‘One Came Home,’ by Amy Timberlake

February 5, 2013


‘One Came Home’ by Amy Timberlake (Knopf. $16.99. Ages 9-13) (Knopf)

Amy Timberlake’s historical novel “One Came Home” is a lively valentine to sisterhood and a bird that no longer exists: the passenger pigeon, which once flew in flocks so vast and dense that they blocked the sun. It is 1871, and the tart-tongued narrator of this tale, Georgie Burkhardt, 13, refuses to accept what her town of Placid, Wis., holds true: that her older sister Agatha is dead. Instead, Georgie mounts a long-eared mule as stubborn as she is and sets out to find Agatha, who was last seen with disreputable profiteers following “the largest pigeon nesting within recorded memory.” Georgie’s sole companion is her sister’s scorned beau, Billy. Words (and sparks) fly between them as they deal with cougars, counterfeiters and mysterious caves. Timberlake balances humor with heart in this gripping adventure, but her pacing falters, just once, with the sudden, rather jarring turn in fate for Georgie’s flinty grandfather. This is a minor flaw, though, compared with the pleasure of getting to know prickly, cleareyed Georgie and the natural world — “alive and overwhelmingly so” — that she journeys through. Eager to make connections to school curricula, historical fiction for young people tends to be dominated by certain key events: the Civil War, World War II and the ­civil rights movement. Timberlake offers a fascinating glimpse into an important, little-known year in the American Midwest and at the “winged mass” that filled its sky.

Mary Quattlebaum

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