One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction, mystery
Published on January 8, 2013
Published by Knopf Books
Read From: 7.21.13 - 7.28.13
In the town of Placid, Wisconsin, Georgie Burkhardt is known for two things: her uncanny aim with a rifle and her habit of speaking her mind plainly.
But when Georgie blurts out something she shouldn't, her older sister Agatha flees, running off with a pack of "pigeoners" trailing the passenger pigeon migration. And when the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body - wearing Agatha's blue-green ball gown - everyone assumes the worst.
Except Georgie. Refusing to believe the facts that are laid down (and coffined) before her, Georgie sets out on a journey to find her sister. She will track every last clue and shred of evidence to bring Agatha home. Yet even with resolute determination and her trusty Springfield single-shot, Georgie is not prepared for what she faces on the western frontier.
Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like it, because it is indicative of a historical fiction novel, which always catches my interest. The title doesn't do much for me, though the blurb does. Unfortunately, the story isn't nearly as exciting as it leads you to believe.
Characters: Georgie Burkhardt was an immediate hit with me. She was spunky, she was good with a gun, she was blunt, and she had a dry sense of humor. She had two feet that she knew how to stand on and she wasn't going to let anyone tell her how to do it. However, Georgie also seemed to be rather accident prone, to a degree that got a little annoying after a while. It was funny the first few times she fell down a hill or dismounted incorrectly. But after she falls off a pile of rocks and bangs her head really good, her clumsiness got boring and her tendency to wander off equally so, because I knew it would end with her scraping herself up even more. Billy McCabe took a little longer for me to warm up to; he was condescending toward Georgie, constantly treating her like a child. But in the end, I grew to appreciate his older brother affection for Georgie and his acknowledging that she really did know how to take care of herself - in certain situations. The other characters, while not cardboard, weren't in the book enough for me to form much of an opinion or attachment for.
The Romance: There isn't any! Not really. Georgie develops a bit of a kid crush on Billy, which I did find just the slightest bit annoying, but it doesn't get in the way all that much.
Plot: Everyone knows that Agatha Burkhardt will marry Billy McCabe someday. Their family are close friends and Billy hasn't hid his feelings for Agatha very well. But when Agatha takes up with Mr. Olmstead, the local hotel manager and Placid's richest man, some are a bit surprised. Georgie doesn't believe it's over between Agatha and Billy, and when she witnesses the two kissing one night, Georgie finds it her duty to inform Mr. Olmstead. The results are disastrous. Agatha runs off with a group of pigeoners tracking the passenger pigeon migration. Not long after, a body is found and identified as Agatha based on the blue-green dress she's wearing. But Georgie isn't convinced. The body has been so badly mutilated by wild animals that it could be anyone. Determined to prove that her sister is still alive, Georgie sets off to Dog Hollow, where Agatha was last seen, to discover the truth. Is Agatha still alive? If so, where is she? And if not, who killed her? And why? Sounds like an exciting murder mystery, right? Wrong. The Author has a lot of good build-up, as she relates the events leading up to Agatha's disappearance. And she tells them in such a way that casts a misleading ambiance of menace and suspicion. There is a bit of mystery to Agatha's true fate, but it isn't anything all that terribly earth-shattering. Georgie's journey to Dog Hollow becomes a road trip through 1871 Wisconsin, which is all well and good - I enjoy reading about places in a historical setting. But I was anticipating a murder mystery, and it didn't deliver. Right when you think Georgie is going to find something amazing, it doesn't happen and she breaks down into more sobbing. Not that I can blame her; she was so convinced that her sister wasn't dead and her investigation isn't doing much to prove her right. But murder mysteries aren't supposed to be a coming-of-age story where Georgie is forced to grow up through the brutal realization that maybe she's lost Agatha for good after all. Maybe it an attempt to make up for the rather disappointing mystery, the Author throws in a plot twist involving counterfeiters, but quite honestly it didn't do it for me.
Believability: No complaints here.
Writing Style: First person, past tense. Georgie's narration is funny. We get her dry sense of humor and heartache and blunt personality and sheer determination pouring off the pages and filling the Reader to the point to where one can totally empathize with her. Where the story's plot flopped a bit, it totally wins in terms of emotion. At times, the narration was a bit hard to follow. When Georgie is telling the Reader about the events that led up to Agatha's disappearance, she doesn't always tell them in a straight order, and it makes it difficult to know what came first. Sometimes this can help - events don't always have to be told in order. But in this case, it didn't. Still, that doesn't take away the fact that Georgie's narration is full of emotion that draws the Reader totally in.
Conclusion: There's no grand climax; not really. It takes on a more sedate, "this is what happened and nothing more" pace. Once I came to terms with the fact that this wasn't a murder mystery, but a coming-of-age, middle-grade, historical fiction I was able to enjoy One Came Home more. As a mystery, it totally disappointed. As a middle-grade historical fiction, it was relatively enjoyable. Georgie was a great protagonist; her narration very much appealed to me. But there is no denying that a plot is pretty much nonexistent. It starts out with one, but it doesn't go anywhere in the end.
Recommended Audience: Girl-read, good for middle-graders and adults who like more sedate, emotionally-driven middle grade historical fiction reads.