Local St. Paul author Amy Ariel has written a charming novel that gives a glimpse of what life was like in St. Paul in 1912 and how that view might seem both familiar and alien to a contemporary child. In the process, the reader is transported, just like the character of Hannah, back to a world that makes us appreciate what we have now and anticipate with curiosity what may come in our future.
Our narrator is Abigail, a thirteen year old girl writing in 1916. She usually lives in St. Louis, but regularly spends summers with her aunt in St. Paul. Because her aunt has given her a journal for her birthday, Abigail has chosen to write about her own life and about an unusual day in 1912. On that day, an oddly dressed girl suddenly appears in the yard of Abigail’s aunt, changing the views of both girls forever.
Hannah, it turns out, was simply enjoying time in HER yard, 100 years in the future. Hannah is shockingly dressed by Abigail’s standards – she is in a sundress, in her bare feet. Once the two girls figure out the situation, they arrange to “normalize” Hannah for 1912 and spend some time getting to know each other.
The book provides a lovely sense of how things change and yet stay the same. Both girls are Jewish, and the practices that Abigail observes are familiar and comfortable to Hannah. Each girl talks about doing volunteer work at Neighborhood House; they just are dealing with different immigrant communities. Each has been taught to respect all people, regardless of how their race, religion, or gender. And each enjoys getting ice cream at the local soda shop. But eventually the fun must end so that Hannah can return to her own time and family – and so that she can discover an important surprise.
Ariel provides an interesting view of the Progressive Era in Minnesota from the eyes of the characters in this book. We meet Abigail’s aunt who has broken the usual expectations by becoming a professor, her Irish boarder Rose who aspires to be a doctor one day, and Rose’s mother who works cleaning house in what will eventually become the Governor’s mansion. These touches make the time period accessible for students who are curious about what St. Paul might have been like in a different time period than is often covered by their studies in school.
I would comfortably recommend this book for both boys and girls in this geographic area because the voice is unique and engaging. Regardless of the background of the students, this book helps readers learn how much impact a person’s actions can have on the history to come.
Disclaimer: I personally know both the author and the publisher of this book. Neither has asked me to read or review it.
Posted by Lydia Schultz.