The Wonder of Charlie Anne by Kimberly Newton Fusco

This novel takes place during the Great Depression, and Charlie Anne’s family is desperately poor. They’re so poor that Papa has to leave home to get work on the roads in one of President Roosevelt’s WPA projects. Charlie Anne’s mama is dead, and Cousin Mirabel has come to help Papa take care of Ivy, Chalrie Anne, Pete and Birdie. Mirabel is determined to teach Charlie Anne to work hard and to use good manners and to act like a lady. To teach Charlie Anne to behave properly, Mirabel reads aloud maxims from The Charm of Fine Manners by Helen Ekin Starrett. Charlie Anne, of course, hates the advice and the admonitions of The Charm of Fine Manners.

Charlie Anne’s favorite phrase and response to unwanted events in her life is, “Well, we’ll just see about that!” Ms. Fusco does a good job of telling the story from Charlie Anne’s point of view. As far as Charlie Anne is concerned, Cousin Mirabel is a cruel tyrant who makes Charlie Anne work too hard and do all of the nasty, strenuous, and horrid jobs. And Charlie Anne’s older sister, Ivy, is a lazy, vain, and deceitful teenager. The reader suspects that Charlie Anne may not be quite fair in her assessments of Mirabel and Ivy, but this story is Charlie Anne’s story, and it’s her voice we hear as we read.

And Charlie has a fine voice, feisty and determined and full of spitfire. When Rosalyn and her adopted daughter, Phoebe, move in next door, Charlie Anne is excited to have a new friend. But Phoebe is “colored,” and some people, including Mirabel, can’t get used to the idea of associating on equal terms with a colored girl. As the story continues, questions are raised and answered. Will Charlie Anne’s mama continue to give her advice and counsel from her grave down by the river? Will Mirabel break Charlie Anne’s spirit with her book of rules and her seemingly endless chores? Will Rosalyn and Phoebe be accepted in the small Massachusetts where Charlie Anne lives? Will there be a school where Charlie Anne can finally learn to read?

Well, we’ll just see about that!

Other takes:
Bookish Blather: “Charlie Anne has a wonderfully earnest voice. She’s young enough to still believe in magic in the world, but the rapid succession of her mother’s death, her father leaving to build roads, and the ugly face of racism in her family and community, are forcing her to grow up.”
The Fourth Musketeer: “Charlie Anne’s charismatic voice narrates not only scenes of every day drama, such as bee stings, falls off swings, peeling potatoes, harvesting tomatoes, Christmas pageants, and kittens born in the barn, but also more profound problems, such as broken families and racism.”

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