I worked at a National Park one summer in college. I made $50 a month. Seriously. But they gave me a house to live in, so that was something. I had the best commute to work. It took about 15 minutes by bike and I didn’t have to pedal once–I just pushed off and felt the wind caressing my torso as I flew around the corners, watching the trees. (Of course, the corresponding commute home, which took me over an hour, was less good, but definitely great exercise!)
I’ve always had a soft spot for National Parks. Olympic, where I worked, where I learned to backpack on my days off by taking onesolo trip after another, is my favorite. Of course, it also might be my favorite because that’s where I got engaged. (It was a trick my city-dwelling husband used to make me think he would go backpacking with me after we got married.)
But now that I live in beautiful Tennessee, I’ve been enjoying a new park recently, the most-visited park in the country, the gorgeous Smoky Mountains. As a modern visitor, when I go to a park, I think about how grateful I am that we have all this quietness, all this beauty, just sitting there, waiting to be appreciated.
So when I saw this book and what it was about, I jumped at the chance to read it. And I’m glad I did.
Review and Summary: Autumn Winifred Oliver is a wonderful girl with a strong voice and a strong sense of self. You meet her and get a great sense of her right away in chapter one, which begins: “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that when you’re attending your own funeral.” Each chapter begins with a piece like this “I do things different. It helps to remind yourself of that…” which gives you a sneak peek at what’s coming without giving anything away. If anything, these little snippets add suspense by making you wonder what they could possibly mean. Autumn lives in Cades Cove, a community that is about to become a national park. Autumn doesn’t know what to make it it all–the government people looking at her land, her grandfather snooping around, her father moving to the city to find new work, the possibility of losing her house and her community forever.
I love that the story feels universal–it’s about the way every girl this age often feels powerless over the bigger things in her life and how she comes to deal with them. The book gives you a sense of time and history without it feeling like a history lesson–it’s just a great book with wonderful detail. (I hate that I am apologizing for it being historical fiction, but I feel like some readers need an extra incentive to pick up an historical book. Trust me–I, too, used to be a reluctant reader of historical fiction, but after all the great ones I’ve read recently (this one, Moon Over Manifest, and Al Capone Shines My Shoes) I now swear to pick them up with excitement!
Follow-up with the kids:
There’s a lot you can do with this book. If you really want to make a history conversation out of it, there’s plenty of material there. There’s a short part in the book where Autumn realizes that what is happening to her already happened to the Native Americans who used to live on the land and were kicked off. It’s a good way to remind kids about the power of history, the lessons we can learn, the constant battles between those with power and those without, and the ways in which different people seem to treat each other.
But you can also just talk about Autumn. How does she deal with change? What things does she do that are positive? What is negative? Ask your child what she would have done. Chances are, the answers might tell you a little bit about what your child has done when they’ve felt like they were losing something. Or what they might do in the future.
I loved reading this book. I laughed out loud and thoroughly enjoyed getting to share the world of these characters, if only for a little bit.