in my opinion. The pencil drawings at the beginning of each chapter are what capture the essence of the book in a way that the cover has no hope of doing. Maybe the cover was done that way in order to appeal to that middle school crowd…I don’t know.
Also, there is a lot of capitalization throughout the book. I’m not sure if this literary technique is supposed to indicate yelling or if it is Holm’s way of showing emphasis. It was distracting to me and I wondered if kids would like it, gloss over it, or be confused by it. How would You Like It if I did that all through My Blog?
Finally, there were no quotation marks. Ur. One of my favorite books of all time, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is also written without quotation marks, but it works really well for that story. In May Amelia’s case, I kept wondering if kids would feel confused by the lack of distinction between who was doing the talking. Maybe it is a good way to introduce kids to a different way of writing and even reading. You definitely have to pay a lot more attention to the flow of conversation so you can figure out who is doing the talking and when the talking ends.
I almost didn’t finish the book because of those little pet peeves, but I hunkered down last night and finished it. Like I said earlier, I’m convinced that if I read any book long enough I’ll get sucked in. I actually found myself overlooking the capitalized words, the lack of quotation marks, and even the hideous cover. The story was pretty delightful and hearkened back to my childhood days of reading Caddie Woodlawn on lazy summer days.
Doorway: For me, it ended up being the setting and character’s that kept me reading.