I had forgotten how much I hated being 11. Even the sound of eleven made me cringe. I hated the number and I hated sharing 365 days with it!
Kristin O’Donnell Tubb’s Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different took me back—way back. Autumn doesn’t hate being 11 the way I did. All the same, she’s going through a rough time. Some of it’s the internal passage we all wade through, but Tubb has written more than a 'tween angst story. She’s given us an emotional back road trip to a real place and time. Tubb’s story is outstanding.
Autumn can’t wait to get to Knoxville where she can roller-skate and go to the movies. Before they can move, mom moves them into grandpa’s dilapidated old cabin. Mom says he’s sick and needs them, but Autumn suspects there’s more going on—mom doesn’t want to leave the mountains.
Autumn knows she’s different, but she likes being different. Or, at least, she seems resigned to being different. She says it best, “I reckon I’m a chain saw in a stack of axes.” Her problem seems to be convincing everyone else that it’s Okay for her to be different. That’s her internal struggle—one that’s familiar to almost all of us.
The world at large creates even more turmoil. Autumn’s father is a logger and he’s gone a lot. Logging is destroying the mountains they all love so much. Throw in a cantankerous grandpa who aims to save the mountains and you have serious conflict—stuff an 11 year old can’t resolve. Coping with contradiction is the stuff that turns us into adults, and we watch Autumn confront, unravel, and finally accept the inevitable.
Tubb skillfully weaves Autumn’s internal coming of age struggles with the very real struggles faced by the people living in the hollows and hills of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, before the park existed. Before it was a park, the region was home to a colorful and unique community. Eminent domain—the government’s right to take people’s land—displaced all of those people.
What makes Tubb’s story so unique and rich is her knowledge of the people, the geography, the history, and their culture. Tubb masterfully brings these folks to life. Tubb never tells us how to feel. Their language of the mountains draws us in, traps us, and for better or worse, never lets us go. Escaping what you feel will be like breathing water, as Autumn would say.
Under the exquisite language and personalities lies a true story—one that should spark classroom debate. I hope teachers everywhere add Tubb’s book to their reading lists. Yes, students will identify with Autumn’s emotional trip, but they’ll learn much more. They’ll learn about an extinct culture and a government with the power to take people’s homes for “the greater good.”
Autumn’s story is warm and colorful. For a while, I was 11 again, but this time, I didn’t hate it so much.
The Above review was contributed by: Susan Sales Harkins: Susan is a Software consultant and the author of several articles and books on database technologies. She and her husband, William, collaborate on children's non-fiction. Click Here to read more of Susan’s Reviews.
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